The Blessing of Tough Times – Molding, Pulling, Enduring – Part 5

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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.

  1. What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today?
  2. What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
  3. What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?

(seriesid:25)


The Blessing of Tough Times – Opportunity, Songs & Heaven – Part 4

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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)

If you’re alive, you qualify to suffer. It is a part of the human experience just as sure as the sun rises.

For those who choose to live life apart from God, trials and hardship are always something to be avoided; something for which immediate relief is sought and a part of life in which there appears to be no benefit or positive result. For the Christian, it could very well be the same way. The difference is, it doesn’t have to be. Our merciful and loving God has taken what we have messed up through sin and (in keeping with His nature) has turned even affliction into one of life’s premium blessings (as only He can).

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)

Before moving on to three more points today, I want to reemphasize what I believe is the most important point we will make in this series and that is…

The Bible contains the solution to every single struggle we will face in this life.
Psalms 19; 2Tim 3.16-17; 2Pet 1.1-3

That’s not to say that the Bible is some sort of medical encyclopedia, scientific textbook or a categorized how-to book. I can’t look in the table of contents or an index and find an entry for every single specific problem or circumstance I will face in my life. The Bible is not a pharmacy where you look up a condition and then take a pill that will make everything feel better.

However, there is no emotion, no circumstance, no moral dilemma, no situation and no problem in this life that you cannot turn to the Scriptures and find an example or a principal that will guide you in your decision. Unless God is a liar, I can trust that the Bible contains ALL I need to live a holy and thoroughly equipped life that will be fruitful and pleasing to Him. We have the God of the universe as our Counselor and Guide (John 14:26) and the apostle James tells us that we can pray for wisdom and God will provide it generously (James 1).

The Bible is not a “help”, it is not a good book that complements “real solutions”… and it is not just another reference in the overall scope of resources available to help cope with life. The Bible is THE BOOK, THE REFERENCE, THE RESOURCE. Every other writing is only as good as it explains, and enhances, clarifies and repeats what the Bible says.

Adversity Gives Us the Opportunity to Display the Character of Christ As a Testimony to Win Others to Christ

One of the most natural, and wrong, reactions to hardship and suffering is to become self focused. Affliction tends to turn our eyes off of God and on to ourselves with the actual trial becoming front and center in our lives. When it is obvious that we suffer because of our own sinful choices it is a little bit easier to not be self consumed because we realize it is our fault. But when we suffer unjustly or unexpectedly, and do not understand why, it is a very natural and fleshly response to become self consumed in our struggle.

This betrays one of man’s greatest flaws brought on by the curse of sin:
we tend to think that everything is about US.

It is the mark of Christian maturity to realize that not everything in life is about us specifically and individually. For the Christian who is walking by the Spirit, the focus of life is primarily everything but SELF. Our focus is on God and our fellow humans, serving them and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world.

For the Christian who practices crucifying the flesh on a daily basis, it is not quite as difficult to comprehend that suffering may be all about something other than us. For the Christian who lives a daily life of fulfilling their own needs, planning for their own life, and arranging everything in their world around what makes them happy, it becomes very difficult for them to see that adversity is not all about them (or that affliction can be a blessing).

A person focused on themselves in good times
will focus on themselves in hard times.

As we cultivate the idea that our life is for God’s purpose then we will begin to filter everything that happens to us through that concept. So when tough times come calling, our first thought will be “how does this glorify God and fulfill his purposes?” Rather than “why me?”.

2 Corinthians 4:8-11 – We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed- always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (NKJV)

1 Peter 3:14-15 – But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; (NKJV)

Adversity offers us a unique opportunity to demonstrate the grace of God and the character of Christ, if for no other reason than that. Hardships can become a great blessing because Jesus is magnified and God is glorified. It is an exciting and fruitful development in your life when you finally come to the point where you realize that not everything is about “me”.

Prayer and Singing While Suffering Is a Godly Response

There is no doubt that if we respond Biblically to adversity the world is going to think that we’re nuts. In fact, if we respond Biblically to most anything the world thinks were a bunch of fruitcake’s. It is not the world’s idea of “natural” to respond to suffering with prayers of thanksgiving and the singing of joyful songs.

