Do you ever feel like the pages of your life have unexpected chapters?
When you’re in the middle of reading a really good book, you tend to feel like you have a decent understanding of what’s going on. Unless the genre is mystery, of course, most authors generally like to give you a good idea of what’s going to happen next in their stories. However, have you ever thought about the first person perspective of the main characters in a story? Even if the book is a work of fiction, from the characters’ point of view, their story will play out to them like reality. So when something bad happens to a character in a story, they have no way of knowing the future or seeing what awaits them in the next chapter. All the character knows is their circumstances in the present state of their current chapter. Since a good character is written to be relatable to the reader, the story’s plot will often have plenty of adversity for the character to react to and eventually overcome.
“Why are you emphasizing this?” you may ask. “This isn’t English class.”
In a previous post I wrote last fall titled “Acknowledging the Author,” I compared our lives on earth to stories written by human authors. Of course, our stories are written by God, the almighty, divine Author. Because God gave us our lives, He has the ultimate authority and control over what happens in them. We naturally have a choice with our free will, but God is the One Who orchestrates our circumstances. Therefore, instead of fighting against God by trying to tell Him what we think is best for our lives, we would all do much better to acknowledge His rightful place as the Author in our individual stories.
In this post, we’ll discuss what to do when the divine Author writes us a plot twist.
Life is an unpredictable journey, and no matter how many times the world’s selfish mantras try to convince us otherwise, we are most definitely NOT in control. Things will be a lot less complicated once we realize and accept that as fact. As Christians however, we have something incredibly special that the rest of this dark world does not – hope. Not just any hope, but a blessed hope that promises us eternal life completely separate from the suffering of this earth. We only obtain this blessed hope by putting our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and accepting His grace to be our Savior. After asking the Lord to forgive us of our sins, His Holy Spirit comes to reside within our hearts forever.
You’d think this would make life a lot easier, right?
Too many people have the misconception that becoming a Christian means getting an instant happy ending with a blissful, carefree life on earth. Oh, how very far from the truth that mistaken assumption is! This belief comes from simple ignorance, or blatant lies told by those who use bribery as a method to convert people to the gospel. What these people forget is that the Lord Jesus Himself led a life here on earth that was absolutely filled with suffering. The very reason He came to this world was so He could die for our sins to pay the price of our redemption.
If Jesus, the very Son of God, was not exempt from earthly suffering, then why in the world should we as Christians expect to have it better than He did? John 15:20 says, “Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.” If the King of Kings and Lord of Lords was willing to humble Himself for our sake, then we should be more than willing to endure trials in our lives for His sake.
With that much being said, God has promised to help us through whatever we might face on this earth.
Even though God desires us to be strong, faithful warriors for Him, He is also extremely merciful and compassionate. Therefore, He does not neglect to aid us whenever we need His help during tribulation. All we need to do is come before Him in humility of mind and heart, as we ask Him in prayer for His guidance and understanding. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “There hath no temptation taken hold of you but such as is common to man. But God is faithful; He will not suffer you to be tempted beyond that which ye are able to bear, but with the temptation will also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” Right there we have solid confirmation in God’s Word that He wants to help us in our troubles, and provide us with a way to get through them.
When we don’t understand our circumstances, it’s all too easy to question God and His goodness to us. When we’re tempted to do that, the best thing we can do is look to that verse and remember what He’s said to us. A loving God wouldn’t allow us to suffer in life without helping us. There are many various ways that He helps us, too: He helps us by giving us understanding, by growing our faith in Him, by teaching us His truth, and by transforming us spiritually through the course of the whole process. Essentially, God wants to accomplish the same thing through our trials as he does through His Word.
Now, to be perfectly honest, we Christians don’t always read God’s Word as often as we should, therefore giving us a need to learn valuable lessons. God knows all our needs inside and out, and as He understands our imperfect nature, He sometimes uses trials to teach us lessons that we might be deficient in from neglecting His Word. It’s our responsibility to find out what God is trying to teach us, even if at the time we can’t figure out why. Usually the “whys” are answered through the 20/20 vision of hindsight, or retrospect. The good news about this is, by the time we reflect back on our trials and the lessons they taught us, we have hopefully learned everything God wanted us to get from them, resulting in an understanding, thankful attitude of peace within our hearts.
