Just When You Thought Things Were Going Well

Just When You Thought Things Were Going Well.

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God operates with unexpected purposes that come in unsuspecting moments. He does this because He can observe our lives from an eternal perspective as He stands outside time. His creatures have a limited field of vision that is no wider than what we can see in front of us. Indeed, we can reflect on what has happened and guess what may happen, but we only have today’s fleeting moments as we subjectively anticipate our next moves. Because God operates on a different plane, there is always an other-worldly purpose behind His decisions, making it vital to discern His goals for us.

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Out of Sequence

As I was working through the Book of Job, I started thinking about another suffering Servant who seemed to be in a similar spot, blindsided while doing good. Jesus, like Job, was upright, always doing good for others. He minded His business—the Father’s business, and it appeared God’s favor was on Him. As I was thinking about these things, I looked into His ministry’s early days, specifically His baptism. In Mark 1, we see John baptizing Christ, the preparatory steps for His expected and fabulous ministry. As I studied this passage, I saw a similar thing happen to Christ that happened to Job, another out-of-the-blue moment, blindsided while doing good.

I have laid out the seven verses below, and I want you to tell me if you see what I saw. Pay attention to the sequential logic of the passage. As you read one verse, you should be able to predict what will happen next. For example, verse nine says Jesus came to be baptized; then it says John baptized Him. That makes sense. Read on. As you read each verse, I want you to anticipate what will happen next based on what just happened. See if the passage flows linearly and logically. Look for the disrupting surprise as God takes Christ off the expected path and drives Him into a desperate hardship that we must believe is essential equipping for His future ministry.

  • 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
  • 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.
  • 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
  • 12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
  • 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
  • 14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God,
  • 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:9-15).

This passage is stunning, sobering, and scary. The three verses that do not fit my logical expectations are verses 12, 13, and 14. I never anticipated Jesus going from experiencing God’s pleasure at His baptism to intense suffering in the wilderness. I saw the same thing in the Book of Job; he minded his business, making sacrifices on behalf of his sons, and then out of the blue, Job lost everything. It was an incredible and unexpected transition from good to unabated horror. The shift from good to horrific seemed to occur in the blink of an eye. Jesus had spent 30 years preparing for His big moment on the public stage. There was nothing else for Him to do—so it appeared. He was on the precipice of building His ministry. The Father affirmed Him. John baptized Him. He had made all the right moves, including favor with God and everyone else (Luke 2:52). Now, it was time for Him to swing into action. I’m ready for some good preaching!

The Wild Side

The next thing you would expect in the flow of thought would be for Jesus to step out of the water, stand on the banks of the Jordan, and tell everyone about how the kingdom of God was at hand (Mark 1:15). This juncture is where the Spirit of God threw me a curveball. He interrupted my thought process. He caught me off guard. Preaching the kingdom of God was not the next thing on the Father’s calendar of events. The next thing was personal suffering for the Son of Man. The text says the Spirit of God drove Jesus into the wilderness, where Satan tempted Him for forty days. The King James Version of the Bible says, “The Spirit driveth Him.” I like that. Then the text adds that there were wild beasts in the mix, along with ministering angels.

It’s an unexpected and unfathomable scene. You hear the echo of Job in this passage. (See Job 1:13-22, 23:13-15). The first time I saw these sequential verses this way, I was dumbfounded. It made me afraid. What was the point? Jesus seemingly had done everything He needed to do to be prepared to fulfill the will of His Father. Just when you thought it was safe to go outside, things turned dark and dangerous. Isn’t this how it goes for most of us? We believe we are okay. We think we’re ready for “come what may.” We even assume we know how things should move forward for us. I was sitting in Bible college, preparing for ministry, and then, boom! Out of the blue, my life flipped on its head. The logical flow became illogical, and I was confused. How often are our expectations dashed like this?

  • The newlyweds expect to live happily ever after.
  • The new convert expects all things to work together for good.
  • The wife expects her husband to love her well.
  • The husband expects his wife to respect him.
  • The children expect their parents to represent Christ honorably.
  • A healthy person expects a few more years of good living.

