When Your Bad Day is a Good Day

What makes a life, day, or event ‘good’ or ‘bad?” We categorize so many things into these two buckets, often without thinking. With spiritual discernment, we may see some things that seem good are bad, and some bad things are ultimately good.

Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun. So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity. Ecclesiastes 11:7-8

Rejoice in the good days

Life is generally good and so if we live many years we should enjoy the days. For the Christian, each day is a walk with God. Even challenges strengthen us:

  • James 1:2-4: Trials teach endurance and perfects us
  • 1 Peter 1:6-9: Trials refine and strengthen us
  • 1 Peter 4:13-14: Persecution can inspire rejoicing

Trials and persecution grind down and embitter the disobedient. The way of the sinner is hard, Proverbs 13:6, 15.

Dark days will come

There will be dark and difficult days. Even the trials and persecution that strengthen us will darken our days. Paul learned to endure times of plenty and want through the strength of Christ, Philippians 4:10-13. Anyone can be content in the good time; the challenge is being content during difficult days. According to this passage Paul “learned” to be content regardless of the circumstances. God’s wisdom must change our perspective. As my friend Barry Hudson wisely said, “you want God to change your circumstances, but God wants to change you.”

Learning contentment

See God’s hand in all things

In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him. Ecclesiastes 7:14

Meditate deeply on the passage above. God may not cause events but He is in control and allows them to happen. Paul encouraged the Romans that all things could work out for their spiritual good, Romans 8:28. Do we trust this or do we second-guess God’s management of the universe?

God may not cause events but He can help us turn challenges an difficulties into something good. We must let God’s word and faith do its work. These blessings do not come when we whine, complain, or give up.

God made Israel hunger then give them bread from heaven to teach them that “man does not live by bread alone” but by God’s word, Deuteronomy 8:3. Israel had an opportunity to learn dependence on God, prayer for daily bread, and trust in His care. bur responded with whining, complaining, and rebellion against God and Moses. They saw disaster when they should have been filled with home and trust.

We can rejoice, our faith can grow, and we will learn contentment if we respond to trials with trust.

Realize something ‘bad’ may be ‘good’

We are so quick to say that a day, event, or life is ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Consider this fable:

A farmer had only a son and his horse. One day the horse ran away. The neighbors pitied the farmer but he replied, “We’ll see, we’ll see.”

A few days later the horse returned with 20 wild horses that the farmer was able to tame, sell, and make a profit. The neighbors rejoiced and praised the farmer but he replied, “We’ll see, we’ll see.”

One day the horse kicked his only son and injured him so badly that he became lame. The neighbors were angry at the horse but the farmer said, “We’ll see, we’ll see.”

Soon war broke out and all of the sons of the village were taken to war but the farmer’s son who was lame, and all were lost in a terrible battle. The neighbors consoled the farmer that at least his son was still alive to which he replied, “We’ll see, we’ll see.”

We are quick to judge something as good or bad although we do not yet see how it ends! Once again, we see that even the trials and tribulations can create great positive changes that we would not have otherwise.

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

The affliction is working towards our glory, but if we gripe and moan about our affliction we will miss the blessing. We must look at the events of our life with spiritual eyes. We are poor judges of an eternal, all-knowing God. Will we take issue with God’s work in our life, Romans 9:19-23? Shall we put God on trial in our courtroom, Job 40?

Consider how something that seems bad might be very good:

  • Death on the cross resulted in a powerful resurrection and salvation open to all.
  • The persecution of the church scattered teaching Christians throughout the world, Acts 8.
  • Paul saw his imprisonment as an opportunity to spread the gospel to the guard and encouragement for other brethren to preach, Philippians 1:12-18.
  • Trials have the fruit of patience and perfection of character.

I’ve known people who lost a job. Was it a bad day? Many found more fulfilling jobs with better pay that they would have missed had they not lost their job. So, was it a bad day? Of course we sorrow as we do not know the future but we should trust that God cares for us and continue forward in hope.

Pray for vision

Life is good if we will see it. We need to pray for spiritual wisdom and godly vision to see the good in the bad and build our trust in God’s care. When Elisha’s servant despaired, being surrounded by the Syrian army, Elisha calmly prayed that God would open the servant’s eyes. When He did, the servant saw the Syrian army surrounded by the horses and flaming chariots of God, 2 Kings 6. We, too, can see the immediate enemy and forget the hosts of heaven that encompass them and care for God’s children.

Certainly, there will be events so tragic in our lives that we will anguish and strive hard to see any good. The vision may not come immediately and bittersweet rejoicing may be long delayed, yet the Christian can learn even in the worst situations. Christians have told me how cancer really taught them the value of a moment and deep faith and trust in God. Parents who’ve lost children have become advocates to save other children, comfort other mourning parents, and have learned profound compassion and service through the trial. These things happen to the faithful and the wicked but the faithful can learn and be stronger as the wicked become bitter.

