Nicki Koziarz: The 5 Best Decisions to Make When Life Is Hard
About the Guest
Author Nicki Koziarz knows hard circumstances can leave you struggling with doubt as a Christian and leave faith unrecognizable. What can you do?
Author Nicki Koziarz knows hard circumstances can leave you struggling with doubt as a Christian and leave faith unrecognizable. What can you do?
Nicki Koziarz: The 5 Best Decisions to Make When Life Is Hard
Nicki: It’s not our questions for God that messes up our faith—it’s our questioning of God—there is a big difference. He can handle our doubts; He can handle our questions; He can handle our fears, our worries, our complaints, our grumbling.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
According to Barna, guess what percentage of Christians struggle with doubt in their faith?
Dave: My first thought—and maybe, it’s coming out of my own personal experience—is it is pretty high.
Ann: I think it is pretty high.
Dave: What is it?
Ann: I wouldn’t have guessed that it is 65 percent.
Dave: —65 percent.
Dave: Yes; I would say, at least, that.
Ann: And then, listen to this: “Millennials: 38 percent, currently, experience about twice as much doubt as any of the other generational groups,”—and then—"23 percent of
Gen Xers; 19 percent of Boomers; and 20 percent of elders.”
Dave: Here is what I would want to know—and we’ve got in our studio a woman, I think, can answer this question—Nicki Koziarz is back with us. Welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Nicki: Thanks for having me.
Dave: I’m guessing you are sort of quoting maybe some stats from her book, Flooded,—
Ann: Yes, yes.
Dave: —which [involves] the five decisions that we all need to make.
You write about Noah. Do you think he never doubted—I mean, he listened and obeyed God—we get that. But the Bible doesn’t always give us the nuances, of in between, as he is walking to go get another piece of wood to build this ark. Is he thinking, “What in the world am I doing?”
Again, I’m not saying he did or he didn’t—
Dave: —but when we go through hard times, doubt—well, you put it in the subtitle, like, “What do we do with that?”
Nicki: We don’t, in the Scriptures, see Noah specifically say anything actually until the very end of the story, where he speaks blessings and curses at the same time; okay? But because Noah had a wife, and he had children, and he was human—he was not Jesus—let’s think about what it was like, when Noah came home, and told his wife about this assignment; okay? [Laughter] I mean, I think it would be safe to assume she wasn’t like, “Sure! This sounds amazing.”
Ann: “You’re going to build a boat?!”
Nicki: —“and everyone is going to die.” Also, if that is not enough, he had children. These, most likely, were young adult/teenage age—because they were entering into marriage themselves—there were no grandchildren at this point. It’s safe to assume they were around the same age as my teenagers; okay? I don’t know if you’ve been around teenagers recently; but they are not the kindest people in the world. If you bring an idea that sounds anything uncool, or dumb, or out there, their reaction is not like, “Yes!”
Ann: —or “All of my friends are going to die?!”
Nicki: Yes; “Thanks, Dad.” [Laughter]
Dave: Yes, yes.
Nicki: So think about the people in his community. It says Noah was a preacher of righteousness. There is a lot of debate about whether or not anyone else was going to be able to come into the ark; because God did give him the command that it would only be his wife, and their sons, and their wives; okay?
Ann: Let’s just say, too, the days must have been incredibly wicked—
Ann: —for this to be going on—for God to come up with this decision. These were not moral, good, gracious people at that point.
Nicki: No, no.
Ann: Noah and his family were, but I’m just saying the rest.
Nicki: Whether or not Noah was telling, like, “Hey, this is the purpose of this ark,”—he was preaching—“Something bad is going happen, and we need to be prepared for this.”
Think about the naysayers in his community, like: “Ha! Ha! Ha! Look at Noah, over there, building that dumb ark.” There was no immediate water around him; right? It’s not like he was going to push it out into the ocean.
Ann: But I like that point: he is evangelizing.
Ann: He was trying to convert people to believe in God.
Dave: He didn’t build it in a week.
Nicki: No, 100 years.
Dave: I mean, this was a long time; a lot of doubt can rise up.
Nicki: Think about all of the community, the family, the kids—like doing it just because [God told him to]—a lot of hard situations he was walking through. He, at least, had doubt thrown at him.
I don’t know what it was like for him to wrestle with God, and to say, “You know, God, I don’t know if I heard you right about this or not,”—again, we don’t have that in the Scriptures; but—
Ann: But there is something about, as we talked about yesterday, when it says: “Noah walked with God,” there must have been a depth and intimacy with his walk with God that was pretty astounding for him to be so faithful, for 100 years, building an ark.
You went to the Ark Encounter.
Nicki: I did.
Ann: What was that like in Kentucky?
