God, I Cannot Take This Anymore! COVID-19 is Driving Me Crazy!
We have a trial on our hands, a major one!
For many of us, we may already be grappling with several trials before COVID-19 hit us; challenges faced at work, at the home front, in our relationships, our health, our finances and/or in church and our ministry. Then came the COVID-19 outbreak, which adds on to the complexities we need to deal with in our lives. The odds are stacking against us and this latest outbreak may just be the last straw, as we find ourselves at the brink of crumbling and burning out as we utter yet another “Why me?!” to God.
How do we make sense of trials that come our way? How do you thrive over trials and tribulations?
Lessons on Trials
Over the weekend, as I pondered about it, I felt God using the current situation to teach me a lesson or two about trials.
In 2017, I felt called by God to use my life experiences to help people understand and thrive over burnout. I left my paid job and embarked on a journey on the unbeaten path, working hard to start and keep the social enterprise going. Just as we entered 2020 and I thought things were starting to fall into place, the current COVID-19 situation disrupted my life and threatened my livelihood with the indefinite postponement of all my paid projects. There is nothing much I can do about it because most people and organizations will be too focused on coping with current COVID-19 situation to want to bother about mental well-being and mental resilience.
But, as I evaluated the situation, it was interesting to note that I did not become overly anxious or angry with God as I would have in the past. I found myself being rather at peace as God helped me to become aware of the positives that came as a result; how God is helping me to reclaim my margins, clarify my priorities in my service and providing me with the opportunity to recalibrate myself for the road ahead.
What made this possible? I guess it had to do with what God has been teaching me about trials up to this point in time.
What are Trials?
Trials are no stranger to me. I have been through quite a number of major and minor ones in the last decade. It had been an uneasy decade filled with deaths, illnesses, burnout, depression, relationships challenges and conflicts, financial woes, work and ministry stress, parenting stress and so on. But what are trials exactly? Where do they come from and what purpose do they serve?
Simply put, trials are life events, unwelcomed by us, that brings with it negative emotions as they threaten us and the existing comfort we experience in our lives. Even though trials are nothing new to us, we still live each day trying our very best to avoid them. Pastor Rick Warren once made a rather spot-on observation about life and trials. In his sermon “When You Feel Like Giving Up”, he remarked:
“… one of the important lessons of life is just 3 words; it’s always something… you are either coming out of a problem, or you are in the middle of a big problem, or you are getting ready to go into the next one… life is simply a series of problems, one after another.”
While I am not advocating that we welcome trials into our lives, I am hoping we will be able to gain a kingdom perspective of trials and be able to begin to thrive over them with God.
Trials, from the way I understand it thus far, can be broadly understood as:
- from Man
- from the Devil
- allowed by God
Trials from Man
One of my earliest misconception of trials is that they are all from God, meant to test me and my faith. Perhaps I have got that impression from Genesis 22 (Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac) and Job 1:6-12, where God allowed Satan to tempt Job. The subsequent trials, or temptations, that Job faced was to to be a testing of his faith; a testing to prove that his faith in God is based on a real relationship with Him and not on what Job gets as a result of worshipping God.
But are all trials from God? One of the key principles in the Christian faith is that of free will. From the days of Adam and Eve, we understand the nature of our relationship with God is one based on free will. We are free to choose to love God or not. In the old testament, we are admonished to choose between life and blessings (by loving God, obeying Him and holding fast to Him) and death and curses (Deuteronomy 30:19-20). In the new testament, we are likewise reminded by John in the famous John 3:16 that we will have eternal life when we choose to believe in Christ.
And so, in our ability to exercise our free will, we may sometimes make the wrong decisions which will cost us. For example, God has made it very clear that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within us… that we were bought with a price and we are to glorify God with our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). But when we choose to live a lifestyle that harms the body, the natural result would be that of sicknesses and infirmities.
James made it very clear that some of the trials we face are due to us responding against God as we live by the flesh:
“Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. ~ James 1:13-15 (ESV)
Though the Greek word for “tempted” (πειράζω, peirazō) as used here has two meanings; of the testing of faith and of the enticement to sin, the meaning of the word in the context of the verse is that of the enticement of sin. These are the trials man allow to happen to themselves.
Reflect: Are any of the trials you are facing a result of lifestyle decisions you have made? What can you do about it with God?
Trials from the Devil
The trials and temptations faced by Job is a classic example of that which is inflicted by the enemy. Another example would be the temptation of Jesus.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”
Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.” ~ Matthew 4:1-11
Let us carefully examine the “patterns” of the enemy in attempting to tempt Christ and us.
In his first temptation of Jesus, we learn that the enemy may try to get us to doubt ourselves and who God made us to be (verse 3). Revelations 12:9 tells us that Satan is a deceiver and an accuser; He wants us to forget that we are worthy children in God’s eye, that we are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26) and that we received the right to become His children when we received and believed in Christ. As our Father, God knows what we need (Matthew 6:31-32). feeds us (Luke 12:24), and will give us good gifts (Matthew 7:11). It is really not so much about us but about who we are in God and that we are in good hands.
Reflect: What lies from the enemy are you believing in; lies that make you doubt your standing and safety in God’s hands?
In the second temptation of Jesus, we see the enemy trying to get us to doubt God’s character (verse 6). You may have, once or on many occasions in the past, experienced God’s character powerfully. But we are reminded that He is the same God today as He was in the past; His character is unchanging (Hebrews 13:8). He is not a man that He should lie or change His mind; He has spoken that He will redeem you, that He has plans for your welfare and to give you a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11), why would He change His mind now?
Reflect: What lies from the enemy are you believing in; lies that make you break your trust in God and begin to doubt His character and His interest in you and your life? Continue to be soaked in His word continually to know Him and His character, as you counter the lies of the enemy in making you believe otherwise.