In Acts chapter 16, we find Paul and Silas thrown into prison after they had been beaten almost to death and had most of the skin stripped off their back. In verse 25 they are praying and singing hymns to God and the other prisoners were “listening to them”. While Scripture does not tell us exactly what they were praying and singing, whatever it was they were obviously songs and prayers full of hope and power because later on some of those who were listening wanted to know what they could do to have “it” in their lives as well.

By responding in a Godly manner, exactly the opposite of what the world would expect, Christ was glorified and lost souls were saved because Paul and Silas saw their suffering as a way to further God’s purpose instead of responding “why me?” or “poor us” (which from a natural point of view seems perfectly justifiable).

The Hardships of Life Cause Us to Long for Heaven and to Be with Christ

We are far too content in this world. I have on many occasions heard Christians say “I’m not ready to go to heaven because I haven’t…” which is followed by some experience in this life that they feel like they will miss if they were to go to heaven today. This betrays far too a great love for the world and incredible lack of knowledge of heaven.

This sin cursed world is not our home (1Peter 2:11). It is a staging area with two purposes: one) to allow us the opportunity to bring as much glory to God as possible, and two) to transform us as much as possible into the image of Christ in preparation for eternity.

Every tough time you face should remind you of this fact. Every moment of suffering should cause you to long to go to your real home. Every hardship endured should refocus your mind on the sinless, perfect eternity we will spend with Christ.

Revelation 7:16-17 – They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (NKJV)

1 Peter 1:3-5 – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (NKJV)

In context, the verse in Revelation is written to Christian martyrs but the application is no doubt something we will all experience. Peter tells us that we have a living hope because of Jesus Christ and that we have an inheritance waiting for us that can never be ruined in any way or disappear.

Let each moment of hardship and disappointment become a reminder of what you have waiting for you in eternity. Is this an easy thing to do? Not even close. It takes a willful choice, and asking for God’s empowerment to become a person who can think and respond in this manner.

When you face a tough times in life remember that people are watching you and by your Godly response, others may be drawn to Christ.

Lord God, help us to not only understand Your purpose in suffering, but Your faithfulness that has been promised to sustain us during it. Empower us to take our eyes off the hardships, and focus them on You for Your glory. In Jesus name, Amen.

Contemplation: When you suffer what do people see? A sad, downtrodden demeanor? Do they hear lamenting and “I don’t deserve this”?

Application: As an unbeliever or a new Christian it is understandable when these natural responses occur (“why me?””I don’t deserve this”). But there comes a time when a Christian must mature and the first response is a concern for God’s glory rather than personal concern. It all depends on whether or not you see adversity from God’s viewpoint or not.

  1. What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today?
  2. What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
  3. What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?

(seriesid:25)


The Blessing of Tough Times – Control, Purpose & Heart – Part 3

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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)

Tough times are a part of our existence. Adversity is a defining characteristic of the human experience. We can’t wish it away, ignore it or positive-confess it out of reality.

Today we will look at another possible reason we might experience tough times, one of the Godly responses we can choose and one of the benefits that is possible through suffering. Let’s review our major points so far:

  • We will suffer 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)

As we move on to some other points keep in mind that any single one of these observations is not the sum total of suffering. In other words, we don’t ALWAYS suffer because of our own sin, but we most certainly sometimes do. Each of our points is just one possible consideration. The most important, all-encompassing point is the understanding that Scripture is ALWAYS the answer to life’s hardships.

We Are Not In Control of Life

An extension of the sin-curse is that we have lost control of life. That’s not to say that we were “god” (in control of all things) before Adam sinned, but that the world God created was perfect and predictable. Now it is in chaos and continues on a scientifically well-known and spiritually manifested course of continuous increasing disorder.

Part of the consequence God pronounced on the earth was that it would not cooperate with us in our efforts (Gen 3). So we find our self often times looking at a life we neither planned, expected or wanted. Consider Habakkuk 3.17-18 (NKJV; emphasis mine):

  • Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines;
    • Sometimes life just doesn’t end up the way we thought it would; everything doesn’t turn out the way we planned. There are times when our efforts don’t seem to ever result in anything “pretty” and there is nothing to show for our efforts.
    • Frequently life leaves us wondering why we even bother. It seems sometimes that no matter how hard we try or how good our motives are, we just don’t produce anything “fruitful” (at least from our perspective).
  • Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food;
    • Then there are the times when life is just downright hard. Little seems to go right, and nothing comes easy.
  • Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls—
    • Tough times come frequently in the form of loneliness and isolation. Have you every been suffering through hard times and felt like you were doing it alone? There seems to be no one who knows, no one who understands and no one who cares.
    • Life is just not cooperating. Things may look right, feel right and seem right… but you know deep down something is missing.
  • Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

Despite all of that, we find the writer rejoicing! And we can do the same. No matter how hard life gets, it is but a light and momentary trial compared to what the God of our salvation has prepared for us! This is know as an “eternal perspective”.