Nicki: Oh, my goodness! You know, when we first pulled in, they were so gracious to give us a behind-the-scenes tour. Our study trip was just really deep with them—the people at the Ark Encounter sat down with me—I had tons of questions for them.
Ann: And they did that because you were writing this book?
Nicki: Yes, we reached out to them/my publisher did.
I just remember the first time I stood at the bottom of the ark and realized the massiveness of this assignment. I mean, it is four stories high—think about the building we are in right now—two football fields long. The people at the Ark Encounter—you know, they have taken a lot of creativity: just what they would think where the animals would go, and the water system, and things like that—but all of those things had to be thought through. I was overwhelmed while I was there,—
Dave: I bet.
Nicki: —just thinking about the detail.
You know, one of the things that God is teaching me right now is that He is a God, who is very intentional. There are no coincidences with God. When He says something—when He gives you a plan—it’s with great intention.
When I was looking at all the intentional details, you think through: “Oh, yes; we have this farm,”—right?—“It takes me 30/40 minutes just to feed 10/20 animals every single day,”—right?—"Think about 3,000 animals that they had to feed and water—and their poop!—I mean, it had to smell horrible on that ark. And the food for his family—I mean, so many details that he would have to think all the way through with that.”
Ann: I’m thinking—when you said that, I thought of Psalm 139, where God knits us together in our mother’s womb—as God was knitting Noah, He put in him everything he would need intellectually/physically in order to build this ark.
I think of us, as listeners/as people walking with Jesus, the things that you are walking through—whether it’s doubt, whether you’ve lost someone, the hard transitions that maybe you are walking through—God knew, when He knit you together, what you would face. He has equipped you to face that—and not only to face it but to walk through it in victory—IF we can walk closely as Noah did with God.
Dave: You wrote in your subtitle the five decisions that help us get through life when it’s hard—you know?—when doubt is rising. We talked yesterday:
- Walk with God: again, from Noah’s life.
- Listen to God.
Here we are—decision number three is—"Rise above the doubt.” I’ve struggled with doubt; help me rise above. I’m guessing some of our listeners have struggled—maybe, are right now, just in a period of their life, where they are gripped with doubt—how do we rise above?
Nicki: Let’s go back to Noah, because he is the best teacher on this. When God told Noah—it actually says that He invited him into the ark—okay; that’s a beautiful reflection of what God does with us: He doesn’t force us in; He doesn’t push us in; He invites us into His presence; right? God invites Noah into the ark.
Then this is one of my favorite parts of the biblical account of Noah. We see that Noah is standing at this door. This, for me, would have been the hardest part of all of this; right? Yes, building the ark was incredibly hard; convincing his family to come on there had to be a struggle; but then he is in this place, where he really sees the water starting to come, and he sees the rain.
This is the part where—can we just be real for a second?—this is not a children’s story. I decorated my daughter’s nursery in the Noah-and-the-ark theme. Nothing says “Sweet dreams” like mass destruction, worldwide; right?—not a children’s nighttime story.
Nicki: But think about it—the screams that he would be hearing from his neighbors; the people running to the ark, because they realized he really did know—closing the door to the ark would have been the hardest thing, I feel like, for a human, to see all the people and to hear the cries. It says that the Lord shut him in; I thought, “That is such God’s kindness in this story.”
We can look at this story; and we can say, “This is just mean. Why would God just wipe out humanity like this? It feels mean.” But this is where we see that it is either—we can see God’s meanness, or we can see God’s mercy—so He closes the door; He does the hardest part of that assignment.
That is a beautiful reflection of what Jesus did on the cross. He already did the hardest part for us; okay? So when we come into the ark—which is our salvation: that moment where we invite Jesus to live inside of us, and we just decide to follow after Him for the rest of our lives—the hardest part is done; but then it is up to us to access the power and the authority that is in the ark/the salvation; right?
As Noah is in the ark—and all of this doubt is outside of the ark—and the ark starts to rise. I’m sure the screams stopped; and it continues to rise, and it continues to rise, and it continues to rise, and rise, and rise. We see that Noah is in this place, where everything that tried to knock him down to discourage him from believing and trusting in God, is no longer there. He is in that ark, and he is safe; and he is rising, and rising, and rising.
When we start to think about our hard seasons—and the things that try to knock us down when it comes, specifically, to doubt—we’ve got to make that decision that we are going to come into the ark; and we are going to declare God’s power, and His authority, and His goodness, and His mercy over our lives, and decide to stay put and just keep rising.
Somedays, it’s really hard—let’s just be really honest—but remember: God shut that door. You don’t have to shut that door. He already did the hardest part; now, our job is to stand in ark and to keep rising above the things that want to sink us.
Dave: You know, it’s interesting—when I hear you describe it that way, which is such a beautiful way to describe it; I never really thought the way you just—I mean, I never thought about hearing screams.
Ann: I did.
