Why Does God Make Life So Hard? And What He Wants Us to Do About It

The early 90’s were a rough time for me. I had moved my family from a difficult financial situation in Minnesota, to a worse situation in Georgia. Our long-term plans died on the vine. I was under-employed working two part-time jobs. Debt and bills were always a problem. We lived paycheck to paycheck. We had two small kids, one inconsistent income, and zero health insurance.

To make matters worse, it seemed like everyone around me was prospering. I remember taking my son to T-ball games and discovering that, apparently, normal Dads of 5-year-olds drive a new Lexus, BMW, or Mercedes. Now, I didn’t envy their cars per sé. But, being around such prosperity was like salt in a wound when, for me, just trying to make ends meet was so…

FRUSTRATING!

❯ WHAT WILL GOD DO?

Then, we received a glimmer of hope. Our pastor told us that an anonymous someone in the congregation wanted to help us financially. They knew we were in transition and struggling financially. That someone asked the pastor to meet with us and assess our needs. We didn’t know what to say. We had numbers in our heads (involving 4 digits) that we thought could solve all our problems, but we didn’t want to say as much. Our instinct was to just wait and see what God would do. You can imagine how high our hopes were.

Then our pastor dropped by to see us again. This time, he had an envelope. He left it with us. We opened it.

It held one, single, hundred dollar bill.

❯ NOT WHAT I EXPECTED

I should have been grateful for this person’s generosity. I should have been humbled. I should have been encouraged that God knew our need and cared about my family.

But, I wasn’t.

It felt like a $100 slap in the face. I felt like God was making fun of me, playing a cruel game. I was so, so mad at God. Instead of being encouraged by this gift, my frustration and depression only deepened.

That was 20+ years ago, and there was a lot wrong with my thinking back then: self-centered, ungrateful young man. But, it’s hard not to be self-centered and ungrateful when times are tough. It’s easy to be absorbed with the frustration you feel every moment of every day.

❯ CAN YOU BE SATISFIED?

You know what it’s like: It’s that bill collector, that task you can’t get right, that car that broke down again, that medical condition, that bad temper, that same old stupid mistake, that unreasonable boss, that manipulative parent, that same argument with your spouse, that sin you worry about first thing each morning. Like the so-called Chinese water torture, frustration can be a constant, gnawing, absorbing, dripping ache on your brain.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be rid of it?

Of course, you can’t. Life’s problems are here to stay. They only change; they don’t go away.

But you can learn to respond to them better and enjoy life more. You can learn be less frustrated by your problems and more satisfied with your life.

Here’s a few things that have really helped me live a more satisfied life.

1. EMBRACE A BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE ON FRUSTRATION

A wise person will admit: frustration is simply part of the human condition. It’s part of the curse of our eviction from Eden. We are in exiles in a difficult world. You can read about it in Genesis 3. The first man and woman trusted themselves instead of God, so God drove them from his protecting presence. The Apostle Paul, reflecting on this, taught that God subjected all of creation to frustration (Romans 8:20). That includes me and you. The Westminster Shorter Catechism aptly calls this our fall into sin and misery. (Click the WSC link and check out questions 17-20.)

Why would God do this?—So we would realize our lives are meaningless and broken without Him at the center of it. The few people who experience only comfort and ease rarely perceive their true need for God. Frustration should cause us to look outside ourselves for rescue from this broken world. It should teach us this simple bit of wisdom: Life isn’t supposed to be this way, and only a return to God will fix it.

2. BE SURE YOUR FRUSTRATION ISN’T DESERVED

Make sure your desires and motives don’t deserve to be frustrated.

Are you:

  • Trying to control or manipulate someone?
  • Pursuing a goal that God forbids?
  • Making an idol of something or someone to the point you feel empty without it?
  • Pursuing the constant win, win, win, as if that’s the ultimate goal in life.

No one gets this 100% right 100% of the time. So, we should frequently re-evaluate our plans, behaviors, and motives. Unrighteousness can creep into our hearts unnoticed, like mold in a damp basement.

And frustration will follow. God will see to it.

3. LEARN THE SECRET OF CONTENTMENT

What’s the secret contentment?

It is, to see your life in God’s hands and to trust Him absolutely with every detail. Whatever He gives. Whatever he withholds. Whether you consider it blessing or curse. You have what you have in life as God wills, no more, no less. That is your lot. Trust Him. Thank Him.

It’s hard, I know. But it must be done.

Contentment with God’s will is the foundation of happiness and godliness in this average life. Paul spoke of contentment as a tremendous gain to the quality of one’s life (1 Timothy 6:6).

The alternative is resentment and deepening frustration.

4. LEARN THE BENEFIT OF GRATITUDE

Along with contentment, learn gratitude. Learn that everything good is gift. Everything. Even many hard things are gifts.

