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When bad things happen: Devotional from Rev. Randy Spahr

By: Rev. Randy Spahr, Red River Hospice chaplain and member of the 2020 Dakotas Conference class of retirees

Mariam Soliman I8kvud0l9xe Unsplash

Photo by Mariam Soliman on Unsplash.

“Consider what God has done: Who can straighten what God has made crooked? When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, no one can discover anything about their future.” Ecclesiastes 7:13-14

 I am starting my fifteenth year as a chaplain at Hospice of the Red River Valley in Fargo. I love what I am doing, but sometimes I get some tough questions from patients or families. One of those common questions is: “Why did God let this happen?” I wish there were an easy answer to that question, but I haven’t found one yet. But I do believe that God gives us a lot of instruction on how to deal with the bad times in our lives, and this passage in Ecclesiastes is one that has helped me. I remember hearing a pastor preach on this passage when I was a young Christian, and it made an impact on me. I have preached on this passage in every church I have served and even some nursing homes during the last 40 years.

 This passage is important because all of us have gone through bad experiences in our lives. So how do Christians handle these situations? What do we do when we have financial trouble, or a problem at work, or the kids act up, or we blow a big test, or find out we have some health problem like cancer or COVID-19? What are we supposed to do in those situations?

Most scholars believe Ecclesiastes was written by King Solomon, the man who asked God for wisdom and received it, and it contains a series of fireside chats where he shared insights that he had learned throughout his life. Just imagine a grandfather sitting with his grandkids around a fire pit in the driveway, sharing lessons that he has learned during his life. That is what this was for Solomon.

It starts out by telling us to: “Consider What God Has Done.” The New American Standard Bible says to: “Consider the work of God.”  Have you ever thought about what God does every day? God doesn’t just sit up in heaven twiddling his thumbs. This phrase suggests that God is involved in our lives 24-7. God is at work in you and me. God doesn’t just sit on the sidelines and watch us live our lives; God is on the playing field working with us.  

Another favorite passage of mine gives us some insight on God’s work as well. Romans 8:28 says, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose.” This great verse tells us again that God is at work in all things in our lives, not just the good things. God has a plan for us and puts all the details in our lives together for good. Even the things that we classify as bad, can work together for good when God is involved.

Just think about Joseph’s life in the Old Testament. He was hated by a lot of his family, sold into slavery by his brothers, thrown into prison because he didn’t sleep with his boss’ wife, and then was betrayed by one of his prison cellmates. That is a lot of bad situations. But listen to what Joseph later told his brothers in Genesis 50:20: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Joseph understood this principle even before Solomon wrote it down many years later.

Just think about the cross. That was the most terrible day in history, yet because of that day, we can receive God’s forgiveness, grace, and love, which is the greatest good of all time.

Ecclesiastes 7 is telling us to consider the work of God. Take time to really think about how God is at work, because God is working in your life. God is using “all things” in your life for something good; even though it is hard to see that sometimes. But as we understand that it will renew us and give us a better perspective on life. So, consider the work of God!

Next Solomon asks a question: “Who can straighten what God has made crooked?” So, what does straighten and crooked mean? Verse 14 gives us the answer. Straight refers to the good times in our lives and crooked refers to the bad times. So, who can straighten what God has made crooked? This question is designed to teach us some important things about God’s work in our lives.

First, it helps us to recognize that this is the way life is for us. Our lives are made up of both the straight and the crooked. None of us have all good in our lives and none of us have all bad either. God, who is working in our lives, can take the good days and change them, and allow us to go through some hard times. It happened to Job, Ruth, and Paul, and it happens to us. Jesus even told us that we would all have some trouble in this world as his followers. (John 16:33)

This verse also teaches us what we can’t do. We can’t straighten what God has bent. If something “not so good” happens in our lives, we’re not able to back up and redo that part of our lives. If I wipe out on my bike and break my leg, I can’t say “Let’s stop and do this over again.” Life doesn’t give us a mulligan, unless we are playing golf. We can’t straighten what God has bent.