Dave: I’ve never thought of that, which is a whole other dimension of the story.
But here is what just hit me is—often, to rise above the doubts, I don’t feel like I have it in me; but if I put myself in Christ/in the ark, in a sense, He rises us up:—
Nicki: That’s right.
Ann: That’s good, Dave.
Dave: —"Just trust Me,” “Hold onto Me. I’ll take care of your doubts.”
Nicki: That’s right.
Dave: You’re not going to be able to muster it up—
Dave: —with enough intellectual knowledge. It’s just like: “Would you just cling to Me? I’ll rise you.” Because, I mean, when you said that, that’s what I saw: “Okay, Noah is just in the ark, where he is supposed to be; God lifted him above.” In some sense, that is how we rise in Christ.
Okay, so we’ve got three decisions down. The fourth one is: “Remember who is in charge.”
Nicki: You know, in our Christian culture, we are big on saying things like—“God is in control,”—and He is; He is sovereign over everything.
But I think, when we think about control, from a human perspective, we think of it like: “I’m going to move this bottle here, and I’m going to do this, and I’m going to do that.” It’s like grabbing a hold of things—right?—like “in control.” But I have really been challenged, especially through that season—because a lot of people said that to me, like, “God is in control”—absolutely, He was.
But I was not feeling it, so I did one little shift in my mind. My husband is a cross country coach in our little town, and one of the things I always find very interesting is he goes out there with this plan. He’ll tell his athletes—he’s like: “You’ve got to go out at this time,” “You’ve got to do this…” “You’ve got to do that…”—he presents the plan to them; right?
But they are teenagers—and we are really being harsh on the teenagers [Laughter]; but we love them—but they get out there; and they are like, “Uh! I’m just going to do whatever I want to do.” They take off, and they don’t go the right pace; they are not hydrated, or things like that. Then they get to the end of the race—and they come up to my husband, and they are like, “Man, Coach, what did I do wrong?”—he’s like: “I gave you the plan,” and “You didn’t follow it.”
When we think about God being in charge—like God has the plan; He has already designed everything out—but God is not moving us around, like puzzle pieces or chess—like we’re not in a chess game. He is sovereign; He is seeing over everything—but He gives us options—can I just say that?
Sometimes, God will be like: “Okay, well, you could do this job,” or “You could do this job.” I think, sometimes, we get it all messed up in our heads that we think God only has this one way to do everything. But when we remember that God is in charge of the plan, but we’re in control of our obedience—that’s when the shift starts to happen in our faith, because He gives us the plan through His Word; He gives us options—but then, it is up to us to remember that He is in charge; but we’ve got to obey.
Ann: What did that look like for you as you were going through this doubt—the grieving—that hard spell?
Nicki: Again, this is where it comes back to that place, where our questions for God are okay; but the questioning of God becomes dangerous. This was one of those places where, you know, I would find myself coming before God in prayer, going, “This is wrong. He’s got these three kids. We’re going to have all these struggles/all these issues,”—like—"I don’t understand this.”
We start to kind of tell God: “Hey, this would have been my plan/this would have been my agenda,”—like—"Oh, Lord, here it is; bless it”; right?
Ann: —or “If You would have healed them, You could have gotten so much glory.”
Nicki: —“…so much glory, God.” Oh, yes, I prayed that.
But we have to remember—this kind of goes back to what we were talking about before—that there are things on this side of eternity that will never make sense to the human mind. The ark and Noah’s biblical account is one of those things. We talk about the screams and things like that—that may never make sense to us—but we have to trust that God has a bigger picture in mind.
It’s kind of like when you are flying. You know how when you look out the window, you look down, and you see how small earth really is and how small we really are—like I hope I never lose that perspective—because when God is looking down on earth, He sees the whole picture and the whole story, and He has got the whole plan. When we remember He is in charge of the plan—I’m in control of my obedience—it/I don’t want to say it settles our soul; but it can help us to continue to do what He tells us to do, because we don’t get to that place of unbelief, and just go, “Well, You didn’t follow my plan, God; so I am out.”
Dave: Walk us through the last decision: “Find the familiar faithfulness of God.”
Shelby: That’s Dave and Ann Wilson with Nicki Koziarz on FamilyLife Today. We’ll hear about what she calls her favorite part of the book coming up in just a second.
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Alright; now, back to Dave and Ann’s conversation with Nicki Koziarz and what it means to “Find the familiar faithfulness of God.”
Nicki: After Noah goes through this long year on this ark—a lot of people get confused and they think it was only 40 days and 40 nights—he was on there for a whole year. When Noah gets to the point, where he’s like, “Okay, maybe, we’re done here. It’s time to start figuring out what is next.”