Man pushing a giant, heavy stone, rock over the mountain. ConcepSome difficult days come from our bad choices. We may suffer great consequences of sin that endure emotionally and physically through our lives though we may repent with tears. Genesis tells us of Jacob who, for 30 years was hated by his brother for deceiving their father and stealing the inheritance, but himself was deceived by his father-in-law. His sons broke his heart by selling his beloved son, Joseph, into slavery but led him to believe that Joseph was killed by a wild animal. He had marital problems because of jealous wives. God blessed Jacob but he suffered a lot from poor decisions.

We may be abused or hurt by the wickedness of others. Joseph was almost murdered by his brothers who, instead, sold him as a slave into Egypt where for a time he was imprisoned on false charges. Yet Joseph trusted God and the family of Jacob was saved from a famine and he reconciled with his family

I have seen people in both situations rise above the evil and use the trial for good to help others avoid a sorrowful path or help those who have been hurt by evil people. Again, wicked people face the consequences of their actions or suffer at the hands of evil people. God’s people can learn from suffering, become stronger, and help others whereas the wicked often harden their hearts, become bitter and resentful, and lash out at others.

You cannot control what happens in life, but you can control how you will respond to it and what you will do with the experience.

“May this journey bring a blessing, may I rise on wings of faith;
At the end of my hearts testing, with your likeness let me wake.”
From “Jesus Draw Me Every Nearer by Keith and Kristyn Getty

Don’t Give Your Attacker Ammunition

How strange would this be? Some cops and robbers are having a shootout from opposite ends of a warehouse like portrayed in hundreds of TV shows and movies. Suddenly there is the sound of clicking and one robber yells to the other he is out of bullets. The other robber replies that he has fired his last shot. A police officer yells, “Here you go!” and slides a box of bullets down to the robbers. Foolish, yes? Yet Christians can sometimes give the enemies of Christ ammunition with which to attack.

Expect persecution

The Bible tells Christians to expect persecution. Jesus experienced it, warned His apostles it was coming, and they warned Christians who followed the truth to anticipate opposition and be amazed if it is not present.

  • John 15:18-25 – Jesus told the apostles the the world hated Him before it hated them because He told the truth and exposed its sin. The world would hate the apostles for their association with Him.
  • Matthew 5:11-16 – The Sermon on the Mount includes an admonition that believers are blessed when they are maligned and persecuted for teaching the truth and they share the fate of the prophets before them. Despite this, they should reflect God’s light and be salt and some would glorify God for this display of holiness.
  • Luke 21:12 – The apostles would be persecuted by governments and individuals.
  • 2 Timothy 3:10-13 – Christians will be persecuted
  • 1 Peter 4:12-19 – Those who suffer as Christians should not be ashamed of persecution but none should suffer for sinful actions.

Jesus, the apostles, and early Christians demonstrated grace and strength under the harsh hand of oppressors who ignorantly and hatefully opposed Jesus and those who followed His teaching.

  • Isaiah 53:1-9 – Prophetic anticipation of the persecution of Jesus
  • Matthew 27:13-14 – Pilate was amazed that Jesus did not revile His accusers.
  • 1 Thessalonians 2:1-4 – Paul and his companions preached despite conflict.
  • 1 Corinthians 4:9-13 – Apostles endured abuse and demonstrated how believers should respond to such treatment.
  • Matthew 5:44 – Jesus taught His followers to pray for their persecutors
  • Romans 12:12-14 – Be patient in tribulation and return blessing for persecution.
  • As previous passages taught, we must endure patiently and demonstrate trust in God and love for our enemies.

It is natural that Christians who imperfectly reflect Christ in a dark world, pursue holiness in a defiled society, and teach the truth in the midst of a web of lies and ambiguous beliefs will be persecuted. As Jesus said, we are not of this world. Though some will join with us, most will pity us, consider us a curiosity, while others will revile us and violently oppose us. Instead of retaliation, we must respond in love so that our enemies might see their dark hatred and perhaps glorify God. As Peter said, “keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation,” 1 Peter 2:12.

Arming our attackers

However, Christians can be guilty of supplying weapons to their enemies and hardening their hearts, not by brightly reflecting the light of Jesus but by practicing a worldly version of Christianity that does not reflect the self-sacrifice and holiness of Jesus and approaches the practice of faith, worship, and Christian community with political maneuvering, pettiness, and works of the flesh (anger, rivalries, dissension… of Galatians 5). Such actions confirm the cynicism of the unbeliever, reinforce their reasons for repudiating the faith, and increase their resentment of the interference of hypocritical Christians into their lives. Unbelievers can cite these encounters as reasons Christianity should be rejected.

