Hardship: When things don't look good, look harder

In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he did fly.

And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. ~Isaiah 6:1-3

I have always loved this passage of Scripture and have felt the weight of its impact against my soul during times of sorrow, loss, or trial.

Uzziah was a good king, a gracious king, a godly king. But then, just like that, he was gone. Israel was (once again) in the lurch.

Which way would the vacillating nation bounce this time? Would the new king honor God and country or choose the path of pride and disobedience?

No one felt more uncertain or vulnerable than the prophet. How the great preacher must have mourned his good king's death. He must have wondered what was next. Would the messenger and message of God be the "in thing" anymore or would it become dangerous to proclaim truth?

While the nation looked around for answers, Isaiah looked closer at the situation and saw that the throne that really mattered had neither been abdicated nor vacated...nor would it ever be. This knowledge caused him to reevaluate his own life and alter his message to the people.

This is how this works: when everything goes wrong, when all the news is bad, when every day feels like another sledgehammer to the gut, keeping a positive or hopeful outlook can be life's greatest challenge. So, when everything looks bleak, what then can we do?

Look Up

Oh, it is easy to look to God in times of trouble. Pain and fear have driven the most ardent atheists and most backslidden believers to cry out to God for help. That change of heart is often short-lived, however, when God doesn't immediately change the circumstance or respond the way they had mapped out for Him. Then outstretched hands seeking help become shaking fists and pointing fingers, blaming Him for the trouble in the first place and for not "fixing" it.

Here's a hint: If you are looking for God, when you find him, do not presume to tell Him His business and do not assume you know what His answer to your dilemma ought to be. That is why it is your dilemma. It is bigger than you. It is not, however, bigger than Him. It is not out of His realm of expertise. And...and...AND...it does not obligate Him to be your magic wand. HE is God. You are not.

When you look up, do so with whatever faith you can muster and ask Him for more.

Tell God what you want, what you really want. Tell Him what you need, what you think you need. Just don't don't tell Him how to do His business. Do not reduce God to the solutions you can imagine. You have no idea what He has planned.

Look In

We are  tempted to crawl inside our own misery, to languish under the weight of our troubles, to become so introspective that we are consumed by fear, pain, guilt, anger, despair...

That is patently unhealthy and the surest way to exacerbate the problem.

Objective introspection, however, is a good thing.

"Know thyself!" Exclaimed Socrates.

Understand your vulnerabilities, your weaknesses, your propensities. If you do not know them, you may well be destroyed by them. Isaiah first saw God for what He was and then he was able to see himself for real. Before this transformative moment, Isaiah thought maybe he was pretty good. He thought he had a good handle on things. Then, he got a glimpse of God in His glory, holiness, and transcending power and said, "Woe is me!"

Maybe he first said, "Whoa!"

Can you see yourself honestly, the way Isaiah did? Can you pray what King David prayed and mean it?

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. ~Psalm 139:23 (NIV)

Look Out

Don't stay inside yourself. Do not let introspection become self-pity. Do not let self-awareness become despair. Look out for signs that this is happening in your heart. Look out for ways to encourage yourself. Look out for hints of grace and whispers of hope.

Look Around

I have always believed the healthiest, happiest, most well-rounded, well-adjusted people are the givers — the people who invest themselves in others., who bear the cross of the weary, carry the water of the weak.

Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive. It does not take much examination of this world to see that truth illustrated in the lives and countenance of those who are happy and content and those whose very existence is mired in misery.

Giving is not a blessing reserved for the wealthy. In fact, giving out of abundance is not a real big deal, as Jesus pointed out in the story of the widow's mite. Giving out of one's poverty, giving when you are weak and vulnerable and in need of a gift yourself...that is true investment. That is real giving. Giving a bit off the top of a huge pile is only a contribution. God honors and blesses investment.

And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.” ~Luke 21:1-4

When you are in your greatest need, that is when you need to be your greatest. Look around. See the people you influence. Influence the people you see. Be someone's miracle while you pray for your own.

Look Back

One of the best exercises one can do when faith wobbles and hope wanes is to remember. Remember the trials of the past. Remember the triumphs. Hindsight is great because the dust has settled, the air is clear, and the picture has perspective and clarity. How many of the past trials in your life were but catalysts for something good?

Look Ahead

Things have not always been as they are right now. They will not always be. The storm comes. The night falls. The trouble starts. But! The sun also rises.

For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. ~Psalm 30:5