This piece was originally featured in Cogitare’s Spring 2023 Print Edition.
A lot can be said about a person based on how they react to things. We are constantly making conscious and unconscious choices about how we will respond to any given situation, whether great or small, joyful or sorrowful. While our emotions are often shifty and out of our control, we do have power over how we express them, and more importantly how we express them before God.
The Bible has countless examples of faithful saints coming to God in moments of deep despair, desperation, and weariness. Many of the stories we read are simply the journeys of people plodding through life, trying to seek God’s will as they faithfully live for Him. From Abraham and Sarah waiting a hundred years for a child, the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, and Simeon and Anna waiting decades for the promised Messiah, testaments Old and New picture God’s faithfulness to longsuffering saints as they wait on Him in dry lands.
On the college campus and beyond, many currently find themselves in situations that require this oft-neglected virtue of “long-suffering.” Maybe it is a discontentment in your phase of life or in relationships God has (or hasn’t) given you. Perhaps it is an illness or injury you will have to endure for the next few months, years, or decades. Maybe it is a recurring sin you cannot quite flee from or continual consequences from past sins. For some, the trials they are facing mean a lifetime of quiet grief and pain.
In these long, winter-like seasons it is easy to grow weary and become isolated. If left unchecked, our hearts can quickly become hard and bitter towards God. We can succumb to moments of disbelief like Abraham and Sarah or grumbling like the Israelites. In fact, one day spent on Grove City’s campus attests that we do indeed often succumb to grumbling. How should we faithfully come to the Lord in the midst of fatigue, difficulty, and suffering? I want to suggest a proper response by first presenting an incorrect one.
In a sermon Kevin DeYoung preached on Exodus 16 titled “Grumbling and Gathering,” DeYoung explains the sinful response of grumbling. His first point is that grumbling distorts memory of the past. When we are in the midst of suffering and complaining to God, we cannot remember where we have come from. The Israelites longed to go back to Egypt because in their starvation all that they could remember was the apparently-abundant meat and bread that filled their bellies in Egypt. In reality, they were enslaved – crushed by oppression they were not able to bear.
Grumbling also exaggerates the present. The Israelites accused Moses of bringing them into the wilderness so that he could kill them. He was their leader and mediator with God, but their ungrateful hearts contorted Moses’ role. When in the midst of suffering, we often cannot remember the truth about God and the truth about ourselves and our leaders. We are vulnerable to the lies of the devil and develop a skewed vision of the truth.
DeYoung’s final point is that grumbling ultimately dishonors God. When we grumble against God, we disrupt our relationship with Him. We act as if we do not believe that He can take care of us or that He knows what is necessary in our lives. We know better, we tell him with our actions, insisting angrily that we could manage things better than He can.
This sinful tendency distances us from God when we need him most: in suffering. Yet Scripture gives many examples of faithful believers coming before the Lord in suffering. As opposed to grumbling hearts, these saints bear groaning hearts.
Before the Israelites found themselves in the wilderness and were trapped in the bondage of slavery, they cried out to God in Exodus 2 with a deep groaning:
“During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacab. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.”
In Psalm 12:5 David writes, “‘Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will now arise,’ says the LORD; ‘I will place him in the safety for which he longs.’” In Romans Paul speaks of groaning when he writes, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
God wants us to come to Him in our weariness and despair. Groaning is a cry for help. It is asking God to act and bring restoration, but it requires trust in Him even if He does not restore.
Jesus groaned in the garden when he asked God to let the cup pass from Him. He bore burdens longer and heavier than any of us will ever be called to endure. He asked God for a different way. But he set his face towards Jerusalem, and in obedience said, “Your will be done.”
While Jesus understood why he needed to do what he was being called to, we don’t always know. We view our circumstances in light of our short, momentary lives, and the people we have met and loved throughout them. God sees our lives as a tiny part of a massive and glorious plan that transcends time and space and results in endless glory, worship, and joy.
What a comfort to know that if we are in Christ our suffering is promised to come to a final and glorious conclusion. We have endless hope. No matter what we must face today or tomorrow, we have endless hope.