This is the part of the text that I really enjoyed studying, because is the part we don’t see God come to Noah and give him these very specific instructions. This is where I kind of go back to that concept of: “Sometimes, He gives us options.” Noah was a smart guy; he knew how to figure some things out. Noah knows he needs to send out these birds. He starts with the raven, and then, he sends out the dove. The dove is the one who brings back the olive branch, and he knows it is time to come out of the ark.
But let’s think about this because—let’s just go back to the pandemic; because I think that’s one that we can all identify with, even still—those two weeks, when we were all in that total lockdown, and it was time to come back out—it was weird; right? We would go to the grocery store, and like nobody was looking at each other.
Ann: We are walking down certain sides of the aisle that are marked off; yes.
Nicki: Yes, that had those arrows. [Laughter]
Ann: Yes, I was on the wrong side every time.
Nicki: Me too. [Laughter] Or I’d turn the wrong way, and I’m like, “Oh, I’ve got to go the other way.”
When we went back to church, it was really weird—like: “Do we hug? Do we handshake?”—nothing felt really familiar. In fact, I would say it still doesn’t totally feel like it did in 2019; right? It feels really uncomfortable
Think about Noah when he was coming out of the ark and looking at this world. We just talked about the whole earth was covered in water. When a flood happens, it destroys everything; so there were no mountains; there were no trees; there was no green grass.
I always had this picture that Noah opened the ark, and it was this pretty rainbow and the sun and green pastures.
Ann: That’s what it shows in the little kids’ books. [Laughter]
Nicki: Right; right. But no, there was none of that; it was all mud. He is looking out, and the reality settles in that his neighbors are gone; his family is gone: his nieces and nephews, his cousins, his uncles. Everyone is gone, and life as he knew it was totally different.
He’s looking out—and I am so challenged by Noah’s first reaction because—do you want to know what the first thing that he did? He builds an altar, and he begins to sacrifice and worship God. I don’t know, when I go through something hard, that that is my first reaction. My first reaction tends to be like: “I’m going to sit here and cry”; and I’m going to be really upset, and maybe watch too much Netflix®—things like that. What a picture for us—of when we go through something hard, and to come out on the other side—to get to that place of worship and sacrifice before God.
I think that Noah knew—again, we don’t see God command him to do that—but he knew: “I’ve got to get in the presence of God”; and that’s how he was going to do it. As he did that, we see the rainbow and the promises, and everything starts to come full circle with the story; but he is still left with the reality of what is still to come: this whole new life he is going to have to build.
You know, when I think about losing my mom, and my brother—and then my dad moved away shortly after that—that is what the last few years have been like: “God, none of this feels familiar. None of this feels right; none of this feels normal. I just want to be a family again. [Emotion in voice] I just want to have one more Thanksgiving, one”—I’m sorry—"one more Christmas.” God just keeps reminding me: “Get back to My familiar faithfulness, because that is where the healing and the wholeness is.”
As a human, we are going to long for those things while we are here on this earth—it’s not going to go away—but God’s presence: it never leaves us; but it is up to us to find it in every season.
Ann: I’m just wondering if you would close by praying for us.
Ann: There are so many that are listening, who are probably thinking, “That’s where I am. I just have nothing,” and “I need to do that.” So would you pray for them?
Nicki: Absolutely; yes.
God, we thank You for Noah’s legacy that he has left for us to follow. I just pray over the listener right now, who is looking into the future; and it just feels really hopeless. They are craving that familiar place—whether it is a person, or a place, or a job, or something that has been a part of their life—and it is no more; and they are just craving that.
God, I pray that, right now, You would step down; and You would fill that craving with Your presence. Lord, I pray that You would remind us that it is our decision to get into Your presence—and that we have to do our part, God—but You are always faithful to meet us, when we do our part; and we show up in Your presence, Lord.
God, I pray that You would continue to use the biblical account of Noah to encourage us. I’m reminded of the verse in Matthew, that it says that “Jesus will return as it was in the days of Noah.” Lord, I’m just going to be honest. It feels a little bit like we are heading in that direction right now; but Lord, I pray that we would not be discouraged, and that we would find strength in Your presence and in Your power, in obeying and walking with You, Lord.
Thank You that, no matter what comes our way, we can always return back to Your presence. I just pray that You would give every one of us today that certainty and that presence that comes when we enter into a place of worship and sacrifice before You. In Jesus’s name, amen.
Shelby: You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann with Nicki Koziarz on FamilyLife Today. Her book is called Flooded: The Five Best Decisions to Make When Life Is Hard and Doubt Is Rising. You can order a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com.
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Now, coming up next week for parents, the teenage years can be frightening: surges of hormones, body changes, struggling to find identity. The teenage years can be a confusing time for both you and your kids. Well, next week, Dave and Ann Wilson will be joined by Gary Chapman to tell us all we need to know when preparing for teens. We hope you’ll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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