We cannot escape problems in this life. They could be painful, stressful, or simply inconvenient. It doesn’t really matter what the problems are — that’s all relative to each person. The question we often ponder, however, is: who causes those problems, and why? Many, without fear, blame God. Others, simply shift the blame to Satan. After all, God can’t be behind our painful problems…can he? I suggest God is not the author of our problems, but He doesn’t let them go to waste either. We don’t see the big picture while we’re experiencing a problem, but there’s something bigger happening.
Here are 21 ways God allowed and used ‘problems’ in the lives of people in Scripture:
1) To provide for us (Adam and Eve)
It was never God’s intention for Adam and Eve to sin, but it happened. Temptation got the better of them and their relationship with God changed. But God didn’t ignore them. Instead, within the consequences of their sin, God provided a way of survival. (Genesis 3)
2) To make a promise (Abraham and Sarah)
God made a covenant with Abraham to make a great nation! The only problem — Sarah was barren and Abraham was old. God used the problem to make an impossible promise that was eventually fulfilled through Isaac. (Genesis 15-18, 21)
3) To provide future help (Joseph)
From being sold into slavery by his brothers to being put in an Egyptian prison, God’s favour didn’t seem very strong. But through God’s gift of dream interpretation, God led Joseph from slave to leader. His rise to power allowed for him to provide for his family (any many others) during a great famine. (Genesis 37, 39-48)
4) To prove our faith (Job)
Job was ‘blameless and upright.’ Satan thought if he took all of Job’s blessings away, that Job would curse God. God allowed the problems in his life to occur in order to prove Satan wrong. Job wasn’t perfect, and his life was full of concern and doubt, but his faithful response to his problem was clear: ‘The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ (Job 1-2)
5) To prove Himself (Moses)
The Israelites found themselves in Egyptian oppression after Joseph. God raised up Moses to lead them away from Pharaoh’s abuse. God used the problem to prove Himself to Moses (who wasn’t a ‘natural’ speaker) and to Israel by leading them out of Egypt. (Exodus 1-15)
6) To teach us to trust His promise (Joshua and Jericho)
Joshua led the people into the Promised Land. One problem — it was occupied by a great city (Jericho). The Israelites had little to no battle resources, so the only thing they could do was trust God’s promise was true and that He would provide a way. And He did. (Joshua 2-6)
7) To deepen our hearts (David)
David faced many life threatening problems — a lion, a bear, a giant, a jealous king, the Philistines, and even his own arrogance, which led to adultery and murder. All the while David became the king everyone loved and was the only person referred to as ‘a man after God’s own heart.’ He certainly wasn’t perfect, but every problem he faced brought him closer to God. (1 & 2 Samuel; Acts 13:22)
8) To show His power (Elijah)
As a true prophet of God, Elijah went head to head with the prevailing worship of Baal. He was out numbered and unsupported, but God brought fire from heaven to prove to everyone that He is the one and true God. (1 Kings 18)
9) To help us change direction (Jonah)
Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh, so he ended up in the belly of a fish for three days. Jonah reluctantly shared God’s message with Nineveh and they all believed. If God didn’t allow Jonah to be swallowed by a fish, Nineveh wouldn’t have heard the message.
10) To wake us up (Israelites’ exile)
After Solomon (Israel’s third king), everything went downhill. Eventually Jerusalem was captured and burned and the survivors were exiled to Babylon. Sometimes God uses a problem to wake up a nation so that they turn back to Him. (2 Chronicles 7:11-22; 36)
11) To deepen our devotion (Daniel)
While in exile, Daniel remained faithful to God, but his circumstances were problematic. He was told to eat unclean food and to stop praying. But instead of simply following, Daniel choose to remain clean, and fervently pray. As a result, his problem led him to a deep devotion that included dream interpretation and prophecy. (Daniel)
12) To help us see our purpose (Esther)
A plot was made to destroy all the Jews. Esther (a Jew) was recently made queen and she had the potential of influencing the king in order to stop the plan. She was apprehensive, because of the king’s view of women, but allowed the inspiration of the problem to reveal her purpose — she was queen ‘for such a time as this.’ (Esther 4)
13) To inspire action (Ezra and Nehemiah)
You never know what you have until you lose it. Jerusalem was destroyed and the people were in captivity again, but God used the problem to inspire Ezra and Nehemiah to rebuild the temple and city walls. (Read the story of Ezra and Nehemiah together)
14) To teach us to depend on His Spirit
There will be moments when we have to defend our faith. The good news — we don’t have to worry about what to say because ‘the Holy Spirit will teach [us] in the at very hour what [we] ought to say.’ (Luke 12)
15) To prepare us for ministry (Peter)
Peter found himself in a position of leadership within the early church. He allowed his mistakes and problems to prepare him for ministry. His biggest problem – denying he even knew Jesus. But his story doesn’t end there. It becomes a a beautiful example of how God prepared him for the journey ahead. (Matthew 26:30-35, 69-75; John 18:10)
16) To spread the gospel (Stephen)
The early church grew rapidly — largely because of the passion of early Christians. It was that kind of passion that forced Stephen to defend his faith. His passion led to martyrdom, but the message gained fuel! (Acts 7)
17) To keep us humble (Paul’s thorn)
Paul had a ‘thorn in his flesh’ that wouldn’t go way, no matter how many times he asked God. Why would God allow this problem in his life? ‘To keep me from becoming conceited,’ Paul wrote. His problem forced Paul to remain humble, knowing that God’s ‘grace is sufficient…for [His] power is made perfect in weakness.’ (2 Corinthians 12)
18) To restore community (Onesimus and Philemon)
Onesimus (a slave) was on the run, and Philemon (his master) deserved his service. Paul recognized the problem, and suggested the solution — for Onesimus to return and for Philemon to welcome him. They might have had different status in their culture, but they were both one in Christ. God used a problem to restore community. (Philemon)
19) To help us become mature
No matter what the problem or challenge may be, the ‘testing of [our] faith produces steadfastness…that [we] may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.’ (James 1:2-4)
20) To teach us to trust God’s will
Problems and difficult times happen, but we need to ‘entrust [our] souls to a faithful Creator’ while walking though those problems. God sometimes allows us to experience pain to help us understand that journey of faith. (1 Peter 4:19)
21) To keep us in God’s love (Jude)
Problems force us to stay close to God. Jude wrote, ‘build yourselves up in the faith, pray in the Holy Spirit, and keep yourselves in the love of God.’ Problems come knocking, but God’s love remains true at all times. (Jude 20-21)
We may connect some of these reasons to our current situations; but it’s also possible that we can’t. We don’t know how God is working through every situation because we’re living them out in real time.
We know the outcome of these 21 examples because we can read the whole story.
There is one common denominator though — God is helping us, not hurting us. Even in the extremity of being exiled, the Israelites were given a message of hope:
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
We often ask, “Where’s God in all of this?”
But God hasn’t left us. He’s right in front of us.
Maybe we should be asking, “What is God trying to teach us?”
God is in control over every situation, so let’s trust Him and allow God to use the problem we are facing.
How have you experienced problems? How do you respond to God and those around you?
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