God wants to give us good things. Not only that, he promises good things to us and assures us they will all come to pass (Joshua 23:14). In fact, “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11).
I love those promises, yet there are many good things that I’ve begged God for that I haven’t received. Good things like a healthy body, a thriving family, and a balanced, secure life. When my infant son died, after my first husband left, or as I’ve seen my body slowly deteriorating, I’ve wondered why God did not answer my prayers for good things. Had I not been upright enough? Was I not asking the right way?
Or were God’s good things different than mine?
I know that I haven’t walked uprightly on my own, and I’m increasingly aware of my sin, but God sees me as righteous and perfect because of Christ’s blood. I need not fear that I’m not measuring up, that I’m not praying perfectly, or that God is denying me some essential good. He could not be more for me, and he will graciously give me all things (Romans 8:32), because he longs to give his children good gifts when they ask (Matthew 7:11). So, God’s definition of good things must be different than the earthly blessings I often think I need.
What, then, are God’s good things if they are not earthly blessings? How can we recognize them when our focus is riveted on our circumstances, especially those that feel unfair, unfixable, or unfinished? Many of us have struggled for years, even decades, faithfully serving God but living with unfulfilled longings, broken dreams, and mounting losses. Do God’s good things include those?
Hardship in Faithfulness
As we see in Scripture, the unfair, the unfixable, and the unfinished often mark the lives of God’s chosen. Moses reluctantly accepted God’s call, worked faithfully for decades, and then failed in a moment and never entered the Promised Land. Jeremiah was called by God to be a prophet, yet was persecuted all his days. An angel proclaimed to Mary that her Son would sit on the throne of David, yet she watched him die on a cross. John the Baptist was a faithful prophet who prepared the world for Christ, yet never served with him. None of these people saw the fulfillment of all God had spoken over their lives — they only embraced them from afar (Hebrews 11:13).
Though God commended these saints, their lives were often hard and lonely. Now we can look back and see how powerfully God used each of them, how God was with them, how they fulfilled the purpose that God called them to. We know that their suffering was not wasted and that God never left them, even when life didn’t turn out as they had planned. And we know that they have received an “unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4), and that they are rejoicing because their suffering was not even worth comparing with the weight of glory they now enjoy (Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:17).
All their stories were part of God’s larger story. A story that unfolded through Scripture. A story that God has used for generations to demonstrate who he is.
Could Adversity Be a Gift?
Can we look at our lives through the same lens, understanding that we all are in the middle of our stories and that our disappointments and missteps are all part of the beautiful story God is writing?
When we are discouraged at what’s happening in our lives, we must remind ourselves that there’s more to come. We are looking at one frame, or perhaps one scene in the story. We may see our circumstances dramatically change in this life, as Joseph did, or we may need to wait till heaven when it will all make sense to us. Either way, we will thank him for all of it. We can be assured that, if troubles were not beneficial to us, God would neither allow them nor send them. Everything God gives us and withholds from us must be part of his good things.
Sir Richard Baker, who was unjustly imprisoned in England in the seventeenth century, wrote,
But how is this true, when God oftentimes withholds riches and honors and health of body from men, though they walk never so uprightly? We may therefore know that honors and riches and bodily strength are none of God’s good things; they are of the number of things indifferent which God bestows promiscuously upon the just and unjust, as the rain to fall and the sun to shine.
The good things of God are chiefly peace of conscience and joy in the Holy Ghost in this life; fruition of God’s presence, and vision of his blessed face in the next, and these good things God never bestows upon the wicked, never withholds from the godly.
The truly good things of God are bestowed on those he loves. His presence. His peace. Joy in the Spirit. The assurance of heaven and beholding his face. Nothing can take away these good things of God. They are independent of circumstances and often grow stronger in trials. Adversity may be one of God’s best gifts because it makes us grab hold of God, desperate for his presence and peace. We cling to him more tightly when there is nothing else to cling to.
Best Things of God
King Solomon was given everything, including wisdom, riches, and fame, yet they did not knit him to God in love and gratitude. In the end, he turned from following God and clung to his foreign wives instead (1 Kings 11:2). Solomon didn’t need to fight battles, to trust God for his life, to beg God for protection, or to worry about anything. He didn’t experience the struggles that draw us to God and make us dependent on him. Perhaps that is why he drifted away — unlike his father David, he didn’t hunger for God’s presence or experience the intense fellowship that accompanies deep suffering.
For believers, the troubles of the world can be blessings because they draw us to God. We desperately long for God’s presence, where we find fullness of joy that can never be taken away (Psalm 16:11; John 16:22). And we know that adversity can make us stronger, more compassionate, and more fruitful.
At the same time, there is nothing wrong with enjoying good things like honor and riches and good health. God created them, understands their value, and freely bestows them. But Christians should never mistake fame, money, and health for the best things of God. That distinction is reserved for the things that bring us closest to Jesus. It is often in our darkest moments, when we have nothing to hold on to but God, that we truly understand that “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.”