Then God throws us a curveball. We do not enjoy it because we’re now toiling under the burden of unforeseen and unwelcome hardships. These surprises can be devastating and discomfiting to the person with a limited view of God’s sovereignty, His unwavering goodness, and an inaccurate theology of suffering. When you thought the sailing would be smooth, the Father throws turbulence your way (Jonah 1:4). While I don’t want to make you suspicious or paranoid every time you hear the wind blowing, I think it would be wise for all of us to grapple sufficiently with the mysteries of God (Deuteronomy 29:29) because your next trial could be the one that brings clarity to who you are, who He is, and a fuller worship experience.

And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves (Matthew 8:23-24).

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Unexpected Suffering

I was so shocked by Mark’s passage because it mirrored the plans I had laid out for my life. I’m a sequence kind of guy. The Lord regenerated me, and I went to Bible college, intending to go into the ministry. Upon graduating, I would land in a pastorate somewhere, and the beat would go on. Unexpectantly, God threw His curveball my way, and I was out of the ministry. Just like that. My fundamentalist Bible college said I could no longer preach. My new role was passing out Bible tracts. For the rest of my life. Nothing more. They had a “one strike, and you’re out policy” for any person going through a divorce. I had never been so sure of anything like attending that school, learning the Bible, and becoming a pastor. All of that ended at 5:05 PM, April 8, 1988.

God did “call me into ministry,” an ambiguous term we apply to an internal sense of a higher calling, but what that means today has drastically changed, and the route to get here was circuitous, not straight. The pathway for Christ’s future ministry was similar. Job made his plans, and God disrupted those, too. I’m sure it was not a straight line if you look at your journey to where you are now. It’s easy to forget the simplest things, like “we make our plans, but God orders our steps” (Proverbs 16:9). We can confidently define our next steps, forgetting the words of James, “If the Lord wills, we will do this or that.” My circuitous journey to fruitful ministry was not just about rerouting me to show that God’s in charge, a perspective that sounds more like a petulant game of a teenager who wants to pull rank to show you who’s the boss. God does not play childish games. When He grabs your attention by taking you to the wilderness to walk with Him on the wild side, you better believe there are more in-depth complexities that He’s inserting into you or digging out of you.

God’s excavations and installations don’t happen quickly. He must pull you away for a season to do this more profound work that can only happen in the fires of the crucible. I was a hardcore fundamentalist who loved the rules. Being reared by a conditional daddy, who would beat me if I stepped out of line, was a potent shaping influence. I was a quick study of the regulations of legalism, and I appreciated every rule. I did not want to make a mistake or fall out of favor with God or my peers. However, I did not understand how fundamentalism is a straitjacket religion that binds precious souls and rarely exports well to the next generation. It makes you religiously weird and socially awkward. Mercifully, God loved me so much that He wanted to give me something better, but He had to make an extraction out of a legalistic culture to set me on a new path. He yanked me out of my pre-determined sequence, blew up my plans, ripped me down to the dirt, and began rebuilding a new kind of person, heading in a direction I had no clue existed.

Optimistic Suffering

Nobody knows us as God does, and nobody knows what we need like Him (Hebrews 4:13). If the Father was to leave us to our preferences, there is no question we would miss out on some of the most essential and satisfying blessings of life. Our inherent desire is to avoid the dark seasons of our lives. I understand. Who’s looking for trouble? Who has a death wish? Even though there is a maturing element to the suffering that is essential, if any of us are going to be used by the Lord, we don’t have to enjoy it. Though we should not ask for suffering or live our lives under a cloud of paranoia, it would serve us well to have a biblical perspective on personal pain. Changes, challenges, and complexities are not an anomaly in the Lord’s economy (1 Peter 4:12). Suffering is a gift (Philippians 1:29), a promise (John 16:33), and a calling (1 Peter 2:21) from God.

Have you ever heard the expression, “Just when things were going well, the other shoe fell?” Its cynical meaning conveys the idea of having your life the way you want. Then suddenly, from out of nowhere, your life goes awry like Goldilocks finding the perfect bed, only to awaken and be alarmed by a family of bears. Some people live in a pessimistic worldview—paranoia accompanied by a morbid expectation that God is out to get them. I’m sure their shaping influences have been horrible. Mine were. Cynical expectations are a freedom-sapping mindset that marginalizes the power of the gospel in anyone’s life (Galatians 5:1, 13). In the Savior’s most famous sermon, He told us what to expect from His Father, carefully distinguishing how He is not like our earthly fathers, even the good ones.

Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or will he give him a serpent if he asks for a fish? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11).

Jesus is teaching us that if there is trouble in our lives, we should find assurance that the Lord is there and He is writing something good into our stories. We must trust Him while responding biblically to the things that are not going as we had hoped. Our view of the Father must rise higher than our shaping influences and disappointments. The Bible must inform us who God is rather than the negative things that have formed us to think cynically about life, especially when things are going badly. Personal suffering is one of the most oft-used means the Lord implements to accomplish His purposes in our lives. You see one of the most profound illustrations of this in the suffering Savior (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus experienced severe temptations, making Him sympathetic to our troubles, and the best example to learn how to respond to the surprising trials that come as we see in Mark’s sequence.

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Ministry Prep

Sovereign Lord was not only in the suffering of Jesus, but He caused it (Isaiah 53:10). As the pain escalated in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked for a way out of it (Luke 22:42). He quickly submitted Himself to the shaping of His Father’s hammer. It is possible you did not anticipate the trouble you are experiencing. God did. He ordained it because of the need to fulfill His plans for you. One of the most influential and profound lessons you’ll ever learn is how to steward the suffering God permits in your life. To fall short of this wisdom is never to realize all God could do to you, through you, and for others. Those who miss God’s transformative lessons will grow a garden of bitter herbs in their hearts.

The suffering should shape us into humble and pliable souls as we learn to rejoice in the darkness. The pain will reshape us into rejoicing lights that radiate the glory of God (2 Corinthians 12:9). The passage in Mark says some angels ministered to Jesus while He was suffering in the desert (Mark 1:13). There is a glorious paradox here: God ministers to those in need—a core tenet of the gospel: God helps the needy (Mark 2:17). If most of us were honest, we would prefer not to suffer, which means we would be willing to forego a rich experience with the Lord that can only come through disappointment and challenges. I plead with you to reconsider if this applies to you. It is not wrong to attempt to extricate yourself from your troubles, but it is wrong to miss the Lord’s purposes for your problems.

As Christ began His public ministry, the Spirit of God drove Him into the wilderness for essential testing. At the dawn of Job’s book, we see another man setting forth on a dangerous journey. The tested man or woman, who the Lord has transformed through the testing, is the most qualified person to be redemptive in the lives of others. Suffering is the path that leads to public ministry and your greatest usefulness to God and others. The people in the Bible that God used the most were those who suffered the most. Nothing will challenge you more or let you know where you stand with the Lord and others than how you respond to your trials. Jesus placed a death call on our lives, knowing that the only way to experience the richness of God and the fullness of ministry is by denying ourselves, taking up our crosses, and following Jesus for a walk on the wild side. Jesus said it this way.

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it (Mark 8:34-35).

Call to Action

I wish I could make your trouble go away. Sometimes our problem is as surprising to us as what happened to Jesus in the early episodes of Mark’s narrative. You never saw it coming. The other shoe fell when everything was going fine, and now you’re out for the count. Is your trouble drawing you closer to the Lord?

  1. What are you going through right now? Do you have a competent friend to help you work through your present distress? Sanctification is a community event. It’s not wise to isolate when trouble comes. When your faith is weak, you want to lean onto the faith of others under you to regain your spiritual equilibrium.
  2. How are you responding to your trial? Your reaction will give you clues as to where you are. Do not be discouraged if you’re not what you thought you were. Knowing your starting point is vital, which helps you accurately assess your spiritual condition and bring the proper soul care.
  3. Is your heart guarded against the traps of grumbling and bitterness? The grumbling tongue comes from the angry heart (Luke 6:45). How you talk to others about your troubles reveals your heart, for good or evil. Listen to your word choices as you talk about the pain; they will help you accurately assess yourself.
  4. What has the Lord revealed to you about yourself? Perhaps expressing gratitude to the Lord for this deeper-level understanding of yourself would be spiritually productive. With the correct data, you’re ready to do the soul work, making changes you would not have known about without the trial.
  5. How do you need to change? Knowing that to change, you’re ready for a practical action plan. What is one thing you can begin changing today? Will you share your goals with a friend?

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