God Loves Cliffhangers

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As we deal — as we all must do — with troubles, affliction, difficulties and so on, the toughest thing to remember is that God is handstitching these problems for us, and He is doing this so that they will fit us perfectly.

We don’t grasp this because we are victims of a metaphor. When shoes fit us perfectly, it feels a particular way — it feels good. When a suit fits us perfectly, we can move in it with ease. But when troubles are designed and crafted just for us, it doesn’t feel that way at all. So a better example would be a perfectly designed weight-loss regimen, or a perfectly designed football practice.

Sometimes troubles come to a head. There is a drop-dead deadline. Think of Israel on the banks of the Red Sea. Things were going to break pretty soon, one way or the other. “And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again” (Ex. 14:13, ESV). That was a cliffhanger.

Other times the affliction feels like a journey through the wilderness, with no apparent end in sight. The Israelites were going to encounter that kind of trial repeatedly, when they got to the other side of the Red Sea. They were going to have forty years worth of it. But while wilderness wanderings have no apparent deadline, God still expects people in the midst of them to harken back to deliverance at the cliff. There may be different kinds of trials, but it is always the same kind of God.

But the psalmist’s description of God’s interventions on their behalf moves seamlessly into his description of how God provided for them on a day-to-day basis. “He divided the sea, and caused them to pass through; And he made the waters to stand as an heap” (Ps. 78:13). There was a spectacular deliverance on the shores of the Red Sea, and it was the same God who provided for them with a “just-in-time” delivery system with water from the rock and bread from heaven.

The trick is how to distinguish the two kinds of situation. When we are in a long grind, we are usually ready for it to all be done before God is ready for it to be done. We think we can’t go another step, like Shasta running into Archenland, but it turns out we can. But then there are the times when there really are no other options, and God tells us — through the story in Scripture about the Red Sea incident — that He will deliver us “today.”

Sometimes it is manna today and manna tomorrow, and manna next week. And other times God ‘will be honored upon Pharaoh.” It is our privilege to walk with God without murmuring, and to do so keeping the distinction between the two kinds of salvation in mind. Sometimes God gives deliverance, and helicopters us out of there. Other times He gives us endurance. Sometimes He gives us one while we are praying for the other, and other times He gives us what we were praying for. But He always gives us what we need. Just what we need — hand-stitched.

What we do not want to do is follow the poor example set by the grumblers of Israel. “For all this they sinned still, And believed not for his wondrous works” (Ps. 78:32). Present temptations have a way of banishing past deliverances from our minds, and that is what Puritan theologians used to call “no good.”

We pass through our trials, if we do pass through them, by faith (Heb. 11:29). This means, remember, that we cannot prove our seemingly “unwarranted” confidence beforehand. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). If we are to be faithful in our generation, this means that we are trusting God to deliver us from our particular circumstances. We are not just waiting in faith for the Eschaton — although we are doing that also. We are also trusting God for our financial dilemmas, for our medical challenges, for the state of our nation, and so on. If the only deliverances that God can muster are outside space and time, then maybe Marx was right about that opiate-of-the-masses business.

We cannot prove our confidence until afterward, when our women are dancing on the beach by the bodies of the Egyptian charioteers. Then we have proof enough, and the task before us is to remember that we have that proof in hand as we round the corner into our next trial.

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John Carnahan
Guest

Great encouragement. Thanks!

Alex
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Alex

Pastor Wilson, thank you for this outstanding post. Would you mind saying a brief prayer for me that the Lord would deliver me from a cliffhanger I’ve been living for five years? I am eager for the kind of all-encompassing deliverance God provides. Please pray for my faith and God’s swift deliverance. Thanks.

prayersofadoration
Member

Very encouraging indeed. We want to be coddled and it turns out we are but not the way we want. God is after particular results and he will have them.

Brian Watson
Guest
Brian Watson

Doug,

Thank you very much! You have ministered to me this morning, as this speaks directly to how I’m feeling. I desperately want God to “helicopter” me out of here, but he may give me endurance to bear through all the difficulties I’m experiencing. Either way, he is good and he will provide.

Eric Stampher
Guest
Eric Stampher

Alex — others are squeezing in on those prayers for you.

Eric Stampher
Guest
Eric Stampher

Pastor — while “Operation Eschaton Hope” has encouraged us all, its actual helicopter unit will bring deliverance to only a tiny unit of our battalion.

