Life will hit hard at times, but we don’t have to go down with the punch.
Back in 1940, as the Nazi Luftwaffe began its blitz bombings of England, no one could have predicted how merciless the attacks would become. The air raids continued for eight full months. With London as their frequent target, Hitler and his brutal associates hoped to bring the prime minister, Winston Churchill, to his knees. Obviously, they didn’t know Churchill. People didn’t call him the “British Bulldog” for nothing.
In November of that year, Churchill made this powerful statement in a speech to the House of Commons: “It is not given to human beings, happily for them, . . . to foresee or to predict to any large extent the unfolding course of events.”1
More often than not, wise living means learning to roll with the punches.
Though we often wish we could peer around the corner of life’s twisting path to foresee or predict every trial, test, and tribulation, God has mercifully spared us from this. I say spared us because if we knew beforehand every hardship we would face, we’d be in a constant state of preemptive panic and on-edge anxiety. If you really think about it, none of us would want that.
Consider Solomon’s wise words: “Don’t brag about tomorrow, since you don’t know what the day will bring” (Proverbs 27:1). And Jesus said, “Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Matthew 6:34). The Bible is clear: we should neither boast nor fret over tomorrow, because we can never know what’s lurking just around the corner. No wonder James warns pretentious planners to temper their overconfident business ventures with healthy humility: “How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, ‘If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:14-15).
I’ve had some grueling trials in my life—and so have you. Though we may look back on our less painful experiences with a nervous chuckle or even a sunny sigh of relief, there’s nothing funny or frivolous about God’s testing. Even though we know better in our head, in our heart it sometimes feels like He’s pushing us not just to the edge of the cliff but over the edge—and delighting in it! How easy it is to release our grip on God’s goodness, sovereignty, and wisdom in those moments.
Yet just when we think it’s “lights out” for us, God breaks through the silence and says, as it were, “I’m right here with you. I’ve never left you. I know you trust Me. You’ve passed the test!” In those moments we learn without a doubt that the Sunday-school God of goodness, sovereignty, and wisdom is the same God who shows up on those long, dark Mondays that assault our peace of mind and put our theology to the test.
We don’t have to look hard to find them.
In the pages of His Word, we see God at work in the unexpected tests that rattle our world. Through them, He brings change to our lives. These trials may feel like pointless detours from God’s perfect plan or like absolute disasters from which we’ll never recover. But they are neither.
God is always working out His perfect will behind the scenes. Pain and heartache often accompany those tests and trials, but in the end, something good invariably comes about for those who endure by God’s life-giving grace.
We can be confident that He will provide what we need in the midst of it.
God doesn’t give us a warning before the test. But we can be confident that He will provide what we need in the midst of it. And He will accomplish His purposes through it.
There are two types of tests through which God brings His people. Let’s call them “sudden bursts” and “slow burns.” Like an explosion, the sudden burst breaks into our lives instantly. It flares up hot and bright for a brief season—maybe a few days or weeks—then just as suddenly becomes part of our past. The effects may linger like smoldering embers, but the direct pain and stress of the test passes away, and our life returns to normal. I’m sure you’ve experienced such sudden bursts—a quick bout of the flu, a broken bone, a marriage crisis, a financial blow, or a minor car accident.
The other kind of test is the slow burn. It may not be as intense as the sudden burst, but what it lacks in severity it makes up in duration. For months, years, and even decades, it greets us every morning and tucks us in at night. You know the kinds of struggles I’m talking about—chronic pain with no prospects for a cure, lifelong strained relationships with family members, a wayward teenager, long-term depression constantly holding us back and dragging us down.
When I was just a boy, the Swindolls occasionally enjoyed a family reunion at my grandfather’s bay cottage near the Gulf in south Texas. Because the crowd was so large, we’d hire a man named Coats to help with the cooking. I’ll never forget him. Not just his cooking, but his quaint comments are a lasting memory for me.
I remember standing near Coats one evening at sunset, watching him smear sauce on the meat slow-cooking over the coals. He was telling me about his life, which had been marked by numerous troubles and tragedies—some sudden bursts, some slow burns. At one point Coats knelt down to my level, looked in my eyes, and said: “Little Charles—the hardest thing about life is that it’s so daily.”
So daily! What a simple but profound way of describing both the sudden bursts and slow burns of difficulty that God allows in our lives. The tests that come like a flash and last no longer than a dash seldom do more than bring a brief crash. On the other hand, the marathons—the relentless, incessant, steady, persistent, continual trials that won’t go away—they may bruise us, but they build character.
A few years ago, when Cynthia and I were designing the Insight for Living Ministries International Headquarters building, we wanted to find a piece of art that would make a statement about how God had led us to that point.
Eventually we found a magnificent sculpture by Robert Hogan, and it stands high on its own pedestal in the entryway of our building. The wings of the angel of the Lord spread out while swooping down from heaven. His hand clasps Abraham’s right hand, where the sacrificial blade is raised above his head. Isaac lies bound on the altar of stones. The angel’s other hand points at a ram caught in a thicket. At the base of the sculpture a small plaque reads, “The Lord Himself will provide.”
That’s the story of our ministry. It’s the story of our lives. And if you look back over the course of your own life, you’ll see it’s your story too. God Himself has provided. And He will continue to do so. All glory goes to Him for what He’s done and will do—in, with, through, and even in spite of us.
Adapted from Clinging to Hope: What Scripture Says about Weathering Times of Trouble, Chaos, and Calamity by Charles R. Swindoll. Copyright ©2022. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.
Pastor Charles R. Swindoll has devoted his life to the accurate, practical teaching and application of God’s Word. Since 1998, he has served as the senior pastor-teacher of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas, but Chuck’s listening audience extends beyond a local church body. As a leading program in Christian broadcasting since 1979, Insight for Living airs around the world. Chuck’s leadership as president and now chancellor emeritus at Dallas Theological Seminary has helped prepare and equip a new generation of men and women for ministry.