On a flight from Tacoma to Dallas, there was a couple behind me talking to a friend. They were from a denomination and were talking about the political wrangling in their church and some related churches, disparaging the pastor, describing power struggles within the choir (?), and wondering where the young people were going (I had an answer!). These believers also pontificated on how some Old Testament accounts were obviously not accurate because “God is love” and some of the sayings of Jesus weren’t really accurate. I was glad the lady beside me who was obviously very worldly (her shirt indicated behaviors clearly condemned by Jesus) had her headphones in and slept the whole trip. I imagine if she heard such trash it would reinforce her desire to find fulfillment in the sensual passions of this world since, from this discussion, she could conclude that Christians are obviously political backbiters who don’t even believe everything in the Bible. Such ignorance about the scriptures and worldliness in the denomination would reinforce an unbelievers perception that Christians have nothing different to offer and they are a bunch of worldly hypocrites preaching from a book they discredit themselves.

Dirty LaundryLikewise, I’ve lost count of the times that Christians have spoken ill about other Christians on social media to be supported by unbelievers who demonstrate, by their comments, that such behavior represents their cynical dismissive view of believers. We will not help people wear robes of white when we air our dirty laundry.

Christians know things the world often doesn’t know

Christians are not perfect. We’ve all known the “holier-than-thou” believer who is quick to judge and slow to recognize their pride. But most Christians I have met are well acquainted with their faults and strive towards perfection in Christ. Until we are glorified we will be imperfect in our decisions and how we handle situations. For a people to teach and embrace grace, we need to show a lot more grace towards fellow believers. You will be hurt by others, not because they are Christians but because we are human. Christ tells us to try to work it out amongst ourselves. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul points out the shame that believers were taking other believers to court because of the impression it gave unbelievers and would prefer to suffer wrongdoing than to demonstrate such behavior before the world: “…but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?”

Not all who claim to be Christians will be saved.  The parable of the dragnet and the wheat and tares in Matthew 13 teach that the kingdom will be filled with wrongdoers who will be separated out in the judgment for their punishment. Some will be surprised in judgment that despite their actions that appeared righteous, Jesus will dismiss them saying He didn’t know them, concluding that not all who call Him “Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven, Matthew 7:21. Unbelievers often think that all Christians, regardless of their beliefs, are the same. We have to shine as lights even against those who claim to be Christians but whose lives do not reflect godliness. We should not give unbelievers another reason to dismiss Christ but provide a stark contrast between those who profess Christ and those who practice Christianity.

This world is not our home. When we seek to advance our cause through the political system and turn our local church into a place of power struggles, palace intrigue, and the satisfaction of worldly appetites we indicate more allegiance to this world and its ways than with our heavenly citizenship. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t vote but regardless of the laws about bathrooms and marriage, we can still follow the teachings of Jesus and teach others to do so as well. It is bad enough that local churches have power struggles but it is worse when they are shared in the local community. In our Christian fellowship, let us heed the words of Paul in Philippians 2: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…” Such behavior allows drives politics from the church building and pride and selfishness from the Christian’s heart.

Our brethren do much good despite their faults. This is the greatest tragedy of airing dirty laundry among brethren before the world: we don’t praise the great qualities of self-sacrifice, holiness, and loving service that characterize so many brethren. Remember, the unbelievers lump us together and will just discount such behavior as the rare deluded believer or the hypocrite who hides their duplicity very well. How often do you see people post on Facebook or mention in conversation about people who came afterwards to confess their wrongdoing, apologize for an insensitive remark or action, or declare that they misjudged their fellow believers? People see the sensational and miss the retractions or corrections, if they are even mentioned at all.

An appeal

Our relationship with Christ will incur the derision of unbelievers who do not care to investigate the truth or have been turned away either by its brightness or stumble having been offended by those who claim to be believers but do not live the word. We will not convince them as they are like those in the parable whom the truth has been snatched and it will not take root. But there is still hope for those who might consider the truth if they saw it in action.

Let us be sincerely devoted to the truth and holy in our lives (Titus 2:11-14). When there is conflict, let us take up the matter privately with our brethren our up the chain to the church (Mt. 18:15-17) but not into the public in plain site of unbelievers. When we highlight the failings of fellow Christians we do not draw them to Jesus, but provide more reason for their resistance to Him. We know that some who claim to be Christians will be lost but the world does not know this. We will be persecuted and attacked by unbelievers but let’s quit giving them ammunition.