The rest of us will have been choppered up earlier by death.

Death is quite the deliverance vehicle, snapping off all those thread tails of pain & temptation as it speeds us up to Hospital.

Ryan
Guest
Ryan

Pastor Wilson, How do I walk through a trial when I feel like God is ignoring me? I find that the worst thing I can possibly do is to pray. I pray and pray and pray for years, with thousands of tears, for good things (i.e. a passion for God, patience, humility, a godly wife, etc). None of theses things come, and I’m now at the point where I’m very cynical toward the faith that I once loved and even preached. I’m especially cynical toward prayer, and I find that prayer leads me to anger, ALWAYS. I pray hoping that… Read more »

carole
Guest
carole

Yesterday I got news that I felt I just could not handle. But today I read this, and I am very reassured, thank you for being the messenger. I know that there is a happy ending to my story, and I am thankful for all the blessings I receive, most importantly faith.

timothy
Guest
timothy

@Ryan, God often pushes me past the breaking point. I don’t care for it–and I let Him know in no uncertain terms that I don’t. To be blunt, it sucks eggs. But, like Peter, I have nothing outside Him. C.S.Lewis–in gentler language than I would muster–discusses the process of a Tin-Man becoming human and how unpleasant it is for the Tin-Man to undergo the change. The process is the same as we change from the old-man to the new-man. The key for me is the blood of Christ and that I can approach God as I am–pissed off–and let Him… Read more »

Roy
Guest
Roy

For those struggling with prayer, I recommend A Praying Life by Paul Miller. Not so deep as to be burdensome, yet not trite or superficial.

Jim-N-NC
Guest
Jim-N-NC

Thanks for this word of encouragement. I was in tears yesterday when considering the state of my family, my sin, the sin of others. It seems so hopeless. Your words were a healing balm to my soul and helped me turn my eyes from myself to the cross.

I would like you to know that in your ministry you have been a true Pastor to me. Very grateful to God and pray for years of fruitful ministry for you and your precious family – your father on down!

Ryan
Guest
Ryan

@timothy Thank you, Timothy. John 6:68 has been an important verse to me over the years. Despite all my doubts, I cannot leave the faith. @Roy For those struggling with prayer, I recommend A Praying Life by Paul Miller. Not so deep as to be burdensome, yet not trite or superficial. Thank you for your consideration. But this is one of my problems. I have now had several people recommend this book to me, and over the past 2 weeks I have been reading through it. The book has led to more anger and tears than ever before. Why? Because… Read more »

Robert
Guest
Robert

Ryan, think about Christians who wound up in a Soviet pros in for 10-20 years! Hard labor,mediocre food. I those situations, you need to focus your requests to getting through the day. Sure, pray for deliverance, but also pray for immediate survival. God is architect of history, not just of you, yet He does love YOU.

Robert
Guest
Robert

That was supposed to be soviet prison

timothy
Guest
timothy

There was a christian book some decades ago that took the position that God was essentially a vending machine; we put in a prayer here, and God gives us what we prayed for there and here is the verse that proves it. The book had an impressive hard-back cover, but it was b.s.on the inside. God does not work that way; we are not in the drivers seat, He is. We pray for A and He gives us C; then He gives us stuff we never asked for then takes us places we never wanted to go–unpleasant places sometimes. While… Read more »

Roy
Guest
Roy

@Ryan, allow me some time for prayer and consideration before responding. I’m fairly sure I understand where you’re coming from but am very hesitant to respond off the cuff. In the meantime, I offer Galatians 6:9 in the most sincere manner.

Ryan
Guest
Ryan

@Robert Ryan, think about Christians who wound up in a Soviet pros in for 10-20 years! I have thought plenty about the suffering of others, and it makes me feel ashamed and guilty to a point of even greater depression. Why? Because their sufferings make mine look like a petty joke. Yet they got through it and I am hardly getting by. They had an amazing sense of God’s love and presence THROUGHOUT their afflictions. I want to be able to suffer well like they did. I always pray, “God, change my heart first, then change my circumstances if it… Read more »

Robert
Guest
Robert

Ryan, you are listening to the Devil. Stop doing that. That is the biggest sin you have to repent of. Now. You have to get that speck out of your eye. Until you stop listening to the Devil, looking at the faith of others will only make you feel condemned, not encouraged.

