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How do we know whether to turn back or keep going in the face of struggles?

Posted by on Sep 7, 2012 in discipleship | 15 comments

How do we know whether to turn back or keep going in the face of struggles?

In my previous post, I asked, “Are struggles a sign from God to stop or an opportunity to persevere?” In Scripture, we see examples of both.

In some cases in Scripture, struggles and trials are an indication that the person is going in the wrong direction (think about Jonah). In other cases in Scripture, struggles and trials come along because the person is going in the right direction, and God intends for them to persevere through the difficult times (think about all of Paul’s shipwrecks).

So, when we face difficulties, how do we know if God wants us to push on and persevere through the struggles or if God wants to us to stop or change directions because we’re going against his will?

The answer is both extremely simple and extremely complicated. God will tell us.

This is extremely simple because we do not have to worry about which direction to take. God will communicate that to us. Remember, he loves us more than we can ever realize. He is not like us; he does not take pleasure in his children going in the wrong direction; he does not sit back and laugh at our mistakes or make fun of us when we fail. He loves us. And, we can trust that he will communicate his desires to us.

But, the answer is also extremely complicated. The answer is not complicated because of God; the answer is complicated because of us. Although God communicates to use clearly, we do not always hear him clearly. We allow so many other voices and concerns and noises and worries and desires drown out his clear and loving directions.

Did you know that Paul did not always start out going the way that God wanted him to go… and, yes, I’m talking about after his conversion:

And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. (Acts 16:6-10 ESV)

Even though Paul and his team headed in the wrong direction a couple of times, God continued communicating to them and did not give up on them. Also, did you notice that after Paul’s vision, the group (“we”) together concluded that the dream that God was directing them to go to Macedonia?

Yes, head in the direction that you think God wants you to go, and keep listening to him. Read Scripture and ensure that your plans are not contrary to what God has already revealed, and keep listening to God. Talk to the brothers and sisters in your life, listen to their advice, and keep listening to God. Always, always, always be ready to change directions. Never conclude that you’ve got it all figured out.

And, most of all, trust God.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 9-7-2012

    Yep. Absolutely right!

  2. 9-7-2012

    “And, most of all, trust God.”

    Pow. There it is.

  3. 9-7-2012

    Great post on how to discern the will of God. Thanks Alan !

  4. 9-7-2012

    Interesting. I never really think that God is ALWAYS speaking to us — but you are right – the perfect loving Father would always communicate to us His desires.

  5. 9-7-2012


    Indeed, there are illustrations that blatantly point to the Fatherhood of God over us, one of them being the ‘what father would give his son a rock when he asks for bread?’ Indeed, our Father, (and He IS our Father), is always listening to us AND speaking to us, since what good father would ignore or dismiss his children? Exactly. ;)

  6. 9-7-2012

    Thanks everyone. I’ve been traveling today, and it was encouraging to pull up my site and find these comments.


  7. 9-7-2012

    This is a good word. I need a poor and contrite spirit that trembles at His word…big time.

  8. 9-8-2012

    A friend of a friend did some teaching in Concord this week that I just listened to that was a great follow-up for me from this post!

    Both her teaching & these last 2 entries reminded me to consecrate my calendar to the Lord & to make sure to give Him Concentrated focus frequently! We want to do the good works God has prepared for us — we want to be able to hear from Him —- so we must make sure we are giving Him undivided attention so He could speak to us and we’d hear! and we need to practice looking at our days as planned & prepared by Him -consecrate our calendar to Him. Being aware/open to HIS work & purposes in each day! :)

    This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” – Romans 8:15 MESSAGE

  9. 9-8-2012

    Thanks for the post Alan.

    I think a valid followup to consider – how do we measure that path (or tell whether we are on the right path/have been on the right path)?

    Sometimes, we are led down the road of failure – because that road will lead us to the right place in the end, despite looking like a miserable failure in the process! Or, that measurement was taken using the wrong standard…

    An example might be Philippians 1:12-18. By human measurement, being stuck in chains for Paul might have been a bad thing (i’d personally consider Jail time pretty depressing I think). He was no longer free to preach the gospel where he felt. He was no longer free to do everything he might personally have thought God was calling him to do. But his measurement – at this point when writing – was that he could already see that God was using what most would describe as failure (imprisonment), to further the gospel even more.

    There are plenty of others (from the NT I mostly think of Paul!), but what to us sometimes looks like our utter failure in a task – might well be God training us for something else. And even if it looks a failure by our measurement, it could well be a crowning success in the eyes of God!

    I know for me that is often the greatest struggle – measuring myself against my own (and others) pre-conceived idea’s of success and failure, or passing judgement to early, before enough time has passed to see the true outcome. I guess as I’m getting older now – I see what was in the past what I felt like some pathetic failures (in jobs, meetings with people, projects, all sorts of things), in the end came out better than I could have ever hoped or dreamed.

    Romans 8:28 in action I guess :D

  10. 9-8-2012


    We all need to be constantly reminded to be humble enough to hear him when he’s speaking to us.


    I think that “consecrated times” of listening to God can be beneficial, as long as we don’t use those times as excuses for not listening to God all the time. (I have a tendency to do that, unfortunately.)


    Exactly. We can’t go by our circumstances or even the outcome to determine if we are following Jesus.


  11. 9-8-2012

    I think I understand what you’re saying…. but I saw those 2 things as 2 separate things. 1) consecrate your calendar and 2) have concentrated focus time.

    I think what you’re saying is that we ought to be listening ALL the time as He is our closest companion and uses our daily life activities/experiences to teach & speak to us. That was my takeaway, too! When they are seen as 2 separate things it makes more sense.

    1) consecrate your calendar — my takeaway wasn’t to PLAN time with Him…. but instead to me it meant — when you are looking at your calendar – keep your heart & mind OPEN to the fact that God has plans for ALL these activities that seem so mundane. Before each day or each time we get a brand new white calendar — pray that we would understand that God is in ALL these activities with us. To keep our eyes/open to His work (who is next to us at the doctor’s office, what mom will I meet at the park that could use some grace). and so the WHOLE calendar is consecrated to Him — every activity. So it makes our mundane tasks that otherwise seem meaningless & separate — it makes them meaningful because we are doing it WITH Him. It’s part of the adventure when we realize that HE is in it all and with us all and can use it all.

    and a separate idea… 2) make sure we are getting concentrated focused time to be still & be quiet in our world full of noise.

    *my* tendency seems to be to NEVER slow down enough to really just SIT & BE without absorbing information, having distractions, etc…that concentrated focused STILL time is so key right now to me to be able to be nourished/refreshed.

  12. 9-8-2012


    Yes, I misunderstood you. Thanks for explaining! I love the fact that our tendencies with listening to God are different, but knowing our tendencies can help us both.


  13. 9-8-2012

    Thanks, Alan. A very encouraging post. I see this same dilemma in other areas also, such as with returning to institutional church or not. There have been so many “signs” of God calling me back, but these same signs could also be interpreted as God wanting me to persevere in the path of organic church.

  14. 9-8-2012

    I appreciate those who commented from your own life. I take encouragement in seeing this path is not traveled alone. I have been challenged to share my raw journey by being vulnerable and transparent so that others may too be encouraged that they are not alone. We are the body of Christ as we forge ahead by following Jesus via His still small voice.

  15. 9-8-2012

    Jeremy and B.E.,

    I agree. Very good and encouraging comments here.



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