Chapter 7: What To Do When Life’s Circumstances Seem Impossible

 

     What’s the hardest thing you have had to go through in your life? It’s usually not difficult to answer that kind of question. Life naturally presents us with tragedy and sorrow. How can we survive the hard times and also be a source of strength and comfort to others who are facing similar challenges? Should we just grin and bear it or hang in there one more day because the sun will come out tomorrow?

     Do statements such as “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” and my personal favourite, “don’t worry, be happy,” really supply the courage necessary to pull us through life’s trials? No way! Such sentiments cannot provide immediate or lasting hope when you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders.

     So is there an answer? Is there some way, something we can turn to and find relief and victory? What we really want us a credible response to this question. We don’t want just a theoretical reply. We want an answer with skin on it. In other words, have other people who faced impossible circumstances not only survived them but also triumphed in the midst of them? And if so, how did they accomplish this?

     One of the things I love about Scripture is that it presents us with the lives of real, fallible people. Can you imagine what it would be life if the Bible were filled with stories of stellar saints who lived perfect lives, free from problems and pain? How disheartening it would be to read such a book, especially if we were expected to follow perfectly in such people’s footsteps! So, ironically enough, one of the most encouraging things about Scripture is that its pages are filled with people whose lives were interrupted by tragedy and affliction.

     So this gives us cause for encouragement on at least two ways.  First, we can readily identify with their stories since we too are plagued by the harsh realities of living in a sinful, imperfect world. Second, although they were people with inherent weaknesses like us, they experienced real spiritual victory in the midst of impossible circumstances. That tells us we can experience the same thing too! What was their secret?  Well, by now you know that it was no secret at all. They simply went vertical.

     Let’s begin by taking a look at a king from Old Testament times by the name of Jehoshaphat. His story is found in 2 Chronicles 22. Before we dive into the details, I want to paint a picture in your mind. Think back to your early school years. Imagine you are outside, minding your own business at recess when suddenly a ring of the meanest, toughest kids in your school surrounds you.  It doesn’t take much deductive skill on your part to tell by the sinister grins on their faces that they have only one thing in mind-to pick on you and ruthlessly push you around. Perhaps this scenario was one you actually experienced as a child. If that is true, you can easily identify with what was about to come crashing into King Jehoshaphat’s life.

     Warfare was a common occurrence in ancient Palestine. The nations in that region never seemed satisfied to stay within their own boundaries. Getting turf was the name of the game. Jehoshaphat was about to experience that incessant thirst for conquest in a way he never could have imagined during his reign. 2 Chronicles 20:1,2 sets the scene:

     It happened after this that the people of Moab with the people of Ammon, and others with them besides the Ammonites, came to battle against Jehoshaphat. Then some came and told Jehoshaphat, saying, “A great multitude is coming against you from beyond the sea, from Syria; and they are in Hazazon Tamar” (which is En Gedi).

     So this was the calamitous news that suddenly came crashing into King Jehoshaphat’s life.  “King Jehoshaphat, your enemies are at your doorstep. They’ve come from a long way, and they are too numerous to count. They’re going to surround Jerusalem and destroy you!” It’s safe to say, whatever kind of day Jehoshaphat was having, it must have quickly deteriorated from one of carefree happiness to ominous apprehension.

     So what exactly was the king’s response to the alarming report? The text tells us that he was immediately overcome with fear (2 Chron. 20:3). We’re with you, Jehoshaphat!  We’d be shaking in our sandals too! There’s actually nothing wrong with feeling fear when we receive devastating news or when tragedy strikes. Those are earthly, horizontal realities that are sometimes inescapable. What’s vitally important is how we respond next.

     You would have expected Jehoshaphat to immediately do the following: call his generals, employ strategies for combat, prepare his weapons, and find allies to fight his foes. He didn’t do any of these things. Not one. In fact, he did something entirely unexpected. First, he “set himself to seek the Lord,” and then he “proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah” (2 Chron. 20:3). What was he thinking? To call a fast in the face of war simply does not make sense. What you want instead is for your people and especially your army to be in a position of strength, physically nourished, ready to engage in combat with your foes.

     Jehoshaphat, however, knew the secret to victory when faced with a crisis. Go vertical! Without hesitation, immediately connect with heaven. Forget about earthly solutions. Don’t go there first. Go to God! Start with Him when life looks impossible.

