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We know about storms in Florida. Our family home sat in the path of the eye of Hurricane Charlie almost twenty years ago. When the roof peeled off from part of the house, we were left with damage that took many months (and some tens of thousands of dollars) to repair. Most of our home required new walls, ceilings, and floors (and an entirely new kitchen that we affectionately call “Charlie’s Kitchen”). It was a long journey back to normal.

In 2023, Hurricane Idalia whipped through Florida, coming ashore in the Big Bend region. Many of the small towns there were devastated.

Such storms remind me of Mark Heard’s song “Eye of the Storm” (1983), wherein he sings of the safety that God’s people enjoy even in the midst of storms. In God’s providence, Heard weathered his own storm, suffering a heart attack at forty years old and then dying six weeks later from cardiac arrest.

We don’t need to be reminded that we live in a fallen and broken world. Our lives too often are filled with tragedy, injustice, heart-rending unmet expectations, and dashed hopes. Storms of the soul don’t come with damaging wind, but it certainly can seem as though our souls are tearing apart from forces rising against us. People and powers in authority over us too often lie and pervert justice; vocational callings can seem to dry up and disappear; family struggles destroy relationships and create seemingly unbridgeable chasms. Cancer, loss, life-altering disabilities—the list goes on and on. And as we wait for deliverance, we cry out, “How long, O Lord?”

The faithfulness of God to the saints needs to be a guide for our lives as we wait on God in our suffering and through our trials.

Jerry Bridges (perhaps most well known for his book The Pursuit of Holiness) knew these things too. I was blessed to work closely with Jerry at Ligonier Ministries (in 1989), writing a study guide for Dr. Sproul’s lecture series The Providence of God. Jerry had recently lost his wife, who suffered from and died as a result of a brain tumor. Through the darkness of this journey, he wrote Trusting God Even When Life Hurts, one of the best books on God’s sovereignty, suffering, and waiting. He told me privately that when his dear wife finally passed into glory, he needed to go back and read his book again. He needed to be reminded again of the goodness and trustworthiness of God.

Another account is Joni Eareckson Tada’s book A Place of Healing. She speaks from experience with great candor and grace after more than fifty years as a quadriplegic, waiting on God’s deliverance.

The psalmists knew these things (and it is interesting how, despite all the massive changes from the ancient world to our day, the human condition and suffering remain timeless). Three times across Psalms 42–43, the psalmists admit that their souls are downcast. The metaphors are rich and varied. The psalmists speak of being parched and desperate (42:1–3); they are being swept away by waves (42:7); they feel forgotten and wounded (42:7, 9). They long for light and truth in the midst of injustice (Ps. 43). Their answer: “Hope in God” (42:5, 11; 43:5). So ultimately, though we may grieve, we do “not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13). Christian hope is not like the world’s hope (“I hope it does not rain” or “I hope our team wins”). Worldly hope may or may not come to pass. It is wishful thinking. Christian hope rests in the unshakable promises of God. Since God cannot lie, His promises are true; and since He cannot die, His promises are sure (Heb. 6:13–20). The anchor of hope holds regardless of how strongly the storm blows or how long it lasts. That is good news for weary souls who are waiting for deliverance.

What do we need in the midst of life’s difficulties? First, we need to focus on the steady, unchanging truth of God’s promises in His Word. He will never desert His children (Deut. 31:6, 8). Second, we need to seek the support of His people, the fellowship of the saints. When one part, especially the weakest part, suffers, all should suffer together (1 Cor. 12:26). We must allow God’s people to suffer with us. We must not suffer alone. Finally, we need to look to the past. The faithfulness of God to the saints needs to be a guide for our lives as we wait on God in our suffering and through our trials. Yes, sometimes the saints received deliverance and victory. Yet many times they also died in faith, not receiving such earthly deliverance, but most certainly (with the anchor of hope) they received the salvation of their souls (see Heb. 10–11).

In Romans 11:36, Paul tells us that all things are “from him and through him and to him.” And this compels Paul’s response, one that we can all echo:  “To him be glory forever. Amen.” God has ordained every circumstance that we will face. And those circumstances are for our good and His glory. Our frustration in the midst of suffering comes when we confuse the idea of things “getting better” with what God seeks to cultivate in our souls: contentment, joy, and biblical shalom, a peace and rest not from being in control but by trusting in and surrendering to the One who is in control.

A few practical reminders for when you have a friend, fellow church member, or family member going through a dark valley that may not (in this life) get better. First, don’t say, “It’ll be OK.” It may not ever be OK again until God makes all things new. And if, in God’s providence, it does get better, it may get much worse first. “It’ll be OK” is the easy thing to say, but it may not be the best thing. Second, also don’t say, “If I can do anything, just call me.” Your suffering friend probably won’t call. Life is hard enough without having to call for more help. Your job is just to show up. Give the gift of your silent presence—especially at a hospital. The silence may be awkward, but your presence will be welcomed. Show up by bringing a meal unasked for; arrive ready to mow a lawn or help with laundry or other tasks. Weep with those who weep; mourn with those who mourn. But be there. As human beings, we are made for physical presence with one another.

Well-intended Christians sometimes say ill-advised things in the midst of others’ suffering. While I have experienced this, I have also experienced brave souls’ walking alongside us, weeping with us, and giving us the encouragement of their humble presence without offering trite solutions. I am profoundly grateful for them.

Remember that Paul said he was afflicted, persecuted, crushed, and wasting away—yet all these things (and probably many more, if you read his story) he considered a “light momentary affliction” that

is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:17–18)

This is good news even as we wait, sometimes for decades, for deliverance from this body of death, for justice from a system that forgets the human person. This is good news as we wait for healing, as we long for reconciliation with estranged loved ones. May God give us grace for each day as we wait, trust, and surrender.

Waiting in an Age of Instant Gratification

Waiting with Contentment and Humility

Keep Reading Waiting on the Lord

From the April 2024 Issue
Apr 2024 Issue