Drawing Strength from the Right Sources
Repression, injustice, hunger, fear and widespread loss of property. These are the hallmarks of many nations, particularly when governments engage in unethical practices. My wife and I witnessed such practices with alarming frequency during the last few years of our thirty-year pastoral ministry in a developing country. During those years we watched close friends and faithful believers suffer great losses. And the Lord finally guided us to leave.
After heart-wrenching good-byes, we spent three months in a Christian restoration community receiving professional care for post-traumatic stress disorder and clinical depression. In the years prior to our therapy, I had wrestled with God’s mysterious ways and had become disheartened with His seeming reluctance to intervene. Our therapy helped us to see a new perspective from which to view our disillusionment and grief. Yet questions still lingered: How am I supposed to handle my disillusionment over the seemingly inscrutable ways of God? Is it really possible to know peace and stability—a heart rest—in the midst of chaos?
As I wrestled with these questions, the Lord slowly lifted the pall of grief that had engulfed me. He impressed on me the importance of resting in His promise to deal with the nations: “He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his truth” (Ps. 96:10–13). This promise reminded me that He will bring about the right conditions for justice and relief from tyranny in His time.
A significant turning point in my recovery came when the Lord showed me I was focusing on why He seemed reluctant to intervene, rather than focusing on what I knew to be true about Him. When events defied explanation, the Lord reminded me that I would find sustainable hope only in Him and His Word. As the psalmist prayed,: “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction” (Ps. 119:92).
Throughout the ages disheartened believers have persevered in the midst of bewildering circumstances by drawing spiritual strength from the right sources. In his book, A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis wrote: “At first I am overwhelmed… then I try to bring myself into the frame of mind I should be in at all times… I become a creature consciously dependent upon God, drawing its strength from the right sources.” [Lewis, C.S. A Grief Observed (London: Faber and Faber, 1961), 5-7.]. God is our source. His Word tells of many who found their spiritual strength from the right sources and who did not need to re-think their views of God. What they knew to be true of Him in the past fortified them with grace for the present.
When ruthless foreign invaders threatened the nation of Judah, King Jehoshaphat declared: “O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in Heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you. O our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel? They have lived in it and have built in it a sanctuary for your Name, saying, ‘if calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us” (2 Chron. 20:6–9).
With cruelty and malevolence rending his nation, the psalmist asked, “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Ps. 11:3). God’s reply enabled the psalmist, in a moment of distress, to see God clearly. We read that the Lord reigns in his holy temple—an assurance that He provides a refuge, present and accessible, for His people in distress. Not only is God present in the holy temple, but He is seated on his heavenly throne. This signifies that God, in his sovereignty, controls the outcome of circumstances—however trying or dangerous. Finally, verse seven concludes that “upright men will see his face.” Not all hope is lost in the face of adversity; we hold to the prospect of living with the Lord forever.
As he grieved for the people of Jerusalem, the prophet Jeremiah also reflected on the truths of God. By doing so, he kept himself from being carried away by what Charles Spurgeon has called the “hurricanes of infidelity which still come from the wilderness, and like whirlwinds, smite the four corners of our house, threatening to overthrow it” [Spurgeon, Charles. The Treasury of David (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1988), Psalm 73.]. Jeremiah wrote: “I remember my affliction…the bitterness…I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet, this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail…the Lord is good to those whose hope is in him…though He brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love” (Lam. 3:19–22; 25; 32).
When God’s mysterious ways defy human explanation, believers have recourse other than disillusionment with God and bitterness of heart. Confusion and lack of immediate answers actually can help us to see the most important truth—that we are constrained by faith to cast ourselves upon the mercy of God, who is infinitely wiser than we are, and in whose Word we find long-term comfort and hope. “Remember your word to your servant, for you have given me hope. My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life” (Ps. 119:49–50).
By revisiting what we know to be true about God, we find that His faithful Word enables us to draw strength from the right sources. It helps us to focus on the truth even in the hour of our severest trials and disillusionment.
Chris F. Goppert (MA [BS], 1980) is the founder of Salt Savours, a consultative ministry of encouragement to pastors and church leaders. For more information go to www.saltsavours.org .