When you find yourself in a situation that seems hopeless, it’s easy to become angry, resentful, or jealous. How do you find the strength to move forward?
- Which phase of your life do you remember most fondly? What did you enjoy about that season?
- Have you ever considered God to be absent, apathetic, or angry with you during a difficult time? How did that influence your feelings toward him? What did you do?
- Andy said, “God loves you regardless of whether it feels like he loves you.” Does this change, challenge, or reinforce your understanding of God? Explain.
- In the midst of a very difficult circumstance, what are some practical ways you can remind yourself that you will eventually regain joy, hope, and a sense of purpose?
NOTE: The following content is a raw transcript and has not been edited for grammar, punctuation, or word usage.
Well we are beginning a brand new series today called “In the Meantime” and for the next few weeks, we are going to address this question: What do you do when there’s nothing that you can do? What do you when you find yourself in a set of circumstances and there’s no way to change it? There are problems you can solve, but there are some unsolvable problems. There are tensions that you can resolve, but there are some unresolvable tensions. And at some point in your life and in my life and for many of us more than one time during our lives we’re gonna find ourselves in a set of circumstances, in a season of life, when it is what it is, and it looks like that’s just gonna be the way it is. And there’s really no way to change that set of circumstances.
For many of us it’ll be relationally. You’ll find yourself in a marriage and it’s not a great marriage, but you don’t wanna get divorced and he doesn’t wanna get divorced and she doesn’t wanna get divorced, but nobody wants to change and you look into the future and it’s just the way it is.
For some of you it’s with your kids. They didn’t wanna grow up and be what you thought they should grow up and be. For some of you it’s financially. Your financial dreams aren’t coming true, and your financial dreams can’t come true. And there’s nothing you can do.
For some of you it’s a health issue. You’re not gonna die of whatever it is they said you have, but it’s something that… It’s debilitating and it’s chronic and it’s just gonna go on and on and on, and they can treat it, but they can’t cure it. This is your new reality. This is your new normal.
I don’t know what yours is, but you know what? For all us we come to those places that, during this series, we’re gonna call “In the meantime.” “In the meantime.” “In the meantime.” This is just the way it is. We’re not looking for a solution because you’re in a set of circumstances. Again, there’s really no solution.
So what are you gonna do? You can run. You don’t wanna run. You can abandon your family. You don’t wanna abandon your family. You can give up on your kids. You don’t wanna give up on your kids. You can quit, but you don’t wanna quit. You can drink yourself into oblivion, but you know that’s temporary and that just creates more problems.
And then, there’s the whole internal battle that we all have in circumstances like this. We get jealous of other people, we look at their wrinkle-free life and we think, “That was the life I was supposed to have.”
So it’s easy to get resentful. It’s easy to get angry. And it’s really, really easy to compare. And you know what else is irritating is if you’re a Christian and you’re in the church. It’s irritating because sometimes you’re around other Christians and they say silly things that you just wanna slug them. They say things like, “Oh you know what? God answered a prayer for me the other day.” And you’re like, “What?” And they’re like, “I lost my keys.”
And you’re like, “You lost your keys?” “Oh, I lost my keys, you know. And I prayed that God would show me where my keys were, and then my husband came home, he came home early, he’s so great. He came home early and I heard the door and I heard my keys jingling, and they were in the door. Praise God!”
And you’re like, “I hate you. Because you don’t even know what a problem is! You wouldn’t know a problem if it was staring you in the face! Let me tell you about my life.” You know? Because, again, all of us have a picture of a preferred future. All of us have a picture of what family’s supposed to be, what romance is supposed to be, what being stable financially is supposed to be.
And when you find yourself in a set of circumstances and it’s just not gonna be that way, what do you do when there’s nothing you can do? Because it is what it is, and that’s just gonna be the way that it is. And in these seasons of life, we draw some really bad conclusions. We believe some lies. In fact, we begin to tell ourselves these lies. The first one is this: “I’ll never be happy again.” “I long for the days of middle school.”
“I long for high school. I long for my freshman year in college. My parents paid for everything and I did everything. It was the perfect world. I had no bills and all the freedom in the world.” And you look back on some season of your life, or that first year of marriage, or those first few years of parenting, or that first couple of years of romance when you’d found the person of you dreams and you are so happy, and now you look at your life and you think, “You know what? I will never be happy again.” And you start telling yourself that lie.
You tell yourself this one as well, “Nothing good can come from this, and Andy don’t get up there and tell me some silly Bible story how it all worked out, and they all went to Heaven and Jesus came back and they were healed, okay? ‘Cause I don’t wanna hear it. Because I’m telling you, in my circumstances, nothing good can come from this.”
