Don’t Judge Me For My Troubles

A woman looking out window judge not
You’d rather listen to the Keep On podcast of this post? Great! Here’s the link.

Our family has faced our hardest times yet these last few weeks. We’ve “expanded our circle” of helpers and burden-sharers. It’s humbling. Yesterday my hot-mess sobs stopped the ladies’ prayer time cold. But today I want to share the good coming out of all this: I’m learning not to judge.

Judge Not

Oh, sure, I already knew that. To walk a mile in his shoes; and take the log out of my own eye first. But through this backdoor way, the troubles of the last months are peeling off judgmental layers I didn’t know I had.

I’m embarrassed to admit it. “Judge not” feels, now, too obvious to state. But what is plain as day to some is as clear as mud to others. In some dark nights this truth did not shine brightly. It was not front and center when my friends passed through the valley.

This post is for you who are in a world of hurt. And to you who aren’t in that painful world now, but love someone who hurts. I want you to know this when you are tried and I want you to remember it you see hard times come to others, so that you don’t assume you know why trouble came.

Don’t Assume

It is both massive caution and immense relief. So, what is this brilliant truth?

Troubles are not proportional. Life is not a formula. We must not assume that suffering and prosperity are distributed in proportion to the bad or good that a person does; that if we live by faith and obey Christ, health and ease will come, and if we don’t, it won’t.

The truth is, we do not always reap what we sow.

Job didn’t. But Job’s counselors gave him many iterations of “you reap what you sow,” to explain his trials. None of them helped. Every one hurt.

We hear it in the words of Job’s friend Eliphaz. First Eliphaz observes, “As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same” (Job 4:8). That’s the assumption. Job suffering must be a punishment for some secret sin. For, as Eliphaz adds, “The wicked man writhes in pain all his days” (Job 15:20). Then he gets even more direct, “Is not your evil abundant? There is no end to your iniquities” (Job 22:5).

You reap what you sow is biblical (e.g., Galatian 6:7, Hosea 10:13, Proverbs 1:31). As a general principal, you reap what you sow is true. But sometimes what looks like a harvest is not a harvest.

Job knew this. He is right when he says, “The evil man is spared in the day of calamity” (Job 21:30). And the suffering of Job was the suffering of “a man blameless and upright; who feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1).

No, life doesn’t work like this. Trouble is not a proportional thing.

Don’t Judge That Way

None of us like to admit to being judges like this, judges with evil—or at least self-protective— thoughts. But I know I have been. I fall back into thinking that if I live by faith, I will be spared of trouble on earth. But God is teaching me to stop judging myself and others that way.

Because the earthly outcome of genuine faith is not the same. That’s just not how God does it. God does not spare his children from suffering. The good die young. And the good die old. The length of man’s days, and the trouble he sees in those days, does not reveal his faith.

In other words, don’t judge a man’s faith by the suffering in his life. Don’t judge your sister’s faith by the hardship she endures. Please don’t assume the cancer came because she ate junk food or the prodigal was formed by parental indulgence. Don’t assume the conflict means she was controlling and the lost job means he was a poor worker.

No, trouble is not so simple, not so black and white.

The Rule, Not The Exception

We see this truth throughout Scripture. Righteous (and afflicted) Job is Exhibit A, blameless (and long childless) Zechariah and Elizabeth are Exhibit B, Apostle (and thorn-poked) Paul is Exhibit C, the man born blind (and it was not for his sin or his parents’) is Exhibit D, and John the Baptist (among those born of women no one was greater and still Herod took his head) is Exhibit E. The list could go on and on.

In other words, we can’t judge a man’s faith by the trials in his life. God’s ways are higher. For who has understood the mind of the Lord? Ours is a non-coddling God. Aslan is not a tame lion. Our God is in the heavens and he does whatever pleases him. He has mercy on whom he has mercy and makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust. His righteousness endures forever.

In the end—hallelujah and amen— there is a crown for the righteous. Heaven awaits. Then we will see Jesus face to face.

