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.
- 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?