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Alasdair Groves

A Host of Scriptures for Every Hardship

December 1, 2023

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Hi, my name is Alasdair Groves. I am the host of Where Life and Scripture Meet, a podcast of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation, or CCEF for short. We do this podcast for the same reason we do everything else at CCEF, which is to restore Christ to counseling and counseling to the church. For more information about CCEF and our ministries and resources, you can check us out at ccef.org.

I imagine many of you are familiar with the experience of finding Scripture a little dry or boring or just like it's work to sit down and engage with the Bible. There are, of course, many remedies to that, many things that we're told to do and some level of doing it even when you don't feel like it, of course, it's going to be significant and important. That's certainly going to be an ongoing challenge for most of us. It certainly is for me on a regular basis. What's worse to me than this sort of just mundane, generic, typical struggle that we mostly have to open the Bible because we feel like doing something else—what is worse is the places where the Scriptures feel impersonal and distant. Especially in times of severe struggle or trial or just times when life is hard is when we most need Scripture to be alive. When you are most thirsty, you most need the drink, the glass of cold water.

So I find myself especially just eager to see how can Scripture be the most vivid, the most vibrant, the most “take it down deep into your soul,” especially when things are hard. What does it look like to apply Scripture, to bring it home in the midst of trials? So Scripture, it is the Word of God. It is useful for teaching. It is useful for building up. It has all of these wonderful, rich, built into qualities and we especially want to see that happen when life is at its trickiest, when we're most aware of our need because we ourselves are doing things that are foolish or wrong or just pulling away from the abundant path of life that the Lord lays out, or when the things around us are especially hard, when the heat baking down on our lives is especially strong. So our time today is going to be really simple.

We're just going to say, how can we remind ourselves of just the wonderful breadth and personalness of how Scripture gets into your life and moves around? I remember in seminary, early on in the very first biblical counseling class I ever took, my professor gave us an assignment. I can't remember what the issue on the table was. I think it was probably anxiety, something like that. And there was maybe, I don't know, 80–100 students in the class, and he said, "Okay, think about anxiety and the struggle of the fears that can beset us. I want everyone to go home this week and think of one verse that especially stands out to them as helpful and bringing something from Scripture to the struggle of anxiety. Come back next week, and everybody hand in the verse with one paragraph writeup of why you think it would be helpful."

And so we came back the next week, and let's say there were 80 students in the class, there were probably 65 different verses that people brought that each one being, "I think would be really helpful," or "This has been really helpful to me," or "I've seen this be really helpful to someone else." And it drove home the point, I mean, obviously thinking through “What's a helpful verse for anxiety?” was helpful to each of us individually, but there was something about having all of those assignments come together and to hear those verses read out. And I think he even wrote them up on an overhead, back in the old days when people still used overheads. And you could just feel, oh my goodness, Scripture comes from so many different angles to everything that we experience. Indeed, all of Scripture really is fruitful for the healing and the maturing of our souls.

My initial pitch for this particular podcast episode, which you'll be glad to know, was shot down. I'm sparing you; the team we have here is good and they're kind and merciful people. I'd initially wanted to do an 11 episode series taking 6 books of the Bible per episode and picking some issue, like anxiety or sexual temptation or anger, and just walking through and saying, "Okay, let's find one thing in each book of the Bible that speaks to this particular issue." And I tried to tape a test episode and it just got so convoluted and dull, and you're glad you're hearing this one, not that one, I can assure you, but the heart was right. I want us to have that experience I got to have of just, "Wow, Scripture comes from so many different places. The Lord has so many different good words for his people."

Now in a moment I want to go and do this and say, "Okay, let's pick something and let's just see a couple of different angles." Just awakening in us the reminder, the hope, that Scripture is going to meet us exactly where we need to be met. And it can and will do that in so many different ways. But let me just give one sort of orienting thought, a pair of questions, that I'm hoping can help us to move toward Scripture and toward an application that meets us wisely, that meets us helpfully in whatever we're facing and that helps it come to life. That helps us be in the right place for it to come to life is maybe a better way to say it. There's a ton of ways that Scripture applies to our lives. It helps us with our direction, it helps us with orientation, it helps us with perspective, with motivation, with insight, with understanding “What does the path of life look like? What is the point of life? What is our purpose?” And on and on and on.