Let’s take a look at three different strategies we can use when confronted with plot twists in our life:
1. Ask questions.
As I already stated above, God is usually trying to teach us something when we experience trials in our lives. It is important to remember that the biblical context of the word “trial” is not the same thing as a judicial court session; in its proper context, a trial means proving what you’re made of. Whether it be a trial of your faith, obedience, or love for God, all such trials fulfill the divine purpose of showing God what’s in your heart. More importantly though, they are designed to show YOU what lies in your heart, as God already knows everything, since He’s omniscient. Think about it – if God is trying to show you what you’re made of in your heart, that usually means that there is significant room for improvement. In other words, God is seeking to use this experience in your life to change you for the better.
Instead of complaining and asking God “Why are You making me go through this?”, try asking Him “Lord, please show me – what are you trying to teach me through this experience?” You’ll find that having a humble attitude in the midst of testing is far more effective than a demanding one. Remember the story of Job in the Old Testament? God allowed Satan to put him through every earthly sorrow imaginable, with the only exception being that his life was spared. The Bible explicitly states that Job was a righteous man who loved God with all his heart, and yet God still allowed him to experience a multitude of suffering.
Of course, we know the reason why – God was testing his loyalty to Him by letting Satan take away his earthly blessings. This was only because Satan arrogantly made the claim that Job was only serving God for what he could get from Him. Satan challenged God by saying, “If You take away all the good things he has in his life, then he will curse You to Your face!” Little did Satan realize that God already knew what was in Job’s heart, and He was fully aware that Job loved Him unconditionally. However, God still allowed Satan to afflict Job for the sake of proving Satan wrong, not because He wanted to punish Job for no reason.
So throughout the entire book of Job, we read how Job’s friends and family questioned both him and God, how Job eventually questioned God’s motives directly, and finally how God answered Job by questioning him about his power compared to His own. God was not trying to patronize Job by making him feel small through His questioning; rather, He was trying to show Job that this world will always feel impossible to understand, as He is the One Who made it. Therefore, because there was so much that Job didn’t understand about God’s ways and His power, God explained that the best thing He could do was just to trust Him.
What we can learn from Job’s story to apply to our own lives is this – It is perfectly okay to ask God questions, as long as we do so with the right attitude. God wants us to turn to Him for help, as that shows Him we are acknowledging our need for Him. The only way we can obtain any kind of understanding from our life situations is by seeking God and asking for His wisdom. God wants to help us, but we need to show Him that we are humble enough to seek His guidance and direction. Through time, prayer, and patience, we will receive God’s answer, which leads us to our next strategy.
2. Listen to God’s answer.
After calling upon God with a humble heart, He will answer us in due time; we just need to sharpen our skills in observation to notice when He does. Often, we can find God’s answer for us within the pages of Scripture. Even though it may seem impossible to consciously search for the answer in a specific passage by yourself, sometimes God will make a particular verse or chapter stand out to you as you glance through the pages of His Word. Another way God might do this is by causing the Holy Spirit to lay a desire in your heart to read a specific section of Scripture. Other ways that God can answer us are from our outside circumstances. Depending on the situation, God can use the actions and words of other people to give you a clear direction regarding the questions you asked Him. The reason God answers us in such subtle ways is because He wants to see if we are really willing to listen to Him.
Instead of getting impatient with God, saying “Why won’t you answer me?!”, ask Him “Lord, what are the ways that you are trying to speak to me? I’m earnestly waiting for your guidance.” Being open minded towards God’s methods of communication will get you further than a limited perspective of your own invention. Remember the story of Cain and Abel in the Old Testament? Both of them were brothers who were offering up sacrifices to God, yet only one of them did it the right way. Abel listened to God and his parents’ instruction by offering up a lamb for his sacrifice, while Cain disobeyed by offering his fruits and vegetables from his garden. Not only was this the wrong decision, but Cain also had the wrong attitude by assuming God would be pleased with it. Of course, God was NOT pleased with Cain’s disobedience, nor his proud, presumptuous attitude, so He refused to take Cain’s offering and accepted Abel’s offering instead.