But we make a grave mistake if we think we can judge the genuineness, purity and depth of one’s faith by looking at the trials they experience in this life.

My friends, this should not be. The end of Hebrews chapter 11 tells us why. It does not permit us to believe that a life of faith guarantees pain-free.

Both By Faith

Hebrews 11:32b-39 makes the case.

32 For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—33 who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection.

36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, mistreated—38 of whom the world was not worthy— wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. 39 And all of these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised…

Both were commended. All of these are in the “Hall of Faith.”

Both Were Commended

By faith some conquer kingdoms and some are tortured to death. By faith some become mighty and some are stoned. And by faith some raise godly sons and daughters and some endure prodigal wandering.

Our faith is not the ultimate factor in whether we suffer or prosper. It’s not even the determining factor in if our own kids follow Christ. God is. His sovereign will and wisdom and love determine what I face.

Our friends may not understand. They may still judge. Our trials might be too traumatic for others to share. I get that too.

But in the end, isn’t this truth comforting? Our faith is not the final determiner of our trials. Some shut the mouths of lions, some were sawn in two. And both were commended for their faith.

Swords And More Swords

God can and does deliver his people by faith. He even performs miracles for them. God changed the normal way things work so that his people were helped or rescued from danger or death. We see this in verses 32-35a. But God doesn’t always rescue the faithful from suffering.

Some escaped the edge of the sword (verse 34) and others were put to death with the sword (verse 37). And both are commended for their faith.

In other words, having genuine faith in God is no guarantee of comfort and security in this life. John Piper says, it is crucial that we see the agonies God’s people sustained in verses 35-38 come by faith, not because of unbelief. He draws this out of the text in two ways.

First, in verse 33, notice that the list begins with “. . . who by faith conquered kingdoms . . .” and without a break continues into all the miseries of verses 35-38. It is by faith that “others were tortured . . . and others experienced mockings and floggings…” All this misery is received and endured by faith.

The other way to see this is in verse 39 which looks back on all the sufferings of verses 35-38 and says, “And all these suffering people], were commended through their faith.” In other words, the suffering and destitution and torture of God’s people in verses 35-38 are not owing to God’s disapproval. Rather God’s approval is resting on them because of their faith. The miseries and sufferings were endured, not diminished, by faith.

John Piper,Faith to be Strong and Faith to be Weak

Don’t miss this faithful, suffering friends: God’s approval is resting on you because of your faith.

Keep on.

Why We Judge This Way

I told my parenting woes to a friend this week. Then I confessed that I assumed. I assumed that behind all troublesome teens were problematic parents—over-controlling, hypocritical, neglectful, or some vile combination.

Then she said something surprising. Insightful, really. She said, she thought we did this formula thing not so much because we’re smug, judgmental beasts but because we want to protect ourselves. Because we want to believe that if we do X, Y, and Z this thing that happened to her won’t happen to me.

I think she’s absolutely right. I think we look for the flaws and the sins in those suffering as a way to sort of insulate ourselves. If I don’t parent like that, my kids won’t turn out like that. Or if I don’t eat like that, I won’t look like that. If I don’t do that, I won’t get cancer. We desperately want to know the cause.

Because if we know the cause, we avoid the cause. If we can reduce life to a formula to protect ourselves and those we love. Or so we think. While there may be some truth to each of the examples above—healthy lifestyles do promote health—they always break down. And the formula approach shatters in the context of faith and troubles.

In shards and smithereens, it shatters.

Joyful Suffering Shatters Assumptions

A new friend joined our Thursday ladies’ life group a couple months ago. Jan was there for the hot-mess, sob-fest. She heard me get so choked up I had to pause the prayer.

But you’ll never guess what Jan said.

She said thanks.

When I first met you, you seemed so strong and joyful. I assumed your life was all good. But now I hear this side and see your tears and you still have joy. Thanks.