     I love Jehoshaphat’s leadership in the story. “So Judah gathered together to ask help from the LORD; and from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD” (2 Chron. 20:4). Once everyone had arrived, the king stands up in their presence, and the first thing he does is pray to God. Again, Jehoshaphat goes vertical. You would have expected him to launch into a woeful horizontal discourse about the advancing enemy and Judah’s impending doom.

     This is such a fantastic prayer I just can’t make reference to it without including it in this chapter: Then Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, and said: "O Lord God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven, and do you not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations, and in Your hand is there not power and might, so that no one is able to withstand You? Are You not our God, who drove out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel, and gave it to the descendants of Abraham your friend forever? And they dwell in it, and have built You a sanctuary in it for Your name, saying, If disaster comes upon us-sword, judgment, pestilence, or famine-we will stand before this temple and in Your presence (for Your name is in this temple), and cry out to You in our affliction, and You will hear and save.   And now, here are the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir-whom You would not let Israel invade when they came out of the land of Egypt, but they turned from them and did not destroy them-here they are rewarding us by coming to throw us out of Your possession which you have given us to inherit. O our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You” (2 Chron. 20:15-12).

    How amazing are those last couple of lines! Talk about having and verbalizing a vertical perspective! Hang on, though. Things get even more remarkable in this saga. Such was the king’s confidence that God was going to give them victory over their enemies, that when the time for battle ensued, Jehoshaphat sent out a choir in front of the army! (2 Chron. 20:21). Now that’s a vertical response if there ever was one.  What king in their right mind would send a choir to the battlefront?  But that’s just it. Jehoshaphat was in the right mind: a vertical mind-set that believed the eternal God was infinitely greater than any earthly enemy. Thus, victory was a certainty, no matter who led the army out.

     What was the conclusion to this incredible story? God gave the Israelites a resounding victory over their enemies. When God is called upon, He always comes through. This is why going vertical guarantees us either immediate or ultimate victory in all of life’s circumstances, especially the most challenging ones.

     There are three more men I want us to look at before we leave this chapter: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. Their story is just as incredible as Jehoshaphat’s. We have already looked at how they went vertical in a previous chapter. However, there are some more incredible truths we can learn here from these Hebrew captives about going vertical, especially when life gets impossible.

     I’m not going to reiterate their story in detail. Basically, we know these young men were to bow down to King Nebuchadnezzar’s statue when the music started to play. They didn’t. Everybody else caved to the pressure and for good reason. If they didn’t bow, they were told in no uncertain terms, “You’re toast, man, literally!” “And whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace” (Dan. 3:6). Such statements were not made frivolously back in those times. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego were about to find that out.

     When hundreds of people bow down to an idol and you don’t, well, you kind of stand out in the crowd. Most people are never too pleased when they have to do something and somebody else acts as if the same requirement doesn’t apply to them. Not surprisingly, therefore, the text tells us some of the Chaldeans ratted on the three young men (Dan. 6:8-12). Now when the King found out Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego had defied his command, he got hotter than his fiery furnace. He promptly called them up on his kingly carpet and challenged them on their insubordination. Fortunately for these captives, he already had a soft spot in his heart toward them and was willing to give them another chance to bow down to his idol.

     Now let’s stop here and make an observation. If I were to put myself in these young men’s shoes, I would have probably been thinking, “If there was ever a time to go horizontal in my spiritual perspective, this is it, right here, right now. I’ve got one chance to save my skin, and I’m nobody’s fool. I’m going to take it. Okay King, when the band begins to play, this time I will bow down to your idol.” Now I would most certainly hope this would not have been my response, but it would undoubtedly have been tempting to give into the tremendous pressure to preserve one’s own life.

     Before we go any further in this story, I want us to take a serious look at King Nebuchadnezzar’s words in Daniel 3:15 (emphasis added): “But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?” Wow, what a question! What an opportunity presented itself to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego to either go horizontal and worship an earthly, dead idol or go vertical and honour the One and only infinite, holy, majestic, living, eternal God.  What was their response? They chose to go vertical!  Their answer is without question one of the most astonishing, profound statements in all of recorded Scripture.

     Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image you have set up” (Dan 3:16-18).

     What were they communicating to the king? Simply this: “You’ve got great earthly power, king, but we serve the God of infinite eternal power. Our fate is therefore ultimately up to Him, not to you. Either way, we’re not going to bow down to your idol, not now, not ever. We are going to remain committed to obeying our God no matter what is the outcome.”

     Now there’s an uncompromising vertical response if there ever was one. Remember however, going vertical doesn’t always guarantee us deliverance from our human suffering or even martyrdom. These young Jewish men knew this. What was the result of their steadfast commitment to God?  Let’s move on and find out.