Let me give just two questions that I find helpful in coming to Scripture, especially if you don't have a lot of theological education or maybe your knowledge of the Bible is still fairly young or fairly fresh and you haven't done a lot of study. The most helpful questions I find of coming to Scripture in a way that doesn't rip it out of context would be, “Who is God, what is he up to, and what does he care about? What is he doing?” So to “Who is God and what is he up to?” That's question one. And question two is very simply, “Okay, then what does that mean for me? What's the implication of that for me?” If you do study theology, I'm at least paralleling or overlapping with the idea of the indicative and the imperative.

The idea that Scripture, whenever it gives an imperative, a command, a direction, a "Hey, this is what you should do," there's always with it, often explicitly, but always at least implicitly, some reason for it grounded in “Who is the Lord God? What is he like? What is his character? What are his interests? What is his heart? What are his attributes? What's his power?” So “Who is God and what does that mean for me?” Those are the questions I want in our minds as we turn to think about how does Scripture move into our life in the midst of struggle. I'll pick a struggle. So it's December, holiday time and there's a lot of different angles we could go in terms of understanding particularly what are the struggles, what are the trials of a holiday season, right? Holiday time is cheerful and cheery and candy canes and music and hot chocolate and all the rest, visiting family, often in many cases.

And I was just thinking a bit about my own experience over many holidays that often while there are good times, there are often also disappointments. I often find that the holidays are something I can build up to be more than they end up being. And that I certainly, of course ... There's a huge spectrum there from, "Oh man, it wasn't quite as good as I was hoping" or "The things that I was all hoping would happen didn't all happen all the way," of course, to then a more significant and difficult end of the spectrum where in fact you may even be dreading the coming of the holidays because of the hardship that you're feeling, because you've lost family members this year or you lost a family member many years ago during the holiday season, or there's a different stage of life you're in now and the holidays recall to you what used to be, and that was a sweeter season in your life.

So there's a huge variety of ways in which there can just be a deep disappointment mixed up in the midst of the holidays of Christmas and New Year's and time off or not getting time off as much as you'd hoped, etc. So I'll speak to this just personally from my own end of the spectrum, which is much more the easy light end the spectrum of, "Oh man, things just don't always turn out as good as I was hoping." And for me in particular, the place where that can happen is, I am a rest person, I'm a relaxation person. One thing my wife and I realized at some point, probably a decade or so into being married, is that when we talk about rest, we mean different things. She means having fun and I mean relaxing. And again, there can be an overlap between the two, but she wants to go and do something fun and have a good time, and I want to sit on the couch and do nothing.

So you'll not be surprised to learn that my wife is a better person than me. But the point I'm making is simply, it's so easy for me to say, "Okay, finally at last I have this time off and I have the chance to really rest and sit and sleep in and there'll be time to just catch my breath." And anyhow, as you can imagine, especially life with three kids and travel to see family, that often is not exactly how it plays out. So let me just fire off a few different verses here that would speak into my situation. And I'm going to move from, I would say the best known, well-known verses to the less well-known, just trying to demonstrate that you could, in principle, flip open any page of the Bible and you're going to find something helpful speaking into your life, your situation, your world.

If you will sit and listen with it, if you'll consider, if you'll open your heart and your mind and see more of who God is and what he's up to and what he's doing, and secondly what that means for you. So let's start in James 1:2. A well-known verse, I would say probably an infamous verse, because it is not only wildly counterintuitive, but for many of us it can be rather discouraging. So let me in all these go quite briefly, but let me just make a couple of comments. James 1:2 reads, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds." What? James, what are you talking about? Why would I feel joyful when I'm experiencing trials of various kinds? Why is this the first thing out of your mouth after the initial greeting and giving grace from the Lord?

