More than a decade has passed since my church family experienced one of the hardest years in the life of our body. In the course of a few months, we lost an eight-year-old to Cystic Fibrosis and a seventeen-year-old to cancer. A man in his early forties passed away of a sudden heart attack on the last night of a ten-day tour of Israel with thirty-five other members of our church, including his wife and daughter. And before the year ended, we buried a nineteen-year-old from alcohol poisoning.
We prayed a lot during that year. We held multiple prayer vigils at our church; we gathered with family members at the hospital. My husband and other pastors drove hours to be with grieving families. We asked God for miracles; after all, the God we knew was fully capable of intervening in these events. With a simple change of His will, much suffering could have been avoided. And from our perspective, who knows how much our faith might have grown if He answered according to our will?
It was a difficult year.
I remember hearing the mother of the seventeen-year-old speak about her experiences and the many ways her relationship with God changed during the time they battled the rare cancer that was stealing her daughter’s life. So many miracles happened along the way. Prayers were answered in specific ways that could only have come from God’s hand. She kept a record of their journey, documenting the ways God was answering our pleas for this young girl’s life. She described her emotions when she realized that her precious child would not be healed on this side of an earthly grave. I’m paraphrasing, but essentially, she expressed it this way.
“Each time God answered a prayer, it was like rolling a ball toward the edge of a drop off, and every single time, it came back. After so many answers, I never expected the ball not to come back. Suddenly, it didn’t.”
Like many others who have experienced similar circumstances, the final answer of “no” deeply challenged this sweet sister’s faith. For a very long time, she couldn’t pray, couldn’t worship. I believe she would tell us she truly felt God had let her down.
What do we do when our faith is shaken, when we feel like God didn’t come through for us? How do we find our footing again on solid ground and restore our confidence in a God who says He loves us, but fails to answer our prayers in the way we think He should? How do we learn to trust God when He allows such pain and suffering into our lives?
Here are four things we can do to rebuild our trust in God when we feel like He let us down.
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1. Reveal Your Emotions to God
“Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’” (Matthew 27:45-46).
I don’t imagine there is any circumstance we could experience that is as dark and challenging as what Jesus went through. He was falsely accused, betrayed and abandoned by His friends, beaten beyond recognition, and hung naked on a cross – all at the will and predetermined plan of His Father. Jesus was fully God and knew what this experience was all about; He willingly surrendered to it so that all of humanity had an opportunity to be redeemed. But don’t let that fact diminish the reality He experienced because He was also fully man. He felt the same excruciating physical pain we would, and in His flesh, He felt the emotions of being abandoned and forsaken by God as the weight of the sins of the world were laid on His shoulders, and His Father turned His face away.
Job was another man who suffered greatly by the will of God. He lost his family, his fortune, his wife, and his reputation because God allowed Satan a measure of freedom to test his faithfulness. From the very beginning, Job knew the trials he was experiencing ultimately came from God’s hand. He came to the point of wishing he’d never been born (Job 3:1-3), yet as he freely expressed these thoughts to God, he did not sin in the process.
“Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!’ But he said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:9-10).
God can handle our emotions. Jesus understands how we feel. God is not an impersonal deity who is unmoved by our distress. He desires that we come to Him, and He is able to deal with our raw honesty.
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
“Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
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2. Revisit the Psalms
“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning. O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer; and by night, but I have no rest. Yet You are holy, O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel. In You our fathers trusted; they trusted and You delivered them. To You they cried out and were delivered; in You they trusted and were not disappointed” (Psalm 22:1-5).
Jesus echoed the words of the psalmist while on the cross; after all, they were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – they were His words. When we are feeling that life has been unfair to us, the Psalms are a refuge for us. The psalmist, David, was gifted in expressing his deepest feelings to God without reservation, yet in humility and reverence toward Him.
David had not pursued the throne; God sent the prophet, Samuel, to bring him out of the shepherd’s fields where he felt at home and anoint him as king, even while Saul still ruled. It would be years before God’s plan unfolded for David – years of turmoil and unfairness and running for his very life. Surely, he felt at times that God was letting him down; certainly, he had moments when his trust in God wavered and his confidence in God’s sovereign plans was shaken.
God gave him a gift – an ability to put into words and music the deepest of his thoughts and emotions, and in the process, gave the world an outlet for expressing our feelings to God in a way that still honors Him as our Creator.
When you feel God has disappointed you, don’t run from Him. Run toward Him, and let the Psalms be a balm for your soul.
“In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried to my God for help; He heard my voice out of His temple, and my cry for help before Him came into His ears” (Psalm 18:6).
“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
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3. Reflect on the Character and Nature of God
“The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all” (Psalm 103:19).
“For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord gives grace and glory; no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11).
“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” (Romans 8:28).
“The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He” (Deuteronomy 32:4).
“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; lovingkindness and truth go before You” (Psalm 89:14).
“Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you, and therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you. For the Lord is a God of justice; how blessed are all those who long for Him” (Isaiah 30:18).
A popular quote says, “When you can’t trace God’s hand, trust His heart.” In other words, sometimes God allows things in our lives that we simply can’t comprehend. From our human understanding, it isn’t logical to permit suffering if you have the ability to prevent it. But that’s just it – we only have human understanding. When God’s actions don’t line up with what we think is right or good, we have to return to what we know about His character and nature – those immutable, eternal, infinite attributes that define who God is.
God is righteous; He cannot do wrong.
God is good; He cannot do evil.
God is holy; He is completely pure.
God is sovereign; He sees the end from the beginning, and He rules over all.
God is compassionate; He is always moved by our suffering.
God is merciful; He remembers that we are made of dust.
God is wise; He acts out of a perspective that transcends our humanity.
God is love; He is not just loving, He is the very essence of love and all His actions are out of love.
God is just; He is the righteous judge who sees beyond the surface and into our hearts.
When we feel God has let us down, our perspective must be greater than what is happening in this physical world. We must trust the work that He is doing in us in the spiritual. Everything that comes into our lives is filtered through His omnipotent hands of love and grace for a greater purpose.
This focus on the character of God not only changes our perspective, but it provides the means to grow in our intimacy and relationship with Him. As we study His attributes, we learn to trust again, and surrender our ideas of what we think He should have done for us.
“But now, O Lord, You are our Father, we are the clay, and You our potter; and all of us are the work of Your hand” (Isaiah 64:8).
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4. Recount the Lessons and Blessings to Others
“Bless our God, O peoples, and sound His praise abroad, Who keeps us in life and does not allow our feet to slip. For You have tried us, O God; You have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; You laid an oppressive burden upon our loins. You made men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water, yet You brought us out into a place of abundance. … Come and hear, all who fear God, and I will tell of what He has done for my soul” (Psalm 66:8-12, 16).
As we express our feelings and emotions to God, find hope and peace through His Word, and reacquaint ourselves with His character, we will begin to see the good things God wants to bring out of our suffering. These lessons and blessings need to be shared, so they become part of our story. As we verbalize what God has done, our trust in Him will be renewed.
The enemy hopes we will abandon our faith and turn away from God when we feel He has let us down. Instead, let your disappointments and suffering lead you into a richer, fuller relationship with the God who is completely trustworthy.
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Originally published Monday, 29 May 2023.