In our country, we are told over and over again things like:
“Follow your heart.”
“Make your own way.”
“Never take ‘no’ for an answer.”
“You can be anything you want or do anything you want.”
“Apply yourself and all your dreams will come true.”
(How else could we have so many reality shows where people want to be singers?)
We are told that anything is possible. We can make it happen by dreaming big and reaching high and wanting it badly enough. In fact, look at all the commercials and advertisements that tell us that “We deserve it.” It doesn’t matter what it is – a luxury car, a vacation, a break, a new phone . . . “We deserve it.” And it doesn’t matter how little effort or hard work we put in . . . “We deserve it.”
But while these statements can be encouraging and can get young people to dream big and try hard and aim high (and become greedy), I think they can be misleading and give false hope. For many of us, no matter how high we aim, we can’t seem to reach the moon. Our great efforts fizzle and we end up crashing back down to earth, landing in the mud.
What about all those wonderful promises that we can get whatever we want and that “we deserve it”?
I was thinking about all this the other day. And then I was comparing it to a couple passages in Scripture which teach something entirely different. Of course, there is the “If a man won’t work then a man won’t eat” passage and all the proverbs that talk about laziness and what laziness deserves.
But what I was mostly thinking about were the times in the Bible when God asked people to get comfortable with disappointment (as much as possible), to not strive to get out of it, to learn to glorify Him and do their best in the “trivial” and the trials and the broken dreams.
In our society, we would feel so indignant about being asked to “settle,” to give up our dreams, do the menial tasks, be overlooked, or be held back from getting what we want. And believing that we have a “right” to have more and be more, we would fight and claw to make a way, to force our dreams to happen, to get what “we deserve.”
Even as Christians, we always talk like God wants more for us, bigger things for us, more glorious tasks, that He just wants us to be happy. And so we pursue those things that make us happy and those glamorous, exciting jobs and opportunities. I mean, doesn’t God make grand things happen? Isn’t He felt more in the exciting moments and the big accomplishments than in the boring, small ones? Don’t the exciting things and big jobs make us feel more “favored” and blessed, like God is happier with us? Isn’t He the big God of big things?
But you know what? He is also the God of the little things. Of the boring, daily jobs. Of the small tasks. Of the desert times and long waits and hard trials and “prison” periods.
But we don’t want to believe that God might actually be asking us to get comfortable in the disappointing circumstances, in the barren desert, in the unfulfilled dreams, in the small, daily roles. We’d rather have more and bigger and “better.”
But there are times that this is exactly what God asks of us! And you are not going to hear that in the advertisements or the motivational speeches. But you will find it in the Bible.
There was Joseph who was left in a prison (not to mention captivity) for years for something he didn’t do. He certainly didn’t get what he “deserved.” And yet, he was responsible for and faithful in making the most of prison-life, doing his best for God’s glory anyway, instead of just pining for greater things.
How about Jeremiah? He was God’s spokesman for decades to a rebellious people. That was his God-given role. He was called to sacrifice his life and comfort to witness (alone) to people who would not listen to him, who would persecute him. Talk about a discouraging job. Being called to be a failure. (But not in God’s eyes!)
Daniel lived in captivity for decades and was required to serve the captors. Not his idea of how his life would go. But he still faithfully followed and served God, even with his failed dreams and goals and plans.
Moses lived a humble life as a backwoods shepherd for decades, giving up the palace life. And then led rebellious, grumbling Israelites around the desert for the rest of his life, dying in the desert before making it to the Promised Land.
Paul traded his life as one of the haughty, powerful, spiritually-elite in order to become a fool for Christ, spreading God’s Word (which he had been fighting against in his earlier years), while much of the time facing opposition, persecution, imprisonment, etc.
Because of his faith, John was banished to an island to die, where he ended up writing the book of Revelation.