Cain became very angry with God, so much so that his countenance fell, and God addressed him about it. When Cain asked God why He wouldn’t accept his sacrifice, God simply explained His rules and requirements for a living animal to be given up, as it symbolized the future death of His Son Jesus for our sins. God told Cain how he didn’t follow what he was supposed to do, and that was why He refused to acknowledge his sacrifice. However, God also mercifully told Cain that he could still have a second chance by doing it over again the way He asked, but that was not good enough for Cain, who had a stubborn, proud heart. Instead of asking God to forgive his disobedience and repent from his mistake, Cain chose to take his anger out on his brother Abel by killing him in the fields with his own hands, thus committing the very first murder in human history.
In this story, we see two specific ways that God answered Cain – through His actions and by speaking to him directly. Even though Cain was not actively seeking God’s will in a season of testing, we can still observe how God communicated with him during the course of his story. When Cain disobeyed God’s wishes for giving a sacrifice to Him, God sent a very clear, strong message by simply ignoring it. Sin separates us from fellowship with God, so if God’s presence appears to suddenly be quiet or hidden in your life, it might be a good idea to examine your own heart for any unconfessed sin. God can use His quietness to get our attention when we’ve done something wrong, but He’ll also in His grace be the One to occasionally seek us out.
What we can learn from Cain’s story to apply to our own lives is this – We might be the very reason why we aren’t getting an answer from God. Just as we need to ask God questions with the right attitude, we also need to listen with the right attitude. We can show God that we are willing to listen to Him by obeying His Word, and by making sure that our hearts are right with Him before we expect to hear an answer from Him. Cain’s problem was that he didn’t really listen to God when He answered; instead He chose to get angry with God for what He said and took it out on his innocent brother by killing him. It is extremely important for us to listen to what God has to say by responding correctly, which leads us to our next strategy.
3. Follow where God leads.
Once we have received clear direction from God about our situation, it is up to us to do what He wants us to by obeying Him. God might call us to take a specific course of action, or He might want us to simply keep waiting as we watch Him work things out. What everything ultimately comes down to is how much faith and trust we have in Him. Are we willing to do whatever is necessary to accomplish God’s will in our lives? Or are we going to hide behind the artificial excuse of not knowing what He wants us to do when He has clearly already told us what it is? If we pretend that we don’t understand what God is doing in our lives when deep down, we know that He has already shown us, that is nothing more than procrastination, plain and simple. Granted, it will take much time and patience before we know for certain what God’s will is in our personal circumstances, but once we do finally know His will, there is no excuse for us to turn back. And believe me, God has heard every single excuse in the book! We need to show God that we are up the challenge He has called us to face.
Rather than telling God “Give me more convenient circumstances!”, we should say “Lord, give me the strength I need to grow through this experience.” God wouldn’t put us in a challenging situation if He didn’t want us to change for the better. He certainly won’t make the period of testing easier; if anything, it will get a lot harder than we want or expect it to! God wants us to recognize our own weakness so that we will be compelled to rely on His strength. Remember the story of Moses in the Old Testament? He knew exactly what God wanted him to do – he was commanded to lead the Jewish people out of slavery in Egypt. God didn’t sugarcoat his assignment; He told Moses exactly how everything would transpire once he dared to confront Pharaoh. As a result, Moses was scared silly! He knew the difficulty he was getting himself into, therefore he made up every reason he could think of for God to send someone else instead.
Moses told God that he couldn’t accomplish His will because he was “slow of speech,” or stammered when he talked. God became frustrated with his excuse and reminded Moses that He created the human tongue, meaning that He could help him in spite of his weakness. When that didn’t work, Moses asked God what he should do if the Jewish people didn’t want to listen to his authority. God responded by telling him to give them a sign by saying, “I AM hath sent me.” By doing so, the Jewish people would recognize that Moses was indeed sent by the one, true God Whom they worshiped. These are just a couple examples, but every single excuse that Moses gave in an attempt to get out of his calling, God shot down without any hesitation.
