A Search for Purpose in the Pain

Do you ever find yourself in difficult situations? Does life feel like a never ending struggle? Is everyday one hurdle after another? If this is true in your life, then you are in good company. It may seem like you are the only one facing a tough season or that your parade is the only one getting rained on, but this is not true. You may have no clue what struggles a friend, co-worker, or family member may be experiencing at this very moment.

If you are like me, you don’t mind a difficult season of life for a short while as long as you know there is a purpose in it. We are always looking for meaning and purpose in this crazy world. There is so much that is out of our control that it makes us feel like we are all alone and adrift at sea without just cause. But what if there was a larger picture that we are not seeing?

There is a great story in the Old Testament that catalogs this very same experience. If you want to read the entire account, look up 1 Kings 18 & 19. I will summarize the story for you. God sent the prophet Elijah to confront the king, queen, and the people of Israel over their worship of the idol Baal. Elijah and the nation of Israel met on Mt. Carmel (Not Caramel, this is not candy land LOL!). This was going to be a great showdown to establish once and for all who was the One true God of Israel. (Cue the western music and tumbleweeds blowing in the wind here!) On one side you have Elijah, prophet of God, and on the other side was 450 prophets of Baal. The prophets of Baal were outnumbered simply because God was on Elijah’s side. As they begun, Elijah offers this challenge. Let’s present sacrifices to our god and the god who is real will consume the sacrifice, thus proclaiming victory.

Now for all you folks who think the Bible is boring and without any colorful commentary, you really need to read this account. I won’t spoil it for you, but Elijah throws down some pretty good trash talk on the Baal prophets. Ultimately, Baal never shows and God completely steals the show. God shows up and provides visible proof of His power, existence, and involvement all in one act. I can imagine how all the jaws of the people were dropped and everyone was wide eyed. You know Elijah had a super smug look on his face because he knew he was on the winning side.

You would think that Elijah would be filled with complete trust in God and he could face anything the world might throw his way, but he was human. We see the evil queen Jezebel (Great name by the way!) threatened to kill Elijah. One might think that he would stand his ground and fight knowing that God had his back, especially after what he had just seen God do. But sadly, Elijah tucked his tail between his legs and ran for his life. I believe Elijah began to ponder what was the meaning and purpose of this. He had seen God do some really cool things and God had provided for him in extraordinary ways, but now he is questioning it all. Had God betrayed Elijah? Was God punishing Elijah for an earlier sin? Was God making Elijah an example of cosmic brutality? Or was God simply using this to get Elijah’s attention and prepare him for what was next?

Elijah began to plead his case to the Lord and you can sense the arrogance in Elijah’s tone. “I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. (1 Kings 19:10b NASB)” Elijah was saying that he was a good guy and that he couldn’t understand why everyone was picking on him. Life had upset his apple cart and he didn’t know why. Our God is so patient with us stubborn people. He could have given Elijah the back hand of correction; but instead, with a whisper he gently reminded Elijah that God was still in control and that this was all part of the plan. Elijah was not alone; he just wasn’t connected with the faithful folks yet (7,000 of them). Even though it looked bleak for Elijah, God was right there steering and preparing Elijah for the next phase of his ministry. The rough patch was not the end!

So you are going through a tough patch too? What might God be up too? Is He trying to wreck you or is He trying to teach you something? Maybe your asking questions like “God why me” or “God what are you up too?” Here are a few thoughts to help you as you lean into God as He makes your path straight.

  • You may be experiencing tough times in your life because of sin. God loves you and He knows the outcome of the unconfessed sin in your life. He knows the pain and loss that it will create if it stays in your life. So He may be causing you pain so that you will give it up. The pain of discipline is not nearly as great as death and loss that comes from sin.
  • He may be allowing difficulty so that you rely on Him for guidance and strength. Elijah could’ve gotten the big head easily, but God showed him that he was nothing without God. Elijah would have been just as guilty of worshipping himself as the Israelites were of worshipping Baal. God is our provider, our strength, and our Creator. We are nothing without Him.
  • He may be allowing pain because you’ve gotten off course. You may not be walking in blatant sin, but you have lost your way. This season of challenges and hurdles is to draw you back onto the straight and narrow path that leads to Him. Don’t follow everyone else, follow God. His path leads to life eternal.
  • He may be allowing this difficult time to prepare you for a difficult assignment. He is training you and maybe making you tougher to complete the task. God needs men and women with a spine to engage the culture and point them to Christ. These potholes that you are experiencing might just be the scars and bruises you need to do the task He has prepared for you

This is not an exhaustive list, but a place to start. Whatever it might be, God will always use the circumstances of life to draw you closer and allow you to trust Him more. He doesn’t do it to watch you squirm and be unhappy. He wants to make you holy and useful for the purposes of building His kingdom. So whatever you are facing today, trust that God is up to something good (Read Romans 8:28 if you don’t believe me).

As I was thinking about writing this, a song came on the radio. I believe it will inspire you in this difficult season. I am so thankful our God doesn’t leave us stranded. Here is the link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfveawSAHJA

So what are you facing today? Do you feel alone? How can I pray for or encourage you right now? Do you need a listening ear? I would love to hear your story. Grace and peace to you as you trust God and buckle in for a wild, bumpy ride. 

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