Many things in this life are utterly opposite from the way they seem. For we wouldn’t think God would send his beloved to the wilderness to be tested or let his closest friends suffer persecution and martyr’s deaths. We wouldn’t think.

My trials are tiny compared to the persecution described at the end of Hebrews chapter 11. But I’ve read about the life and death trials of God’s children and I’ve seen a few friends suffer to death and I know they have heard, “Well done, good and faithful.”

Your Gift to the World

Which takes me to John Piper’s last point on that message from the end of Hebrews 11.

“When the precious children of God are permitted to suffer and be rejected and mistreated and go destitute, God is giving a gift to the world. He is gracing the world. He is shedding his love abroad in the world. Because in those who suffer and die in the unshakable assurance of hope in God, the world is given a message and a picture: ‘The Lord himself is better than life. Turn, O turn and believe.’

Who would have thought it—that the suffering are a gift to the world?”

“There is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil” (Job 1:8)? Who described Job in such glowing terms? Again, who commends “all of these” for their faith?

So judge not.

When a man is right with God, God puts his honor in that man’s keeping.

Job was one of those in whom God staked His honor, and it was during the process of His inexplicable ways that Job makes his appeal for mercy, and yet all through there comes out his implicit confidence in God.

“And blessed is he, whosever shall not be offended in me,’ said our Lord.

—Oswald Chambers, Baffled To Fight Better

Power Outage, Power Source

Power source melting candle on table, dripping wax looks like man

When’s the power coming back on, Mom? the 13 year-old called from somewhere down the pitch black hall.

By 8 o’clock, I hope. For Roboman from the electric company had assured me of that time when I called at 4:45.

Well, Roboman was wrong. He was off by almost a day. We did homework by candlelight, ate sandwiches by candlelight, played euchre by candlelight and by the time we brushed our teeth by flashlight, all the candles had burned out. In the morning my husband rigged up a generator to power the fridge. By noon—guess what?— the gas had run out too.

It all got me thinking as I ran along. Admittedly, I may have been thinking more since—for the first time in months— I ran without my (stone-cold dead) phone. And as I did, I grew downright glad. I was the gladdest jogger around because I have a power source that will never go out. It will never burn up, fizzle out, or run dry.

Do you tap the same source?

Our Power Source

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises… 2 Peter 1:3-4a

Candles burning in dark power outage

Our power source is a divine. Do you see that in verse 3?

Divine power is available to us through knowledge. Namely, it comes through knowing Jesus Christ, who even as I type, is upholding the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3).

Have you ever stopped to think about this?

Every day God lights up the Milky Way with yottawatts of power and he never has an energy crisis. And the amazing thing is that His divine power- this power- is available to you. If you are a Christian you have power to progress. This power is available to you! Before you were a Christian you lived you lived your life in the condition of a power cut. You were powerless to please God. But now you have power to progress.

Colin Adams, The Pilgrim’s Progress

All this power is on tap for us who know Christ. And He never has an energy crisis.

No Charge, But You Must Plug In

Here’s more glad news: we don’t pay for this rich source. It is given to us. Gratis, granted. That means it’s a gift.

Knowing God and trusting his precious promises is, if you will, the electrical wire that empowers our life and growth in godliness. In case you wondered, the growth doesn’t come to us when we work like a hamster in a wheel, Kevin DeYoung explains. But neither does our growth in godliness come while we stand still as if riding up an escalator.

No, we cooperate with him. We work out because God is at work in us (Philippians 2:12-13). A vacuum won’t work unless you plug it in. A car won’t run unless you turn the key. We access, if you will, divine power through the twin outlet of our knowledge of him and our trust in his promises.

Promises like it is more blessed to give than receive, and like we will reap a harvest if we don’t stop doing good. Promises like these empower me to give and do good when I’d rather give up and receive.

So God gives the power, but we turn the switch. The car and vacuum are a gift and the outlet and gasoline are too. But to make progress in godliness, we get in the car and push the gas pedal. We make every effort to supplement our faith (2 Peter 1:5). And here’s another empowering precious promise: our effort in this struggle is productive and good.