How many of these people, when they were young, had bigger dreams for their lives? Ideas and plans of what would make them happy and fulfilled? How many looked forward to glamorous jobs and exciting opportunities and a full life? (Or is that just how these recent, American, materialistic generations are, with all the promises of “more” and “bigger” and “happiness”? All the “You deserve it” messages?)
But these godly people of the past were asked to “settle for less.” To glorify God in disappointing circumstances. To let go of their dreams and follow God into the hard times. To get comfortable with the uncomfortable. God wasn’t just the God of the big things and big times, but of the boring, daily, difficult things and times, too. And these people knew it!
And the Israelites learned this, too. In Jeremiah, we read about how they were exiled to Babylon for seventy years. And I would imagine that their natural inclination would have been to fight it, to lament it, to try to get away and pursue happiness and make their lives what they wanted them to be. I think the last thing in their minds would have been to “get comfortable with disappointment.”
Surely, God wouldn’t ask us to do that, would He? Surely He wants more for our lives, right? More happiness, more fulfillment, bigger blessings, bigger dreams?
But God sent them these instructions through the prophet, Jeremiah:
“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat whatever they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters . . . Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’ Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,’ declares the Lord.
This is what the Lord says, ‘When seventy years are complete for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found my you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back from captivity. . . .” (Jeremiah 29:4-14)
God basically told the Israelites, “Get comfortable in captivity. Don’t fight it. This is where I have you for now. Do not let the prophets tell you that I have greater things in mind for you right now or that I will get you out of here and make your life easier and happier. This is where I want you. Even if it disappoints you and makes you ‘unhappy.’ Make the most of it. Live the life you have. Learn to find Me in it, to glorify Me in it. And when the time is right, I will get you out of here. But not a day earlier. I have plans for you, for your future. But my plans for you right now include captivity. Learn from it. Be humbled by it. Learn to desperately need Me. Call upon Me. And when you have done this, I will hear you and be found by you and answer you.”
Oh, how many of us need to understand this! How many of us are facing our own trials and disappointments! Poor health. Poor finances. Shattered dreams. Lost jobs. Unfulfilling jobs. Broken families. Dysfunctional relationships. Disappointing detours in life. Giant obstacles. Hopelessness. And we are thinking that there must be something wrong with us that we are facing such trials. Is God that unhappy with us to allow these trials into our lives?
But we need to know that God is a God of all of these moments, too. These times are from His hand, just as much as the bigger, more glamorous, happier times. Whatever He allows in our lives, He does so because He knows it can help us grow and it can bring Him glory. And He will carry us through them and help us grow through them . . . if we will trust Him and humble ourselves under His mighty hand, trusting that He will lift us up in due time. (1 Peter 5:6)
[Please understand that I am not saying to “get comfortable” with everything in our lives, as in “be lazy” or “don’t try to fix what’s broken.” I am not saying to accept everything the way it is. If you have an unhealthy body, take care of it. Do your best to eat right and get the help you need. If your relationships are a mess because of your attitudes and actions, don’t “get comfortable” with it. Take responsibility for your mistakes and do your best to fix it. If you could get a better job but you are too lazy, don’t excuse it by saying that God gave you the trial of poverty or a bad job and that you are just going to have to accept it. If you have a great, God-given opportunity or talent, don’t let “I’m scared” hold you back and bring you down. God may just be calling you to step out in faith and let Him work through you.
Don’t blame God for the messes you are responsible for. If He has given you the wisdom or the opportunity to make good changes in your life but you are refusing to, don’t act like a martyr who has being called by God to suffer. If He has provided a way to fix something, do it. Don’t just “get comfortable with disappointment” in those kinds of areas, when He has given you the tools you need to make a change. If He has made a way, you are responsible to follow and be obedient and exercise wisdom.