And the answer is he knows he's being counterintuitive. He knows he's saying something radical here and the directive here, right, of count it joy, there's no mention in this verse thus far of the Lord. And even in the following verses where he explains himself, he says, "Because why are you to do this? Because you know the testing of your faith produces steadfastness." And then he says, "Let steadfastness have its full effect that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." And goes on to talk about asking God for wisdom and help and so on. Who is God and what is he up to? At the very least we can say this: the only possible way that James can encourage us to count sufferings and trials and hardships as joy, the only reason there can be any hope in this, is because it tests your faith and produces steadfastness and builds up your faith. This is the testing not in the sense of like, “Well, let's check and see where you are.” This is testing in the sense of refining, building up, putting to the test and making stronger, disciplining, self-discipline, that sort of thing.

The only reason he can possibly say that is if we have a God who really is worthy of our faith, who really is working in the midst of our trials, for whom us being comfortable, us having happy, easy lives is actually less important than the good, deeper things he's working in us through hardships. So if I don't get as much downtime as I'm hoping for the last week of December which—spoiler alert to me, we've got some travel planned and it might not be the easiest and there might be some drywall I've got to put up over the time I'm off and so on. So if I don't get as much of that part of what I need, part of the goal of my heart coming before the Lord is to say, "Okay, Lord, I know that even when things are hard, when I'm disappointed, when I'm discouraged, you can work in me something deeper and more important than simply me getting as much relaxation as I might want."

And of course, we could also look at like, “Is actually all that relaxation and atrophy into the couch, is that actually what's best for you? Will you actually even feel good if you get what you think you want?” A whole interesting and further set of questions. But I want to have the help from the Lord to just say, "Okay, Lord, who are you and what are you up to? You're a God who works in our hardships. You're actually up to something good." I can actually treat it with joy, not in the sense of like, "Yay, this is fun," or giggle-giggle, laugh-laugh. But in the sense of there is a depth of hope, a joy that I can have in the face of hardship because the Lord is active. That is the necessary implication about who he is, that he's here and he's working on something even more important than me being comfortable. So that's thought number one in my application for that. What's the implication for me is, I can trust, that I can say, "Okay, in this hardship, I'm looking for where the Lord might be working in me, what he might be doing in me beyond making me comfortable."

Okay, let's flip back a few pages. Let's look at Philippians 2. Also a fairly well-known passage. I won't read all of the passage. Let me see if I can actually open to the page here. There we go. I'll start in verse 1: "So if there is any encouragement in Christ," and we could stop right there, right? Is there any encouragement in Christ? That's a pretty broad category. We could spend quite a while unpacking the encouragement we have in Christ. "Any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy..." Do we have any of those things from the Lord? Yes, yes we do. And we can talk quite a lot about them. "Then complete my joy by being of the same mind," and essentially goes on to say, "Love each other. Don't be selfish, don't be conceited. Don't be proud in humility. Count others more significantly than yourselves. Look to their interests." And you're to have the attitude that Christ Jesus had, which is being a servant, not grasping onto his comfort, not grasping onto what makes him comfortable and easy, but rather coming down, taking on a servant's nature, becoming human, dying a death on a cross in misery. So the “Who is God? What's he up to? What's he doing? What matters to him? What character about him do we see? Who is he? What's he like?” He is a God who has delighted to serve, who loves us so much that he would give of himself. And the implication of that for me is that I am utterly, beyond anything I could ever imagine, more loved and more served than I will ever be able to love or serve others. And that actually frees me and empowers me and motivates me to love others. I can never out-spend God. I can't out-give God, I can't out-love God. He—in his depth of affection for me, his comfort to me, his love for me—has come and poured himself out as a servant.