But that’s not the point of this post. This post is simply to remind you, as I reminded myself in the dark, that we have a power source that will never go out. Oh yes, the people walking in darkness have seen a great light.

Knowledge is Power

Knowledge is power. First Peter 1:3 says that his divine power comes to us through our knowledge of Jesus. We know the gospel, that we are more sinful than we realize and God loves us more than we realize. Both. That while we were still in our sins, Christ died for us. If we know Jesus Christ we won’t be powerless. Growth is possible. Hope is possible. Change is possible.

But we won’t have this power without knowing him. So we press on to know him. In His power, we press on.

That’s why my three non-negotiables for health in any fraught—or not—days stay the same. Especially #3: Go hard after God. I mean seek His face. I mean listen to him speak in his Word. Put down your phone, turn off the news, and press on to know Him.

I have too many impoverished friends. Friends, we will never—never— experience divine power if we don’t know Jesus Christ. Oh you might be a “strong person” and carry on with lots of props. But when the cords are pulled— when your health fails, your nation fractures, and your family is all a shambles —what then?

What is your power source? From whence then comes your help?

God Wants To Be Known

Our help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He is our keeper (Psalm 121). God’s power never goes out.

Advent Candles burnt to nothing

But we unplug from the power of God when we leave our Bibles on the shelf. Going about life without striving to know God is like unplugging from the power source then complaining that we feel anxious and alone in the dark. Complaining about God being silent when your Bible is closed is like complaining about not getting texts when your phone is turned off.

Tim Challies puts a bow on it: Apart from this, speaking by his Son, through his Spirit, in the Bible, God does not promise that He will speak in any other way

In other words, we can all believe that God will speak to us through the Bible. And all this JoyPrO stuff is about how God does speak and how when we listen we gain divine power when we seek.  

That’s the one thing. It’s the one habit I hope I never shed. Till kingdom come, I want to keep knowing Him and his power. Because all other powers, even the sun itself, will grow dark.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? Then Peter answers his own question: You ought to live holy and godly lives.

Don’t Make Excuses

So we’d best not make excuses. First Peter 1:3 doesn’t allow it. We cannot say, “If only I had more time or more money or a better church or better family I could be more godly and have a stronger spiritual life.” There is no good excuse.

Because God promises that you have ALL YOU NEED for life and godliness. Which means if we don’t have it, we don’t need it.

But we can’t expect God to give us what he did not promise us. He did not promise us the power to cure disease, or create world peace or even to change a child’s heart. But take his promises to the bank. If he tells us, Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you, believe it. Seek first his kingdom.

And keep seeking. His Kingdom and Himself. Don’t settle. Because Christ wants us to grow- in spiritual life and godliness.

Don’t Make The Fatal Mistake

Because God’s powerstore is always available through our knowledge of Him and of his precious promises, we can’t slack. I’ll leave you with C.S. Lewis.

I think that many of us, when Christ has enabled us to overcome one or two sins that were an obvious nuisance, are inclined to feel (though we do not put it into words) that we are now good enough. He has done all we wanted Him to do, and we should be obliged if He would now leave us alone. As we say ‘I never expected to be a saint, I only wanted to be a decent ordinary chap.’ And we imagine when we say this that we are being humble.

But this is the fatal mistake. Of course we never wanted, and never asked, to be made into the sort of creatures He is going to make us into. But the question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what He intended us to be when He made us.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 201-202.

The Father intended us to be remade in true righteousness and holiness, to be conformed to the image of Jesus.

And to that noble end, He freely gives us all the power we need.

 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being

Ephesians 3:16

Holding Out For A Hero? (Why I am and I’m not. But I voted.)

Author with I VOTED sticker, but not for a hero

Holding Out for a Hero is back on my playlist. This election season gets me belting it out with Bonnie Tyler. Where have all the good men gone? Isn’t there a white knight on a fiery steed?

