Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us,
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.
The chapter goes on to explain. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to reap and a time to sow. A time to speak and a time to keep quiet. And while the following principle is not mentioned in this particular passage, its truth is echoed throughout the Bible: a time for us to be thrilled with our lives and a time for us to wonder if this is all there is.
You've been there, right? Sometimes, life seems perfect. A great spouse, a beautiful home, money in the bank, a healthy body, loving children, a faithful church. Absolute perfection! And in these times, you happily tell everyone, "No, I wouldn't change a thing." But let's face it, life is seldom perfect. More often than not, we find ourselves saying, "I wish. . . " Yes, the truth is some days we endure life rather than enjoy it. We wake up in the morning and sigh, dreading the oncoming day of bills to pay, doctor's appointments, rowdy children, ungrateful spouses, and the monotony of nothing new to look forward to. It is during these stretches we look up to Heaven and question, "God, where are you? I know this is the day you've made, and I should rejoice and be glad in it, but how can I? I'm so tired and weary. My life is ho-hum, and it seems there's no escape. Please help me, Lord, or at least let me know You've heard my cries. I don't know how much longer I can take this!"
What do we do on those imperfect days? How do we carry on when it seems like even God has forsaken us and left us stuck in the stress? Fortunately, Psalm 44:17-20 gives us a four-step guide to follow. The beginning of the chapter describes how God led the children of Israel out of Egypt and protected them through the wilderness. But then it goes on to discuss how they passed through the hands of various enemies because of their disbelief and disobedience to God's commands and sometimes just because it was part of God's plan. By verse 17, things look grim, but check out what the psalmist says,
All this is come upon us; yet have we not forgotten thee, neither have we dealt falsely in thy covenant. Our heart is not turned back, neither have our steps declined from thy way; Though thou hast sore broken us in the place of dragons, and covered us with the shadow of death. If we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a strange god;
Notice, first off, that the psalmist is not pretending like everything is fine. He's not putting on a false smile and shoving his problems aside. He acknowledges "All this is come upon us." No sugar-coating; only truth. But the powerful part of this verse is that he doesn't stop there (like many of us do when life doesn't go our way). Instead, he implements this life-giving plan.
1) Remember Who God is and what He's done.
- yet have we not forgotten thee
When times are rough, and it seems that God has forsaken, stop and remember. Think back to the names and attributes of God. Bring to mind all the times He's helped you in the past. Fill your heart and mind with His promises, knowing that God does not lie. In other words, spend less time focusing on the problem and more time focusing on God, even if you can't see Him yet in your current situation.
2) Keep doing the right things.
- neither have we dealt falsely in thy covenant
I don't know about you, but when life turns upside down, I have the inclination to turn away from the things I know to be right. For example, when facing a health crisis, I'll stop taking my vitamins and exercising, arguing that those things are apparently not working. Some will stop serving God or going to church because they feel it isn't helping them any. But we shouldn't stop doing right when things aren't going our way. If you think about it, the behavior is downright childish. But, it's also natural. Still, we must fight the temptation to withdraw from the right. It is often those things that will eventually turn things around for us.
3) Don't quit.
- Our heart is not turned back, neither have our steps declined from thy way
Not only does heartache make us want to stop doing the right things, it often makes us want to give up on everything. We're tired of working hard and getting nowhere. We're sick of fighting just to make ends meet. It's too difficult, so why keep trying? As Job's wife suggested, we're ready to curse God and die. But quitting is never a good choice. We must be strong and keep going, even if it's a struggle to get out of bed. Take it one step at a time, but whatever you do, don't quit!
4) Don't turn to false idols.
- If we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a strange god;
I know what you're thinking--we don't do that kind of thing anymore, right? WRONG! Not all idols are made of stone or wood or even gold. An idol is anything in our lives that takes the place of God. For example, if we turn to something else to find peace, joy or comfort, that "thing" is an idol in our lives. For me, this idol typically takes the form of junk food and energy drinks. When life gets me down, it's not uncommon to see me stuffing cookies in my face and washing them down with caffeine-laden sodas. I tell myself I need these things to help me get through, to cope with the stress of life, but the truth is they only make things worse. And the guilt I feel over seeking comfort in these things instead of from God is overwhelming. If you're like me, you get clever in trying to justify your idolatry and say things like, "Well, God wasn't helping me, but this does." Lies! We know it. But when life is hard, it's easier to believe the lies than it is the truth. That's why it's so important to have this battle plan in place before the fight even begins.
My friend, I wish every day could be filled with roses and butterflies and singing birds, but life's not that way. There will be hard days--or even weeks, months or years. There will be times when you question whether God cares or hears. I'm here to remind you that He does and that you will get through this if you'll follow the psalmist's plan for keeping things in the proper perspective. Sometimes life gets ugly, but that doesn't mean we have to get ugly alongside it.