Your crisis is coming. If it hasn’t already, or if you’re not in the middle of one right now, your time will come.
And not just one crisis. In his severe mercy, God punctuates our lives in this fallen age with crisis moments of varying degrees, designed for our everlasting good. For thousands of years, God’s people have known “times of trouble” and “days of distress,” sometimes all too well. And the same continues today. Our Father never promised that our being his would mean we won’t have ours.
Over and over again, the Scriptures describe the faithful not as those who never saw trouble, but as those who cried out to God in their crises. The men and women we remember as models faced the greatest times of trouble and days of distress. And God heard their cries for help. He was not deaf then — nor is he today — to the voices of his people, however great or humble, especially in crisis.
In Trouble and Distress
Our God is not just the God who speaks — remarkable as that is — but also, wonder upon wonder, the God who listens. When James calls us to be “quick to hear” (James 1:19), he calls us to be like our heavenly Father. We have a Father “who hears prayer” (Psalm 65:2), who attends to the voice of our pleas (Psalm 66:19). Our God not only sees all people, but sees his own in a special way, as those to whom he has covenanted himself in love. He hears his people with the ear of a Husband and a Father. He is not bothered or annoyed by our petitions — especially not in trouble and distress.
The Psalms in particular celebrate God’s eagerness to hear and help his people in their “day of distress” and “time of trouble.” David testified that God had been to him “a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress” (Psalm 59:16, also 9:9; 37:39; 41:1). He knew where to turn when crisis came: “In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you answer me” (Psalm 86:7). “He will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble” (Psalm 27:5). And David knew where to point others: “May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble!” (Psalm 20:1). “The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble” (Psalm 9:9).
And not only David, but the psalmist Asaph as well: “In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord” (Psalm 77:2). God himself says, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (Psalm 50:15). Far from being bothered by our cries for help, God is honored when we turn to him with our burdens. Perhaps most striking of all is the refrain of Psalm 107 (four times): “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress” (verses 6, 13, 19, 28). This is not just Israel’s story over and over again, but ours as well.
Our God is at his best in our crises.
Behold Our God
This is who our God has been from the beginning. This is the God of Abraham and Isaac. And this is who Jacob, in his many ups and downs, his many strivings and wrestlings, found God to be: “the God who answers me in the day of my distress” (Genesis 35:3).
The God of Jacob is not like the false gods of the surrounding nations. He is not like the household gods of Jacob’s uncle, Laban (Genesis 31:19, 34–35). And not like the Canaanite gods Jacob’s sons would have found as they plundered Shechem (Genesis 34:29; 35:2). Other “gods” do not answer in the day of distress. They are simply made by human hands and imagination. They are baby toys. They don’t answer. They do not act.
Jacob’s life was a succession of crisis moments, and God proved himself faithful as the God who hears and answers. Just as God saw Leah in her crisis (Genesis 29:31) and remembered Rachel in hers (Genesis 30:22), he sees, he hears, he remembers, he cares. He is the living God who wants us to turn to him, to wrestle with him (Genesis 32:22–28), not just our circumstances, in our time of crisis. This is the God of Jacob — and the God of Nahum (Nahum 1:7), Obadiah (Obadiah 12, 14), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 16:19), and Hezekiah (Isaiah 37:3).
His Perfect How and When
In our finitude and fallenness, it may seem to us, at times, that God is hiding himself in our moments of crisis (Psalm 10:1). But if we come before him humbly, not cherishing sin in our hearts (Psalm 66:18; also 1 Peter 3:7), we can expect that “truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer” (Psalm 66:19). And yet God hearing doesn’t mean he always — or even typically — answers how and when we expect or want.
When we remember our God as the one who answers us in our time of crisis — as he did for Jacob and the psalmists and the prophets — we don’t assume that he answers how we would do it or exactly when we would want. Jacob, for one, spent twenty years under the tyranny of Laban, and his son Joseph spent thirteen years going down, down, down — sold in slavery, falsely accused, thrown into prison, then forgotten — before God raised him up. Our God works in his “proper time” (1 Peter 5:6), in his “due season” (Galatians 6:9).
He indeed will hear us and answer — but often in ways, and in timing, we did not anticipate. His ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8–9), and he does “far more abundantly,” not less, than what we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20). In Christ, we do not assume that our God isn’t seeing us, or hearing us, or answering because our lives are not unfolding according to our plans. Far from assuming he’s not answering, we want to receive his severe mercies as his continuing to do his surprising work of unfolding history, and our lives, not according to human expectations, but according to his infinitely majestic plans and purposes. Which we see so clearly in the crisis moment of God’s own Son.
His Greater Answer
“He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled” (Mark 14:33). There, in that garden of crisis, Jesus “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (Hebrews 5:7). God heard his Son in his time of crisis, but he didn’t let the cup pass. He didn’t spare him death. God hearing and answering Jesus didn’t mean salvation from the cross, but salvation through the cross.
His Father “saving him from death” could have meant protection from death. But his ways were higher. He did far more abundantly than we are prone to ask or think. The rescue God gave his Son this time was not protection from death, but sustaining grace through death. Then resurrection. And unless Jesus comes back first, we all will face death soon enough, and God’s answer to us will be sustaining grace in it, and resurrection on the other side.
Our God is too real, and too big, and too glorious to work according to our human expectations and convenient timetables. He loves us too much to regularly do just what we want when we want in our times of crisis. But he always sees us. He always hears us. And in Christ, he will answer, not necessarily when and how we want, but with the answer we need, painful as it may be for now, for our ultimate good and glory.