As a pastor I talk every day with people who are asking what it means to be faithful in their current season of life. Often times the season is a challenging one. More often it is more winter and fall than summer and spring. People very seldom ask to meet with you to tell you how well they are doing. So the nature of the job is to try and discern what kind of season they are in and to help them live faithfully to God in that season.
This is why the famous Ecclesiastes 3 passage that begins, There is a time for every season under heaven, is so powerful pastorally. As the philosopher Blaise Pascale said, "Our problem is that we so seldom live fully in the present." We either live in the past, in regret or nostalgia, hankering after the good old days. Or we plan, dream and worry for the future, believing that this will usher in better days. This essentially causes us to waste God's precious time. If He is at work in all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose, surely that includes all times and seasons?
But if I am to be faithful to God in each season, how do I discern which season I am in and the appropriate way to live in it? Especially if it is a season I'd rather not be in, how do I get out of it?
The short answer is, that we need to get through it to get out of it. We need to ask God what He is wanting us to learn so that we can learn the lesson and hopefully move on.
With that in mind, I have found it helpful to ask whether a person's situation is more similar to that of Job, Jonah or Joseph. It may sound simplistic, but it's a helpful place to start. By the way, The J's are honestly not intentional!
Job was in his season of loss and pain because of his righteousness rather than his sin. There was a ruthless testing of his faith in and worship of, God, which began in the heart of satan but was allowed by the hand of God. Repentance was not the solution to the season. It was humble faith and worship. Sometimes the people of God suffer for no apparent reason. It makes no sense, but God is simply asking the question, "Will you still love me for me, if I remove the things I have given you for a time?" It is essentially a storm of righteousness.
Then there is Jonah. Jonah went through a storm of rebellion. He had refused God's commission to go and preach repentance to a city he hated. He ran in the opposite direction. So God sent a storm. Jonah tried to sleep the storm away, but to no avail. It got worse. What brought the storm to a whisper, was Jonah repenting by jumping off his ship of rebellion. Sometimes people find themselves in such a storm, and it requires gutsy honesty to admit that it is the result of sin, and requires radical repentance and obedience. The ensuing season change is often dramatic.
All to often though, I find that people's situations don't fit as neatly into one or the other extreme. They are not suffering simply because of righteousness, nor simply because of rebellion. They are neither like Job or Jonah. This is where I find the character of Joseph to be the most helpful one for understanding how God redeems difficult seasons. Joseph was a dreamer with a big future. But he was arrogant and enjoyed being his father's favorite son. His brothers resented him, and you can understand their resentment. But when their plan unfolds to kill him and he ends up getting left for dead and sold into slavery, one feels that the punishment doesn't match the crime. Sure he had some things to repent of, but there was something, or rather Someone greater at work in his being sent to Egypt. God was Sovereignly working, even through Joseph's arrogance and his brother's resentment, to fulfill His purposes. Joseph got it eventually and this is why he was able to forgive his brothers at the end of the story. "Do not be distressed by what you have done to me. It was for saving lives that God sent me ahead of you... What you intended for harm God intended for good, for the saving of many lives." Gen 45, 50. Joseph acknowledged that although sin was involved, it was ultimately God who sent him to Egypt to fulfill His purposes.
So our job as pastors and leaders is to help people ask firstly,"What have I done to get me into this season, for which I can repent?"
And secondly, "How can I co-operate with what God is Sovereignly doing in this season, for the sake His grand purposes?"Often we seldom fully understand God's hand in a difficult season, we can help people to trust His heart behind His hand.