2 Corinthians 4:17-18 – For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (NKJV)

We Can Respond Knowing That God Has a Purpose for Good

Romans 8:28 – And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (NKJV)

Sometimes that verse gets worked to death and becomes a cliché because we don’t take time to understand its context. It is a wonderful verse of promise and consolation, and even more so when we realize the entire scope of what the Apostle Paul was writing. We can’t do a whole study on Romans, but let’s start back at least in verse 1 of Chapter 8:

Romans 8:1 – There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. (NKJV)

It is first of importance to understand that Paul is speaking to those who are genuinely saved. Next, we notice that he addresses those who are NOT walking a life of worldliness (flesh), but are living life according to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Paul goes on in the next few verses explaining that more fully by saying:

Romans 8:18 – For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (NKJV)

Compared to what God has done for us, and what He has waiting for us, any suffering that we endure in this life is of little consequence compared to the glorious future we will enjoy. Going on in verses 19-25 we see that the earth is groaning from the curse of sin and God will eventually rescue creation from this bondage. Then in verse 26:

Romans 8:26 – Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. (NKJV)

The Holy Spirit helps us through this life. In reality we don’t even know how to pray properly because our finite mind cannot grasp what is really going on; only God can see all things in perfect perspective. The Spirit searches our hearts and makes intercession for us (27).

Now verse 28 comes to light… because we are saved, because we live in a world that doesn’t work right anymore (sin curse), because we can’t see the “whole” picture but the Holy Spirit does and prays on our behalf…. Because of all that, we can take solace and rejoice in the fact that ALL things work together for our good, because God called each of us according to His purpose.

For these reasons, we can respond to trials and adversity with joy knowing that while unpleasant, the suffering is still part of God’s plan for our ultimate blessing and happiness… and more importantly for God’s glory.

Suffering Turns Head Knowledge Into Heart Knowledge

As humans, we best comprehend something that we have experienced fully… intellectually, emotionally and physically. A person who has never suffered can have little real empathy for those who have. Those who have suffered little (or suffered apart from God) will know little of God’s sustaining grace. Those who have experienced few trials will only have intellectual acknowledgement of the Comforter and Counselor. After Job had suffered his terrible losses and complete devastation he said:

Job 42:5 – “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You. (NKJV)

Job had proclaimed in the past his trust in God and he knew certain truths in his head such as “the Lord gives and the Lords takes away, blessed be the Lord”. To his credit (God’s really) he stood by those beliefs when the test was administered.

But in the end, after the suffering had been experienced he realized that what he had previously heard, what he previously had known intellectually, had now become living, breathing reality for Job. His eyes were opened through suffering to the realization that God really was in control; God really was faithful; God really is real.

It can do the same for you and I. Is it fun? Hardly. Will you understand it? Maybe not. Will your friends and family respond supportively? Who knows. But in the end…

The greater the trial, the greater the
opportunity to see God for real.

We are not in control of what happens in this life, but we can be sure that because God called us for His purpose, that whatever hardship you now face will work out eventually for your ultimate good (and more importantly for God’s glory)… and in the end, you will know about God’s grace in a new fullness what was previously only known intellectually.

Lord God, help us to not only understand Your purpose in suffering, but Your faithfulness that has been promised to sustain us during it. Empower us to take our eyes off the hardships, and focus them on You for Your glory. In Jesus name, Amen.

Contemplation: Some people turn to God only when things get bad; some only when things are good. How about you? Why do you think you don’t turn to God in all circumstances, good or bad? Do you believe that God works all things together for good for you? What qualifies you for the promise? Are you walking according to the flesh, or the Spirit (Rom 8.1)? After suffering, Job “knew” what he previously had only “heard”. Do you “know”? Or have you just “heard”?

Application: We are not in control. Sometimes life is tough for this simple reason. God works all things together for good for the saved, and for those walking in the Spirit, not the flesh. Suffering gives us the ability to truly know the things of God that we may only previously had head knowledge of.