And for some of you, maybe you’re at that point of ultimate desperation where you would say, “There’s really not even any point in continuing. There’s no point even battling through this relationship. There’s not even any point in trying to fight through this. There’s no point in going on. I don’t really even see any point in living.”
So for the next few weeks, we’re gonna delve into this “happy” topic. In the meantime, what do we do really when there’s absolutely nothing you can do?
Now as a pastor, I have these conversations all the time. Every pastor, every counselor, anybody who’s doing any kind of ministry, these are the most frustrating conversations, because I’m a problem solver. I like to sit, listen about five minutes, then I interrupt and say, “Okay, let me tell you what to do.” I like to solve problems, like many of you do. But there are situations… The most heart-breaking situations, is when someone sits down and they tell me the situation, and basically they even say, you’ve said this… I’ve had it said to me so many times, “Andy, I’m not looking for an answer, because Andy I know there’s not an answer. I just need to talk about it. I just need to tell someone.”
And in those moments at the epicenter of the crisis, at the epicenter of the emotion, especially for believers, is a question that I wanna start with today.
I wanna kinda run to the end and bring all of those of you who are in a situation where you’re saying, “You are talking to me, this is an “In the Meantime” moment for me, I’m in a season of life, and I don’t like it and there’s no end in sight and there’s not a solution, there’s not a resolution of the tension, this is just the way it is.” I wanna talk to you specifically.
Because at the epicenter of your struggle, especially if you’re a Christian, is the question of, “Does God know and does God care and is God concerned and does God hear my prayers? If I could just know, if I had some calm assurance, that God somehow knows about this, that’s almost enough.”
And for some of you, this may be the thing, this may be the topic, this may be the season of your life where God has your undivided attention, and you’re as mad as heck as you could be at God, in fact you’re not even sure there’s a God, but you keep talking to God anyway. And then you catch yourself and you think, I don’t even know who I’m talking to, I’m just angry at whatever, or whoever could solve this. God will take that. God can take that. The great news is the New Testament, this is not a surprise, this isn’t something new.
And so today as we kind of start with this, I wanna go right to the emotional center of this issue. Because for all of us when we are in an “In the Meantime” moment, the question is, “Where is God?”
So let me just state a truth to you. I’m gonna try to illustrate it a little bit today, and then we’re gonna talk about this for the next weeks. The bottom line is this, God is not absent and God is not apathetic and God is not angry with you. God is not absent although God feels absent, God is not apathetic, it’s not like he doesn’t care, it’s like “Oh, I got a whole universe to run, what was your name again? God is not apathetic, although when you are in it, “In the meantime” moment, it feels like God is apathetic and God is not angry.
And the reason I add it is, is because so many times that I talk to people, it’s like they ask the question, we’ve all asked this question, “What did I do wrong? What did I do to deserve this?” And we go on a witch hunt. How can I get your blessing back, how can I get you to pay attention?”
So the good news today is, simply that. God’s not absent, God’s not apathetic, and God is not angry. God’s silence, does not equate to his absence.
Now before we jump into the heart of this, there is something I’d like to kinda poke around a little bit about, ’cause you need to recognize this about yourself. When we’re in the midst of an “In the Meantime” moment, where everything’s dark and it is not gonna change, and we lift our eyes and we begin to pray and Heaven is silent, there is a little bit of hypocrisy there. Because let me tell you what I know about every single one of you. There has been a night in your life, a day in your life, a spring break in your life, a weekend in your life, a date in your life, a business trip in your life, when the presence of God was the furthest thing from your mind. Isn’t that true? That weekend, that week, that night? You’re driving to get in trouble on purpose. And you’re not thinking, “God, I just wanna feel your presence in this moment.”
We go into this thing of, “Well, God doesn’t care,” you hope. “God doesn’t take individual behavior into account,” you hope. “God doesn’t know my name. I’m not even sure there is a God. I got this.
If you were raised like me in the church where your conscience starts creeping in, come on. We all had our ways to shut our conscience up, didn’t we? Isn’t it amazing, when we don’t wanna sense the presence of God, we know how to shut God right out, and all of us have done that.
Here’s what’s amazing about what we’re gonna talk about for the next few weeks. In spite of that, your Heavenly Father loves you and the reason I can say that with confidence, is because of one of the most famous statements in all of history, much less, all of the scripture. “For God so loved the Christians, for God so loved the good people, for God so loved the God-fearers.” John, who knew Jesus, as an older man, looks back on his life and his time with Jesus, and he penned those words, “For God so loved the what?”
