Updated: Aug 3, 2022
…for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity… (Philippians 4:11b-12a NASB)
A discussion in our sister circle (ladies bible study) last week set me pondering. We were asking the question, “Do hard times draw us closer to God?”
If God delights in blessing His children, surely He hasn’t constructed a universe where His kids can only enjoy Him when they’re suffering. But since our world is so marked with suffering, surely the blessings of God, whatever that means, ought to be available to those who suffer, too.
David, the psalmist, stuck like a burr to God in his hard times. The specifics may differ from ours, and David’s differed from Paul’s, but David’s prayers strike a chord:
I am weary with my sighing; Every night I make my bed swim, I dissolve my couch with my tears. (Psalm 6:6 NASB)
This man does not sound happy, but he’s close enough to God to pour out his pain and appear confident that God is listening and loving. Here’s another of David’s prayers:
My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning. O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer; And by night, but I have no rest. Yet You are holy… (Psalm 22:1-3a)
The fact that Jesus said the first nine words of this prayer on the cross doesn’t negate its meaning for David. In the hard times, God can seem far, but David keeps acting on his belief that God is near. “I will tell of Your name to my brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will praise You” (Psalm 22:22). And David keeps asking, “But You, O Lord, be not far off; O You my help, hasten to my assistance” (Psalm 22:19).
Is this a version of the contentment Paul describes to the Philippians? Contentment can sound weak. Where are the strong feelings like joy, love, delight? Perhaps contentment means sticking with God, letting God’s nearness be more important than anything else, acting on a confidence that God is near and God is love when hard times cast doubt on that.
So what about the good times? Can I be close to God when my bills are paid and there’s plenty left over? Or when my house is filled with loving family, or I’m sitting on a mountaintop? There are risks in good times, as Moses pointed out to the Israelites: “When the Lord brings you into the land… great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied, then watch yourself, that you do not forget the Lord…” (Deuteronomy 6:10-13a NASB).
In good times, like the Israelites, I need to “watch myself,” that I do not forget God. Does that take strength? It can. It takes a strength of will to not be ruled by “riches, pleasures and worries” (as Jesus described it). If I forget about God in the good times, then by definition I’ll feel closer to God in the hard times. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
I take Daniel for my model in good times and hard. Daniel was captive in the kingdom of the Medes and Persians, where he became a leader and was respected by the king. Though far from the temple where the Israelites went to worship in Judea, Daniel had a worship habit at home. Three times a day, he would get on his knees, pray and give thanks to God, even when his jealous enemies created a law to execute those who pray to anyone but the king (an unjust law designed solely to get rid of Daniel). (Daniel 6 tells that story.)
So, my secret for being close to God is to form the habit of remembering God every day, turning to Him for strength to do His will, not my own, no matter what the day has to offer.