  1. What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today?
  2. What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
  3. What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?

(seriesid:25)


The Blessing of Tough Times – General Principles – Part 2

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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)

Tough times, trials, suffering, hardship, adversity… a very real part of life. And no amount of positive confession, denial, or wishing thinking can change that fact.

So we’re left to try and understand God’s viewpoint. Does He condone suffering? Does He allow it? Does He have a purpose in it? Is there any benefit to us? Are tough times in life just part of our existence, something we just grin-n-bear holding out for a better future in heaven?

I want start by laying some groundwork that will provide an overall framework for this entire series. Let’s start with some general truth that applies across-the-board to adversity:

  • We suffer because we live in a fallen world.
  • We suffer because of the consequence of our own sin.
  • The Bible contains ALL the answers we need concerning adversity.

Each of the reasons, responses and benefits that we will study in this series will be subsets of these three general principles. As we filter all of the ideas and details about hardships through these three basic truths, we will discover that the major theme concerning suffering and this life is:

It is mankind’s own fault that life is hard
and God has mercifully turned it into a blessing.

Life is tough, that is a fact. And it is OUR fault, and that is also fact. But God in His loving kindness, His infinite wisdom, and His tender mercy has once again taken what we have messed up and has made the hardships of life a source of blessing.

We Suffer Because We Live a Fallen World

In Genesis 3 we find that mankind, through our perfect representative (Adam), chose to forgo faultless, holy fellowship with Creator God and exchanged it for an existence of self dependence and self will. Through our own choice we gave up Paradise for imprisonment in a cursed world of hardship.

We find in the opening verses that we decided we were smarter than God, and that He was keeping something from us that we deserved (ironic considering Adam and Eve lived in a state of perfection). And so we willingly choice to sin, to violate God’s instructions, and elevate our own will over the Lord God’s.

Let me pause here for a moment and explain why I keep saying “we” and “our”. Many people claim “it’s not MY fault that Adam sinned. I was never given a chance. How can God hold me accountable for Adam’s sin?“.

That opinion is either pure self-deception or ignorance. Consider this: Adam was the perfect man, created in a perfect environment, with a perfect unpolluted mind, living in a perfect world and enjoying direct, untainted fellowship with the Creator of the Universe. He was a perfect man in a perfect situation with perfect holiness. And yet, he still fell to the temptation of pride.

Now tell me, acknowledging Adam’s circumstance, which one of us wants to stand up and say “I would not have fallen to the temptation”. Just the very fact that a person could proclaim such a thing immediately proves the opposite.

In God’s infinite and merciful wisdom, He gave man the perfect opportunity to live in sinless perfection. He created him perfectly, gave him everything he needed, and walked with him in continous empowering fellowship. He gave us the very best chance we could ever ask for. And yet Adam (we) fell. He was mankind’s perfect representative, given the absolutely perfect, perfect, perfect chance to succeed at being sinless… and yet he fell. That is why Scripture is correct in stating:

Romans 5:12 – Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned— (NKJV)

Suffering is a logical result of a sin cursed world. Continuing on in Genesis Chapter three we find starting in verse 16 that sorrow and pain was introduced, that conflict and self will would be a part of our personalities, that the very ground will suffer, our work suffers, and life in general will produce suffering.

So one overarching principle is that adversity and hardship is simply a natural and logical part of a creation that is cursed because of our own collective choice to sin.

We Suffer from the Consequence of Our Own Personal Sin

A lot of our personal suffering is due to our own personal sin. This may come in the form of consequences or in the form of discipline. It is easy for us to understand this principle when we think of our children but we conveniently play stupid when it comes to us sinning against God.

  • If our child disobeys us (sin) and willfully touches a hot stove despite being warned and told not to (the Law), then the child gets burned (suffers). Life is now tough for him because of the consequence of his own personal choice to disobey.
  • If the same child continues to make the same sinful choice we made decide as his parents to make his life tougher by administering discipline. This discipline will most certainly make him suffer even more, but we do it out of love to cause him to recognize his sin and change his behavior.
  • So the child is now suffering because of consequences and because of discipline… both brought on by a self-willed choice to disobey (sin).

Easy to understand, right? Then why is it so hard for us to accept the same principle in our own lives when God deals with our sin? We are exponentially more childish, willful and sinful towards God than any child is towards their parent (in comparison).

