HANDLING A CRISIS WITHOUT BEING CRUSHED
God is good, even if our lives are not. And he is walking with us.
How we respond to a crisis is said to be the mark of us, yet we rarely feel good about the responses we make. When confronted with a crisis we often lose sleep, become irritable, untrusting and self-absorbed. We may be doubly defeated, because scripture tells us we are more than conquerors when we feel less than losers. This is the bind many Christian experience when calamity strikes. We do not help ourselves in church because we sometimes relate to one another in less than honest terms, being reluctant to admit doubt, sin or failure because of the judgment we think the other person might make.
The corporate world is full of material outlining crisis management strategies, but there is less on how to cope with personal crises because we share fewer values in common privately. The beauty of the psalms is the way they give voice to myriad, plaintiff, bewildered and contradictory feelings within a framework of trust in God and praise of his name. They provide a great canopy of faith where space is afforded to the distressed and afflicted to express their emotions in their own time and at their own pace.
So how do we handle a crisis in a way which protects us from being crushed by its weight?
In Isaiah 30: 20 it says, effectively, that ‘the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction’. When assaulted by life, some people tend to lash out at God for permitting unpleasant things to happen to them. We should be careful not to judge one another in the responses we make, because we each have our own particular peace process with God: the psalms show this transparently. Some metaphorically shake their fists at God, others internalise their anger or instinctively submit to their lot like Job. Each relationship with God is different; we are all unique.
Nevertheless, Isaiah asks us not to see God as vindictively meting out punishment to people. As Jesus said, if we, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will the heavenly Father give to those who ask him? Instead, we are invited to place God at the centre of the crisis. Nothing happens in life without him knowing and no crisis can separate us from God’s presence. He knows he is there; the risk is, in our despair and introspection, we think he isn’t. God is in the middle of every crisis.
In Psalm 40, the writer is in a dreadful place, coated in all the slime and mud life could throw at them, and yet his first observation is that he waited patiently for God. When we are in the middle of a crisis, the idea that we should wait patiently for deliverance can feel unbearable, especially when we are in pain. We are hard-wired to pursue happiness and so when something frustrates this instinctive desire, we are at a loss to know what to do. We can hear this in the responses other people make to our crisis, which is often to hurry us out of despair because they find it uncomfortable. We long for a Sky TV remote to fast forward through the pain, but, if anything, life regresses to slow motion, where it fees like we have all the time in the world to explore every contour of our distress.
Patience may be a virtue, but we are woefully short of it in modern life. It may be one of the most distinctive marks of being a Christian, the ability to wait in the darkness. It isn’t a gift from God, one given at birth or in a moment, but a fruit forged in the crucible of experience.
Yet we are encouraged in Isaiah 30 and elsewhere, to believe that as soon as God hears us, he will answer. Our sensory experience may be different. When we cry out to God in despair, it can feel like the prayers bounce of the ceiling above us to hit us cruelly between the eyes, but we should listen to these scriptures because they tell another story. When we are in crisis and cry out to God, he has already answered us. The way we understand human transactions make us think that every response should be quick and, if not, that there should be transparency in why not. God doesn’t do transparency the way we do, and we live by faith, not by sight. Believing God has answered us even as we sink further into the mud may seem the maddest of things, but might just be the sanest response we can make in a crisis. Faith, as the letter to the Hebrews says, is ‘the conviction of things unseen’. God is good, even if our lives are not. And he is walking with us.
Psalm 40 and Isaiah 30 both suggest there is a moment when our feet can stand on hard rock again and our ears may hear the voice of God. My experience of crises is that I often find God offers me lots of hope and strength through prayer and scripture to sustain me day by day, but I am much less sure of the bigger picture – the purpose and meaning of the problem. There are some things we will never know this side of eternal life, but the promise of God is that he says to his people: ‘this is the way, walk in it’.
It is a mistake to think God’s guidance is as regular, precise and insistent as a SatNav, telling us which road to turn down every few minutes. This is a path to madness, where we feel obliged to say he speaks to us about everything from which brand of toothpaste to buy upwards. Besides, God has given us the freedom to explore our gifts, interests, relationships and commitments without constraining us. But it is a mark of faith to expect that God will guide us when we need it and that we will experience the comfort of his presence in our lives, even if we only know the destination on arrival.
I wouldn’t claim to be the man for every crisis. My response is often about as assured as Mr Bean driving a car while trying to get changed and you may feel the same about yourself. But there are particular responses we can make in faith when we face the impossible. My prayer is that people may know the rock on which they stand even while they are covered in mud.
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