Gratitude has the great benefit of attracting friends. Friends are eager encouragers, supporters and helpers in time of need.

Only don’t adopt the fake, just for show, hash-tag-blessed sort of gratitude. Real gratitude generates real humility about oneself, real joy in one’s circumstances, and real compassion for others’ difficulties.

5. LEARN WHAT MONEY CAN’T DO

Money can alleviate a struggle. Money can make life more pleasant. Money can buy relaxation, comfort, and pleasure. Money can even buy health.

But money can not buy joy in life. That’s pretty common knowledge but we all seem to ignore it. Only humility, contentment and gratitude generate joy.

6. PUT YOUR HOPE IN THE RIGHT PLACE

If your hope is for, as Joel Osteen famously wrote, your best life now; you are doomed to frustration.

God’s promise is for your best life then.

Imagine that God was your genie in the bottle and you had all you could wish for in this life: comfort, pleasures, power, and immortality. You would essentially be the Adam and Eve they dreamed of before that first bite. You would never care about righteousness, holiness, or communion with God. You would look inward for your highest good and believe there was no good other than yours. Your immortal comforts would become ashes and dust to you. They would lose their charms. For you were made to experience ultimate joy and satisfaction by praising the goodness of another: your Maker.

This frustrating life is meant to teach us that. This is why the gospel is so inviting.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you [eternal] rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find [sabbath] rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”—Matthew 11:28–30, emphasis mine

Do you have ears?

Hear.

You may also find help reading:

8 Life Changing Resolutions for Frustrated Christians

God’s Will and Your Big, Stupid Mistakes

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What Bethlehem Taught About Marketing Jesus

Around 2,000 years ago Bethlehem hosted the most spectacular event since, “Let there be light.”

It was completely unique; utterly new. Nothing like it had been done before, or since. It was the incarnation of the eternal Son of God in real human flesh and bone, the Son of Man, born to save us. It was the divine answer to the human problem.

But, who did God tell?

He let it go largely unnoticed.

Sure, an angel choir sang praises, but to whom?—just a few shepherds in the middle of nowhere. Just a few non-influencers at the edge of a podunk town in a backwater region of a disinterested empire.

The shepherds talked it up, sure. But all the response they got was that people wondered.

God did let two others, elderly Simeon and 84-year-old Anna, in on the big event. They astonished Joseph and Mary, making a big deal over Jesus when they brought him to the temple 40 days later. But nothing much came of it; they weren’t exactly movers and shakers in Jerusalem.

And, there were a few foreign star gazers (Magi), too. But they just showed up out of the blue, asked directions, and then, left without a word.

That was the extent of God’s big announcement.

One has to wonder, why.

Here’s my take:

Because Jesus isn’t a product.

Jesus isn’t God’s equivalent of a new iPhone to be beautifully packaged, merchandised, shipped, sold, and tracked.

God wasn’t measuring Jesus’ performance in the marketplace. He had no charts plotting Jesus’ market penetration. There were no graphs tracking Jewish versus Gentile uptake. Jesus wouldn’t need tweaking. He would never be re-branded. He didn’t come in multiple, market-sensitive packages.

He just came. He did His Father’s will. And He trained a few followers to tell the world about it.

No more angel choirs.

✣    ✣    ✣

So, here we are in our modern, free-market consumer society, and the message about Jesus has finally come to us. In ordinary, sometimes forced ways (your parents made you go to church, right?), the message, this gospel, is now our charge.

Will we pass it on as it was received?—in its biblical essence, unpackaged, unadorned?—at once both divine and earthy, glorious and offensive?

Or should we measure it, test it, tweak it for maximum relevance and appeal?—Because, after all, we know so much more about human nature now.

Given what Bethlehem taught about marketing Jesus, perhaps we should question the relevance of the question, “How do we make the message relevant?”

I hope I, we, can leave it alone, except to make it known.

✣    ✣    ✣

I’ll write more about how we often don’t leave it alone next time.

Grace and peace, Lon

35 Years of Faith in Jesus: Why I’m Still A Christian

I have been a follower of Jesus longer than He actually lived on the earth.

That’s a humbling thought to me.

I was 16 when the journey began, birthed at the height of pimples, hormones and insecurity. A lot has happened since then, and if I could tally up my failures, mistakes, and sins—the things that would make you wonder if I really was a Christian—I could fill 10,000 ledger books.

And yet, here I am, 35 years later, still clinging to the hope of forgiveness and heaven and eternal life in Jesus Christ alone.

