When placed in a situation where the scenery never changes, where life must be endured, rather than lived. Being in the same spot emotionally and spiritually, like the Church of Smyrna from Revelation 2:8-11, is a slow, painful process. The word affliction in this verse is the noun thlipsis. Its meaning in English is similar to compression – being constricted or pressed down from the outside. In those times, we reach a point where we want change – NOW! (And by any means necessary!)
This happened to the Israelites. They were in Egypt for over two hundred years as discontented slaves, crying out for deliverance. They spent another forty-one years wandering in the wilderness after The Lord freed them from Egypt because of their open rebellion. On multiple occasions, when they said they would prefer death to wandering, He obliged.
But it is not just the rebellious that suffer. For example, King David, the “man after God’s own heart,” spent eight years on the run from Saul’s jealous, murderous rage. He lived the essence of the daily grind, living in caves and constantly on the move, away from his best friend, first wife and promised future.
During these restless times, it is easy to turn to sin. David could have blamed God. But instead, he wrote some of the most beautiful, God-honoring Scripture, including Psalm 7, 18, 34, 52, 56, 57, 59, and 142. These are his legacy and our clear example that, when we want out – we should dig in to God’s plan.
Practicing five disciplines, taken from the lives of the faithful Hebrews in Exodus and King David will keep us on the path God desires:
1. The discipline of Faith: Throughout Exodus, the Hebrews were not practicing the basic tenet of faith in The Lord by remembering all the Lord had already done for them. As a result, they started rebelling. Our faith is not built upon circumstances, but on the provision from God’s Hand. If you are weary, take an opportunity to go back through all the times God has provided for you in the past. That will return your hope that He will do it again in the future.
2. The discipline of Community: We were never meant to walk this journey alone. We are creatures designed for relationship – with The Lord and His People. Moses had Aaron and David had his men. If you have a restless heart, instead of staying away from church, work on going again, to be filled through the pooling of your spirit with others.
3. The discipline of Realism: When you read through Psalms David wrote on the run, he doesn’t pull any punches with God. He doesn’t talk like he isn’t hurting. He is real with God – and with others. He doesn’t ever deny who God is or what He will do but he does ask why and when. God never wants empty talk. If you are worn out, tell Him - He is big enough to withstand any emotional storm we throw at Him.
4. The discipline of Praise: In her book, The Prayer that Changes Everything, Stormie Omartian describes her ascent from the depths of her mother’s emotional and physical abuse. The turning point was when she learned to praise God in all circumstances. David drew from that well too – there is nothing like reminding ourselves Who God is and pouring out thanks to Him – to ensure we can keep going another day. If you are hurting, find something, anything to praise Him for.
5. The discipline of Preparation:The forty years of wandering was the time God used to mold His People into the force they needed to be to take over The Promised Land. The eight years David spent in the desert gave The Lord the chance to make him the King Israel so desperately needed. No time or experience is ever wasted in The Lord’s Hands. If you are drained, remember that He is using this to prepare you for blessing and give you strength for further obedience.
It can be the affliction of grief, poverty, illness, addiction, abuse or emotional instability – you might crave anything but the situation you are in. But no matter how long it lasts, it is still just a season. It is a blip on the screen compared to the heights we will reach in eternity.
The forty years came to an end when the Hebrews reached Canaan. The eight years ended with David’s coronation. Your time of testing will end as well. In the meantime, let us practice active faith in the midst of heartache – all the while longing for the day when heartache will exist no more!