Next, this passage gives us some practical instructions about life. The first is, “When times are good, be happy.” When things are going great in your life, God tells you to be happy. That may be the easiest advice that you ever receive. When things are going well, you’re doing well in school or work, when you’re getting along with your boyfriend or girlfriend, you’re happy in your marriage, the kids aren’t driving you crazy or their asleep, the car is running well, and your health is good, God says to be happy. God gives us those times in our lives and maybe that is where you are today, so rejoice and be happy.

But what about those other times when things are not so good? What should we do during those times? It says, When times are bad. Look closely at that next word and notice what it is not. It is not a verb of feeling. Usually we substitute our own word in this place. When times are bad, we get depressed or feel sorry for ourselves. We get worried, anxious, and upset. We become miserable, moody, or have our own pity party.

That may happen during those bad days, and we're not immune from those feeling, because God gave us emotions. But notice the word that is here. “When times are bad, consider.” When bad things happen, instead of allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by our emotions, the first and foremost thing to do is to think. Think what? That God is at work in our lives. Consider the work of God.

And Solomon goes on in verse 14 to show us why we are to think about God at work. It says, “God has made the one as well as the other.” In the Hebrew it literally means: God has set the one, the good times, right next to the other, the bad times. God has placed them back to back. And the implication of that is that we usually don’t have any advance warning. God doesn’t come up to me and say, “Randy, on Wednesday you’re going to have a fender bender.” That would be nice, because then I could prepare for it, or more likely try to avoid it. But that is not how it works in life. Usually we don’t have any advance warning. Problems just pop up and are unexpected.

I’m sure you can think of some bad situations you have faced in your life. Were you able to look at it and say, “God is involved.” Remember that we have a God that is involved in every detail of our lives, the good times and the bad times. God sets one right next to the other. But why??? Why does God do it this way? Why doesn’t God give us the good days all the time, or at least give us some advance warning?

The answer is: Only God knows the total answer, but God does give us a reason at the end of verse 14. It says, “God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, no one can discover anything about their future.”

Spahr Devotional

Conquering the Storm, by Thomas Kincade. Photo courtesy of Randy Spahr.

You and I as human beings, with all our wisdom and technology, are still limited, and we will never be able to predict with absolute certainty the future for ourselves. We can’t look at our calendar for the week and say that this is what’s going to happen. We never know for sure what is coming next in our lives.

That makes sense, because if we knew exactly what was going to happen next, sooner or later we would say, “Who needs God! I can handle life by myself.” That is what the nation of Israel did when they had long periods of prosperity. They wandered away from God and started to trust in themselves.

If it was up to us, we would take out all of the curves, bumps, and hills. We would want a straight and smooth road every day. But God says, “No, that’s not what’s best for you. You may think it is, but I know better.” God leaves the crooked in with the straight, so that we grow in character and keep in touch with God all the time. There are some things that we can only learn when we are on rough roads. (James 1:2-4) God does this, not to keep us guessing, but to keep us trusting, because God knows that the best thing for our lives is to put our complete trust in Him.

Several years ago, I went through a very tough time in my ministry and it came on quickly. I went from feeling like I was on the mountain top to being stuck in Death Valley. It seemed like everything was going wrong and I didn’t know what to do for a while. I got discouraged and even went through some depression for a few months. Do you know what got me through that time, besides having a wife and friends that encouraged me and prayed for me. It was sitting in my living room every day thinking about what God was doing in my life. I had a picture on the wall by Thomas Kincade called “Conquering the Storm” and I would sit there listening to Christian music and would study that picture as I talked to God. It helped me to realize that God was still there, and that God’s light would guide me home if I followed it. I grew a lot during that time, and I have found that it has usually been through the tough times in my life that I have grown the most in my faith. I didn’t enjoy it, but it helped me to mature and to learn to minister to other people in a more Christ-like way. God is always there through the sunshine and through the storms.

So where are you today? If you are going through good times right now, enjoy it and be happy! But remember that there might be some bumps coming. Even Christians go through bad times, but we never have to be afraid of them, because we are never alone through them. Matt Redman sings a song called, “You Never Let Go.” It says, “O no, you never let go, through the calm and through the storm. O no, you never let go, through every high and every low. Lord you never let go.” God never lets us face these times by ourselves because God loves us and is always working in us through the good and the bad times. We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. So, remember to consider the work of God.

UMC

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