February 22, 2017

Responding to Hard Circumstances: A God-Centered vs. Man-Centered Perspective

by Eric Davis
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Hard circumstances surround us about as much as air. From a flat tire on a rainy day, to opposition from friends, to family scuffles, to grave illness, and more, we will not remain insulated from difficulty.

And our responding to the inevitable can make all the difference. On one end, we can, by God’s grace, respond with God at the center so as to honor him. On the other, we can respond with self at the center so as to send ourselves into a whirlpool of error and anger. None of it is easy. At times, we can get into patterns where unbiblical responding becomes second nature (or first). If you have struggled like I have to maintain a God-centered perspective in struggles, you may need a biblical mirror held up to help facilitate change.

Here are a few adjustments we might need to make in our perspective as difficulty hits:

  1. Instead of thinking, “My circumstances are overwhelming,” I should think, “God’s grace will be sufficient for me in these circumstances.”

“And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Cor. 12:9).

If the first thing that hits us in difficulty is the magnitude of the situation’s overwhelmingness, I may have a low view of God. Even more, I might have a nearsighted view of his sustaining grace.

  1. Rather than asking, “Why can’t these difficult people love me more?”, I should ask, “How is God loving me right now?”
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For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Heb. 12:6).

Becoming a Christian is an incredible thing. The moment we bow the knee in faith to Jesus Christ, God the Father considers his wrath towards us quenched at the cross. From then on, God perpetually deals with us as children (Heb. 12:5-8). That includes hard stuff. God loves his children so much, that he will see to it that they are continually shaped through his loving discipline.

  1. Instead of asking, “What’s wrong with these people and circumstances?,” I could ask, “What’s wrong with my thinking about God?”

“You thought that I was just like you” (Ps. 50:21).

For better or worse, our idea of God influences all we think and do. This is especially true in hard circumstances. A different theology than what we profess may become clear in our less noble moments. If I find myself chafing under difficulty, that could mean that, in those moments, my concept of God is something like a divine butler who should deliver my demands upon request.

  1. Rather than identifying how an individual is offensive to me, I should identify what about me is offensive to God.

“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matt. 7:3)

Turning the spiritual mirror towards myself can quickly strangle the flesh in struggle. It’s a complete perspective change in my responding; from an external focus to internal; from fleshly to spiritual; from hypocrisy to repentance. It’s a change from looking for utopian circumstances to becoming more like Christ. It’s a shift from a man-centered to a God-centered mindset.

  1. Instead of asking, “Why does so-and-so need to make this difficult for me?”, I should ask, “How is God conforming me to Christ through this difficulty?”

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:28-29).

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Often the reason we respond wrongly to struggles is because we have an anemic understanding of biblical sanctification. We fail to grasp how lofty and comprehensive God’s transforming plans are for us. For the believer, everything between regeneration and glorification is about doxological sanctification. Whether a disagreement with a family member or the apostasy of a friend, let us always ask, “How does God want to make me more like Christ through this?”

  1. Rather than asking, “What do I want to be different about this situation?”, I should ask, “What about my wants needs to be different?”

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?” (Jas. 4:1).

What we easily forget is that conflict and struggles are big opportunities. Though not easy, they are God-given occasions to reveal previously hard-to-see corners of our hearts. Why is that an opportunity? Because I am often blind to those deeper sins of motivation. So, in hard situations I should be asking questions about my heart and its lusts; my sinful ruling desires; my object of worship in those moments. What wants need mortifying?

  1. Instead of thinking, “Whose counsel can I seek to support what I want?” I should ask, “What godly leaders in my life should I consult about this?”

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you” (Heb. 13:17).

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Counsel shopping is a favorite pastime of the erring human race. Especially when it comes to trials, I can justify selectively searching for input. But God’s word is clear. Biblically qualified church leaders are put in place to guide the souls of the saints. Their calling to faithfulness over expedience proves valuable for us in these times.

  1. Rather than asking, “Why are these people and circumstances often so difficult?”, we should ask, “Why am I often responding with grumbling and unthankfulness to difficulty?”

“[I]n everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:18).

This is not advocating an empty, directionless gratitude in difficulty for self-actualization purposes. Rather, it is a God-glorifying recognition of his goodness and worth in all things. Reasons always exist to thank God.

  1. Instead of fixating on why someone is doing what they are doing, I should fixate on the sovereignty of my good God over the circumstances.