The world… That he gave His only Son. Here’s the thing. See, the reason I know that God is not absent, the reason I know that God is not apathetic, and the reason I know that God is not angry, is He poured out His anger on His Son for you, and when He sent His Son to die on the cross, He settled once and for all whether or not He knows your name, whether or not He cares about you, and whether or He is concerned about your life. Even in those dark moments, when you tuned out the presence of God, God was present and now, in these dark times when you need to experience the presence of God, God is present.
Now, let me tell you how I deal with this and then, I’m gonna give you an example from the scripture. In my personal life, when I’m in one of those moments where I’ve got big doubts, or unanswered questions, or sometimes, when I hear one of your stories, and your story of pain, and your story of “In the Meantime” it just kind of takes the legs out from underneath my faith, here’s what I retreat to. I retreat to this question.
Did this happen to anybody in The New Testament? I don’t wanna be the first.
If I can find one person, whom I know God loved and that I know God cared about, and if they had this same question, I’d feel better. That helps me, if I know I’m not the only one and here’s the extraordinary thing. If you are in an “In the Meantime” set of circumstances, where it just seems like for the foreseeable future, it’s not gonna get any better. It may only get worse, and if in that moment, and in that season, you feel like God is silent, I have some great news. You are not alone and you are not the first.
Today, real quickly, I wanna go to two very familiar stories that you know kind of basically, if you grew up in church. One you may know more than the other, and I simply wanna touch on these. I don’t wanna go deep into these stories. I don’t wanna read you the whole stories, but in both accounts, and I did this on purpose, these are two accounts with Jesus, two people that Jesus knew and that Jesus loved and He kind of set them up for the kind of thing that many of us are experiencing right now, where you think, “God, where are you? I just need to know that you’re present in the midst of these circumstances, though they don’t seem to be changing and maybe there’s no hope for them to change.”
The first one is, John the Baptizer. Now, some of you know this story. Some of you don’t. The thing about John the Baptizer… He’s John the Baptist, but that doesn’t mean he’s Baptist. It means he baptized. So, it really is John the Baptizer, is how he got that nickname. You can’t really understand the significance of the story, unless you read The Bible with your map. So, real quickly, I wanna tell you the story. Then, I wanna show you a map, because it illustrates this very point.
One day, Jesus is teaching in Galilee to some of his core guys and he’s about to send them out and a group of fellows walk up and they say, “Jesus, we have a question,” and they say, “Jesus, we are John the Baptist’s disciples. You’ve got your disciples. John the Baptist has his, and John the Baptist has sent us to you, and he wants us to ask you this question and then we’re gonna go back and give him your answer and the question is,” check this out, “The question is are you really Jesus?”
“Are you really the Messiah? Are you really the Sent One from God? Are you really the one we’ve all been waiting on? John wants to know.” Why didn’t John ask the question himself? Where was John? That’s right he was in prison. John the Baptist is in prison. And the reason John the Baptist is in prison, is he started taking shots at some political people in his area. He worked up and he kinda did his ministry up and down the Jordan River, and there was a king of that area, his name was King Herod. It was the son of the King Herod that slaughtered all the babies in Bethlehem from the Christmas story. This is his son, King Herod. His name was Herod Antipas.
Herod Antipas is the king, and his brother Herod Philip married their niece. You gotta follow this. So, Herod Philip, who is the brother of the king, marries their niece. Now, that’s kinda weird. We don’t even do that in the South, okay?
So, he marries his niece, alright? Marries his niece, and then time goes by, and he goes to Rome for an extended trip. And while he’s in Rome, his wife/niece has an affair with his brother, her other uncle, this is a big scandal, and everybody knows about it. And there’s no magazines, there are no tabloids, but everybody knows. And so, John the Baptist… This is very disturbing in any culture, but especially in Jewish culture. So, John the Baptist, in part of his preaching and talking about sin and repentance, keeps using Herodias and King Herod as examples. And King Herod thinks it’s kinda funny. Herodias, she didn’t think it’s funny. So, she got her new husband/uncle to have John the Baptist arrested and thrown in prison, and thrown in the dungeon. But not just any dungeon, she has him sent to the easternmost part of the kingdom, out in the desert at a place called Machaerus. It’s one of his palaces on this hilltop out in the desert. And Machaerus…
And so, John the Baptist is put in prison, and he’s left there. And time goes by, and time goes by, and time goes by. So, he begins to have what we have when time goes by and nothing changes. He begins to have doubts. Now, here’s the interesting thing, Jesus loved John the Baptist.
