A Little Too Long and A Lot Too Hard.
I’m not a huge country music “listener,” yet in seasons of my life it’s taken on a more prominent role than others. Like college. Lots of boot-scootin’ country music around Texas A&M. Even more at Sam Houston State. My boyfriend had Clint Black on repeat. And my sorority sisters went crazy the day Garth Brooks’ song, “Friends in Low Places” came out.
I’ve had two sons up at Oklahoma State in more recent years. Funny enough, that’s Garth Brooks country too.
So, I guess it’s no great surprise that as I read this chapter about long seasons of suffering and how God answers prayer that I thought of Garth’s song, “Unanswered Prayer.”
The song tells the story of man who was remembering how he’d prayed in high school for a particular girl to be his, but God didn’t answer that prayer. The girl was never “his.”
Years later, when he ran into that girl, he realized how grateful he was God didn’t answer that prayer. Instead, he thanked God for the wife He’d given him. The chorus sings, “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”
Lysa describes how her season of heartache and disappointment took a few turns for the worse, and she found herself succumbing to the temptation to ask God, “Why me?” Yet, no matter how Lysa wished things weren’t so hard, prayed for things to get better, she determined to hold onto to her faith.
“God loves us too much to answer our prayers in any other way than the right way. And He loves us too much to answer our prayers at any other time than the right time” (page 94).
I’ve heard it taught that sometimes God’s answers to prayer are Yes, No, and Not Now…but we can trust He is always answering. I wonder if that’s what Lysa is talking about. In those nights that were so lonely and hard and she felt like God wasn’t answering her prayers because she couldn’t feel or see anything happening, she made a choice to believe that He was still there, still at work.
She had to have patience and trust His timing, His ways.
She had to persevere and hold onto HOPE even in the longsuffering.
A lot more than country music and Garth Brooks, the word HOPE has been a constant word and concept in my life, so I love that Lysa spent a little time in this chapter unpacking its meaning from a Christian perspective.
She made the comment that it’s very human to be hopeful in the middle of the hurting. But she clarifies, “Hoping doesn’t mean I put myself in harm’s way. It doesn’t mean I ignore reality. No, hoping means I acknowledge reality in the very same breath that I acknowledge God’s sovereignty” (page 94).
That’s so human, isn’t it? Us, hoping in the middle of the hurting.
It’s not rational to hope for a future child when another miscarriage just happened. It’s not logical to hope for a husband when the 20th first date of the year just went sideways. It may even seem foolish to hope for the healing of a relationship that has continued to to go off the rails.
And yet we do. We hope.
Not because we have control. Actually, it’s just the opposite.
We hope because God’s in control.
As Christians, we believe God is on the throne — in heaven and in our lives. Just as Christ surrendered Himself to the process of persecution and execution because He trusted God’s greater plan, we too are to surrender our hopes and hearts and lives to our Father in Heaven who wants the very best for us…no matter what life throws at us.
Lysa shares with us an important fact she’s learned through her hard season of great disappointment:
“My hope isn’t tied to my expectations finally being met in my way and in my timing. No. My hope isn’t tied to whether or not a circumstance or another person changes. My hope is tied to the unchanging promise of God. I hope for the good I know God will ultimately bring from this, whether the good turns out to match my desires or not” (page 94).
She’s learned it’s not about her plans, her expectations.
She’s figured out that it’s not about people or circumstances changing.
She knows that hope is all about God and his unchanging promises. It’s about trusting that He WILL bring good from the hard things.
Even if it’s not what we expected or would have chosen.
Lysa shares more of her revelation:
“I want the promised blessing of Psalm 40:4, ‘Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord.’ I forget that this kind of trusting in God is often forged in the crucible of longsuffering…. I’ve got to walk through the low places of the process before I’m perfectly equipped to live the promise” (pages 95, 97).
Restoration. Promises fulfilled. They’re all products of process. And a faithful hope is what will carry us through the process of trusting God and allowing Him to do His work in us.
Need another word of hope to cling to? “Soon the process of pain turns into the promise of a praise like no other” (page 97). And, she takes it a step further — we cannot endure the process without His presence!
Somewhere in all this is a great diagram. Something like:
His PRESENCE in the PROCESS steadies us on the way to the PROMISE
And that promise is our hope for the future. God’s presence gives us the hope enough for each day, carrying us through the process of one day getting us to the promise of renewal and goodness and peace and healing.
So, what do we do with this?
Lysa says…we simply look for His presence. Intentionally open our eyes to the ways He’s working in us and around us. And when we discover those ways, acknowledge they’re from Him.
Maybe it’s a book that just “appears” or comes to mind. Or a timely phone call. Or the perfect song. Or a friend’s invitation to lunch.
Like Lysa, we can wake up each day with an expectancy of these “little reminders of God’s goodness” (page 100). And as we find them, we’ll discover renewal of hope and energy and strength — enough for that day.
These little gifts from God won’t heal us, but they’ll help us take the next step in the process. And we can take this step because we’re “assured of His presence in the process. And not only His presence in the process, but there’s also a purpose in the process” (page 101).
That purpose? It’s PREPARATION. If our suffering is long, it’s because we aren’t yet ready for the promise. Hence the process. It’s in the process that we’re made ready for the promise. It’s in the process we get our preparation — “it produces what we will need when we step into the promise” (page 102).
Lysa gives us a few of her favorite promises:
After you have suffered a little while, our God, who is full of kindness through Christ, will give you his eternal glory. He personally will come and pick you up, and set you firmly in place, and make you stronger than ever. 1 Peter 5:10
For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience. Colossians 1:9-11
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships,in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4
Suffering will end!
God will restore us! Strengthen us.
And…there’s purpose for what we’re going through.
So, even if your season of longsuffering feels a little too long and a lot too hard, take hope! “God isn’t far off. He’s just far more interested in your being prepared than in your being comfortable” (page 103).
Trusting in the process. Clinging to His promise, Shelley Johnson