But what I am saying is that sometimes we face situations that we cannot change, times when God brings us circumstances we can’t get out of. And this is when we need to “get comfortable and make the most of it.” Learn to grow and flourish in them. I am not talking about making (or allowing) our own messes and then refusing to clean them up. I just want to be clear here. And by all means, if you are in a difficult trial, pray for God to help you find a way out of it. Pray and pray and pray. And if He doesn’t get you out of it and He makes it clear that this is where He wants you right now, pray for wisdom to see the trial the way He does, for strength to carry on, for His presence and His Spirit to comfort and guide you, and that He carries you through it and helps you grow spiritually because of it. Immerse yourself in Him and His Word and in prayer. These are essential for making it through the hard times with your faith intact.]
I believe that God is not really a God who says, “You deserve whatever you want. Just follow your heart and you can do anything. I just want you to be happy and fulfilled in this life. It’s all about you.”
I think God is a God who says, “It’s not about you and your plans and your dreams and being happy. It’s about Me and My plans and My kingdom. And while it might be hard, I want you to follow Me in My plans. I want you to not pursue what makes you ‘happy,’ but to pursue holiness and to seek to glorify Me in all you do, even if your life is only full of trivial, daily jobs or disappointing circumstances. I used Daniel, Joseph, Moses, Paul, etc., but only after I stripped them down of their plans and goals and ideas of what they ‘deserved,’ only after they learned humility in the disappointments and the captivity and the failures. It is then – it is with the humbled - that I do My best work!”
I don’t think God is as concerned as we are with what we “deserve” and with our happiness and our grand plans. He is much more concerned with developing our character and purifying our priorities and humbling us before Him, getting us to shift our focus from ourselves to His kingdom and His righteousness. And His preferred method seems to be through disappointments and trials.
And yet, here we are, constantly trying to avoid disappointment and trials, always looking for something that makes us happy, for jobs that are glamorous and that make us feel like God has greatly blessed us and is greatly using us. And we fail to recognize that He is the God of the boring jobs and the hard trials and the long waits and the desert times and the “prison” times. And we fail at growing spiritually through these times, at learning humility and faithfulness and thankfulness. What a waste of a disappointment and a trial!
This issue is close to my heart right now. I have had to accept many disappointments, in many different areas. Relationships are not what they should be. Grand efforts I have made to do worthwhile things have fallen flat. Dreams have been shattered. I have tip-toed again and again to the point of hopelessness, struggling to keep my head above water in a swamp of despair, drowning in a pool of failure. I am afraid for our country, for our world, for what we are doing to it and to each other, for our moral and spiritual condition. And I wonder if I can do anything to make a difference at all.
And on top of that, I am in one of those “small job” periods of life. I am a mom. It’s my job. It’s what I do. I wash the same dishes every day. I do the same, never shrinking piles of laundry every day. (Okay, maybe more like every other day. Umm . . . actually . . . every third day is more like it.) I have to make breakfasts and lunches and think up seven different dinners every week that will please six people with different tastes, listening to the same complaints about what we are having to eat night after night. I have to do math and reading and other schoolwork with the kids, checking progress and grading papers and praying that God helps me do my best to grow my boys up academically since I am not just their mom but also their teacher. And I have to do this every day, waking up the next day and doing it all over again. And I know that, to the world, it is not glamorous or exciting. But to me, it is my mission right now, my God-given role, no matter how trivial the daily jobs seem to be and how little I feel like I have accomplished.
“ . . . whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” (Colossians 3:23)
These verses do not say that we have to go out and find big jobs that bring God glory. They are saying that we are to glorify God in the jobs we currently have, in the daily things we do, no matter how big or glamorous or public they are. We can wash dishes for His glory. We can make dinner for His glory. We can go to the same boring job every day for His glory. We can be kind to our neighbor for His glory. It’s not about adding some new task that seems more glorifying to Him. It is about doing the same things we already do, but changing our reason for doing it.
As a mom, I should not be washing dishes or making food to get appreciation from my family or just because it’s my duty. I should be doing it – to the best of my ability and with a thankful heart – because I know this is the job God gave me today and because it glorifies Him when I do it with all my heart. It should be enough for me to know that He is watching me and that He cares about how I do it and that He will reward my faithfulness someday. (And I wouldn’t trade this job – being a mother - for anything. I am absolutely convinced in the core of my being that this is where I need to be for now. And I am thankful for this job and this role. It might not mean much to the world, but it means the world to me.)
