God is in the business of leading those who look to Him. Sometimes we sing the hymn, “He Leadeth Me” which testifies to what a blessed thing this is. The words of Psalm 23 also reflect it: He makes us lie down in green pastures, He leads us beside the still waters; He restores the soul. And later it says the He leads into paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
All of this is wonderful, but what about when He leads us into times of struggle? What about the times when life doesn’t make sense?
Joel Gregory once said this: “I’ve never belonged to the school that seems able to peer over the divine shoulder and thus discover the will of God. The actual term ‘finding the will of God’ does not even appear in the New Testament… Paul seemed to see the will of God in life’s rearview mirror rather than its periscope.”
Sometimes things can be better-understood retroactively. I thought of this while I was looking at Deuteronomy 8:2, which gives us these words: “Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments.” Think of this in relation to the times of struggle that you have been through. What happened? What was it like? How long did it last? (Hopefully it wasn’t 40 years like it was for the Israelites, living as refugees out in the desert.)
For some people it comes as a time of displacement. For some it’s the aftermath of a divorce or a significant breakup. For some it’s the loss of a job and a time of unemployment. For some it’s a loss of a loved one – which means learning how to pick up and continue on alone. Whatever it is, it stands to be revealing – and that’s just the point. The Bible says it reveals the condition of the heart.
It’s too easy for someone to think that they know their own heart. Is that really true? None of us can read other people’s minds, but with so many emotional layers and all the complexity, how much do we really understand about ourselves?
I can think of a time in my life, back when I was in my late 20s. I was going through some awful things; it was the worst time of my life. And goodness, what a jerk I was. I hope the people who had to work with me back then have forgiven me. Occasionally I think back on it and it’s just embarrassing. If you had talked to me just a few years before then, when things were well, I might have told you that I had a good sense of where my heart was: I was striving to follow Jesus, acting out of good character. I couldn’t have seen it coming.
Warren Wiersbe put it this way: “The devil tempts us to bring out the worst in us, but God tests us to bring out the best in us. When God allows a difficult circumstance to test us, we will either trust Him and become more mature, or we will tempt Him and become more miserable. The difference? Believing the promises of God and relying on the Lord to care for us and bring us through for His glory and our good.”
I would add that even when it brings out the ugly truth, that works for our own good as well if we learn from the experience. The true condition of our heart is revealed. The reality that was once hidden is now out in the open and it can be disarmed. It’s just like Jesus said: If you know the truth the truth shall make you free (John 8:32).
God’s leading then, points us in a better path. We let the sins of the past be nailed to the cross of Jesus. Since we’re always looking forward, never backward, we move on with a better sense of what our excesses are and how to hold them in check. We’re more acutely aware of the dangers that can come out of our heart.
It’s kind of like when the devil tempted Jesus (as recorded in Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13). The temptations were based on questioning His identity, since the devil said, “If you’re *really* the Son of God…” The first temptation was to turn stones into bread. Jesus answered it by quoting Deuteronomy 8:4 – “Man shall not live by bread alone.”
Our hearts are prone to dangerous things in times of struggle. It’s good for us to be anchored in our identity as followers of Christ. It’s good when we fix our minds on His word. It’s good to live by what proceeds from the hand of God. It’s good to trust in His leading, even when we’re going through a rough patch – because just like with the Israelites of old and their Promised Land, we know it leads to a good place.
God bless you.
Pastor Andrew McHenry
I am a husband, a Congregational pastor, and a native Kansan currently living in Thermalito, California. In the past I have also been a prison chaplain and a youth pastor. Interests include reading, railroads, prog rock, KU, and the KC Royals. Opinions are my own and are not necessarily those of organizations I have been with.