He did the heavy lifting we simply couldn’t do. Jesus’ life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension completed all that was necessary for us to be made right with Him. Our biggest problems—Satan, Sin and Death—have been dealt with. Let that sink in for a moment. For the believer in Christ, there is no longer condemnation (Romans 8:1), sin no longer holds us captive (Romans 6:1-14), and we will never be departed from our Lord (Romans 8:35, 38). Your behavior—sinful though it may be—can no more separate you from the love of God in Christ for you, than it could save you in the first place. “For by grace,” Paul said in Ephesians 2:8-9, “you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no man may boast.”
When life gets hard and I find myself dropping the ball, my temptation is to look inwardly—to focus on where I’m failing. When I turn my gaze upon myself, I quickly lose assurance and begin to question and doubt my very salvation. And therein we find the danger of turning our gaze upon ourselves. You and I were never meant to transfix our eyes upon our own navels. No, we were called to fix our eyes on Jesus. “Glimpses into the dark room of the heart alone,” Thomas Chalmers said, “give no good prospect.” Chalmers is right. Looking inward only leads to darker and darker places. “...take help from the windows.” Chalmers said, “Open the shutters and admit the sun. So if you wish to look well inwardly, look well out. . . . This is the very way to quicken it. Throw widely open the portals of faith and in this, every light will be admitted into the chambers of experience. The true way to facilitate self-examination is to look believingly outwardly.”
When you are in trouble and the mess of life is at your door, resist the urge to focus on yourself, or the problem at hand. Instead, look to Christ. Fix your gaze upon Him. The mess won’t go away and you’ll still have to deal with it, but you’ll be doing so with your mind and heart rightly focused. To say it another way, you’ll be dealing with things from a gospel or Jesus first mentality, not a behavior / problem first mentality. It makes all the difference in the world.
2 . Isolation kills.
When things get tough your natural tendency will be to withdraw. Maybe you feel that no one wants to listen, or that your problems make you damaged goods. Whatever the reason, isolation is the worst choice you could make. Despite what you tell yourself, those closest to you love you, care about you, and want to help you. “No man” John Donne said, “is an island. Entire of itself.” At no other time in your life could this sentiment ring more true, than when stuff gets messy. So reject fear, pick up the phone and invite those closest to you into the mess and pain.
Many churches call these types of deep, life on life relationships home groups, life groups, or community groups. Regardless of the name you choose to give it, there are several things you should expect from it. The foundation of any relationship is trust. Without it you’ve got nothing. It’s the glue that holds human relationships together. You have to be able to trust the other person to handle your stuff properly. That doesn’t mean they have to keep everything you say confidential. That may sound strange and counterproductive, but it's not. Sometimes you’ll share things that require them to widen the circle and bring others into the conversation. Trusting the other people in your life, means you believe they have your best interest at heart, even when it doesn’t feel like it.
You can expect your community to listen to all your hurts, struggles, and screw ups. You should be able to truly open up and let them into every part of your world. They not only want to hear about everything going on in your life, they need to. If there are areas that are off limits for you guys to talk about, it’s going to be difficult for them to serve the role they are called to serve in your life, and vice versa. Your community is going to ask you good questions, and many of them you're not going to want to answer. Resist that urge, and do it anyway. They’ll do it because they genuinely love and care for you, and want to understand.
As they listen, you can expect them to affirm you in the areas you are doing well. Things may be a mess and it feels like, “you just can’t do anything right” but nothing could farther from the truth. Even in the midst of your deepest and darkest seasons, where everything may have come unraveled and you feel like “nothing good dwells in you”, there is always some area of your life to be affirmed. Maybe it’s your honesty, willingness to open up and invite others in, or perhaps it’s the loving way in which you receive the counsel of others. Whatever it is, there is always something to celebrate. Not only should you expect community to celebrate small victories but you should expect them to build you up in your identity in Christ. The most powerful weapon we have in our battle with Sin & Satan, is truth. Your group can be expected to regularly remind you of what is true by pointing you to God’s word, and recalling to your mind who you are in Christ.
