James 1:2-4 – My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (NKJV)
Someone wrote me this week and said “but what about the people who don’t suffer? I’ve seen people who just skate through life and God blesses everything they do”. It is God’s prerogative who He blesses; but in reality are there people who just skate through life truly serving God?
2 Timothy 3:12 – Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. (NKJV)
If you look at other people and feel like they’ve got it “easy” or feel like God is blessing them while ignoring you; if you think others are “skating” while you are being put through the tough times, then I would suggest that one of several things is true:
- You haven’t been around them long enough
- They have learned to be content in all circumstances and you don’t see the suffering
- Your eyes are deceiving you because of your own discontent and need for an excuse
- You are selectively choosing what you want to see to prove your point
Read the words very closely, “ALL who desire to live a GODLY life in Christ Jesus will SUFFER”. There’s not a lot of room there for wiggle. Let’s review our major points so far:
- Life is tough simply because we live in a fallen, sin-cursed world. (Gen 3)
- We frequently suffer because of the consequence of our own sin. (Gal 6.7-9)
- The Bible contains ALL the answers we need concerning adversity. (Psalms 19; 2Tim 3.16-17; 2Pet 1.1-3)
- We are not in control of life. (Habukkuk 3.17-18)
- If you walk in the Spirit, God will cause adversity to work for your good. (Romans 8.28)
- Suffering turns head knowledge into heart knowledge. (Job 42:5)
- Adversity brings an opportunity to display the character of Christ so that others might be saved. ( 2Cor 4:8-11; 1 Pet 3:14-15)
- Prayer and singing are a Godly response to tough times. (Acts 16)
- Hardship should make us long for Heaven and to be with Jesus. (Rev. 7:16-17; 1Pet 1:3-5 )
God Can Use Adversity to Mold and Shape Us to
As humans we tend to think of any negative circumstance or painful situation as punitive. It is part of our nature to view these times with a “why me?” or “what’s the quickest way to end it” mindset. There is no trial that we cannot benefit from. Many of them may be for the simple (yet eternal) sole purpose of transforming us more into the image of Christ.
Hebrews 12:11 – Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (NKJV)
Suffering is never pleasant. While it is occurring, it is painful and difficult. But notice what the writer says… afterward, it results in righteousness for those who have been what? Trained by it. What you get out of adversity has everything to do with whether you are open to be taught by it.
In this context, adversity is used not as a punishment, not as a consequence of personal sin, but as a teacher… a trainer.
1 Peter 1:6-8 – In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, (NKJV)
Peter tells us that we should rejoice, greatly rejoice, though even for a little time we will endure different types of hardships. In the end our faith will be refined and Jesus will be glorified. Notice there is nothing in this verse about how you should “buck up” and “take your medicine” simply because you’re being punished; or because it is a matter of “bad luck”. God has a very distinct purpose in everything we go through.
And then of course our main verse (Jam. 1:2-4) tells us that we endure suffering with patience so that we may be made “perfect, lacking nothing”. Again, the purpose of our adversity is to accomplish God’s will and transform us more into the image of Christ.
If we could truly come to the point where we would see suffering and adversity as an opportunity to be more like Jesus, would we want to avoid suffering? Or pray that God would bless us with more affliction? Our first inclination is to do everything possible to defend against suffering. But spiritual logic would say the opposite if adversity is truly a blessing. What are the differences between avoiding it, seeking to escape it and flat out going looking for it? I leave you to consider those answers yourself.
Adversity Pulls Us Back onto the Right Path
There is no doubt that God often uses hardships to get our attention and helps us to see those things that are distracting us from the single purpose of serving God. I know in my own life I tend to want to do too many things, and have too many interests for my own good. So when my spiritual life is suffering and my Christian walk is being neglected (because I have busied myself with too many things) it is not a surprise to find myself suffering in such a way that it turns my focus back to God.
Of course there are times in our lives when we are just flat out sinning or have become too consumed with the world. Then God may get our attention through some suffering. This is a most merciful and loving act on His part considering the alternative. He could just let us continue on down our own path, enjoying a smooth sailing time of sin (and the resulting consequences). But because God loves us so much He would rather we endure pain for a short time in order to benefit eternally.
Psalm 119:67 – Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word. (NKJV)…
Translation for dummies: I used to think my way was best until I tried it.
I can see God looking down on me when my life (spiritual and otherwise) is in chaos, and asking “hey knucklehead, I see you’re still doing things your way. How’s that workin’ for you?” Sometimes I want to get Proverbs 30.2 tattooed backwards on my forehead so I can read it in the mirror: “Surely I am more stupid than any man…”
We Accept Suffering for Christ’s Sake and for His Glory
Jesus Christ suffered more than any man who’s ever lived (physically other humans have suffered as much, but add the spiritual weight and there is no comparison). To suffer is to relate to Christ, to be like Him, to honor Him, and to participate in the life that Jesus led. Anytime you go through something that another person has gone through, you are better able to relate to that person.
Cancer patients understand other cancer patients more than anyone else. A person who has had their wife leave them can relate to another abandoned spouse better than anyone else. Someone who has lost a child can understand and relate to another who is suffering the same thing. That’s certainly not to say that you cannot help someone unless you have experienced their suffering. Anyone with a Bible and heart of compassion is helpful to the wounded and hurting. But those who have endured a particular affliction have a special capacity to understand others in the same situation.
So think about this and tell yourself in the midst of your suffering “this must be taste of what Jesus felt. Through this pain I can understand a little better what Jesus went through”. And with this attitude we increase our appreciation and love for the Savior because He has suffered the weight of all sin… making Him the best qualified Person in the Universe to have compassion on you during your hard times.
Luke 6:22 – Blessed are you when men hate you, And when they exclude you, And revile you, and cast out your name as evil, For the Son of Man’s sake. (NKJV)
Are you in the midst of adversity? Does your whole life seem like one trial after another? If so believe me, you are not alone. Take heart that our loving God has a plan and purpose for every trial.
Your suffering will mold you and transform you into the image of Christ. Adversity will smack you in the head and get your attention when you stray off the path of righteousness. The tough times in life will draw you closer to Christ in greater love and appreciation… having known a taste, just a little taste, of what the Lord Jesus suffered on your behalf.
Lord God, we pray that You will help us to see adversity as You see it. Empower us to look instinctively for Your hand of blessing each time life gets hard. In Jesus name, Amen.
Contemplation: Can you look back and see any time in your life where suffering transformed your life to be more like Christ? Have you ever specifically asked God to do that? Can you recognize a time when God used adversity to pull you back on the “narrow way that leads to life”? When you suffer, do you grudgingly endure it or do you see it as a time to understand Jesus more?
Application: Our modern comfortable lifestyle programs us to see all suffering as bad, and seek immediate relief. The modern prosperity movement in the Church only aggravates this problem further by teaching people they lack faith if they are suffering in any way which adds GUILT on top of the suffering. Read the Bible. Read the New Testament. Do a word study on suffering, affliction, trials and persecution. Find out for yourself what Scripture clearly teaches: all Christians will suffer, and God will use that suffering for your eternal good.
- What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today?
- What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
- What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?