Strength for Today, Hope for Tomorrow

Holding onto God When Life Falls Apart

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Pastor, Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Sometimes it feels like life is falling apart.

Sometimes it comes crashing down in a moment of tragedy. Sometimes it slips slowly through your fingers, like when your health deteriorates or your marriage stagnates.

“I often misinterpret the hardships of my life as evidence that God is against me.”

Since our twin sons were born six years ago with a condition called nemaline myopathy, I’ve become familiar with the anxiety, helplessness, and disorienting feeling of falling apart. It felt slow and gradual when ultrasounds progressively revealed something wasn’t right with our boys. It felt sharp and crushing when I heard the panic in my wife’s voice over the phone. “It’s happening,” she cried. “Isaac’s dying!”

What hope, what help, what grace does God offer that can hold us together when it feels like life is falling apart? I have found that God himself holds me together as I cling to what his word reveals about who he is and how he works to redeem fallen people in a broken world. One of the places I find this grace is the exodus story.

God Sees Our Suffering

In Egypt, the Israelites were ruthlessly afflicted with backbreaking slave labor. Circumstances beyond their control made their lives bitter (Exodus 1:11–14). In their agony, they cried out to God for relief. In response, “God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel — and God knew” (Exodus 2:24–25).

God heard. God remembered. God saw. God knew.

Then out of the burning bush, God told Moses, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them” (Exodus 3:7–8).

God saw. God heard. God knew. And God came down to deliver.

When it feels like life is falling apart, it’s tempting to believe that God is distant and disinterested in my plight. But knowing the character of God is a deep comfort. Not only is God omniscient, but he is good, and he is willing and able to deliver.

We Often Misinterpret Our Pain

However, the first time Moses and Aaron approached Pharaoh with God’s command — “Let my people go!” — the result looked nothing like deliverance (Exodus 5:1). Rather than freeing God’s people, Pharaoh made their work harder and their lives even more bitter (Exodus 5:9).

When their suffering intensified, the Israelites misinterpreted their circumstances as evidence of God’s absence (Exodus 5:20–21). Even Moses was perplexed and “turned to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all’” (Exodus 5:22–23).

“God heard. God remembered. God saw. God knew.”

Fast-forward several chapters. When God finally brought his people out of Egypt, he specifically directed Moses to turn back and encamp by the sea (Exodus 14:2). Why would God lead his people into a corner? Exodus 14:4 says, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.” It was God’s intention to display his glory to his people by bringing Pharaoh against them and delivering them at the last moment.

But Israel didn’t break out in anticipatory praise and eager expectation of this display of God’s glory. When they saw over six hundred chariots from the strongest army on earth bearing down on them, fear gripped their hearts. And once again they interpreted their situation as evidence that God meant to do them harm:

The people of Israel cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” (Exodus 14:10–12)

Just like the Israelites, I often misinterpret the hardships of my life as evidence that God is against me. Such wrong thinking about God inevitably results in sinful attitudes and actions. When my life is falling apart on the outside, the default response of my flesh is to fall apart on the inside. Anxiety. Despair. Fear. Anger. Bitterness. Just like the Israelites, I am prone to think hard and bitter thoughts toward God when I can’t see a way out.

God Always Works for Our Good

The very circumstances that Moses and the Hebrews understood to mean that God was working against them were actually the very circumstances in which God was powerful at work for them. He was actively laying the groundwork for a monument to his glory that would be the joy of his people for generations.

When Pharaoh increased their workload and made their lives miserable, God was at work. When Moses complained, God answered, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh” (Exodus 6:1).

When the people railed against God at the Red Sea, they failed to see that God was at work in their circumstances, not simply in spite of them. And though they impugned God’s motives, they received this comforting word:

“Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” (Exodus 14:13–14)

I can never rely on my finite, emotional, human perspective. The very events that I misconstrue to mean that my life is falling apart are likely the groundwork God is laying for another monument to the glory of his redeeming grace.

“We often fail to see that God is at work in our circumstances, not simply in spite of them.”

Unlike my fallible feelings, this is reliable grace from God that holds me together. I know it’s true because fifteen hundred years after the exodus, God did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us (Romans 8:32). Jesus’s own disciples misinterpreted the crucifixion of their Lord to mean the death of their dreams. Perhaps if they had discerned this pattern in the character and ways of God — that God loves glorious rescues — they wouldn’t have been so slow to believe that the Son of God had to suffer and die before rising to rule and reign (Luke 24:25–27).

So, the next time it feels like your life is falling apart, fear not, stand firm, and brace yourself to see the salvation of the Lord. You have only to be silent while God works for you. The exodus is an example and Jesus is the guarantee that God can and will work all things for the good of those who love him.

is a pastor at Emmaus Road Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. His wife is Barbara and their son is Caleb.