We all experience struggles in this life. Whether they come to us simply because we live in a broken world, or they are the results of our own sin, struggles are common to humanity. But God’s Word provides answers for these struggles – answers that are vastly different than the ones the world offers.
See what Scripture has to say about 5 common struggles. I like to say … The Bible is God’s story, and it has the ability to transform our stories.
1. Consumed by ANXIETY – Flooded with PEACE
Anxiety is a common struggle in our culture. And it’s true that there is much to be anxious about in our fallen world. Life gets tough, trials hit, pressure mounts, and our flesh takes over. Before we know it, we’re overwhelmed with worry.
The level of anxiety people struggle with varies from minor anxieties about a stressful situation that comes and goes, to chronic, debilitating anxiety. But Scripture speaks to a better way for God’s children - the way of peace. We are not meant to live in the bondage of anxiety.
God invites those who are anxious to cast all their anxieties on Him because He cares for them (1 Peter 5:6-7). He tells us not to worry about anything, but to bring our requests to God in prayer, and the peace of God that surpasses understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. This passage from Philippians 4:6-7 is true and helpful, but it often can send the message, “Just stop it. Just stop worrying. Stop being anxious." Often what can be more helpful is a biblical story that reveals the heart of God. When a person is so consumed with anxiety that they are not thinking straight, a story can penetrate through the emotions and provide help and hope.
The story I suggest to address the issue of anxiety is Mary and Martha in Luke 10. No doubt you know the story well. Jesus had come to the home of Mary and Martha. Martha, ever the hospitable one, welcomed Him and got busy with the meal prep and serving and all the things that come with having someone as well-known as Jesus in your home. But Mary sat at the feet of Jesus, captivated by His teaching. Martha was annoyed with her sister, then she got frustrated, then downright angry. She interrupted Jesus and told Him to tell Mary to help her! Jesus’ response is not what we would expect. He said gently, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
This story isn’t about a character with debilitating, life-altering anxiety, but the principle we find here remains the same with any level of anxiety. Martha was focused on the wrong things, which caused her anxiety. She was trying to control the situation; no doubt she wanted everything to be perfect for Jesus. But when we focus on the wrong things and try to control situations, our anxiety inevitably increases. All our worrying about a situation or the future is an attempt to control something we simply cannot control.
Mary, on the other hand, had a mind focused on the right things. Jesus was in her home! There was no better place to be than at His feet learning from Him. She was focused on Him. Isaiah 26:3 says, "You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you." When we are anxious, we need to focus on the character of God.
If we allow our minds to be anxious, we are essentially telling the Lord, “I don’t trust you fully, you can’t handle my situation, and I don’t think you are powerful enough to change this!” Deep down, all worries and anxieties are rooted in a lack of trust.
Your goal is to move from anxiety to peace. While it’s true that we certainly have a lot to worry about, we can have peace when we fix our minds on Jesus.
2. Frozen by FEAR – Living by FAITH
Fear is another rampant condition in our day. And again, it’s true that there is much to be fearful about in our fallen world. In fact, fear and anxiety are closely related. Fear too can be debilitating.
The most fearful I’ve been was when I was diagnosed with cancer seven years ago. During that time I would wake in the middle of the night, fear strangling me. I often tiptoed downstairs and sat with my Bible, looking up all the verses that say “Do not be afraid.” God was teaching me in that season to walk by faith.
Scripture commands us over 300 times “Do not fear." God’s children are not to be marked by fear; we are to be characterized by faith. But of course, walking with someone through fear is not as simple as saying, “Stop being afraid.” You need to gently move them from their fears to faith in God. This involves a shift in focus again.
The story in Mark 4 clearly illustrates the opposition between fear and faith. When we are living in fear we are not living in faith, and the opposite is true. When we are living in faith, fear must flee.
The disciples were in a boat on the sea of Galilee and a huge windstorm arose, causing the waves to crash in over the boat. They thought they were going to die. Now these guys were experienced fishermen, so we know this had to have been a violet storm for it to strike fear in their hearts. This was legitimate, imminent danger. And there are legitimate scary things in our world. To reject fear doesn’t ignore scary situations. The disciples shook Jesus awake, who was peacefully sleeping on a cushion and cried, “Don’t you care that we are going to die?!” Jesus rebuked the wind and told the sea to be still, and the wind and waves obeyed immediately. Then He asked the disciples this question: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” Here we see that faith and fear are polar opposites.