From the third temptation of Jesus, we learn that when the enemy failed to make Jesus doubt His identity in God and God’s character, He tried to distract Him with riches and power (verse 8). Today, Satan uses the same tactics on us as he tries to distract us from the pursuit that really matters; our relationship with God. Satan wants to get us to focus on the “cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things” so we will be unfruitful (Mark 4:19). But the Word of God reminds us to fix our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2).
Reflect: What distractions are pulling you away from God? How might you start to pursue God again?
Trials Allowed by God
This is perhaps the toughest section to write, but yet, I am reminded that there are trials allowed by God simply because God is sovereign.
In Isaiah 46, God declares:
… remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east,
the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.” ~ Isaiah 6:9-11 (ESV)
But why would God do that? Sometimes, God allows trials to protect us. Look at one of the most dramatic trials in the Old Testament; that of the ten plagues of Egypt (see Exodus 7:14 to Exodus 12:32). God had allowed the trial to take place to have the Pharoah free the Israelites and to reveal Himself as the almighty God to His people.
Similarly, God, out of His love, has reached out to save the Infectious Diseases Specialist Dr Leong Hoe Nam, not just from SARS but from eternal death too. He now uses Dr Leong in the COVID-19 situation to help people allay fears.
Other than using trials to protect us, God also uses trials to test and grow our faith in Him.
Count it all joy, my brothers,when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” ~ James 1:2-4 (ESV)
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” ~ Romans 5:3-5 (ESV)
I have learned that the faith that has not weathered through trials may not be real faith at all. Why? Because even the devil believes in the existence of God. So what makes your faith different?
You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?” ~ James 2:19 (ESV)
Your faith will be like gold that has been tested in a fire. And these trials will prove that your faith is worth much more than gold that can be destroyed. They will show that you will be given praise and honor and glory when Jesus Christ returns.” ~ 1 Peter 1:7(ESV)
I remember how I came back to God in 2005 after having backslid away from HIm for some 15 years. Upon my return, I started growing in God. But the rubber really hits the road in 2012 when I fell into depression and had to deal with a number of life events. I became angry with God; my pleas turned into laments and then into anger. I remember wrestling with God and had even chosen to “forsake” my faith. But thank God for His mercy that in less than a week, I was able to come back to Him again and there began a new chapter of my faith journey, as I started to own my faith, as I sought to know God through reading the bible, through writing devotionals and seeing Him at work in my life. Before long, I gradually began to overcome many issues which plagued me for years; my low self-esteem, depression and many other issues. The trials, which seems to be used by the devil to destroy me, turned out to be used by God for my good.
…you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many peopleshould be kept alive, as they are today.” ~ Genesis 50:20 (ESV)
Remember, whatever you are going through now, God is fully cognizant, is concerned and is in control.
In the testing of Job in Job 1:6-12, we see God being concerned for Job as He made it clear to Satan that “all that he (Job) has is in your (Satan’s) hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand” (verse 12).
God, being omniscient, also knows the character and calibre of Job. In the same way, God is cognizant and knows you and your calibre. He has prepared a way out for you, though it often may not be the way we would expect it.
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” ~ 1 Corinthians 10:13 (ESV)
What resulted from my season of weathering through the various trials with God is the emergence of a stronger faith and a life of purpose and meaning.
What resulted from the testing of Job was the emergence of a strong faith that Job lived a life full of years (Job 42:17). The Hebrew word for full, שָׂבֵעַ (sabea`, meaning satisfied and abounding) probably spoke of the kind of life Jesus has come to give us; a life that is filled with God, a life to the full (John 10:10).
Reflect: How are you different now from ten years ago? Where are you in your spiritual journey? Where do you think is God amidst your trials? What trials have you weathered through with God? Do you believe that He is cognizant, concerned and in control?
How Can I Push Through This Trial?
While having the right perspectives of trials is important, what is of greater importance is how we thrive over them.
As we face the COVID-19 situation, we can begin to thrive over it by remembering 2 things:
- God is with us in this
- We need to move as a faith community
God reminds us in scripture that He is with us in the battle.
The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” ~ Exodus 14:14 (ESV)
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” ~ Romans 8:31 (ESV)
But in addition to having God with us in this battle, we are also reminded to move as a faith community, in the same way God’s pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night led the Israelites to move as a community (Nehemiah 9:12)
The pastor who preached at my church last weekend reminded us that the Church is not about a building, an organization or an event or programme; it is a community. While some of us may debate about proceeding with meeting physically or online or with cancelling meetings or carrying on, we need to remember that the form is not as important as the substance. God is more concerned about the substance of our faith in Him and our love for fellow believers and beyond than the form of our worship of Him.
Here is how you can P.U.S.H. through:
- PRAY – and seek the interest of our land as we pray for Singapore, our leaders, our loved ones and ourselves through PraySingapore@12
But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” ~ Jeremiah 29:7 (ESV)
- UNITE – as a body of Christ and keep the unity.
The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” ~ john 17:22-23 (ESV)
- SHINE – to glorify God as you love our neighbours as ourselves and act to serve them.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16 (ESV)
- HEARTEN – Encourage your pastors and ministry leaders as they lead our community just as Moses led Israel through the wilderness.
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 (ESV)
Reflection: Will you P.U.S.H. through it all with God and His community?
We sincerely hope that this little reflection article would bless you as you come to better understand what trials are, the purpose it serves and how we can begin to be victorious in Christ. We sincerely pray that you will not burn out as you journey with God but will live life to the full.
Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.” ~ Romans 12:11-13 (MSG).
For more information on overcoming burnout in life and being transformed in the renewing of your mind, please visit us at https://emmaus.sg/public/our-services/#burnouttop.