     If Nebuchadnezzar was angry before his encounter with these young men, he was blazing with intense fury now. His response? “Crank up the heat in the furnace seven times, boys, these guys are going to fry!” The king was going to make sure no God of theirs could negate his power to be the ultimate judge of whether someone should live or die.

     There was no human escape possible for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. Houdini could not have gotten out of this one. The young men were bound and tossed like rag dolls into the raging flames. Those who threw them succumbed instantly to the searing heat and collapsed dead to the ground.

     What occurred next is so important that I want us to take some time out now to collect and refocus our thoughts. The events that happened next in the fiery furnace thousands of years ago have a direct link to Genesis 3:8 and Revelation 21:3. In the third chapter of Genesis, you will recall that God’s presence, His very essence, was up close. His normal practice was to walk with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening. However, tragically, when our original parents sinned, this “God-walk” ceased. Not until Revelation 21:3 becomes a future reality will humanity and divinity once again share the same space in a perfect, eternal, uninterrupted relationship. John writes: "And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God'.”

     Now here is what is so fascinating about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego’s story. Their choice to go vertical gave them a foretaste of the future, eternal state in one of the most unlikely places on earth-a fiery furnace. What is the implication of this? The inherent, destructive powers of evil intentions and their accompanying deathly realities are completely nullified by the very presence of God.

     Consequently, the king saw not three, but four men in the fiery furnace. His eyes must have nearly popped out of their kingly sockets! Shadrach, Meshach, Abed-Nego, and God were walking around freely in the furnace, as if on a leisurely stroll through the park on a Sunday afternoon.

     Immediately, the king had Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego extracted from the raging flames. Not one of their hairs was singed. The smell of fire had not even penetrated their clothes. What was the result? King Nebuchadnezzar became a believer in the one true God, because he could only come to one conclusion: “There is no other God who can deliver like this” (Dan. 3:29).

     Now there is something important here we must understand. Going vertical does not guarantee us miraculous deliverance from all the storms of life. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego knew this. We must learn from and follow their example. They believed God could deliver them, but never once did they demand that God must deliver them. Going vertical involves abandoning oneself to God’s will and not insisting He must satisfy our wants in any life circumstance.

     Indeed, Christian victory does not always equal physical deliverance. We have got to get a good handle on this. There is a philosophy being taught by evangelical Christians today that states if you are a believer you will always be happy, experience total freedom from illness, and be constantly blessed with an abundance of cash in the bank. Nothing could be further from the truth according to Scripture.

     A quick look at Hebrews 11 verifies this. These verses speak of God’s miraculous deliverance in the midst of impossible circumstances. I want to encourage you to get out your Bible right now, turn to Hebrews 11:30-35, and see this for yourself. Now, as you read through these first few verses, you might be tempted to say, “Yes, Lord! Praise God! You deliver your people. Nothing can harm them!”

     But wait. The second part of Hebrews 11:35 includes a word that changes everything: others. Right away you’re probably thinking, “I’m not liking where this is going.” Guess what. Your inclinations are well founded. The writer goes on to tell us about other Old Testament saints who went through excruciating suffering because of their commitment to go vertical and live for God no matter what.

     Why did God supernaturally step into the lives of some and not others? Only He knows the answer. The point is that going vertical guarantees either immediate or ultimate triumph for every God-follower. We have this unfailing promise: “And we know that all things work together for the good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Now, that’s not an empty cliché. That’s an absolutely certainty.

     The choice is up to us. Will we go vertical when life becomes humanly impossible? Make the right choice. Connect with heaven. God will see you through to ultimate victory. It’s a guarantee God himself will bring into reality. “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

 

What’s the BLT? No matter what circumstances come crashing down into our lives, there’s always one thing we can do-go vertical! Every Christian will experience either immediate or ultimate victory.

 

Help Me Turn My Eyes On You

 

Lord, when I don’t know what to do,

Help me turn my eyes on You.

When my way is filled with fear,

Help me sense Your presence near.

 

When my hope is almost gone,

Help me Lord to carry on.

When I don’t know what to do,

Help me turn my eyes on You.

 

Teach me Lord to seek Your face,

And lean on Your amazing grace.

For when troubles come I most often go

To other sources to help me here below.

 

May I recognize your awesome power

Is mine to have this very hour.

For I know you’ll help me through,

If I just turn my eyes on You.

 

Lord, help me turn my eyes on You.

No one else will ever do.

In times of trouble, help me to,

Turn my eyes on You.

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