Lift up your eyes on high, And see who has created these things, Who brings out their host by number; He calls them all by name, By the greatness of His might And the strength of His power; Not one is missing. (Isaiah 40:26)
All of us face times in our lives when we feel alone and insignificant, when the darkness comes close to overwhelming us and we struggle to hold our heads up in the storm. In these moments, it’s all too easy to look around and wonder where our faith went, and even God seems distant and uncaring. At the same time, we feel guilty because we know we should believe, no matter what, and facing our weakness and frailty makes us feel that we have let God and ourselves down. For some reason, human nature tends to either find someone to blame or to assume blame for external circumstances. We look inwards, examining every fault and failure, certain that somehow we’ve done something – or not done something – to somehow ‘deserve’ the times of trial.
Faith to endure in the times of trial will never be found when we look to ourselves.
I love this particular verse from Isaiah, because it’s such a beautifully simple solution to the dilemma of finding light in dark times. It is a wonderful reminder to look upward, above the storm, and find Him who is the creator of all things. While it seems so ‘easy,’ the real truth is that all of us struggle to do this in times of trial. That is because we’re not only standing against the storm, but we’re also battling our own human nature. In dark times, it’s often our own shadow which blocks the light.
I believe that this difficulty has a lot to do with stress. When we’re under pressure, the instinctive survival response is to narrow our focus. Because we struggle to cope with the big things, we tend to shut out everything except that which demands our attention. Sometimes, we may also cope by shutting out everything except some kind of ‘escape’ activity that distracts us and makes us feel better, even if it is for only a short period. Either one of these responses effectively closes us off from the only thing that can actually empower us and release the faith we need to endure in the times of trial.
Like anything in life, an effective Christian walk requires discipline and commitment. When we least ‘feel like’ doing something, that’s usually the one thing we really should be doing. When the hard times hit, we need to turn up the discipline – spend more time in the Word, in prayer, and in the presence of God. The problem, though, is that our focus is usually on the problem, which makes heaven seem silent and God far away. The times of trial are when we need to exercise faith, because that’s what stretches and grows it, yet we seem frozen, caught in a place where it requires more energy than we can summon.
The first thing to take hold of is that we’re not the only one to ever find ourselves in this situation. All too often, we fall into the ‘me-myself-I’ trap, the place where our vision shrinks to the point where we lose sight of the fact that everyone has to face their own times of trial. Because we don’t hear people talk about them, or see them going through them, doesn’t mean that they’ve somehow miraculously escaped. Times of trial are universal. If we can, first and foremost, take hold of this truth, the sense of being alone will fade enough to allow in a little light – to accept that if others could endure and overcome, so can we.
This is the point where discipline is so critical. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. Instead of expending energy worrying about the times of trial, it’s far more helpful to direct that energy to time spent in the Word. It is there that we will find the reminders and the promises we need to reignite the spark of faith and feed it. It is there that we will rediscover the nature of God – His faithfulness, His love, His desire to save, heal, and deliver, His wisdom, and His guidance and direction. It is only through the Word that we can renew our minds and shift our focus from self to God.
The human tendency to close off often means that we lose sight of the visible reminders of God’s presence and power, of His might and awesome majesty. If we discipline ourselves to look around us, to take in the incredible perfection of His created universe, we will find daily reminders that He leaves nothing to chance. With God, every single detail is planned for, provided for, and taken care of. The times of trial are no different. Our God knows every single situation or circumstance long before it reaches us. He has already put into motion those things that will work to our good. It’s not a random, luck-of-the-draw solution. It’s planned with the same perfect attention to detail that went into creating a world that leaves us breathless with its complexity and perfect detail.
With God, we can be sure that not one single thing will be left out. There are no missing pieces. There are no vague or unfinished works. When God works, He says that it is good. It is finished. It is perfectly perfect and completely complete. This includes every single detail of our lives. When we look at creation, and can see how things are shaped and perfected by their situations or circumstances, it’s so much easier to believe that God’s work in us is no less perfect. The times of trial become opportunities, the storms become stretching moments, and the darkness becomes a foil for His perfect light. We have the assurance that in Him, all things are possible.
Most of all, when we look around us and see the amazing works of His hands, it reminds us that the battle belongs to the Lord. We don’t have to look inward, to castigate ourselves for our weakness, to try to ‘create’ faith that we don’t have. It is God who controls the universe and everything in it. If we are in His hand, no one can snatch us out. We are safe and secure, and each and every situation is perfectly ordered to bring fulfilment of the purposes of God in our lives. The times of trial find proper perspective when we fix our eyes on Him and remind ourselves what He can accomplish. Everything God does is exceedingly, abundantly, far more than we could ever ask or imagine.
But, while all these things are freely available, it requires discipline to look beyond the times of trial to God. Our nature is essentially self-focused. It looks inward and not outward. It’s often easier to be a victim than be disciplined in looking to God. While it’s important to examine ourselves lest there be sins of commission or omission. We cannot automatically assume we’re free of sin, just as we cannot automatically assume that sin has caused the times of trial. It could well be that there are still areas of our lives that are not surrendered, that we may have sown the wrong seeds and are reaping that harvest. It could be that we’re out of the will of God, or have either misheard or not heard His instruction. All of these things should be examined with humble hearts in an attitude of surrender.
But, in order to do this without indulging in fruitless – and often harmful – introspection, we need to first look to God. Discipline in the things of God brings us into the place of fellowship, and enables us to look at ourselves through the power of the Spirit. When we see things through God’s eyes, everything falls into proper perspective. When we fill our spiritual eyes with God through discipline in the Word and in prayer, we will be granted the wisdom to deal with the times of trial as He wants us to. There is no room for fear and anxiety in a heart that is filled with God. It doesn’t mean the difficulty instantly vanishes. That would do nothing to build our faith. What it will do is empower us to move in the Spirit and face our times of trial with courage, faith, and endurance.
Lord, grant us the wisdom to turn to You first in our times of trial. Empower us with the discipline we need to turn our eyes away from the storm and to live in Your Word, so that through Your grace and strength we may find the faith to endure, secure in the knowledge that all things work to our good.