We’ve all been impacted, one way or the other, over the past 18 months by the COVID-19 pandemic. You or someone you know may have had COVID, or perhaps you lost a loved one to the virus. You may have been forced by your employer to either get a COVID vaccine or lose your job. We have all had to wear face coverings, and as I write this, my state still has an indoor “mask mandate”. Your young children may have been forced to wear masks at school or learn online. We could go on about how COVID has changed our world, including an increase in depression, loneliness, and isolation.
About 6 months into the COVID pandemic, I lost my father to heart disease. A little over a month before that he had travelled to Chicago to have a heart procedure. Stores were boarded up and we were advised to not be outside after dark due to the rioting/looting. Our hope had been that this surgery would prolong his life. Instead, he quickly declined after the procedure, and we don’t really know why.
Just 8 months later, my brother and his wife both contracted the virus, and were hospitalized. Although Julie was released after 3 days, Mike’s case was much more severe. Before he was put into a coma to be placed on the ventilator, he was told by the doctor that they didn’t think he would make it. Whether he would survive or not was very much up in the air. Although a Christian for nearly 40 years, the thought of losing my brother drove me to begin each morning on my knees, a discipline that I have continued. Mike would eventually come home after 53 days in the hospital. As I write this, our community has lost 263 people to COVID. It is only because of God’s amazing grace that Mike survived his battle with the virus and is doing well.
And then about a month and a half later, my mother-in-law woke up one morning confused and weak. At that time, she was a mentally sharp 89-year-old, living in her own home. After a week and three visits to medical facilities, she was admitted to a hospital, where she remained for 3 weeks. As I write this, it has been just over 8 weeks since that time. She has not improved, and is in a long-term care facility. She is mentally confused/delusional and does not have the use of her legs. Lots of tests have been run, but we still have no answers as to what caused the change in her condition, and may never know.
The effects of the COVID-10 pandemic, the above impacts on people close to me, as well as the loss of a dear friend who died from a nearly 15-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease, has frankly rocked my world. I feel like I have aged 10 years. And I know that many of you have gone through an even more difficult time. What are we to do when life gets so difficult? Should we just approach life with a stiff upper lip? How can we persevere as Christians during adversity?
I’ve written previously about some helpful advice that I got from the missionary and author Elisabeth Elliot, who lost not one, but two husbands. Someone asked her how she could go on after such loss. Her response has stuck with me. She shared advice that she got from a poem written about an old Saxon legend. She said that she just does the next thing. Our tendency in difficult times is to look ahead at all we have to do and become anxious at what might lie ahead, but her advice is wise: Just do the next thing.
As hard as it is, we also have to get comfortable with our prayers not being answered in the manner or time that we would want. Tim Keller has said that God always answers our prayers in precisely the way we want them to be answered if we knew everything He knew.
I’ve been helped during this time by reading and discussing with a few friends Jerry Bridges’ book Is God Really In Control?: Trusting God in a World of Hurt. Bridges tells us that if we are to trust God, we must learn to see that He is continuously at work in every aspect and every moment of our lives. He writes that God never wastes pain and that He always uses it to accomplish His purpose. And His purpose is for His glory and our good.
Have you been going through adversity during these days? Bridges tells us that most godly character traits can only be developed through adversity. He writes that sometimes afterward we can see some of the beneficial results of adversity in our lives, but we seldom can see it during the time of the adversity. In fact, ultimately we can use the comfort we’ve received during hard times to comfort others. “Who comforts us in all our trouble, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the same comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 2 Corinthians 1:4
I mentioned above what our family has gone through over the past year plus. You may be facing your own storms. Perhaps you have lost your job, or you or a loved one has gotten a terrible medical diagnosis. Perhaps you long to have children but haven’t been blessed with them. Whatever your storm is, remember that God is good and He’s sovereign. Trials teach hard lessons, as Charles Spurgeon said: “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.”
Bridges tells us that an unreserved trust of God, when we don’t understand what is happening or why, is the only road to peace and comfort and joy. So how do we build that trust?
In Psalm 13 David says
“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?”
God wants us to lament and talk to Him – He will bend down His ear to listen and He will send His Holy Spirit to comfort us.
In Job 13, Job says “Though he slay me, I will hope in him”.
Habakkuk in Chapter 13 prays:
17 Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.
So the question is, how do we trust him and hope in Him like Job and Habakkuk? It begins with knowing God and His character. Once we know His faithfulness, lovingkindness, generosity, wisdom and strength, we can walk through any kind of circumstances, trusting Him to enable us in anything He calls us to.
Are you facing adversity at this time? Trust our sovereign God to use this time for His glory and our good. Please share what has helped you during difficult times, when you don’t have answers or strength to persevere.
My wife is comforted by hymns – here’s two of them:
God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill;
He treasures up his bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.
Ye fearful saints fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence,
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding ev’ry hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.
Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
And he will make it plain.
~ by William Cowper (who suffered from depression)
Be still my soul the Lord is on thy side
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain
Leave to thy God to order and provide
In every change He faithful will remain
Be still my soul thy best, thy heavenly friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end
Be still, my soul, thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake
All now mysterious shall be bright at last
Be still, my soul, the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below