With all the discouragements and temptations I’ve experienced, and all the mistakes and sins I’ve committed, what made my faith stick? From a human perspective (setting God’s power and grace aside for the moment) how can I account for the fact that I am convinced more than ever that Jesus is who He said He was: the Christ, the eternal Son of God, the Savior? How can I account for the fact that I still believe in Jesus, and that my faith has deepened and grown?

In answer, I see five significant events and experiences—call call them milestones—that have led me to where I am after these 35 years. Five things have contributed, more than anything else, to who and what I am today: a middle-aged Christian who sees no reason to abandon faith in Jesus.

I’d like to tell you what they are, and recommend them to you.

✣ I SURRENDERED TO JESUS

Surrender, yes. Not a wish or whim. Not a vague belief that there is a God. I’m talking self-abandon. I admitted the bad news about myself, and put my all my hope in the good news about Jesus.

The bad news was that one day I would face God’s judgement, and the evidence to condemn me would be overwhelming. But, thank God for the good news—that Jesus, the mediator, would exchange His perfect record for mine (Read 2 Corinthians 5:21). I still sin a lot. But God forgives again and again because I have an advocate whose work on the cross paid for all my sins past, present, and future. And over the years, He makes me more and more willing and able to follow Him.

What difference does it make?

Jesus is my hope of eternal life, my hope of heaven. I hope for a coming kingdom in which Christ reigns, where sin is banished, and I am free from sin, death, and misery. He is my only hope. But, it is a certain hope, that gives meaning and purpose to the last 35 years.

I recommend you place your hope of heaven in Christ alone.

✣ I MARRIED DAWN

I married a Christian girl who was committed to following Jesus, even though it required her to forgive my sins against her, and repent of her sins against me.

What difference does it make?

Nothing is as comforting and encouraging as living with someone who will love you in spite of yourself—someone who, in mutual dependence, will pray with you, or for you anytime, anywhere, through everything.

I recommend you be such a Christian, like Dawn, always ready forgive and pray with the one you love.

✣ I STUDIED THEOLOGY

Another way to say this is, I studied the Bible with the help of great Christians who studied the Bible better than I ever could. And this helped me learn to think the Bible’s thoughts after it.

Studying theology and church history helped me learn how the Bible addresses the big questions of life. When your back is up against a wall, you want to know that the thing you’re staking your life on actually makes sense.

What difference does it make?

Studying theology and church history gives me a broader perspective on life and faith, beyond the current trends and fashions of the church. You might say, it shapes an eternal perspective. It helps me perceive errors in my faith and life, and in the world around me. Studying theology tills the soil of my heart and mind, which the Holy Spirit waters to raise a harvest.

I recommend you be such a lover of the Bible that you make a life-long study of it. Study it well with the help of the great Christian scholars and teachers throughout history so that your faith will not be too much a product of your own time.

✣ I EMBRACED CALVINISM

When I was 18, I was told not to believe it. And, in fact, I didn’t want to believe it. The theological system commonly known as Calvinism (the proper label is Reformed Theology) raises uncomfortable, inconvenient questions that I didn’t want to think about. But I did. I studied it out. And finally at age 25, I drove down the last nail in the coffin of my intellectual objections to Calvinism, and I took the Bible at its word.

What difference does it make?

Letting the Bible speak for itself, and not bow to what I wanted it to say, allows it to make sense of itself. More than that, it makes sense of me, indeed, it makes sense of the world.

If you want to make sense of life and death and suffering, if you hunger for the peace of a real assurance of salvation, if you want to experience the full freedom of belonging to Christ, then I recommend you study and embrace the theology of the Reformation, which I believe, most fully allows the Bible to speak for itself.

✣ I BECAME A “ONE ANOTHER”

So much of what we call the Christian life requires the language of one another. Love one another. Serve one another. Forgive one another. Comfort one another. Strengthen one another.

So, how can I truly live the Christian life if I isolate myself? If my highest values are my independence and privacy how can I participate in the life that comes from Christ? It can’t be done.

That’s why I attend church. It’s why I’m faithful and regular. It’s why I’m a member of a congregation. It’s also why I’m committed to meeting with a small group of men for mutual support, prayer, teaching, and accountability. I need them. And they need me.

What difference does it make?

Being a “one another” gives me the comfort of belonging. It provides a community of friends who care about me, and whom I can care for. It gives me a band of brothers to walk with, shoulder to shoulder, as we follow our Savior. He calls us by name, individually. But, He places us into one family that His love may multiply among us.

If you want to follow Christ, if you want the comfort of belonging to Him, I recommend you not try to follow Him alone. He won’t have it. He will make you a one another, and you will praise Him for it.

These are the five most important milestones in my spiritual journey. They have contributed the most, so they’re what I value most. I recommend them to you, and I hope you’ll recommend them to your friends by sharing this post. And please let us know about your significant milestones in the comments below.

God’s grace to you,

Lon