Tough Times Aren’t Necessarily Bad Times

A well known Psalm, probably the best known of all the 150 Psalms, is the 23rd Psalm.

Here are the first three verses.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” Psalm 23:1-3 ESV

I share this for a couple of reasons. First, it’s very comforting for a person to remember the Lord is watching over them, as a shepherd watches over his sheep. 

Second, and my primary reason, is a truth about still waters. Still, quiet, waters during times such as the world is experiencing right now.

Tough times. Hard to deal with times. So many uncertainties. Multitudes of voices proclaiming contradictory messages. Economic crises, health issues, social restrictions…

Like I said, tough times.

But tough times, if I understand the scriptures, aren’t necessarily bad times.

Bad times, to me anyway, are times when nothing good happens. No redeeming quality can be seen during the time or afterwards. But it is not a bad time if something of eternal value can be accomplished in us, through us, or around us during the times we’re feeling overwhelmed.

On the other hand, tough times have more to do with some sort of change, inconvenience, disruption, disappointment, or trying to deal with things way beyond our ability to control.

Kind of like today. 

But what if we changed our outlook, and instead of bemoaning these tough times we began to embrace them? I mean, what if we took the down time most people are experiencing and ask ourselves a couple of “what if” questions?

Questions like, “What can I learn about myself during these crazy times?” “Since I can’t change my circumstance, how can I use this opportunity to better myself both spiritually and emotionally?”

Here’s where Psalm 23 comes in. 

“He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” Notice, there seems to be a progression, or steps God takes in our lives, where He brings us from initially acknowledging the Lord as our Shepherd to where we can actually walk in His “paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake.”

Jesus said it a different way.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit…Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” John 15:1,2,4 – 15:8 ESV

In this passage, Jesus calls Himself the true vine. The vine each of His “branches” are connected to. 

Now look what happens to each and every branch. Did you see it? They get pruned.

Cut. 

I’d call that a tough time, wouldn’t you?

Why the cutting? So each branch becomes as fruitful as it was created to be. To be the perfect expression of the vine. To be able to bring glory to the true vine.

Remember, the Father is glorified when we, the branches, bear much fruit.

Or, as David said, when we walk “in paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake.”

Tough times, times when we’re more or less forced to slow down (or maybe even shut down), can be part of the “pruning” process.

David told us the Lord made him to lie down in green pastures. No walking, no running in place, no activity. Next, there are still waters. I believe the picture he’s painting is that of a place to lie down right in front of the still waters.

Have you ever been next to a pond or lake early in the morning? Typically that’s the time when the water is the calmest.

Have you ever stood on the bank and looked into the water and seen your reflection? When the water is calm, or still, that’s when you can see what you truly look like. 

It’s kind of like looking into the mirror of God’s Word. (James 1)

Unless we see our true self, unless we acknowledge our true condition, accepting the image for what it truly is, we can never grow to become our best self. 

And the Father will not receive the glory due Him.

I realize tough times are, well, tough. But why not make this time count? Why not embrace this time as a God given opportunity? An opportunity to grow in His word, to learn to recognize His voice better, and an opportunity to set aside any sin or habit that may be holding you back from your God given destiny.

Tough times are times when we see what we’re truly made of. And if we’ll be honest with ourselves and God, we’ll then discover tough times lead into tremendously fruitful times. 

And that’s good.

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