Community should point you to truth and give counsel that is grounded in the Bible. As they do so, they will say many things you don’t want to hear. Resist the urge to bail or seek out those who only tell you what you want to hear. If what they’re saying is biblical, you need to listen. This is where the rubber meets the road in community. Far too many people get offended, hurt and consequently withdraw all together because their community group either asked hard questions of them, or said hard truths for them to hear. When inevitably that moment comes, lean in, ask good questions and above all listen.
When you bring things to the table, you can expect your group to lovingly lean in, remind you of truth and help you map a way back to health. In every situation that road map is going to look differently but it will contain some of the same elements, such as daily time in God’s word, sharing what you’re learning, and keeping community in the loop.
Regardless of how things are going, they’re going to check in with you regularly to hold you accountable. Accountability has gotten a bad rap over the last several years. Just simply hearing the word causes some to recoil or sends their blood pressure through the roof. I get it. I’ve been there and can attest that whatever picture of accountability that causes those images to come to mind, is not what we’re talking about here. The type of ‘accountability’ you need is not the kind that makes you feel beat down but the kind that makes you feel loved and encouraged. Expect your group to check in, ask good questions and point you in the right direction. His people are one of the most important gifts the Lord has given us. Allow them to be and do for you all the Lord intends.
3. This too shall pass.
You’re walking through some pretty heavy stuff and it hurts like crazy. That kind of emotional pain and turmoil plays tricks on the mind. Better yet, that devil on your left shoulder lies to you. He will tell you a million different things that aren’t true, but one of the biggest lies he’ll tell you is that there is no hope, and that your life is over. Both lies trade on the idea that whatever trial you’re in is permanent, with no end in sight. While it may appear to be, your situation is only temporary. It will change. These seasons of trial come and go like the changing of the tide. They will no doubt leave a mark, hopefully for the better, but they will pass. This is going to be especially hard to believe when you're in the thick of it. It is going to feel like there is no way out. Like whatever troublesome circumstances, or hardships you’re experiencing are the new normal. They’re not. The pain will subside and troubles dissipate, but you’ll still be standing in the end.
Hopefully, you’ll be a better man/women for it. That is after all a major component of why you walk through times like this, the development of your character. “Count it all joy, my brothers” James said, “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 nothing.” James just upped the ante far beyond what any of us are probably comfortable with by calling us to be joyful for our hardships. But isn’t that exactly what all of us are when we reach the other side of our hurts. We may not enjoy it in the moment, but we usually look back with thankfulness at that which formerly brought is so much anguish. Is that not because all the hurt, all the pain, and all the craziness of it all produced in you a change. That’s what James was getting at. Be thankful for your sufferings, they just might be some of the greatest blessings you’ll ever receive.
I want you to do something for me. Pull out a notecard or a blank sheet of paper, and write down all of the good things you are thankful for. Start with the best experiences in your life. Maybe the job you have, the spouse you married, the awesome conversation you had with the guy at the coffee shop. Just write it all down.
Now flip that card or sheet of paper over. On the other side of the page, write all of your worst experiences. All the painful, difficult and agonizing periods of your life. The time you lost your job, maybe you walked through the pain of losing a child or any other of a million things.
Now take a look at both lists, and ask yourself how many of the things on the front side are direct or indirect results of some of the things that happened on the back. My guess is that more than one of the best things to have happened in your life, is related to one of the worst. How often do we pray for the Lord to relieve the pressure and remove us from our trials? I know I do. Pain isn’t fun in the moment, but often its result are worth it. “If God answered,” Randy Alcorn said, “all our prayers to be delivered from evil and suffering, then He would be delivering us from Christlikeness. But Christlikeness is something to long for, not to be delivered from.”
Things are going to go wrong in life. That you already know. The next time it knocks at your door, pull this post out and remind yourself of God’s love for you, the gift He’s given you in His people and the purpose behind the pain. I pray that you will struggle well and allow your next fiery trial to make you look a little more like Jesus.