Realizing that he was in a losing argument with God, Moses finally gave up and gave in to the command that God gave him. When he decided to make God his Source of strength, Moses was able to accomplish everything in Egypt that God asked him to, and glorified His Name in the process. Even though he was unsuccessful in getting the Pharaoh to believe in God and His power, Moses did achieve what God sent him to do – deliver the Jewish people from their captivity as slaves. It didn’t matter what the Egyptians or the Hebrews thought of Moses and his abilities; it only mattered that Moses was willing to obey God no matter how tough his calling turned out to be. All Moses needed to do was step back from focusing on himself and his weaknesses, so that God could display His tremendous power through him as his servant.
What we can learn from Moses’ story to apply to our own lives is this – God has already done His part, and He expects us to do ours too. It’s not fair for us to ask God questions about our situation, demand answers from Him, and then just sit back passively when He wants us to do something. I know what you’re probably thinking – “How am I expected to do something when I might not have control over my situation? Isn’t it a bit inconsistent for you to tell me to take action when you’ve already said that God is the One in charge of my life?” Well, the thing is, what God might ask us to do in the midst of trying circumstances isn’t always a physical action. He might be simply asking us to have more faith in Him and prove our trust to Him. Most likely, He’s probably testing us to see whether or not we’re willing to obey His calling for us. We must look deep inside our hearts and ask ourselves, “Am I really willing to follow wherever God leads me, no matter what the cost?”
Here are verses to help you implement these strategies so you can prevail over plot twists in your life:
Isaiah 33:2 ~ “O Lord, be gracious unto us; we have waited for thee: be thou their arm every morning, our salvation also in the time of trouble.“
Jeremiah 29:11-13 ~ “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.”
Psalm 22:19 ~ “But be not thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste thee to help me.“
Psalm 43:5 ~ “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.”
Psalm 46:1 ~ “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.“
Psalm 56:8 ~ “Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?”
Psalm 61:2 ~ “From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”
Psalm 119:28 ~ “My soul melteth for heaviness: strengthen thou me according unto thy word.“
Psalm 120:1 ~ “In my distress I cried unto the Lord, and he heard me.“
Psalm 130:1 ~ “Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord.“
1 Corinthians 1:27 ~ “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;”
1 Corinthians 10:13 ~ ““There hath no temptation taken hold of you but such as is common to man. But God is faithful; He will not suffer you to be tempted beyond that which ye are able to bear, but with the temptation will also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ~ “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
1 Thessalonians 5:24 ~ “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.“
Romans 8:26 ~ “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.“
Ephesians 6:10 ~ “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.“
Philippians 4:13 ~ “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
The best way to prevail over plot twists in our lives is by trusting and obeying God.
To summarize the three strategies I’ve shared with you, I’ll reference the chorus of the classic old hymn titled Trust and Obey:
“Trust and obey,
for there’s no other way
to be happy in Jesus
but to trust and obey.”
When we don’t understand where exactly our life story is headed, we should look to the One Who is still busy writing it – the Divine Author, God Himself. Even when everything seems hopeless and dark in the present, all things are still under His control. The future is bright, since we have a blessed eternity to look forward to after accepting salvation. If we make a little bit of effort, we’ll notice that there are plenty of happy blessings to enjoy in this present world, in spite of all our trials and troubles. Making an attempt to be thankful to God for little things each day will add to our Christian joy, helping it to be strong regardless of difficult circumstances. In fact, we should also thank God for the trials in our lives, since they should be viewed as an opportunity for spiritual growth. No matter how many different plot twists are written into our life chapters, we have no valid reason to worry, since He already has it all planned out. Instead of trying to grab the pen away from His loving hand, we should loosen our grip completely and realize that He knows what He’s doing.
-Gloria D. Hopkins