When things aren't goin' my way

There used to be a saying, in some of the more "folksy" parts of the church, that was used as a common greeting: "You got the victory, Brother?" It was a sort of baptized version of, "How's it going?"

A pastor in one of these churches decided the question assumed too much, and modified it: "You got the victory, Brother, or are things just going your way?"

A different matter entirely.

I have found it's easy for me to be "righteous" and live a "Christian" life when things are going my way. When there's no challenge or attack, it's easy to cruise along, just "me and Jesus" with a good thing going. Right?

But that means little. The question is, what happens when things are not going your way? What happens when everything you touch turns to mud, and life consists of one crushing frustration after another?

Then is when we learn something about both our relationship with God and our inner character.

Years back, teaching from a passage in Revelation, I told folks that, if they were unhappy with their spiritual growth or simply stagnant in their relationship with God, there was a simple remedy: Pray for God to send trouble and problems into your life.

It's then that we have to make a choice: We can draw closer to God, seeking shelter and protection from attack, letting the problems work to our good. Or we can get all huffy and uppity and turn our back on both God and the people (the ones God may have sent) who might be helpful to us.

I hate a life of struggle and frustration. No, it's more than that: I detest it. But there's another side to it. I have understood why Paul, writing to the Romans, spoke of exulting in his tribulations. This idea stops me in my self-pity-filled tracks.

What Paul called "light afflictions" would leave me dead, and none too soon. Terrible experiences, he had, and he said they were not just a source of happiness for him, but that they were a source of exultation: way beyond happy.

Why? Was he crazy?

Not crazy. Paul exulted in hard times because he knew that they were the only really effective way to bring him closer to the heart of God. He wasn't in love with hurting. He was in love with what the hurting produced in him.

Someone wrote a book titled Don't Waste Your Sorrows. Good advice: Let the hurting times push you closer to God, rather than going off in a sulk.

I have experienced too much pain in my life, and I don't want it wasted. I don't want to hurt for nothing. And so, when problems arise, I look to God. I tell him how I feel (how I really feel) and I let him do his work in me.

And I still don't enjoy my trials, but I can exult in the result.

Oh, and by the way: One person, a young woman, came to me long after the "pray for trouble" teaching. She said she took it seriously and prayed as I suggested. Only one. But that one said it worked: God used problems to bring a great deepening and maturing in her life, and took her to places she would never have imagined.

Good stuff, that trouble.

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