Trump & Biden: Not My Heroes

Admittedly, this might feel like a bait and switch. Because you thought I’d back a candidate here and now. In fact, I did vote today. And if you’re still on the fence, here’s a voter guide.

But I’ll tell you the end at the beginning: my hope and my joy are not in a President. Why? Because the LORD is our Judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our King. He will save us (Isaiah 33:22).

That’s the main reason I’m not holding out for an earthly hero. But there’s another reason: I’m already blessed by heroes I know.

Heroes Among Us

And for the record, my heroes do need to be strong— and humble and joyful and meek. Even if public heroes are in short supply, they are out there. They share common traits. May I describe them to you?

You can recognize them both by what they do and what they don’t do.

Heroes Don’t Write Their Own Stories

Your eyes saw my unformed body; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were not one of them. Psalm 139:16


Heroes don’t write their own scripts. They don’t star in their stories. But with courage and grace, they play parts in stories they didn’t write. And they don’t begrudge the author.

My heroes are the ones who are not living their dreams. They are not the ones who pushed to the top and live they life they’ve always dreamed. It’s comfortable to live the dream. But it doesn’t make a hero to me.

Heroes are the ones who play their assigned part even when it is so hard. My heroes are Julia and Barb, Shari and Kate—but not Bill.


My heroes are the ones who go with good cheer to places they never planned. They have touched the bottom of the deep and can assure me, It is sound. These are my heroes. Not the ones who swimmingly make their way.

Real heroes embrace their place in Someone Else’s story. Often it’s a waiting stage. Like the string of Bible heroes from Noah’s ark stage to Moses’ wilderness stage and Daniel’s Babylon stage and Esther’s Persian stage. Not one of those heroes picked his stage. Sometimes it’s a moving stage. Moses speaks for them when he asks God, “Who am I that I should go?” (Ex. 3:11).

But real heroes stay or go depending on what’s written in the book, in the script. Real heroes play their parts.

Contrast Bill

Before his fall from grace, I remember Bill Cosby saying of his- to date, storybook- life- It’s as if I’ve written the script myself. Hold out past the ones who live their dreams and follow the script they wrote.

But search high and low for heroes who embrace parts they didn’t write on stages they didn’t select.

With Barb

Barb is 60-something, a friend of our family’s from way back. We reconnected at Grandma’s funeral. Barb’s got way more pep and way less gray than this 45 year-old has got. Not for a second does she seem senior.

But when Barb’s husband suffered a brain injury a few years ago, they sold their home and moved to Oak Park Place Senior Living. She explained, He needs some extra help plus he loves to visit with all the neighbors. He’s so social. Barb blesses the 90 year-olds that are now her neighbors. She shares Jesus’ love and calls them friends.


She doesn’t begrudge this change in setting in the story she did not write. For that, Barb is my hero. 

*Note: Since writing the original post four years ago, Barb’s husband went home to be with Jesus. Like Job, Barb worshiped.

And Julia

She’s a whiz with words and super-savvy with people and works for a Fortune 500 company. Julia always dreamed of being a wife and mother. Julia never married, never bore children. She wouldn’t have written her script that way. But she says it’s okay.

Aunt Julia is the most generous, most nurturing aunt her nephews could ever have. Two live with Aunt Julia half the week. She takes them to church and shows them Jesus better than their mom and dad have. And her nurturing love overflows way beyond those two nephews.

*Note: After 20+ years at that Fortune 500 company, Julia was laid off in February of 2020. She begins a new lower-paying job next week, and says, “Now I trust God (not money) to open up ways for me to live on this salary.”

Julia didn’t select single status or job loss as a character in this story. But she has trusts God still. For that, Julia’s my hero.


And Kate

Kate’s in her thirties. Kate’s calm, patient presence speaks volumes of the Refuge she’s got. You see, before Kate turned thirty, her husband was diagnosed with brain cancer. Treatments and seizures and surgeries left John disabled, and Kate with the lion’s share of raising four kids under eight.

