Punishment or Obstacle? How to Tell and What to Do
As you go through life you face stiff challenges. You find yourself in difficulties that are not easily overcome. Some of the problems that you are forced to handle appear to be overwhelming. Coping seems to be beyond your capacity in those dark moments of your life.
In the midst of some of these crises you might be tempted to wonder if you are being punished:
“Is God punishing me for some wrong that I did or for some other act of disobedience?”
“Am I paying the price for sin in my life?”
In your more buoyant and optimistic state of mind, you might look at difficult situations as challenges that you will work to overcome. You see this as a test of your faith and resolve. You think in terms of increasing your patience and commit to achieving the victory.
Which mindset is the correct one?
How can I distinguish between situations that are obstacles and those in which I am being punished by God?
Is there a difference in how I should respond to these challenges?
The fact is that we are not able to know the mind of God – except where clear precepts and principles are outlined in the Bible. We are not told when and how God will effect punishment on those of us who are living under the New Covenant.
Since we cannot tell then when punishment is being meted out to us, there is no point in focusing our energies on trying to get an answer to the “Punishment or Obstacle” question.
Here is a practical approach to handling crises and difficult times that will work for you:
1. Remember that we all fall short of what God would have us to be. (Rom 3:23 )
2. We are all required to be penitent about our short comings and to decide to correct them – the process of repentance. (Luke 13:3)
3. You then should constantly reflect on your life and its alignment with Biblical principles. Seek forgiveness and commit to making the required changes.
4. God promises that He will look favourably on persons who have penitent and contrite hearts.(Psalm 51:17 ) If you adopt that posture, you should not need to fear that God’s wrath is being poured out on you each time you encounter difficulties.
5. Having sorted out your alignment with God, you can now focus your energies on resolving the problems that confront you.
6. It helps to remember that you will not get a challenge that is greater than you are able to handle. ( 1 Cor 10:13 )
7. You are now ready to solve the problem at hand. Your first challenge is to identify what is the real problem.
8. Here are some problem solving guidelines:
a. Problem Definition: Gather as much information as you can to support why you think there is a problem. What is the evidence that things are not what they should be?
Adding the question “Why?” at each step is extremely helpful in ensuring that you identify the real problem.
b. The source of the problem: If you spend time identifying the cause of the problem you will be better able to find long term solutions. Do not be tempted to apply band aids to deep-seated problems.
c. Solutions: Take the time to examine all the approaches to solving the problem that you can identify. Evaluate each option – pros and cons – and select the most appropriate strategy for achieving your objectives.
d. Implementation: Once you have decided on the approach to solving the problem that you will take then you need to develop an Action Plan. We often have good strategies but they fail because of poor execution. The Action Plan should cover clarity about the desired outcome, the resources – human and other – that will be required, who will drive the process and how you will determine when the problem is solved.
e. Monitoring: Problems have a way of returning to bother us. You should take care to be alert to signs that the problem is about to rear its ugly head again. Your early response is likely to save you a lot of heartache.
f. Lessons learned: One way to avoid the recurrence of problems of like nature is to reflect on the lessons that you can learn from each incident. Making the same mistakes over and over is not wise.
So, how can you tell if you are being punished or just facing an obstacle?
The truth is that you can’t tell for sure because we cannot read God’s mind. However, it is not important to answer that question. Instead, you should take care to be penitent and to have a mindset that is repentant.
With that settled, you can now focus your energies on solving the problem. The step-by-step problem solving strategy outlined in this article will guide you calmly through those challenging episodes.