So implication for me: disappointing times, potentially. It could be so easy for me to put my interests ahead of the needs of others and to forget the love of God for m, forget that he spent his comfort for me and that he's bringing me home to comfort with him internally and that he's providing a thousand comforts every day that I easily take for granted and miss. It's easy for me to put my selfish desires, my comfort desires ahead of the desires and the needs and the concerns of those around me. So what I want is to say, "Okay, Lord, because you so love me, I can actually focus on being a blessing to my family, my friends, and those I see in the course of the time off rather than getting done as fast as I can whatever it is I have to do so I can get back to rest and relaxation and comfort-seeking time.”

Okay, let's flip yet again. Let's go to Psalm 56:8. David writes, "You have kept count of my tossings, put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?" Many of us have heard this verse, but many of us have not. I love this verse. There's just something so tender about this image, this language of storing our tears in his bottle. That idea of every tear we cry is precious to him, is seen by him. He's not telling us to buck up and get over it. He's saying, "I see you. I've kept count of your tossings." The only one who possibly could is God, right? We don't even keep count of them. We just know that we're tossing at night and having trouble sleeping or weeping, often privately, right? Who likes to be seen while they're crying? I'm not the hugest fan of that and neither are you. That's my suspicion. God sees and every tear he understands, and he knows where it comes from and he feels compassion on you in the midst of it.

He has written in his book a record of every little hurt, every quiet tear that's trickled down our cheeks. Not to mention every sobbing, weeping storm. That's who this God is, the God who calls us to obedience, and to faithfulness, and to serve and to count our trials as joy. He is the God who tenderly sees every tear that falls. He may be up to good in our lives through the hard things, but he is not ignorant of the hard in the midst of that good. And he sees and tenderly looks after us in the midst of that. And the implication of that for me is that when our basement floods, or I have to sand some drywall, or a kid gets sick or I get sick, or I'm not sleeping well or whatever the case is, we get stuck in traffic on the New Jersey turnpike and the trip takes way longer than it's supposed to… The God who sees us knows our every frustration, our every tossing, our every tear, and I can rest in that. I can know I am loved and seen, and even as this hardship is one I can grow through. These irritations—he gets that they are genuinely frustrations, and even the little things—and that's what I love about this image of every tear in a bottle. It's not just like the worst possible suffering you could ever go through. Yeah, I suppose God has compassion on that. It's saying every last bit, every piece of your sufferings is known to him and he has compassion on it and he's walking with us through it.

Last but not least, let's look at Numbers 12:1–2. So the people of Israel are coming out from Egypt heading toward the promised land, and they're still wandering in the desert and all kinds of stuff has been going down and the people have just been especially whiny, for lack of a better word. Although, boy, can I sympathize with them in what they're dealing with, of the want of good food and more variety in their diet. I would be easily swayed by that particular struggle. But you get then in verses 1 and 2 of chapter 12. Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses, in this particular case because he’s married to a Cushite woman, and said, "Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?" And the Lord heard it. Now, the particular issue of the Cushite woman and the requirement to marry within Israel rather than outside and the complications of Moses's background having had to flee are not where I want to focus. What I want to look at here is simply Miriam and Aaron and their heart. Here they are. They've been brought out, they've been delivered. Their brother is leading, they've each been given really significant roles, and it's not enough for them. There's this grumbling temptation. They look at God and say he is not good enough. So who is God in this passage? Well, God is the God who brought them up out of the land of Egypt. The Ten Commandments begin, "I am the LORD, your God who brought you up out of Egypt."

They've been delivered from slavery. They're being cared for in the desert. They've just experienced miraculous provision day after day after day, with him feeding them with manna. Then he's brought all this quail to their camp, an answer to the grumbling of the people about not getting the right kind of food. He is a God who showed himself to be powerful. He is extremely passionate for the love and worship of his people. So we see a God who is not to be trifled with and a God who has showed unbelievable levels of rescue and care. And they look at all the blessing and all the provision and they say, "I'm jealous. I'm annoyed. I'm envious of Moses, that he seems to have this special place. What's wrong with us? Why can't we have more power, more prestige, etc." So they look at God's provision and they say, "Hasn't God given us too little? Aren't we getting the short end of the stick? We don't have it as good as someone else."