Developing Focus and Flow in School Studies

Several months ago, my dear niece Kaylin was feeling overwhelmed with a lot of school assignments, tests, essays, papers, and book reports. I sent her the following which she said greatly helped her and others that she shared it with. If school work (or tasks at work) frustrate you, I hope the following tips will give you help. These principles are useful at work, managing a home, and even Bible study.
(Hat tip to David Allen and Getting Things Done book for teaching me many of these lessons.)

Organize your commitments. Make a list of all of your commitments–papers to write, test dates, and other assignments and sort the list  by due dates (earliest due at the top of the list).

Define tasks for “projects.” For term papers or assignments that require multiple steps to complete (going to library to get research materials, making outline, turning in first draft…), list the specific actions that you will need to finish the project. For example:

  • Get 3 library books on History of Spain
  • Read research materials
  • Make reference cards
  • Write first draft, etc.

Assign due dates to each action allowing plenty of time to do each task and complete the last task before the project due date.

Prioritize. Review the list of all steps (individual tasks and project steps) and list them by due date starting with the earliest due.. This will help you understand what you must finish first, second, third, etc. This will also assure you that you are doing things in the right order so you won’t stress while doing one assignment worrying that you should be doing something else.

Fighting Distractions

Background Noise. Turn on instrumental music (ambient music, classical, DJ/Dance…) to listen to while you work. Music with lyrics will be distracting as your mind tries to process the words while doing critical thinking. Your brain doesn’t have to listen to or interpret non-vocal music. Vocal music is fine when doing non-analytical processing (crafts, building projects) but there is a cognitive cost of listening to lyrics while trying to process words in a textbook or writing.  You could also use a sound machine that generates peaceful sounds like ocean waves, crickets, or running water.

Restrict Interruptions. This means no texting or phone calls. Put your phone on silent and in a drawer to remove the temptation.  Also, unless you are doing Internet research do not have your browser open. If you are doing research, make sure social media networks are off (not in a hidden tab…OFF) and chat is unavailable. This will help you get in “the zone.” Interruptions throw off your “flow” and work takes longer to complete. Also, having these available makes it easy to “just check that message, updates…” when you run into something that is not much fun or difficult–this is evil. Put a “do not disturb” message on your door.

 Focused Work. Set a timer for a specific period (~30-50 minutes) and do NOTHING but task #1. Try to complete the task within the time (but don’t stress if you don’t–make it a game to see how much you can do in the allotted time). Do not stop the work–no message checking, cleaning your room, NOTHING!!–until the timer goes off. If the only timer you have is on your phone, go to http://www.e.ggtimer.com and set the time you want to study. A kitchen timer would be best since you don’t have to leave the Internet up or have your phone (with text alerts) visible.

 Break/Reward. When the timer goes off, set the timer again for 5-10 minutes (less if you have a lot of work to do. While standing and stretching text, check social media, or whatever. As soon as the timer goes off (IMMEDIATELY), shut the devices off and close social media. Do not “check one more message…”

Resume. Reset the timer and either finish the assignment you started or begin action #2. Continue this until you complete all the actions that you need to complete today. Some tasks will have to take place tomorrow but your priority list will give you the confidence that you know what must be done today and what can wait for another day. This also gives you peace when you finish today’s task list you can enjoy time with friends or doing something you enjoy knowing that you have planned time to complete your remaining assignments on time.

Other tips and observations:

  • Don’t work to perfection–especially at first. For example, if you have a writing assignment, just get the ideas on paper as they flow and go back and correct grammar, and reword things later. This is important for two reasons. First, if something bad happens that leaves you with little time you still have something to turn in instead of no assignment. Two, it relieves the stress when you have a lot of assignments, knowing you have something to turn in and can return to the assignment later, if you have time, to improve the work quality.
  • “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” Don’t spend so much time on formatting, appearance, etc. that you have little time to do other assignments. Do the best you can and when (if) you have time, go back and make it prettier, more profound, etc.
  • Be careful with sugary foods and energy drinks as they can give you a quick high but you will feel more tired (and hungry) when you quickly crash. Drink lots of water and snack on nuts, fruits, and other foods that will give you sustained energy.
  • Pray to God for strength and thank Him for the opportunity to be in school and ask for His help since you want to use your education to His glory.
  • For lengthy reading assignments, learn to scan well and note important parts. Most of books are fillers with nuggets of info. Some speed reading techniques will help you harvest the important information without being caught up in unnecessary info.
  • For test prep: Try to make as many mental images to help you remember lists and associate terms and ideas. The more outrageous the image the better. Have a buddy quiz you and quiz them. Learn memory techniques.

Now available! A PDF copy with the basic guidelines to post by your study area to remind you of the study principles. Download here.Developing Focus and Flow in School Studies