When God doesn’t change your circumstances

May 7, 2018 by Katy Epling

“I just want to be shallow and happy!” I cried. I was sitting at dinner with friends, a much-needed break in a hard season. I was still struggling with my son’s Down syndrome diagnosis, still stumbling through depression. Overwhelmed by the seemingly insurmountable obstacles in my life, I knew God was whispering, “Just keep going. I will get you through.” I knew on the other side of this mountain I would find peace, grow spiritually, and come to a deeper relationship with the Lord … but in that moment, I didn’t want it. I didn’t want to be deep and joyful—I wanted to be shallow and happy.

I always think of Hagar in Genesis 16 when I remember that hard season. Here she is, fleeing from Abram and Sarai, exhausted, frightened for her life and that of her unborn child, not knowing what to do next… when God shows up. Literally. The pre-incarnate Christ stands before her. Can you imagine her thoughts? I have to think she was imagining relief, an end to her struggles, a miracle. But no. Instead, the angel of the Lord tells her to go back. Return to the hard path she has been walking for years, where she serves a woman who resents her and her plans to take Hagar’s son as her own. God appears to Hagar not to free her from her circumstances, but to encourage her to see them through.

Does this sound familiar at all? You’re in the middle of a hard season, and you are done. Exhausted. You can’t take another step. And God meets you there, giving you a glimpse of the peace that can be yours if you just trust Him. But instead of offering radical deliverance from your circumstances, He encourages you to keep walking. “I am not removing you from this,” He explains, “but I am here with you in the middle of it.”

Obedience to God is hard.

Sometimes we know exactly what God wants us to do, even if He doesn’t appear before us like He did for Hagar. We know we need to keep following Him up those mountains, but we don’t always want to. Like a kid not getting his way on the playground, we want to shout, “I’m taking my ball and going home!” We think it might be better to forego “deep and joyful” for “shallow and happy.”

Unfortunately, “shallow and happy” is an illusion. I knew that even when I made the declaration that night to my friends. Turning our backs on God doesn’t mean we won’t suffer, it just means we face our trials alone. When God doesn’t offer us radical deliverance from our circumstances, He offers us something even more miraculous: His presence. “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me,” Hagar declares (Genesis 16:13)… and then she returns to Abram and Sarai. Because she knows that she is far better off in the middle of a hard place with God than anywhere else without Him.

In the middle of my anger and depression, I could have walked away from God, furious He had allowed such a trial in my life and my son’s. It wouldn’t have changed my circumstances, but it would have changed me. I would have faced the path isolated and afraid. My family would have been affected—and infected—by my attitude.

But my loving friends prayed with me that night. They reminded me that I was not alone. They encouraged me to keep following God, keep seeking Him, keep obeying Him. Eight years later, I can tell you the road I walked was not always easy, but I never walked it alone. I have a greater peace and a deeper relationship with the Lord than ever before. And it was worth it.

What is God calling you to today? What are you facing that makes you want to flee? Whatever it is, remember that you are not alone. Hear God’s words: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrew 13:5). Keep walking. Take the next step, knowing that He is with you. And then the next. Obedience to God is hard, but facing life without Him is hopeless.

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