How to Experience God in Painful Circumstances

Wouldn’t it be great if life always went according to plan?  If happily ever after was a reality? If people never disappointed and circumstances always met our expectations?

But what if God has a purpose for us in our pain? What if He wants to reveal Himself to us in profoundly personal ways? What if He has an objective beyond what we can see?

One of my favorite Bible stories is found at the very beginning of the New Testament, in the gospel of Matthew. It’s about a man named Joseph who found himself in painful circumstances he never saw coming.


Matthew 1:18-20, 24

This is how Jesus was born.  His mother Mary was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, to whom she was engaged,, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.

As soon as he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. She will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife.


Joseph was a God-fearing man who had a plan for his life.  It was a good plan. A simple plan. He wanted to marry a godly young woman, have a family and live an honorable life. But his dream was shattered. Suddenly and without warning. He discovered his fiancé was pregnant.

With someone else’s baby.

I can only imagine how disillusioned Joseph must have felt.  Everything he knew about the girl he loved he now thought was a lie.

But Joseph didn’t know the whole story. He wasn’t seeing his circumstances from God’s vantage point. Not yet.

And here’s the thing about Joseph that I love: in the midst of his heartbreak and humiliation, he made three choices that would soon allow him to experience the very presence of God in miraculous ways.

First, Joseph chose a tender heart.  Even though he was facing heartbreaking betrayal, Joseph wanted to protect Mary, not punish her. The Law would have allowed death by stoning for such an offense, but Joseph chose compassion. He broke off the engagement and walked away without accusation.

Joseph’s second choice was a listening ear.  Not long after the breakup, Joseph had a dream that disclosed God’s plan.  A dream that revealed the truth of his circumstances. Joseph could have decided to ignore this dream. To reason it away in his natural mind. To seethe in anger or to wallow in self-pity. Instead, he silenced his own internal narrative and listen to God’s.

Finally, Joseph chose a surrendered will.  He obeyed what God asked of Him and took Mary as his wife—no matter the cost to his pride, no matter what others would say—Joseph chose to humble himself and surrender his will to God’s will.

And because of his tender heart, his listening ear and his surrendered will, Joseph experienced the life of Jesus more profoundly than he could ever have imagined.

What painful disappointment are you wrestling with in this particular season of your life? God sees you, dear friend. He knows the questions you’re asking and the pain you’re enduring. Will you choose a tender heart? A listening ear? A surrendered will? When we make these three decisions in the midst of our difficulties, God will bless us with the gift of His Presence beyond anything we could dream possible.


  1. Sherry Stout on December 11, 2018 at 6:49 PM

    ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ This is so good!

  2. Lavonne Osborn on December 14, 2018 at 8:00 AM

    I just studied this a second time as I face some painful situations. Thank you so much for sharing this lesson. I feel encouraged and hopeful. He guided Joseph and He will guide me.

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