Three questions to ask the next time you’re faced with a difficult situation in life.
Several years ago, my husband and I were facing a tough situation in our lives. I don’t remember the details—who was involved, what it was about, or what the outcome was. I don’t remember if it was a minor issue that we solved in a few hours or if it was a lingering problem that went on for weeks with no resolution. I don’t even remember if it was exclusively my problem (or his) or if we faced it together.
But what I do remember are the three questions that came out of this difficulty, questions that my husband raised in the midst of this trial to help provide us with direction and guidance. These questions have stayed with me ever since, and have given me clarity and lessened my burden in a wide variety of situations: problems with children or other family members, issues in my marriage, dilemmas in church, personal trials, and more.
The questions are these:
In this difficult situation…
- What does God want me to do?
- What does God want me to be?
- What does God want me to learn?
1. What does God want me to do?
This question ties in closely to a quote I have hanging in my kitchen, words of wisdom from J. I. Packer: “If you ask, ‘Why is this happening?’ no light may come, but if you ask, ‘How am I to glorify God now?’ there will always be an answer.” (For more on this quote, and on responding to difficult situations, see Give God Room.)
It’s not always easy to immediately discern what God wants us to do in any given scenario. Often the easier task is to identify or acknowledge what he does not want us to do. This is a good place to start: if you’re dealing with a difficult person, issue, or situation, you probably have a pretty good idea of what God would not want you to do, even if it’s the most tempting or easiest alternative. Once you’ve identified that, you can move to the more pressing question of what, then, does he want you to do? Sometimes simply doing the opposite of what he doesn’t want you to do will put you on the right track.
2. What does God want me to be?
If doing encompasses the action verbs in life (speaking up, staying quiet, reaching out, swallowing your pride, forgiving someone, making amends, initiating reconciliation, etc.), then being encompasses the adjectives. Think of the words that describe your state of being as God would want it to be in this situation. Maybe it’s patient, or humble, or quiet, or courageous, or gentle, or faithful, or persistent, or self-controlled, or thankful. What are the words that you believe God desires from your state of mind—or the state of your soul—during this particular challenge or crisis in life?
Again, if it helps to work backwards (What does God not want me to be in this situation?), then begin there instead.
3. What does God want me to learn?
This question is arguably the most important. And not just because there’s a good chance that God wants you to learn something new about yourself or about others in the process of asking these questions. That may be true, but there’s an even better chance that he wants you to learn more about him. In fact, you can count on it.
Think about this analogy for a moment: when we read or study our Bibles, it’s natural and all too common for us to jump directly to personal application: What is God saying to me here? What application does this passage have to my life? What can I learn about becoming a better person or solving my problems or being a Christian in today’s world?
But is that primarily what God wants us to get out of our Bible reading? Not that it’s a bad thing to apply God’s word to our daily lives—it isn’t. But that’s not God’s main purpose in giving us his Word. His main purpose is to reveal his character to us, his beloved children. From beginning to end, the Bible is about God and his glory, about Jesus’s redeeming sacrifice, and about how the Holy Spirit makes both of these things real in our souls and in our lives.
When we suffer trials in life, God wants us to learn from them—even in our confusion, our loss, our fear, our pain, or our sorrow. In this third question, the entire context is, “What does God want me to learn … about himself? About Jesus? About how the Holy Spirit is (or should be) working in my life?”
The next time you’re faced with a challenge of some kind—whether large or small—spend some time with these three questions. Allow them to help refocus and reorient you, as one called according to his purpose, toward the One who works all things together for good (Romans 8:28). Because when you earnestly seek him in times of trouble, and inquire of him what he wants of you, you can be sure that he won’t leave you without hope or guidance. (It’s also good to remember that this will happen according to his timeframe, not yours.)
In Romans 5:3-4, Paul says that we should “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…”. This is sometimes easier said than done, but the fact remains that how you respond to life’s trials matters. It’s comforting to remember, as you think about these three questions above, that the God of peace himself has promised to sanctify you, so that “your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)
Photo by Ana Municio on Unsplash