In fact, here’s what Jesus said about John the Baptist. He said, “Truly, I tell you, among those born of women… ” And this is a big statement. “Among those born of women, there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist. John the Baptist is the greatest man on earth.”
That’s what Jesus thought of John the Baptist, but now John the Baptist isn’t sure about what he thinks of Jesus, and here’s why. Because when Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been arrested… Let me just say this, before I show you this first, real quick. Let me go ahead and put the first part up here. Look, this is amazing. When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, now what comes next? If I was making up a story, I would not have put this in here
When Jesus first heard that John the Baptist had been put in prison, what do you think he did? Visited? Maybe sent him a care package? Sent him a cake? Maybe sent his disciples down there to Machaerus to visit? Maybe sent him some loaves and fish? Maybe broke him out?
What do you think Jesus when He heard that John the Baptist had been put in prison? When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He withdrew to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, He went and lived in Capernaum. Now, if you’re reading your Bible, you’re like, “Oh, that’s interesting,” and keep on reading. This is a really big deal, they should not… Matthew should have never told us this, and here’s why. Let me show you the map, you gotta have a map to get this. When Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been arrested, he was right up here in the area of Nazareth. John the Baptist kinda worked this stretch of the Jordan River.
And when he was arrested they put him out here in the desert in Machaerus, so when Jesus hears that John the Baptist has been arrested and put in Machaerus you think he would have gone down here and visited him, or said something or tried to get him out, or gone before King Herod, and this is his relative, this is an important guy, this is the greatest guy on the planet, but the scripture tells us, Matthew tells us, and Matthew who was there, said that Jesus withdrew and went to Capernaum. He could have stayed here, that’s far enough away, Jesus went in the opposite direction. This is how you feel. This is how we feel. We’re in the desert, and you’re up north of the lake, “Hello, could you at least give me a visit, send me a letter, bake me a cake, let me know you care?” No, it gets worse, alright? Did you know that you can get on a jet, you could fly over there, you can go down to the Nile… Not to the Nile, to the Jordan River, cross the river which is really dangerous right now, but you could, you could get across at night with some guides and some guns, and you could actually go visit, you can go visit Machaerus, and when you visit Machaerus you can see the hilltop where Herod had his palace.
Since you’re not gonna go, here’s a picture, alright? You see this little road right here, it goes around the back, so this is the hilltop fortress where Herod had his palace, Machaerus. Here’s the view from the palace. It is kind of beautiful, if it’s air conditioned. Here’s the view from Capernaum.
Jesus is at the beach.
Jesus is sitting out under a cabana somewhere. Jesus and his guys, they’re hanging out, John the Baptist is in the desert dungeon, and he had been there over a year, probably closer to a year and a half when he finally has had enough, and he calls the guys in who were bringing him food. See in the dungeon they didn’t feed you. You just had to have friends to bring you food.
So about a year and a half later, he finally, ’cause he keeps hearing these rumors about Jesus, and he’s like, “What about me? Have you forgotten your blood, your cousin? Our moms know each other, you remember that thing where I announced you?”
So he sends these guys, and a year and a half after he’s been wasting away in the desert, Jesus is up there under a palm tree and they find him in Capernaum where he moved in. They say, “Hey John has a question are you really Jesus? Are you really the one? Should he be looking for another one? He’s beginning to have his doubts, and dude, we’re not gonna tell him about all this, okay? ‘Cause he’s already discouraged.” And Jesus says, “Yeah, here’s what I want you to tell John. I want you to tell him, I am the one. I want you to tell him about all the things I’m doing for everybody else. I want you to tell him about all the people I’ve healed, and I want you to tell him about the lame walk and the blind see. I want you to tell him that prisoners have been set free, figuratively, uh, maybe you shouldn’t tell him that. I want you to tell John that, ‘Yeah, yeah, you can keep believing in me,’ tell him because of all the things I’m doing for everybody else.” And there is our life, isn’t it?
The reason I tell you that, is because when you’re hanging out in Machaerus and you’re wondering where Jesus is, Jesus can still love you and Jesus can know exactly where you are, and Jesus can know your name and not love you any less and not be any less active in your life. He did it for John the Baptist, the greatest man on the planet, and he can and he may be doing that for you. Now here’s the fascinating thing, this is why I love to read the Bible. Right after these guys leave, to go back to tell to give John the message, Jesus says the most interesting thing. Here’s what he said, “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” This is a powerful, powerful, statement. This is an admission of guilt. “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” In other words, “Blessed is the one who does not interpret my silence as absence. Blessed is the one who when I do certain things or don’t do certain things or don’t answer certain prayers or don’t come through or don’t speak or don’t change circumstances, Blessed is the person that trusts me and believes in me and follows me in spite of me.”
