As much as we would like it, life is not always as wonderful as we’d wish, and we sometimes find ourselves having to brave the tumult of experiences that are hard to bear. Sometimes, when our patience and faith are tried, when all our attempts to do the right thing end up caked in the mud of problems and troubles, it seems impossible to find a sense of value in what we’re doing.

It’s easy under these circumstances to feel like our days are as hard to wade through as a mud pit, but we can draw encouragement and motivation from the fact that we’re not alone. God’s power and love have to be demonstrated in the worst of times as well as the best. They have to work in the mud, not just the palace.

Consider the apostle Paul. Here is a man whom many Christians look to as an example of unshakable faith in the face of ongoing persecution and difficulties. However, even though he usually remained positive in the face of his struggles, he had his share of “mud” times.

Immediately after his encounter with Jesus and subsequent conversion in Damascus, Paul threw himself into the life of a disciple. He gave it his all, only to find that his change of heart had so enraged his former Jewish colleagues that they had assassins planning to kill him before he could leave the city. Neither was he trusted by his new brethren in Christ—his prior persecution of Christians even caused many of them to doubt the sincerity of his conversion.

When he was abandoned and shipped off to his hometown of Tarsus,[See Acts 9:22–31.] it must have been very difficult for Paul to avoid feeling that he’d failed. But he didn’t give up, and in time God sent Barnabas with the vision to spread the gospel in Asia Minor and eventually throughout the Roman Empire.[See Acts 11:25–26; 13:1–3.]

It’s true that many great men of faith had moments when they were “flying high,” like Joseph with Pharaoh, or Elijah calling down fire from heaven, or Daniel in the lions’ den, but most of the time they were down there in the mud with everyone else, because that’s where their faith could be clearly demonstrated and strengthened.

One moment, Joseph was on top of the world;[See Genesis 37:9–11.] the next, he was being sold into slavery in a foreign land.[See Genesis 37:28.] Then he worked his way up until eventually he was running the household of one of Egypt’s most prominent figures. But again, his success was short-lived, as he found himself the victim of this man’s vengeful wife, who landed him in a prison cell for standing up for his convictions.[See Genesis 39.]

He must have felt like a total washout, but he used what little he had to carry on, even interpreting dreams for some other unlucky souls down in the “mud” of the prison. It was two years before he was released and catapulted into the position God had prepared for him as second in command in Egypt.[See Genesis 40–41.]

And then there’s Moses. God had allowed Moses to be raised in Pharaoh’s court; yet young, strong, and confident Moses was not ready to become the instrument God would use to free His people.[See Exodus 2:10–15.] God had to put him down in the mud of Midian, struggling for 40 years in the wilderness as an exile until he was ready for God to fulfill His plan through him.[See Acts 7:29-30.]

And what about Jesus? He certainly had “mud” time! He even said, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”[Matthew 8:20 NIV]

If you’ve ever felt like things in your life have gone so wrong that God could no longer rescue you, just remember what King David said. He’d done some terrible things, yet he knew that he’d never be abandoned by the divine love that held on to him through everything.

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”[Psalm 139:7–12 NIV and NASB]

Jesus works in each of our lives in a tailor-made way because no two people or lives are exactly the same. God’s examples of those He calls great all had one thing in common: they were determined to stay faithful through times when they couldn’t see God’s plan for them. Whatever the present and future hold for you, remember that He’s promised He will walk through it all by your side, whether in the palace or the mud.