When these men focused on the wind and the waves, it filled their hearts with fear. But faith would have recognized two things:
Jesus’ promises: The narrative in Mark 4 starts with Jesus saying, “Let us go across to the other side.” Jesus promised that they would go to the other side.
Jesus’ presence: Jesus was in the boat with them.
The same is true for us. When we are focused on the situations that cause fear in our lives, being consumed with the what ifs and the worst possible outcome, we will become frozen by fear, unable to move forward, and incapable of coping with the present. But when we shift our focus to God, His promises and His presence casts out all fear.
Again and again the Bible says, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you." Faith believes that God’s promises and presence are sure and able to transform any situation. Faith also believes that even if the situation doesn’t change, God has a better plan.
Your goal is to move from fear to faith. While there are certainly things to be afraid of in this world, God calls us to a life of faith in Him because He is with us and He has promised to overcome the world.
3. Descending into DEPRESSION - Ascending into JOY
Depression is another widespread struggle in our time. Depression is an overwhelming weight, a heaviness of heart and soul to the point of lost faith, hope and feeling. It’s an unbearable sadness. Sometimes the descent into darkness and despair is gradual, and other times it is rapid. Depression can be the result of many things: a loss, a disappointment, or a chemical imbalance in the brain. And depression can range in severity, just like fear and anxiety.
For the believer, light and hope is found in Christ through the Scriptures. God's kids ought to be full of joy! That is our rightful inheritance in the kingdom, and if a Christian is experiencing anything less, it is something to battle against.
Psalm 42-43 is a great passage to turn to when you or someone you love is struggling with depression. Psalm 42:11 says, "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God." This verse illustrates the choice we have when things happen to us. We can choose to allow ourselves to spiral downwards into depression, or we can choose to hope in God. Asking the same questions the psalmist asked is important: Why am I cast down? Why am I in turmoil? Facing the emotions is important because they are clues to your condition. But then making a choice in that moment is important: Will you choose to dwell on those negative feelings, all the reasons you are depressed or will you choose to hope in God? The psalmist told his soul to hope in God and praise Him again. He bossed himself around. This moves a person upward towards joy.
Psalm 43:3-4 says, "Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling! Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God." Praying this passage with a depressed person is so powerful. God, send out your light and truth and let them lead this person straight into your presence, because in Your presence is fullness of joy.
When the darkness is suffocating and all-consuming, God’s light is the answer. His light causes darkness to flee. His truth reorients our minds and hearts and gives us hope. Your goal is to move them from depression to joy. Look up and set your hope on God. Let the light and truth of Christ lead you into His presence, where you are sure to find joy.
4. Falling into SUFFERING - Growing in SANCTIFICATION
Suffering is common to man. No one gets through this life unscathed. We all experience suffering at one time or another. Suffering is always the uninvited guest that messes up our best plans and stays longer than we ever wanted it to. It comes in all shapes and sizes and often interrupts our lives with such force that we are left reeling. Whether it’s a prodigal child, a loved one in crisis, a phone call in the middle of the night, a positive test result, or a pay cheque that never seems to cover the expenses, difficulty comes to all of us. So we should not be surprised by suffering, in fact, we should expect it.
When we suffer, we have questions:
Why am I going through this?
Why is God in allowing this in my life?
Why do bad things always happen to me?
These are all normal questions for someone to ask when they are in a season of suffering. So where do you turn in Scripture to give help and hope? First Peter 1:3-7 is a great passage to address suffering because it reminds us of two important truths about suffering:
Suffering is temporary for the believer.
There is eternal purpose in suffering.
In verses 3-5 Peter talks about our salvation. We’ve been born again into a living hope. Then he says, “In this you rejoice ...” In this salvation you rejoice, though now for a little while you are grieved by various trials. Here is the piece about suffering. Notice he said a little while. Suffering will not last forever. It is temporary for the believer.
Then Peter goes on to say, “So that the genuineness of your faith would be tested and result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus returns.” So there is purpose in our suffering. God is up to something – He’s up to something good. He’s testing and refining our faith so that it will become stronger and stronger and will ultimately give glory to Him.
