A difficult person.
An uncomfortable situation.
A frustrating relationship.
An unexpected dilemma.
In our fallen world, these kinds of problems are all too common. And we often react to them in one of two predictable ways:
We worry, or we try to control.
In some ways, these are opposite reactions (worry is mostly passive; control is mostly active), and yet it’s quite possible to do both at the same time. I’m actually quite good at both and often manage to do them simultaneously, over the same problem.
It’s not a skill that I’m proud of, and yet I’m also sure that I’m not alone in having mastered it.
When we’re faced with a situation that seems to have no solution and no end … or with a person who really gets under our skin … or with a sudden problem that’s completely out of our comfort zone … or with a relationship that’s going downhill fast and we see no easy way out … do we react in the way that God would have us react?
In my kitchen, I have many little pieces of paper taped to cabinet doors with quotes that I find particularly important or inspiring. These quotes come and go, but one of them is so perfectly universal in its application that I think I’ll never take it down. It’s this one:
I’ve found that this quote is both very simple and very complex. It’s very simple to ask yourself during a particularly difficult time, “How am I to glorify God now?” That should lead to a fairly clear answer that you could act on immediately. But sometimes, especially if we’re facing a problem totally out of the ordinary or completely unexpected, we simply don’t know the answer to the question.
I’ve been in this situation recently, quite literally staring at that quote, reading it over and over. A seemingly insurmountable problem had me thinking, praying, and verbalizing with a bit of frustration: “I don’t know how to glorify God in this!”
I’d love to say that the answer came quickly, that God responded to my sincere desire to please him with clear direction, giving me peace in my heart and a viable solution to my problem. But that didn’t happen.
Instead, what immediately came to my mind was, “You may not know at this moment how to glorify God in this, but what you’ve been doing is absolutely not how to do it.” Because my method of dealing with the problem up to that point had been to alternate between:
a) Worrying about it; and
b) Trying to control it
Neither was working.
I had lost sleep, processed aloud at great length, prayed for guidance when I remembered to do that, visualized multiple unhappy outcomes, and devised many unworkable ways to fix the problem. But I hadn’t given much thought to how I could actually glorify God in the middle of it. On top of that, I had been so busy trying to come up with my own solutions, or worrying about what would happen if I didn’t succeed, that I forgot something very important. I forgot to give God room.
Despite 25 years of church going, Bible reading, and lesson teaching, I found myself once again suffering from spiritual amnesia. I had forgotten that God hasn’t left us alone in our struggles. He’s been very clear in his Word what we’re to do and not to do in order to glorify him in difficult circumstances.
Rather than seek out worry and dwell in it, we’re to turn from it, pray, and seek God’s peace and righteousness:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? … But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:25, 33)
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6, 7)
Rather than trying to control and manipulate a situation in order to bring an end to our problem, we’re to give God room in order to work in his own perfect timing. Examples abound in the Bible of those who impatiently attempted to orchestrate a solution to their problem, even though they knew they ought to wait on the Lord: Abraham, Jacob, Saul, David, and others, including Sarah, who had been told that God would give her a son in her old age. After several years, she was tired of waiting for the promise to be fulfilled:
“Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. And Sarai said to Abram, ‘Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.’ And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.” (Genesis 16:1, 2) Sarah’s impatience and desire for control eventually brought pain and disharmony to her entire family.
Clearly, the Bible tells us we’re not to respond to challenges with worry or a desire to manipulate or control … but how, then, do we glorify God in the midst of difficult situations and great stress? In my own situation, when I asked this question with a sincere heart, the verses that came to mind were ones that I had memorized long ago:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5: 22, 23)
As I considered each word in these verses, I realized that my worry and desire for control were preventing me from exhibiting any of these qualities—qualities which are the marks of a Christian who seeks to glorify God and imitate Christ. Qualities that allow us to give God room.
When you find yourself in the middle of a stressful situation or dealing with a difficult person, rather than default to worry or control (the two responses that come so naturally to us), remember instead to give God room. Room to act, room to speak, room to resolve the situation in accordance with his good will. This requires time, patience, and faith on our part. A willingness to place your worry at the foot of the cross and turn control over to the one who has promised to work all things together for your good.