Oh man, I can so easily relate to that. So here's God dealing with these grumblers to whom he's already given so much. He's even forgiven Aaron for the situation with the golden calf, which certainly was an offense deserving of death in the old covenant. People were to be put to death for less than what Aaron does here. It's awfully, awfully merciful that these people are even drawing breath as they keep walking through the desert. And the Lord's mercy is that they continue to after this chapter, and he is a God who has provided and he's a God who cares deeply that we walk with him. And the implication for me is I don't want to be like Miriam and Aaron, blind to the provision and the kindness of God and simply thinking, "I want more. I want things my way." So this vacation, when I'm not getting all the things I want, it'll be so easy for me to become resentful, to become self-pitying.

And I don't want that. I want instead to see the bigger picture, see the Lord's provision, be aware of his kindnesses. That is my hope in the face of this particular chapter, saying, “Who is he and what is the implication for me?” Will I be trying to think about all four of these verses and a bunch of others every day over vacation? No, I probably shouldn't do that. Like anything else in life, you want to take things one at a time. It's good to focus on one thing, not on ten things. But find one thing anywhere where life is difficult. Anywhere where there is a trial, especially where the trials are at their hardest, we want to know that Scripture will meet, will find, will come and get us, will reach out and grab us and draw us home, because of the power of the Spirit to work in and through the Word as he has promised.

And I'll close by saying this: there's a huge value, as I imagine most if not all of you know, in having a private time of devotions, whether it's the morning, the evening, lunch, all the above where you read the Bible by yourself and pray. That is of enormous value and I would highly recommend it. It's been enormously a blessing to me and so many others whom I have seen and admired and known.

But that is not the only place where the Lord is working through his Word very directly in our lives. And so especially if devotions are hard, if you're in a season of that dry, dusty, or it's feeling especially distant, let all the other places come to you as well. Let Sunday's sermon, what passages are preached on, let that be your reflection, your meditation. Go back to it, take notes, go back to your notes, flip the passage back open, and remember the words. Listen to the sermon again. Let the words of what you've heard dwell with you richly. What have been your favorite passages historically? Have you memorized them? Have you memorized other passages? What do you have just floating around in your mind already? Could you bring that back toward the front? Could you brush up on that? Could you memorize something new?

Are you ever someone who works your way through a Bible study or a devotional or a commentary? There's lots of great stuff written by your brothers and sisters out there trying to help you make connections within the Scriptures. And that can be a really helpful thing to do. Again, by yourself or with other people as well. There's all kinds of study you can do. Or even just reading good Christian literature that's going to be referencing different pieces of Scripture. Or you can be listening to audiobooks if you're not a big sit down and pour your eyes over a page kind of person. Last but not least on my mind would be even just letting the church bulletin be a place where Scripture goes; hang on to the piece of paper and take it home.

And as there are readings from Scripture on a Sunday or as there are passages quoted, even on the front of the bulletin, the church verse or whatever it might be, the core values on the back page, just letting the Scriptures that are just right there in front of you—the call to worship—letting those things walk with you through the course of a week from one Sunday to the next, and be the place where the Scriptures are coming and you're asking, "Okay, Lord, who are you? What are you up to? What is your character? What are your interests here? And what does that mean for me?" So brothers and sisters, Scripture speaks relevantly to our real problems, and it's my prayer and my hope that you and I find that especially close and especially vivid this coming season.

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Alasdair Groves

Executive Director

Alasdair is the Executive Director of CCEF, as well as a faculty member and counselor. He has served at CCEF since 2009. He holds a master of divinity with an emphasis in counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary. Alasdair cofounded CCEF New England, where he served as director for ten years. He also served as the director of CCEF’s School of Biblical Counseling for three years. He is the host of CCEF’s podcast, Where Life & Scripture Meet, and is the coauthor of Untangling Emotions (Crossway, 2019).

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