Galatians 6:7 – Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. (NKJV)

We very often suffer because of our own sinful choices.

The Bible Contains All the Answers for Tough Times

We live in a day and age when even conservative evangelical churches believe (at least in practice) that the Bible is only PART of the answer to life’s problems. The Church has become infiltrated and inundated with the world’s ideas of wisdom, counseling and therapy. This is in direct contrast to plain scripture that clearly indicates that all of life’s problems and trials can be addressed by the word of God (emphasis mine):

2 Timothy 3:16-17All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (NKJV)

2 Peter 1:2-4 – Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (NKJV)

Psalm 19:7-11 – The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, Yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them Your servant is warned, And in keeping them there is great reward. (NKJV)

Scripture clearly and emphatically teaches that it contains not only every answer we need, but it is the sole source true wisdom. Does this mean there are no useful books or profitable resources outside of the Bible? Not at all. But what it does mean is that those books and resources are only as good as the degree in which they explain, emphasize and clarify the foundational principles in the Bible.

In any area of counseling/discipling where man’s “wisdom” contradicts God’s word, or introduces concepts and ideas NOT FOUND in God’s word, that counseling becomes at best suspect and at worst harmful. The answers in the Bible “that pertain to life and godliness” start from the same point of origin:

Jeremiah 17:9 – “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? (NKJV)

There is a reason I am emphasizing this point is because we have to quit making excuses for our sin if we are to ever understand suffering and adversity. We have been conditioned to blame our problems (and the resulting consequences) on anything and everything except the primary cause: sinful hearts.

We suffer because we live in a sinful world. We suffer because we are individually sinful. The Bible contains everything needed to deal with both. That is the foundation that we will begin with as we look over the next few days at how to respond to the tough times in life.

Lord God, help us to understand adversity from Your perspective. Grant us grace in our hour of trial, wisdom to know how to respond, and discernment to recognize the blessing you are trying to give us. In Jesus name, Amen.

Contemplation: Is your first response to tough times an all out effort to get out of it? Do you ask God “why me”? Have you ever considered, or believed that hardships are a blessing from God?

Application: Suffering and adversity are only as bad as the degree of our ignorance about what God has to say about it. Is it fun? NO! It is a blessing? Yes. Do you believe it?.

  1. What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today?
  2. What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
  3. What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?

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The Blessing of Tough Times – Part 1

(Click here to search for all the posts in this series…)

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)

Life is tough.

If you read that and think that it doesn’t apply to you… just wait a little bit, it will.

Trials, suffering and hard times come to every single person born into this world. So it is never really a question of “why do bad things happen to good people?”, the real question is “why do bad things happen?”… because adversity visits every single human and shows no favoritism. You can’t wish it away, close your eyes and ignore it, or buy your way out of it.

Adversity and hardship are a fact of a sin cursed world (Genesis 3; Rev 22.3; ). When man chose to sin and brought the stain of evil into God’s perfect creation, suffering became the logical and predictable result. We are suffering the results of our own sin; and when I say “we” I mean the human race as a whole. There also times when we as individuals suffer the direct results of our sin (it may even be that the majority of our suffering is a consequence of our own personal sin) but sometimes we just suffer simply because we live in a sin cursed world and for no other reason than that.

James tells us, in fact he commands us to “count it all joy WHEN you fall into various trials”. Notice he says WHEN not IF. The fact of adversity is reality for every person, and specifically every Christian (Jn 16.33; Acts 14.22; Jas 5.11; 1Thess 3.3).

A fact? Does God get some joy out of seeing us suffer? Hardly. What good father gets pleasure out of seeing his child’s suffer? But on the other hand, what good father does not understand that suffering is part of the growth process for any child, and to thwart or rescue the child from all suffering would cause the child great harm?

A toddler is allowed to touch something sharp to learn the pain it can cause. A child is allowed a little burn on their finger from an oven they won’t leave alone. A teenager walks to work for a few weeks to earn money to fix the car they wrecked. A college student spends a night in jail for drinking in a car with friends. We don’t rescue them because there is a greater blessing in letting them suffer for a little while.

Its easy for us to understand the principle when it comes to our children, but we quickly forget when it comes to God dealing with us. While frequently true, suffering is not always about “learning a lesson”. Sometimes there is blessing to be gained simply by enduring the process of adversity. We’ll learn more about that later in the series.

