We all know that being a Christian and putting our trust in God doesn’t shield or exempt us from the pains of this life. But still, when we face trials, challenges, or even God’s “silence” in the form of an unanswered prayer, we can’t help but feel discouraged or forgotten by God.
Scripture clearly shows us that we are to expect suffering in this life (1 Peter 4:12)—but how can we learn to “suffer” and endure them well? How can we ensure that we do not allow these moments to harden our hearts, embitter us, or turn us away from God?
First, we can take heart in knowing that we have a Saviour who isn’t unacquainted with grief, but who is fully present with us even in the deepest, most fiery trials. Second, we are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) from past generations that have gone through the same challenges we faced and emerged with a stronger faith.
And just as His suffering served a redemptive purpose—all our difficult moments and the “ashes” of our brokenness, too, serve a purpose that will proclaim the beauty of God’s redemptive plans and sovereignty.
So if you’re going through a tough time (or know someone who is), take heart! Here are some encouragements to remind you to keep yielding to our Master Potter, trusting that God is at work in your life.
1. You’ve encountered setbacks or failures
Many of us often fall into the trap of believing that a successful Christian life is marked by continual highs, or that growing from “glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18) means we don’t face any setbacks. So we often struggle with guilt or question ourselves when we encounter failure.
But the Christian life rarely proceeds in a straight line. Just think of the journeys that some of our favourite Bible characters went through. Before Joseph had risen to the ranks to become the Pharaoh’s right hand man, a false accusation sent him straight to prison (Genesis 39:6-23). It would take many years of waiting, and many experiences of betrayal and injustice before he was finally put in a position where he could see how God turned the “evil” that was brought against him into “good” to benefit those around him (Genesis 50:20).
Sometimes, the setbacks we face in life happen beyond our control. At other times, we could be experiencing failure because we haven’t made the wisest decisions, or like Abraham, who waited—rather impatiently—for 25 years before he saw the fulfillment of God’s promise of a son, we’ve jostled ahead to “help” God along the process, and end up messing things up. But each time we encounter such situations, it reminds us that we’re not in control of our lives. But we can also be sure that God isn’t leaving us to pick up the pieces alone.
Whatever the circumstance may be behind your setback or failure, will you allow it to teach you to see how much you need God and to depend on Him? Will you give God the reins of your life and let Him draw you one step closer towards Him and His purpose for your life?
2. You’ve gone through fiery trials
Nothing quite shakes or strengthens our faith like being confronted with a fiery trial. Maybe a loved one has just received a life-threatening diagnosis, or not everything’s going as planned with the baby you’ve been praying for. You can’t help but wonder, “Where is God in all of this?”
While we know that God uses trials and challenges to sanctify us, that we may become mature and complete (James 1:4), it’s much easier to wish that we could fastforward through the pain, or automatically land at a point where we’re able to “glory in our sufferings” (Romans 5:3-5).
When we’re tempted to think this way, or feel like we’ve been stretched beyond what we can bear, let’s fix our eyes on Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). He is the one who has gone before us and shown us what lies beyond our suffering—and He’s the one who will “strengthen [us] with power through his Spirit in our inner being” (Ephesians 3:16), is constantly “at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20) and will perfect us as we cling to Him in the midst of our trials.
Think about the light and joy on the faces of people you know who have gone through the most devastating tragedies and emerged with a stronger conviction of the power of God in their lives.
Or think about how the Apostle Paul endured 39 lashings five times, at least three beatings, and had been stoned, shipwrecked, and faced numerous other trials and challenges along the way (2 Corinthians 11:24-29) for the sake of the gospel.
May we like them, see our suffering as a privilege and opportunity to know Christ and “the power of His resurrection”, to participate in His sufferings (Philippians 3:10). May we lean even deeper into God’s embrace, that we may experience the comfort from our Father of compassion and the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3), and in turn, comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:4).
3. You’ve had a taste of dissatisfaction
So you’ve achieved all your goals in life, obtained your dream job, found the person you want to build a life with, and can comfortably enjoy all the luxuries and pleasures you’ve been dreaming of. Or maybe you’ve been pining after that ideal life that you don’t yet have. And then you go on social media, and dissatisfaction starts to sneak into your heart, and you can’t help but feel a sense of emptiness or loss.
You don’t really know what’s next—but the world around you tells you that you have to keep going: keep growing your finances, keep climbing up the ladder, keep upgrading to better gadgets or a bigger house.
Where does it all end?
As the Teacher warns us in Ecclesiastes 6:9, “Better what the eye sees than the roving of the appetite. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”
If you find yourself echoing the Teacher’s sentiments, let those moments of dissatisfaction help you discern whether you’ve been building your life on a shaky foundation of false hope. Perhaps instead of asking yourself, “What’s next?” or to land on the other extreme and declare this life “meaningless”, a better question to ask is: In our pursuit of success, are we gaining Christ? Are we finding our satisfaction in pleasing Him or have we been relying on the outwards appearance of trappings of success to find our fulfillment in life?
And may we, like the Apostle Paul, “consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). Let’s learn to hold loosely to the things of this life and instead build our hope on the unshakeable foundations of Christ’s love, that we may also learn the secret of being content in all circumstances (Philippians 4:12), and can stand firm even when the things we worked hard for or valued in life are taken away from us.
4. You’ve grappled with unanswered prayers
How do you feel when God doesn’t answer your prayers? Many of us probably feel abandoned, unloved, confused. It can be hard to hear a “no” from God. But even in a season of “no”s, if we step back from the emotions of the moment, we can think of times in our lives where God took an unexpected “no” and used it for good.
When it feels like God has withheld good things from us, let these scriptures anchor us in the truths of God’s unchanging nature:
For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favour and honour;
No good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. (Psalm 84:11)
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:3)
Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11)
As American missionary Elisabeth Elliot wrote: “God never withholds from His child that which His love and wisdom call good. God’s refusals are always merciful—‘severe mercies’ at times but mercies all the same. God never denies us our heart’s desire except to give us something better.”
If you’re grappling with unanswered prayers, will you ask God to reveal any hidden motives and desires that may be residing in your heart? Let Him bring you to a place of rest, surrender, and contentment (Psalm 131:2) as you conform your desires to God’s will. And if it’s a call to wait on His perfect timing, will you ask God to give you the patience and endurance to wait well?
5. You’ve felt the sting of broken relationships
None of us want to go through rejection or a broken relationship. But sometimes, even in spite of our best intentions, relationships can fall apart. Whether it’s from an unpleasant breakup, a sudden rift in a friendship, growing up in a broken family, or even navigating hurts and disappointments from our church community, that piercing feeling of pain and distance can be mentally and emotionally tormenting.
The good news is that if we allow God into our hearts through the pain of our broken relationships, He can use them to reveal something deeper about ourselves, to expose the idols in our lives, and to shape us into Christlikeness. And as we learn to surrender our deepest fears and underlying sins, we grow to trust even more in His wonderful nature, the depths of His love for us, and His provision and strength when it comes to loving others.
So don’t let your broken relationships make you feel disillusioned—or fearful about building new, deep relationships. Instead, let the limitations of our human love drive us into the arms of our loving Father, and let His love shape the way we respond to one another, especially those who have hurt us.
As we root and establish ourselves in His love, God will be the one who teaches us how to have healthy relationships—relationships that will display “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
Let Him teach us to love just like He does.
Whatever you may be going through, there’s no safer place to be than in the hands of God. He’s still holding the whole world—and yours—in His hands.
So keep holding on to God and let Him continue to write your story.
Even when it may not seem like it, God is working in your life.