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$230 AUD ($170 USD), 50 cm x 40 cm (20″ x 15″), Charcoal on Paper
“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights. For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
I’m 34 and still not married.
I hate my job, but I’m stuck in it.
I never wanted this to happen to me.
Disappointment. Frustration. Discontentment. Irritability. All of these things can enter our souls when circumstances don’t work out the way we want them to. Sometimes, despite all of our efforts to control situations to make them turn out in our favor, they just don’t. That’s life.
However, there is a Sovereign Master behind each one of our lives. He is sovereign over absolutely everything that happens to us (and not to mention everything else in the universe too), even down to preserving a single hair on our heads (Luke 21:18).
Nothing happens to us that hasn’t first been filtered through the sovereign hands of God.
Because of this we can always rest in God’s peace because he is our loving Good Shepherd (Psalm 23, John 10:1-29). He has everything under complete control, even when our lives seem completely out of control or when circumstances are not working out the way we want them to or expect them to.
When we don’t understand why God is allowing us to be ‘stuck’ in a certain set of circumstances, we can be tempted to think that God is not listening to our prayers or that he does not care about us. Teachings circulate in the church that encourage us to bash our way through these barriers and make things happen when we are stuck where we don’t want to be or don’t think we should be. And while God sometimes does call us to persevere in prayer until our circumstances change (Luke 18:1-8, 1 Kings 18:41-46), at other times God will not change our circumstances until he has used them to change us.
Sometimes we forget that God’s expressed eternal purpose for us in the Word of God is this:
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son…” (Romans 8:29)
God’s goal for our lives is Christlikeness. Admittedly, our own goals for our lives are sometimes different than his, and this is where frustration, disappointment and discontentment can enter in to our souls. This is the battle between what God wants for us and what Self wants (See Matthew 16:24-27). Regardless of how we feel about it though, God will perfect us in Christlikeness and he will perfect us as his worshippers, for he will not break his Word or deviate from his expressed eternal purpose for us.
Sometimes when it feels like God is not moving and is ignoring our prayers it is because we are actually exactly where God wants us! We don’t always interpret it or see it as such, but he actually engineers our circumstances to perfect us in Christlikeness, and until those set of circumstances produce his desired result in us, we will remain ‘stuck’ in that situation.
Contrary to what we might think (or want), being ‘stuck’ is sometimes God’s perfect will for our lives, for he is using it to transform us into the likeness of Christ.
I think of the Biblical example of Leah. Here is a set of circumstances no one would ever want! Her husband, Jacob, was in love with her sister, Rachel, and wanted to marry her. However, their father, Laban, deceived Jacob and gave him Leah as a wife instead. This infuriated Jacob, for he didn’t love Leah; he loved Rachel. Through further extortion their father agreed to give Rachel to Jacob as a rival wife (Genesis 29). Jacob loved Rachel, but he did not love Leah. Talk about a heart-wrenching set of circumstances!
“When the LORD saw that Leah was not loved, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben [meaning ‘he has seen my misery’; ‘see, a son’], for she said, ‘It is because the LORD has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.’
She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, ‘Because the LORD heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.’ So she named him Simeon [meaning ‘one who hears’].
Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, ‘Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.’ So he was named Levi [meaning ‘attached’].
She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, ‘This time I will praise the LORD.’ So she named him Judah [meaning ‘praise’]…” (Genesis 29:31-35)
Leah was stuck in a dreadful set of circumstances that God had sovereignly allowed in her life. Quite understandably, Leah was completely fixated on becoming the object of her husband’s love. Her first three children were all named in the light of her obsession. Sadly however, even after bearing him three sons, her husband still did not love her; Leah was still painfully stuck as an unloved wife.
However, something happened in Leah’s heart by the time she bore her fourth child. Though she was still stuck in the same dreadful circumstances, God had changed her heart. She shifted her focus off of her earthly misery, off of her painful circumstances, and onto her God. Leah learned how to praise and worship the Lord despite the fact her husband still did not love her.
While Rachel was worshiping idols (Genesis 31:19-35) the Lord was perfecting Leah as his worshiper. God had a much greater purpose for Leah than what she could see at the time, for God ordained that his Messiah would come through the line of her son, Judah. At some point in time Leah’s spiritual joy of this blessed honor would outweigh the misery of her earthly circumstances (which God used to transform her into his worshiper).
I also think of Job, another hero of the faith who, despite being stuck in an incomprehensibly devastating set of circumstances, demonstrated and proved himself to be God’s true worshiper. (See Job).
“Then he [Job] fell to the ground in worship and said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.’ In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” (Job 1:20-22)
Lastly, I am reminded of Jonah inside the whale. Talk about being completely stuck in undesirable circumstances! Jonah was resistant to obey God and even more resistant to worship God. Jonah was very strong-willed and even preferred death to being conformed into Christlikeness and being perfected as God’s worshiper. Thankfully God never sways from his eternal purposes for us and did not allow Jonah to be digested.
What was the catalyst that unstuck Jonah out of his putrid circumstances?
Praising and worshiping God!
“From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. He said:
‘In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry. You hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.”…Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD.’
And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.” (Jonah 2:1-4, 8-10)
Though he was completely stuck in the circumstances God had engineered for him, when Jonah’s heart turned to God in worship, they could no longer hold him. He was immediately expelled from his circumstances by the command of God.
And what about us? When we are in God’s crucible of undesired circumstances, will praise come forth, or will we resist God?
Jonah’s resistance to God caused him to get ever-increasingly stuck in ever-increasingly unpleasant circumstances. God would not relieve Jonah’s circumstances until they worked worship and Christlikeness in him (and even after all of the drama with the whale, Jonah’s heart still hadn’t fully turned, so God had to put him straight back into another set of uncomfortable circumstances with a vine in order for him to fully learn his lesson (Jonah 4)). Jonah was stuck inside the whale until he finally gave in and praised the Lord, but what if Jonah had simply given in and worshiped God a lot earlier on? He could have avoided the storm at sea, the trauma of nearly drowning, the most unpleasant event with the whale and being fried in the desert.
Whenever we feel stuck in life, like nothing is budging, will we still praise the Lord? When we are given the opposite of what we want, will we still thank the Lord? How long will it take before we give in, submit to God and worship him, despite how unwanted our earthly circumstances might be? The choice is ours.
When God has us in his crucible of Christlikeness, we must yield, like melting ore, and he will cause us to come forth as purified gold.
My drawing is a picture that I saw vividly in my mind when I was deep in worship. I saw a woman standing on a tiny island, only big enough for her to stand on, in the middle of a vast sea. Her life was not threatened in any way, but she certainly was stuck there! There was no other choice than for her to stay standing on that island, a rather undesirable prospect. The only one who could sovereignly rescue her off the island was the one who sovereignly put her there in the first place, but it was not his will to do that yet. In her time on the island, what would she choose to do? What else could she do? Only worship…and that’s precisely the reason why the Lord had put her there.
(See also “Job, The Worshiper” (Believer’s Road Series 2)).