From time to time I receive emails or letters from listeners to this Morning Devotions segment. It’s always encouraging to get that type of feedback. One day I received a brief note. I won’t use her real name. I’ll call her Julie and part of her note said:
Listening to Christian teaching calms me and helps me think about how I respond to difficult situations. I chose to face many hurts and injustices that go back to childhood. It isn’t easy doing this inner work, but it’s freeing up emotions. Thank you for the positive thoughts.
I was very appreciative of this lady’s note, because it prompted my own thinking: how do we respond to difficult situations? I think it’s a worthwhile question, which affects everyone sometime.
How do you define what is a difficult situation? It could be one of hundreds of situations, but it is uniquely yours—no-one else’s. We can be forced into a stressful situation we did not choose ourselves, and wish it were not so. Chuck Swindoll was fond of saying, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it”. That makes a lot of sense to me.
When We Face a Difficult Situation
In a difficult time, it would be easier to sit around feeling bad, looking for people to blame and complain to, rehashing what you could have done to make things happen differently. Or what you would have done if you only realised before. Or what other people should have done to help you. On and on it goes in your mind. I’ve been there myself.
There’s an interesting book that’s been available for a while: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson. It’s a self-help book—it shows you how to put challenges in perspective, reduce stress and anxiety through small daily changes, and find the path to achieving your goals.
Good ideas to think about. I guess you would call it positive psychology—teaching us to focus on the ‘now’ and find balance by living through contentment. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff spent over 100 weeks on the New York Times‘ Best-Seller list and is still considered one of the fastest selling books of all time, having sold over 15 million copies worldwide. Dr Carlson basically says that everyone you meet is here to teach you something.
How do you respond to difficult situations? We know life can get you down—that life presents many difficult situations. And I’m sure the key to overcoming difficult situations is how we respond, just as Chuck Swindoll indicated. One way is to get angry, frustrated, and despondent over your situation. This generally makes the situation worse instead of making it better. It’s something like taking a dead-end street. You simply can’t get to where you want to go.
The second way involves assessing where you are at the moment and then finding the best plan to get where you want to be. Obviously, this is the better way. It gets you out of a dead-end, and it helps put you back on the right road.
What God Told His People in Exile
In the Bible we read about a prophet named Jeremiah. This was a time of wars. The people of Israel had broken God’s covenant, and the Babylonians had taken them into captivity. But Jeremiah was God’s man, and when he wrote his famous letter to the exiles (Jeremiah 29), he encouraged the people living in exile in Babylon to do three things.
First, Jeremiah encouraged practical steps to make life better. God told the people who were virtual prisoners to build houses and plant gardens. He told them to start families and make the most of their present situation. Read about it for yourself in Jeremiah 29.
For us today, in any difficult situation, there are plenty of small steps you can take to help get you on the right road. Many of these are practical solutions that help solve complex problems. Don’t make life too complicated. Often it’s the simple pleasures of life that make a difference. Hold your family close and love them, warts and all. No family is perfect. No day is perfect.
Second, do something to bless other people. God told the people of Israel to pray for the welfare of the city where they had been sent—these were their enemies. It’s an amazing thing, but something wonderful happens when we start caring about other people. We need to look beyond ourselves and stop feeling sorry for ourselves.
Why not choose to pray for the people around you? You could pray for neighbours, fellow workers, and fellow students at school or university. What a difference we could make when we pray for the people around us. It’s often said that prayer changes us. If you’re not used to praying, try it today. Spend time alone with God your Heavenly Father.
Third, look to God for your ultimate help. He had said to the Israelites through Jeremiah, “I will be kind and bring you back to Jerusalem. I will bless you with a future filled with hope–a future of success, not of suffering” (Jeremiah 29:10-11). God is an ‘all the time’ God. He is with us in times of rejoicing and in times of sorrow. He wants us to know him, and he wants to be closely involved in the lives of his children—you and me.
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6)
When you feel inadequate, he is the adequate One standing with you. When we are in need, friends might come to our aid, but often they cannot help us because their resources are inadequate. The Lord’s resources are never inadequate. His name is El-Shaddai (Genesis 17:1), which means that he is the Enough God.
He desires for us to seek him with all our heart. When we do so, he will be found by us. We were created to have a relationship with God. Without that living relationship with him, we can never be what God created us to be. Hebrews 13:6 in the New Testament says: “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”
Can you imagine how things could improve if God himself was helping you? It can happen. But, to receive God’s help you must cooperate with him. God is ready, willing, and able to help you. He desires to help you. But the choice is yours.