In our day and age of the “positive Gospel” it may come as a surprise to you that the promised blessing for the obedient Christian is adversity and persecution ( Mt 5:4 ; 1Pe 4:13 , 14; 2Cor 4.17; 2Cor 4.8-11; Ps 119.71; 1Pet 1.7; Heb 12.10-11) . Material prosperity was promised in the Old Testament as part of the covenant to Israel as a blessing for their obedience to the Lord (Gen. 13:1-7; 26:12-14; 30:43; 39:2-6; I Kings 3:13; Job 42:10-17; Deut. 15:10; Prov. 3:9-10; 11:25 ; Mal. 3:8-12; Deut. 28:1-13). It was indeed a blessing, but not the greatest blessing.

Suffering is a SUPERIOR blessing to material prosperity.

You won’t hear that in alot of our churches today. Throughout this series of lessons, it is my prayer that you will come to understand that suffering and adversity are a blessing and gift from God; and not only a gift, but the SUPERIOR gift.

The superior gift of adversity results in ETERNAL prosperity and abundancewhich is a far greater, yes infinitely greater value than material possessions.

Does that mean we should go looking for trials and tribulations? Hardly. Just be alive for any length of time and don’t worry, they will find you. So rather than spending our time lamenting the existence of adversity, I would submit to you that a more profitable use of time would be to discover what God says about it, how we should respond to it, and what, if any, are the blessings to be gained by enduring it.

The disappointments, discouragements and suffering of man started in the garden with Adam and have been common to all since then. No matter the era, the culture or the level of material wealth, hardship is common to all men of all time when…

  • all your efforts seem to end in failure
  • no matter how hard you try, you just don’t seem get anything accomplished
  • you suffer unjustly
  • nothing ever seems to go right
  • life just doesn’t seem to be getting any better
  • it feels like nothing good has resulted from your life
  • you do your best and still fail
  • you do what is right and it still turns out wrong
  • your family falls apart
  • your health fails, your money is lost and your friends forsake you
  • you think you have nothing to show for your life
  • you feel lonely and isolated
  • you feel like no one understands what you’re going through
  • it feels like everyone sees you as a failure
  • your kids go down the wrong path
  • you look at your life and it just doesn’t seem like there is any reason to keep trying
  • you just flat-out can’t see anything good coming from trying anymore
  • your whole life feels like one great big regret
  • you realize that your life is not what you ever thought it would be

That list may seem very depressing and pessimistic, but I would dare say that there’s hardly a person reading this who has not experienced several, if not the majority, of these feelings and circumstances. Since this is a fact of our existence, it is profitable for us to learn what Scripture has to say on the subject. Some of the common questions are:

  • Why is this happening to me?
  • What did I do to deserve this?
  • Is this my fault?
  • How do I respond?
  • Is God aware of what’s happening?
  • Is He allowing it to happen, or causing it to happen?
  • Is there a lesson to learn?
  • Is this a punishment or a blessing?

As we begin this series, let’s start with an answer:

2 Corinthians 2:14 Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. (NKJV)

Thanks be to God who ALWAYS (not sometimes or with conditions) LEADS (God shows us the way going ahead of us to prepare the way) US (His children, all His children) IN TRIUMPH (victory, success… God’s version, not ours) IN CHRIST (not beside Him or apart from Him but IN Christ; protected, sheltered, safe) and through us diffuses the FRAGRANCE (do others “smell” Christ on you?)….

God has already given the answers, the results and all we need to live this life in victory. It is up to us to discover through His revealed Word what those answers are.

Father in Heaven, help us to both understand and be grateful for adversity in our life. Teach us to embrace it as the blessing you mean for it be even though it is hard for us to understand and difficult to endure. In Jesus name, Amen.

Contemplation: Do you believe that Christians are promised a life of prosperity and ease? Is it the blessing of Christianity to enjoy a life of comfort and smooth sailing? Is your first reaction to suffering or adversity and prayer for it to end? Do you believe it is Scriptural to see adversity as a “blessing” from God?

Application: Adversity is difficult when you see it as something to be avoided at all cost. It is all the more difficult when you have been taught that trials and suffering come from a “lack of faith”. Learn what the Bible truly says about life’s difficulties. When you realize the incredible blessing that God has in store for you, delivered in a package of adversity, you will face the tough times of life with enthusiasm and expectation.

  1. What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today?
  2. What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
  3. What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?

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