“Blessed is the person that continues to trust me even when I don’t seem to be acting on their behalf, just like John the Baptist.” In other words, don’t interpret God’s silence as absence. Jesus knew all about John. Your Heavenly Father knows all about you. You can bank on it. The other story, the only reason I bring up this next one, this is a really familiar story, but what’s cool to me is that it actually happened right in the spot where John the Baptist used to baptize.
So some time goes by, John the Baptist is either still in prison, or maybe he’s already died. He’s been beheaded because, Herod beheaded John the Baptist. He never was released, he never was set free. And so, in the very spot where John the Baptist use to baptize, Jesus shows up and he begins teaching and people who had heard John preach and teach said, “This guy is amazing. This is the guy that John the Baptist told us about. So Jesus is teaching there, and He’s sitting around one day and a man runs up out of breath, and he says, “Master, catch my breath, Lord the one that you love is sick.” Now think about this…
If somebody walked up to you or ran up to you and said “Hey, the one that you love has just been in a car accident”. Who would you think of? If you have kids, you’d start with your kids, ’cause they didn’t say the one that loves you, it’s just the one you love, okay? So, the one that you love… And they’ll love you eventually, okay. The one that you love… Or you might think of your husband or you might think of your wife, but if somebody walked up to you and said “The one that love you is sick.” I mean that’s a really small circle of people, so this guy doesn’t even use a name. He says, “The one that you love is sick.” Now, who’s he talking about? Who knows who is he talking about?
Yeah, Lazarus. Now, this is what’s so interesting. Jesus loved Lazarus so much, all they had to say was, “The one that you love is sick.” So what would you expect Jesus to do when he finds out someone he loves is sick? I mean, come on. Strangers touched Jesus and they were healed. Jesus healed all kinds of people. Didn’t know their names, didn’t know their stories, didn’t know if they were sick because of something they had done. He just healed all kinds of people. Now somebody he actually knows is sick.
Now, Jesus loved Martha, that’s Lazarus’s sister. And her sister, and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was. When Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick… In fact, when you read the story in John 11 it’s interesting. All the guys get up, Jesus says, “Sit back down.” “Aren’t we going?” Jesus says, “No, we’re not going. We’re gonna wait.” “But the one you… ” “I know, he’s sick. We’re gonna stay here”. “Why?” “‘Cause I’m up to something you don’t understand.” God’s gonna do something nobody anticipates. “Lazarus can handle it. Mary and Martha can handle it, they’re gonna hate me.” And they did. “They’re gonna be mad at me,” and they were. “They’re gonna misunderstand me,” and they did. “They’re gonna judge me,” and they did.
Jesus said, “It’s okay, sit back down.” And Lazarus got sicker, and sicker, and sicker, and sicker and he died, and Jesus knew his name. And he loved him. Don’t confuse God’s apparent absence for apathy.
Now, this message isn’t like, “Oh, I’m so glad you told me that. I feel so much better, I don’t even need to come to the rest of the series, I’m like I’m good to go now.” I just want… So this is important. I just wanna create a category for you to understand, that your unanswered prayer does not mean God is uninterested. You and some of the finest people who have ever walked on the planet, and some of the people that God has used in the most unique way, you have something in common.
And God’s silence, is not evidence of absence; and his apparent absence is not a reflection of apathy. And how do we know that? Because of the story of John the Baptist, and the story of Lazarus, and the story of others. There is a category, where we feel abandoned and we’re not abandoned. There is a category, there are seasons of life, when God seems silent and still and he is neither silent, nor still. But I love these words. Jesus said, “Blessed is he, blessed is she, who does not stumble, who does not lose their faith on account of me.” And that’s why we’re gonna talk about this for the next few weeks.
So, to wrap up, let’s go back to what we said in the beginning: “I’ll never be happy again,” that’s not true. “Nothing good can come from this,” not true. “There’s no point in continuing,” not true. In the midst of the in-between time and “In the Meantime” situations and circumstances of life, we quickly lose three things: Our joy, our hope, and our sense of purpose. But I have some great news for you. Based on the accounts of people in the New Testament, and based on the accounts of people that you know, and that I’ve met, and based on the story that you’re gonna hear in just a few weeks as part of this series, you can restore and have restored your joy. You can regain your hope, and you can regain a sense of purpose.