It doesn’t matter how big, exciting, or fulfilling the job is; it matters how we do it and if we are doing our best for Him. (And sometimes, when there’s too much to do and our strength is giving out and we know we can’t do our best, it about “doing our best to do our best.” And if that’s all we can do, that’s okay.) I think this is why God (through Paul) could tell the slaves, “obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:22-24) And it’s why He could tell the masters of the slaves, “Provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.” (Colossians 4:1)
It’s not about being the slave or being the master. It’s not about your position or your circumstances. It’s about doing your best at your current job, in your current role, to please God and for His glory and because you know that He is watching you and will reward you accordingly. (This isn't to say that God thinks slavery is right or that He doesn't care about the unfair treatment of slaves. It just means that whenever you do your best in whatever your life is, He is pleased with you.)
The mother or kindergarten teacher or garbage man or store clerk who is humbly and faithfully doing their best at their job out of thankfulness and for God’s glory is as honoring and pleasing to God as a president of a business or a leader of a huge organization who is faithfully, humbly, thankfully doing their job for God’s glory. (Read that again!) There are no small jobs in God’s kingdom!
When the hard times come . . . when life takes disappointing, confusing detours . . . when you feel like a forgotten failure who is wandering a huge, lifeless desert . . . when you feel stripped of everything . . . when you feel benched by God . . . when you feel you drew the short stick or got the menial job . . . when you have to let go of your dreams and plans and follow God down a path you never asked for . . . remember that you are in good company. Paul, Daniel, Moses, Joseph, etc., have all been there. And look how God used their faithfulness and their humility and how He worked through them, for His glory and His purposes and His kingdom, even if the work was hard and they’d rather be doing other things.
Those hard times, those disappointing circumstances, are where God does His best work. It’s where He grows your character, your faith, your spiritual strength, your wisdom, your humility. It’s where He develops His strongest witnesses. If you let Him. If you don’t let discouragement and despair take your eyes off of His goodness, faithfulness, sovereignty, and love.
But it takes a shift in our thinking - from complaining, grumbling, and trying to climb our way out of the disappointment to turning to God, seeking Him desperately in prayer, praising Him in the trials, learning humility and the other lessons He wants us to learn, letting Him strip us down and then rebuild us in the way He wants to. And this won’t just happen to us, not while we gripe and complain about how we are “unhappy” and not getting what we “deserve.” It happens only when we take our eyes off of our disappointing circumstances and place them fully on Him and what He is doing in our lives.
When we learn to be faithful in the desert and in exile . . . when we learn to bring Him glory in the tiny, trivial details of life . . . when we learn to praise Him, even when life isn’t making us happy . . . when we learn that it’s all about Him and not about us . . . when we learn to follow Him instead of trying to lead . . . when we seek Him with our whole heart and not a divided one that is still seeking fulfillment in something else . . . then those “disappointing circumstances” are not so disappointing anymore.
And when we have learned all this, then He can trust us to handle the next job He has for us. And He pulls us out of the desert, out of exile, and reveals the plans that He has for us. Plans to prosper us and give us hope and a future. Plans to use us for His glory and kingdom and purposes.
But it is in the desert and the trials that we learn humility and begin to see things the way He wants us to! If we seek to! If we let Him strip us down and rebuild us! If we stop complaining and start praising! If we set our eyes on Him!
Never waste a trial or a disappointment. Ask God what you can learn from it. And see what He does. Like I said, it’s where He does His best work! So don’t fight Him and don’t get discouraged about the hard times or the little role you have in life, just “get comfortable” and live the life you have, for His glory, and draw ever nearer to Him every day. Take heart and be faithful and thankful, no matter what job He gives you today! He is growing you up in ways you might not even be able to imagine yet! And He will turn the messes into something beautiful!
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)