How to Stand Strong When Your World Comes Crashing Down

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At 4:30 p.m. on May 11, 2012, time seemed to stop. That’s when I got a phone call informing me that my oldest daughter, Hannah, had been in an airplane crash and was badly burned. She and four young men, two of whom were her close friends, were in an eight-seater twin-engine Cessna en route to one of our Acquire the Fire conferences when their plane went down in Kansas. Three of the young men died at the scene, while the fourth, 27-year-old former marine Austin Anderson, eventually died after heroically pulling Hannah from the flames.

My world began spiraling out of control.

My wife, Katie, and I were thrilled that our daughter had survived, but we were also vexed beyond comprehension. How could four people have ended up beyond the bounds of the faith in which we were so confident? After all, they were young, and they loved God. They were at the top of their game and had graduated from college. They wanted to make a difference with their lives. They wanted to change the world.

The next week I attended four funerals of the four men—Austin, Stephen Luth, Garrett Coble and Luke Sheets—four days in a row. I did it at the insistence of Hannah and the invitation of the parents. Trying to explain the unexplainable to the parents and other mourners, I found myself reaching for words that seemed shallow. I made statements such as, “We don’t understand why these things happen, but let’s focus on what we do know: We do know that Jesus loves us. We do know that these men loved Jesus and are with Him right now. We do know that one day, He will comfort every heart and dry every tear, and we will be with Him forever.”

Though I knew these were the facts, they seemed of little help to those suffering such intense grief. I was happy that my daughter was alive, but I was also angry at the circumstances—and I told God. Whether He allowed what happened, caused it or chose it as part of His strategic plan, I did not like it. As grateful as I was for my daughter’s survival, I knew that other parents were dealing with unbearable grief. “I just don’t understand,” I told God.

What do we do as Christians when circumstances careen out of control, and we no longer understand what is going on? As followers of Christ, how do we react when the confidence we have in our faith is shaken? What happens when our theology and what we believe about God is called into question in a moment’s time? How do we develop the backbone of steel needed to take us through these times?

The underpinnings of faith lead us in one of two major directions: to give up or to be resilient. Resilience is the term we use when people bounce back from horrible experiences. Resilience is the grace to remain strong after going through something that almost breaks you.

So how do we find that resilience? How can we prepare to be resilient before life’s unexpected setbacks hit us in the face? As we’ll see, the answer begins and ends with faith.

A Two-Sided Coin

Faith has two sides. The faith that Jesus woos us to is much deeper than the easy belief system that says, “I believe in Jesus” but doesn’t truly follow Him. It’s more than believing in mystical formulas that satisfy our every whim and smooth over every rough patch. The faith Jesus invites us to live is a journey that includes rough patches and difficult choices.

The latter is the faith recorded in Daniel 3, where we find the famous story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Though they lived in pagan Babylon, a nation that worshiped multiple gods, these Hebrew children loved the living God and refused to compromise their faith in Him. Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar had built a golden statue of himself and ordered everyone to bow down and pay homage when certain music played. But Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to honor an idol to any god or man, no matter the consequences.

And the consequences were great. The Hebrew children were brought before Nebuchadnezzar, who offered them one last chance to bow down when the music played. He warned that if they didn’t, he would heat a furnace seven times hotter than usual and have them thrown into it. Despite the king’s threat, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stood firm. Their response, recorded in Daniel 3:16-18, should cause even the faintest of heart to rise up with courage: “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (emphases mine).

Faith is like a coin with two sides. In verse 17 we see one side of faith. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had confidence and were absolutely determined. They knew God was able and willing to deliver them. So often when Christians pray, they waver between opposing beliefs. They say things like: “Well, I know that God can heal me, but I’m not sure He wants to.” “God is able to put my marriage back together, but I’m not sure He wants to.” “I know God can reach my kids, but I’m not sure He wants to.”

The Hebrew boys had no such doubts. They said, “God is able, and He will deliver us.” They spoke with their shoulders back, their chins held high, knowing God was on their side. This is the kind of confidence we ought to have. This side of faith says, “God can and will deliver me.” When we go to God in prayer for a financial need, a healing need, a relational issue, or on behalf of the nations, we ought to pray and ask without doubting. “Since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for” (1 John 5:15, NLT).

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