God allows suffering in our lives to transform us more and more into the image of Christ. Sanctification is the process of becoming more like Jesus. From the moment we were saved, we began the process of sanctification, which won’t be complete until we meet Jesus face-to-face. Progressive sanctification happens with ebbs and flows of life and in new ways during each new season. God can use this hard thing to make you more like Jesus.
Speaking of Jesus, how did He respond to suffering? Hebrews 12:2 says, “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” We become like Jesus when we endure suffering in a way that trusts God to use it for our good and His glory.
The suffering is actually a tool of God’s grace. Now that’s hard to see initially, because our natural impulse is to want to escape the suffering, but as we open the scriptures and study passages that show purpose in suffering, we are more able to view our suffering from an eternal perspective. Our lives are to bring God glory, in the good times and the bad.
Your goal is to move from suffering to sanctification. Remember, your suffering will not last forever, and God has purpose in it.
5. Tsunami of GRIEF - Surrounded by HOPE
The loss of a loved one brings unimaginable grief. Nine years ago my mom went into the hospital with a kidney stone, and what should have been a fairly normal medical concern for an otherwise healthy 58-year-old, ended in her death three days later. Our family was in shock, numb, thrown into the depths of sorrow.
Grief comes in waves. Sometimes they are small and manageable and other times they feel like a tsunami. These waves are unpredictable and often come at the worst possible moments. Grief is a tangled ball of emotions, and it is not orderly.
As we walked through the weeks and months of grief that followed my mom’s death, I developed a new compassion for those who have walked through the valley of the shadow of death. It’s not easy. Loss hurts deeply.
Grief is a natural response to a loss. In fact, it would be strange not to grieve the passing a loved one. It has been said that the only way to avoid grief is never to love. The fact that we grieve much proves that we loved well.
We find stabilizing truths that help us with grief in a story of the two sisters we talked about earlier, Mary and Martha (John 11). Jesus was friends with Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus. He had spent time in their home. They had shared meals and conversations together. In fact, the text tells us that He loved them.
But when Jesus got the news that Lazarus had passed away, He stayed where He was for a few more days. His disciples or the sisters didn’t understand why at the time, but we know from the text that Jesus knew Lazarus’ death was going to end in glory to God.
After two days, Jesus travelled to Bethany to see Mary and Martha. It's important to note here that Jesus comes to us in our grief. He meets us in the pain of loss and offers His comfort. God is the God of all comfort. Comfort is the experience of the presence of God in the presence of suffering.
When Martha heard that Jesus was finally coming, she ran out to meet Him. She said “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” There is so much emotion packed into that statement. Where were you, Jesus? Why didn’t you come? I’ve seen you do miracles for others, why didn’t you do a miracle for us? It’s ok to ask God why. We may not always get a satisfactory answer, but God understands and welcomes our questions.
Mary said the same thing when she came out to meet Jesus “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” The text tells us that Jesus was deeply moved in His spirit and He cried. We know what happens next in the story. Jesus asked to be taken to Lazurus’ tomb and then He ordered the stone to be moved. Martha, ever the practical one, objects because surely by now there would be an odour. The KJV says, “He stinketh!” Jesus turned to her and said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” Then, in a booming voice, He commands Lazarus to come forth. And that dead man walked right out of that grave!
You see, death is a defeated enemy. This is where hope is found. One day death will be swallowed up in victory. Death is a consequence of original sin. The devil is a destroyer, but neither he nor death will get the final word. The devil’s doom and death’s end have already been sealed by Jesus. Soon Jesus will gloriously resurrect those who have believed in Him. This is the hope we have as believers.
Now what if you have experienced the loss of someone who didn’t follow the Lord? Who wasn’t a believer? We can still point to the sovereignty of God and the hope found in Christ. God is still faithful and hope is found only in Him.
Your goal is to understand that grief is natural and expected in a loss. Move through the stages of grief with your eyes fixed on the comfort and hope found in Christ.
Are you struggling with one of these? If so, I pray these passages have pointed you to Jesus, who is the answer to all our struggles.
Look for the second part of this series next week: How Scripture Speaks to 5 Common Sins.
I have created a resource for you: Ten topical mini Bible studies based on these 5 struggles and 5 sins and the corresponding passages. If you or someone you love is struggling with one of these, I would encourage you to check them out.