If you were in prison, surrounded by armed guards and deprived of your freedom to come and go as you pleased, you would probably say that you had a problem—or even several problems! You would most likely feel that the best solution for the problem would be freedom! When the apostle Paul found himself in that situation, he didn’t see it as a problem at all. Instead, he saw it as God’s divine appointment for his life. He considered the privilege God had given him to defend and establish the gospel (Philippians 1:7). He considered the opportunities he had been given of sharing Jesus Christ with the palace guards and with his fellow ministers in the city. In chapter 1 we mentioned Paul’s reaction to his imprisonment. He was rejoicing because he knew God was using him even in prison. Perhaps the best point of view with which to face problems is to see them as opportunities to exercise faith, to practice trusting the Lord, to prove God’s great faithfulness, and to be proved by Him. Your Christian faith is made stronger when you work together with the Lord to find solutions to life’s problems. He does have the right solution for every problem! In this chapter we will consider some Christian principles for problem solving. When you follow these principles, you can expect God to work with you, and you can expect to work through every problem with joy and victory!
Start With a Christian Approach
Two Important Questions
Recently I heard about a young couple who had decided to get a divorce. When they had married, they were both dedicated Christians who faithfully attended their church, read the Bible, and prayed together. But as he got more and more involved in his work, and she became occupied with the two children that came along in the first four years of marriage, their lives became too busy. First their daily habit of reading the Word and praying together dropped off, and gradually they found more and more reasons to stay away from church.
Quite naturally, when problems began to creep into their marriage, they were not spiritually prepared to deal with them. Even though they were well aware of what the Bible taught in matters of faith and conduct, they were not willing to practice this teaching. They made up their own minds about the solution to their problems. Christian friends tried to persuade them to work on their relationship and not seek a divorce, but they had made their decision. They didn’t want to hear what God’s Word said about divorce because hearing it might affect their decision (see Mark 10:2-12; Matthew 5:31-32). They went ahead with the divorce, and exchanged one set of problems for some worse ones.
By choosing a way to solve their problems which was contrary to God’s revealed will as given in His Word, this young couple deprived themselves of these blessings:
1. Divine strength to work through a problem until it is solved.
2. Peace which comes from obedience.
3. Direction from the Holy Spirit so that God’s will can be known.
4. God’s power to bring an unexpected or even supernatural answer to a problem.
This young couple is an example of people who had the wrong answers to two very important questions I ask myself often, and which I want to share with you. They are:
1. Do I really want to know God’s will about this problem?
2. Am I willing to follow God’s will when I know it?
If, when you ask yourself these two questions, you cannot answer a firm yes, then you need first of all to spend time in spiritual preparation, asking the Lord to make you willing to say, “Yes, I want to find AND carry out God’s solution for my problems.”
Spiritual preparation is of great importance to successful problem solving. A time of stress is the time to increase your devotional prayer and Bible reading, not to decrease it. Solving a problem in a Christ-like way is not something we can decide to do at the moment the problem occurs. Problems may occur suddenly and need immediate action. A wise Christian will maintain an attitude of spiritual readiness with his heart and mind continually open to guidance from the Holy Spirit.
The apostle Paul gives some helpful instructions in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, 21, 22: “Be joyful always, pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances. . . . Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.”
Spiritual preparation should include these activities:
1. Have a regular time of Bible reading, meditation (thinking about what you read), and prayer every day. Open your mind to what the Bible teaches. Allow the Holy Spirit to direct your thoughts.
2. Listen to scriptural teaching from your pastor and other Christian teachers.
3. Determine in your heart to consider every problem in terms of what the Bible teaches about it, even if the scriptural solution seems very difficult to follow.
Spiritual preparation in advance will help you to know God’s will; it will give you strength and courage to act upon the best solution; and it will keep you from making decisions that would bring disaster.
Avoid Wrong Reactions
Spiritual preparation will help you to reject and avoid certain common but wrong ways of dealing with problem situations. Many of these wrong ways will fit under one of these categories: anger, retreat, and human effort alone. Let’s consider each of them briefly.
Many people who are wronged or offended have a first impulse to react in an angry or aggressive way. This can take many forms: anger aimed at other people, at God, or at our circumstances; accusation, or placing the blame on someone else; and even revenge. When we are hurting, it is easy to want to hurt the one who caused the pain. This is not the way Christ taught us to react, but it is a common fault. Christ’s way is this:
You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. . . . You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:38-39, 43-45).
Actually, when we turn our anger over to the Lord, we can trust Him to take care of us. In Romans 12:19 the apostle Paul tells us, “Never take revenge, my friends, but instead let God’s anger do it. For the Scripture says, ‘I will take revenge, I will pay back, says the Lord’” (TEV)
Christ is the perfect example of one who was “unoffendable”—that is, He did not allow Himself to become offended when He was treated wrongly. He never reacted in anger. As He hung on the cross looking down upon the Roman soldiers who had beaten Him, spit upon Him, and nailed Him to the cross, He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). If you will refuse to be offended or to react in anger when someone mistreats you, you will experience real joy to know that you have come through the trial with a right attitude. This will strengthen you so that when the next offense comes it will be easier to face it without anger. Being “unoffendable” takes prayer and practice, but what a blessing it is when you can look back and say, “I’m so glad I didn’t react in anger, but I was able to show love to the one who tried to offend me.”
Retreat, or withdrawal, can take many forms. Sometimes it means running away from a problem, looking for a hiding place. Some people escape reality by losing themselves in drug addiction, in alcoholism, in seeking worldly pleasures, in overeating or overwork, in religious fanaticism, or in other ways. You can hide behind almost anything to avoid facing the truth. (There is, of course, a constructive kind of withdrawal also, when a Christian might choose to leave a situation to avoid a problem.)
Retreat sometimes takes the form of physical escape. I know of one young woman who was not married and still lived with her parents. She began to worry that she would never marry, and would soon be responsible for the care of her aging parents, while her married brothers and sisters would not have that responsibility. Soon her feelings of self-pity and bitterness caused her to pack all her belongings and leave home without letting anyone know where she was going. Another form of retreat is withdrawal. A widow I know of refuses to leave her house except in emergencies, and has stopped seeing her family and friends since her husband died. She is very lonely and unhappy.
Human Effort Alone
I have saved this self-help response until last because it is not all negative. God has made the human will a powerful, positive force which is able to rise above life’s difficulties in a remarkable way. If there were nothing to “positive thinking” the non-Christian world would never be able to survive. But to trust in human will-power as the main resource for handling life’s problems is certainly not the Christian way! God’s intent is for His children to face their problems in the power of the risen Christ, and to use their problems as opportunities for Him to reveal His power and grace. So in considering reactions to avoid in dealing with problems, it is important to remember not to try to solve them by your own human efforts alone, but take them to God in prayer!
There is no problem too small to take to the Lord. When I am driving my car and am pressed for time, with many errands that must be taken care of, I even pray for parking spaces! Is this foolish? No! God is the Grand Creator of the universe, but He is also the God who knows when a sparrow falls to the ground, and who numbers the hairs on your head (Matthew 10:29-31). He cares about even the little problems in your life, and He wants to help you. Therefore, the most important thing you can do about solving life’s problems is to follow the advice of the writer of Proverbs 3:5-8. Read this Scripture, then select the best answer to the following questions. It may be easier for you to take your little problems to the Lord than to trust Him when you are confronted with a problem that seems to have no solution. This is God’s opportunity to work a miracle in your life—His power is unlimited when you learn to commit every thing into His hands, and He will never disappoint you! (See Ephesians 3:20; 1 John 5:14-15.)