In the day of prosperity be happy, but in the day of adversity consider— God has made the one as well as the other so that man will not discover anything that will be after him” (Eccles. 7:14).

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When we frequently flare up at man in struggles, there’s a chance that we are failing to see the grander truth of God’s sovereignty in it. We are functional atheists, seeing things far more through the lens our wants than God’s glory.

  1. Instead of thinking, “My idea of what could be done here would be so much better,” we could think, “In what way am I thinking that I know better than God on how to execute his sovereign plan for the world?”

 “Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Let him who reproves God answer it” (Job 40:2).

It’s one thing to affirm the sovereignty of God. It’s quite another to practice it when difficulty hits by trusting him. We have to ask ourselves if, even inadvertently, we might be proposing to God that his sovereign plan is sub-par compared to our own. In some sense, that is what we are saying with every act of complaining. We could be enacting a brief coup d’etat on God.

  1. Rather than asking, “How can I escape this situation and make it easier for me?”, we ought to ask, “What opportunities is God giving me to serve others in this?”

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

During difficulty, nothing is easier than planning our escape. Our energy and planning easily go there. But, a soul-shift may be needed.

Perhaps in our modern-day convenience mentality, we assume that God’s green light to serve others is only when it perfectly fits into our schedule. However, during his days of utter difficulty, Christ maintained his impeccable servant demeanor. It’s not that his struggles came and then he responded with, “Ok, I will settle for serving people in this.” Instead, his difficulties were the very platforms for serving others, and all the way to the cross.

  1. Instead of looking for a way out of inconvenient situations, I could look for ways to submit to my loving Lord.

Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7).

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There is nothing wrong with wanting a trial to end. But if our heart demeanor is always in “make-this-easier-for-me” mode, then we are worshiping an idol. We are opposing His Majesty’s lordship.

Christ demonstrated this immaculately. His earthly ministry was fundamentally one of God-pleasing submission (cf. Matt. 26:42). While there will likely be excruciating situations in which we will have to submit to God, at no time will we have to submit to the degree that Christ did in the work of our redemption.

  1. Rather than looking for that ideal situation built around my wants I should look to please and glorify God regardless of my wants.

Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (2 Cor. 5:9).

This is the heart of worship. Regardless of external circumstances, we resolve internally to fear God. At the end of the day, it comes down to the fact that I am not God and he deserves my worship.

  1. Rather than worrying about who is against me, I can rest that the Chief Shepherd walks with me.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4).

His Majesty does not carelessly send me into struggles. He is compassionately leading me through them as he walks with me.

Few circumstances reveal our need for a deeper God-centered perspective than struggles. By his grace, we can re-align our worship by seeking to respond to them in a way with God and his purposes at the center. In doing so, we will be comforted by God’s redemptive purposes in our circumstances. Though we don’t know all the reasons for the battles, we do know that God loves his children so much, that he will not settle for blessing them with anything less than conformity to Jesus Christ until glory.

Eric Davis

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Eric is the pastor of Cornerstone Church in Jackson Hole, WY. He and his team planted the church in 2008. Leslie is his wife of 14 years and mother of their 3 children.
  • Rach

    Excellent, thank you..Sharing!

  • Richard Bach

    Thank you so much for this article. Great reminder of where our focus should be instead of on self.

  • Cecilia Connell

    Eric, I praise God for you and the skill He has given you to apply the truth of Scripture to real life and write about it. Your article couldn’t have been more timely. I am printing it and using it as a daily reminder to love the Lord my God with everything I am. The need in my heart for clarity in responding to trials in godliness is huge. Thank you!

    • Eric Davis

      Cecilia – thank you for the encouragement. I’m grateful for how you are persevering in some difficult suffering. Praying for you.

  • Hello Eric. Great insight and perspective.

    Christ Jesus exhorts and encourages His hearers, including us, to see the kingdom, orient our hearts to the kingdom, receive the blessing of the kingdom and do the works of the kingdom. These messages are core gospel of the kingdom scripture and with all God’s Word are profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction unto righteousness (2 Tim 3:16).
    That differs drastically from values and worldviews, for they originate with the human whether Christian or heathen. Take for instance the value system of political correctness, which is of the flesh. In Galatians 5, Paul shows the spiritual difference between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit.

    Kingdom Relationships billbremer.org