Robert
Guest
Robert

The Bible talks about people who were not delivered and died in a horrible way. Was God ignoring them? Niemoeller and ten Boom survived Hitler’s death camps. Bonhoffer didn’t. God called them to each situation and he was there and saw what happened to each of them. Before i was a Christian, I would say that this sounds trite. I was only saved about a month ago, so the memory is still fresh. God doesn’t promise us a happy life. He does promise not to leave nor forsake his children. Forever.

Bert Perry
Guest

Ryan, remember Paul’s plea to God to take away the thorn in his flesh that was denied? Part of me wonders as well whether you’re praying for mostly big things, or for the little things each day. Now don’t get me wrong; it’s OK to pray for a wife, or the church in Bangladesh, or the healing of a stage 4 cancer. God commends that. But that said, I’m going to use that last one–something I went through when my mother died of colon cancer. I got the call right after lunch that I’d better get down to Chicago, because… Read more »

Bert Perry
Guest

BTW, this was 4 years back, but still obviously fresh on my mind.

Mark B. Hanson
Guest
Mark B. Hanson

C. S. Lewis in “A Grief Observed” (emphasis added): The terrible thing is that a perfectly good God is in this matter hardly less formidable than a Cosmic Sadist. The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness. A cruel man might be bribed – might grow tired of his vile sport – might have a temporary fit of mercy, as alcoholics have fits of sobriety. But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and… Read more »

J
Guest
J

@Ryan, Just wanted to say thanks for asking the question. The answers have mostly been helpful to me. I had a response typed but I don’t think I’ll post it just yet. I’ll be praying for your love of the Lord to grow. For now I’ll just quote a Chris Rice song. I would take no for an answer, Just to know I heard you speak, And I’m wondering why I’ve never, Seen the signs they claim they see, A lotta special revelations, Meant for everybody but me, Maybe I don’t truly know You, or maybe I just simply believe…… Read more »

Bert Perry
Guest

Ryan, one other thought is that if you are indeed praying for years with tears, that would be evidence that God has granted you (a) a passion for Him and (b) a measure of patience.

Have you talked with your pastor–not our gracious host but your local pastor in your Bible-believing church–about your struggles? With a touch of time, he might be able to figure out some other things that might be troubling you.

Ryan
Guest
Ryan

Thank you all for your kind responses. @Bert, I have talked with my pastor a ton. He has been a great help and I have no clue where I’d be without him. But I still feel my faith is dying. @J, that song gets very close to where I’m at. The song that I resonate with above all others is, “I Asked the Lord that I Might Grow,” by John Newton. It describes how I feel perfectly. http://cyberhymnal.org/htm/i/a/iaskedtl.htm However, the last stanza reads: These inward trials I employ, From self, and pride, to set thee free; And break thy schemes… Read more »

Mark B. Hanson
Guest
Mark B. Hanson

@Ryan, What you are going through has been described by many as “the dark night of the soul.” As one who has been through that and come out of the other side, I can offer no better encouragement than what was offered me at the time, from C. S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters”: Be not deceived, Wormwood, our cause is never more in jeopardy than when a human, no longer desiring but still intending to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe in which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been… Read more »

PB
Guest
PB

@Ryan, Thanks for being so open and honest about where you are and how your faith is being challenged. I personally don’t have any counsel for you because I have found myself in a very similar circumstance spiritually. I eagerly await Doug’s response to your question. Whatever is going on, just know that you are not totally alone in it. God does seem to work in ways that don’t line up exactly with what we would expect, we just have to keep trusting and believing. I have personally found Lamentations 3 to be a good reminder of that. I hope… Read more »

Andrew Lohr
Member

What God had me wait for wasn’t what I’d been looking at. A.D. 1982 or so, vowed to pray daily for a wife until He gave me one. (Don’t vow if you can help it.) A.D. 2008, married. Family prayer usually includes “Thank You for bringing Wendy and me together in holy marriage.” (Small stepdaughters’ version once: “Thank You that Papa and Mama have rings like Gollum’s.”)

Keep Jesus at room temperature for more than three days, and alternatives to crucifixion may be worth looking into.

Arlan Aquino
Guest
Arlan Aquino

Thank you Pastor Doug for this post. Just read it this morning, and it brought the balm of Gilead to my troubled soul.