As the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns continue with no definite end in sight, many families are struggling with the loss of loved ones, economic devastation, and fear and anxiety about what the future holds. This is nothing new in a sin-cursed and broken world and God’s Word speaks to the very real problems of our day.
Trials—a Surety in a Sin-Cursed World
Many popular professing Christians may claim in their best-sellers that God only wants you to be healthy and wealthy, and they may even cherry-pick verses to support their ideas.
In Scripture, we see examples of God’s people who went through rough times. Many popular professing Christians may claim in their best-sellers that God only wants you to be healthy and wealthy, and they may even cherry-pick verses to support their ideas. But that’s not the full testimony of God’s Word and is nothing short of a false gospel. Hard times will come, and believers are not exempt. Now that may not seem very comforting at first, but we will come back to that.
Here is some of what Scripture says—referring to believers—about the surety of trials in this world:
I [Jesus] have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
Resist him [Satan], firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5:9–10)
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3–5)
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2–4)
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. (2 Corinthians 4:17)
In addition to these explicit statements that we should expect hardship, Scripture is full of examples of godly individuals who did endure personal suffering and lack (but still saw God’s provision in and through it). Here’s just a few:
- Abraham, Jacob and their families all experienced famine.
- David hid in caves.
- Jesus did not even have a place to lay his head (Luke 9:58).
- Paul was shipwrecked, beaten, stoned, cold, naked, and without food (2 Corinthians 11:23–27).
Truth—a Balm for Our Anxieties
So if Scripture teaches both explicitly and through examples that believers will face hardship, how can we be comforted and trust God? By turning to promises from God’s Word and reflecting on the character and attributes of God. Let truth be the balm that soothes your anxieties.
As an aside, this is why it matters what you believe about God. Trials and hardships are when the “rubber meets the road” in our spiritual lives. If we have a view of God that is not based on Scripture and who he actually is, we will not be encouraged or strengthened through trials. Instead, we will be anxious, not understanding why the God we’ve created doesn’t do what we want him to do. Good theology and doctrine matter! And we develop a robust theology by reading all of God’s Word.
Here are just some of the promises of God and some of his attributes that you can cling to and be strengthened by no matter what trial you are facing:
- God is sovereign. “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). This did not catch him by surprise or tie his hands somehow. He will continue to work out his good plan in and through this. And we may not understand why he would sovereignly will this, but that’s okay: we shouldn’t always expect that because, “‘[M]y thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”
- God is good. Our God is good and has good plans for us, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). He loves us and “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).
- God will walk through this with us. God does not sit outside his creation and just watch what happens. He’s intimately involved and promises to walk with us through trials, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).
- God promises to keep us safe. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe” (Proverbs 18:10). Now this does not mean that we will not get sick or even die. Everyone eventually dies, even the righteous. But our eternity is secure. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand” (John 10:27-29).
- God promises to give us the grace we need to endure. God doesn’t run out of sustaining grace. We can boldly approach him and ask for mercy and grace to sustain us through this. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
- God promises to provide our basic necessities. God provides for everything he has made and promises he will provide for us too as we seek him, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:25–33).
We battle anxiety by first presenting our requests to God, doing so with thanksgiving.
As you seek to trust God during these deep waters, consider these practical steps you can take to concentrate on biblical truth and apply it to your situation.
Pray. This may seem obvious, or even trite, but it’s vital. God’s Word says, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). We battle anxiety by first presenting our requests to God, doing so with thanksgiving. What can we be thankful for? His promises, his unchanging character, and our eternal home in heaven for starters.
Also, pray specifically. Examine yourself to see where your anxieties are coming from. What exactly are you most afraid of? Pray specifically about that. Not just asking God to end the trial, but to accomplish his good and perfect will in and through it, both in your life and in your nation and around the world.
Read his Word—all of it. Again, this may seem obvious. But God’s Word is the revelation he has given us for our encouragement and edification. You will not be encouraged by God’s Word if you don’t know what it says or you may falsely cling to promises he hasn’t made. Get into all of God’s Word for yourself. See how he has been faithful all throughout history.
For example, in Genesis 3, right after sin, God promises that a Savior is coming (Genesis 3:15) and all throughout the Old Testament we see how God is faithful to bring his promise of a Savior to fulfillment, culminating in the advent of Jesus Christ. Do a study of Jesus throughout the Old Testament and be refreshed by his faithfulness throughout all of history. He was faithful then; he will be faithful again.
Or consider reading through the Psalms. So many of the Psalms begin with a lamentation or confusion about what God is doing. But they end with a changed attitude because they reflect on the character of our God—he is good, he is kind, he is faithful, he will never forsake us, he is completing his good plan.
- Preach the gospel to yourself. Does God love me? Maybe you are secretly wondering if he really does, given everything swirling around us. But we don’t look to our current circumstances to see if God loves us. We look back to the cross, the ultimate and absolute display of God’s love for us, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Remind yourself of this truth by preaching the gospel to yourself. This means rehearsing the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ and what it means for you personally—you are loved, you are adopted, you have an inheritance in heaven that can never spoil or fade, you are an heir to all the promises in Scripture, you are saved from sin, you are accepted in the beloved.
- Listen to worship music. It’s hard to have a heart filled with both anxiety and worship. Turn off the news. Shut off social media. Turn on some worship music (maybe listen to some of the old hymns—it’s encouraging to think that for hundreds of years Christians in all kinds of circumstances—war, disease, famine—have sung these exact same words of praise to our God!). Thanksgiving is an antidote to worry and distress.
- Take captive every thought. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says that “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” When worry, anxiety, and depression seem to have you in a stranglehold, take those thoughts captive and submit them to Christ. You can do this by reciting Scripture, singing praise to God, or preaching the gospel/the truth to yourself. Don’t give the devil a foothold by dwelling on your anxious thoughts.
- Talk to a Christian friend. Pick up the phone and call or video chat a trusted Christian friend. But don’t just vent or offload every worry and then hang up. Certainly, we can lament to one another (how can we bear one another’s burdens if we don’t know what they are?) but we should also rehearse biblical truth with one another. “Encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
- Look back. Take time to review your life and recall how God has been faithful to you in the past. He was faithful then; he will be faithful again. If you’ve kept a prayer or regular journal, flip through it and see how God has answered your prayers (likely in ways you never imagined). Or maybe start journaling now so, when the next trial begins, you can review how God was faithful to you during this one.
The words to the great hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” were penned over 100 years ago by a man suffering from poor health who never had much in the way of money or material possessions. But he believed the verses he based the song on, “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22–23, KJV), and they—and the words to his song—are just as true now as they were then. Great is God’s faithfulness, no matter the circumstances.