But Kate’s strengthened by his glorious power for all endurance and patience with joy. She’s got a heavy load, helping care for four kids and a husband with fragile health.

*Note: In the four years since I wrote this, John has been in and out of hospitals and other heartache has come Kate’s way. But last week Kate said, “I wouldn’t have chosen this. But the intimacy I have with John and God, well—I wouldn’t have it any other way.”


Kate didn’t pick the twist in their love story when she married John 20 years ago, but she embraces the story, her husband and God. For that, Kate’s my hero.

And Shari

Shari was pillar in our church. She was the Christian education director who wrote curriculum that was a smashing success year after year for a decade. Shari wrote plays and painted sets and designed stunning graphics and fun games to draw others to Jesus. Thousands were nourished with the fruit of Shari’s lips and scripts and pens.

Then, Shari’s story took a turn. Things at the church changed and Shari’s husband lost his job. Now Shari sells insurance. Who’d have thought? she said the other day. She’s still awaiting His timing for her writing.

*Note: Shari was diagnosed with a serious cancer last summer. Because it was so rare, treatment decisions were excruciating. But Shari trusted God through. She’s the one who said, you can’t ride two horses with one heinie. Anxiety and gratitude can’t coexist.


Shari didn’t write the job change or the cancer into her story. But with incredible grace she plays this part. For that, Shari is my hero.

Maybe as you read about some of these heroes you were wishing you had more courage, or strength or greater faith to believe the story you find yourself in will actually turn out okay. 

Please take heart. Every single thread in God’s story will come together. In His hands, nothing is wasted. Every line in the script is crafted with the glorious end in mind. Blogger Jean Williams is one of my heroes who’s felt the bottom and knows that it is sound.

Heroes Do Get Caught Up in a Bigger Story

Jean’s blog breathes strength and courage. She too has felt the bottom and calls back to us on shore, Fear not, it is sound.

God is a far better author than I could ever be. I wouldn’t have written so much hardship into the recent pages of our life. But as I look back, the suffering has…helped me see just how weak I am, and driven me to rely on God’s strength. 

Better than that, this author hasn’t stayed outside the story, an omniscient, removed narrator; he has become a character on its pages…For in the end, this isn’t my story at all. Not only am I not the author of my story, I’m not the hero either. My part in this narrative serves to do one thing: highlight and direct attention to Jesus. He is the hero of this story, not me.  

So forget me being the author of my story. The real Author is far more skilled than I am. Forget me being the hero of my story. Jesus is front and centre on all its pages. Forget this being my story. It’s God’s story, and it’s moving towards the glory of his Son. We’re all caught up in a bigger story, you and I, and that’s exactly the way it should be.

Heroes forget about being heroes. And that’s exactly the way it should be. Because they don’t want to be front and center, eclipsing God’s glory, starring in their own little dream stories.

Oh, no—real heroes want a larger than life, overcoming hero front and center.

Holding Out for a (larger than life) Hero

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have troubles, but take courage; I have overcome the world. –Jesus, in John 16:33 

A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West, Alexander Solzhenitsyn said decades ago.

Courage is declining in 2020, I think. Fear of Covid, fear of the future, and fear of losing control of our stories chokes some of us. Opening our hands to release the scripts we wrote and embracing roles we didn’t seek is scary. It takes faith and courage.

We need more courage. That’s why we need more heroes. Because real heroes- overcoming, faithful heroes- bring it. If their names are not on our ballots, they are still among us- real world heroes like Kate and Barb and Julia and Shari. Let’s not forget the heroes bursting forth in God’s Word. Read about Abram and Deborah, Moses and Joseph, Esther and Daniel and Paul. Read and take courage. Be encouraged by the way they play their parts.

But worship only One. And hold out for Him: the Hero who overcomes. Because Bonnie Tyler had that right: He’s gotta be larger than life. He is larger than life because he swallowed up death.

And He will come again on a fiery white steed. I am holding out for Him.

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. 

Revelation 19:11-12, 16