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)
Are you surprised when life is tough? Do you think it odd? Do you think it abnormal? Do you feel life your life has gone wrong, or is “messed up” because adversity comes calling? (Emphasis mine in all following verses):
- John 16:33 These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (NKJV)
- 1 Thessalonians 3:1-3 Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone, and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith, that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this. (NKJV)
- Job 14:1 “Man who is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. (NKJV)
- Acts 14:22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” (NKJV)
When life gets tough, it might bother us, but is shouldn’t surprise us. What should be the REAL surprise is when we experience a stretch of smooth sailing because the truth is, we don’t suffer near as much as we deserve if the true nature of our sinfulness was unveiled.
- Psalm 103:10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor punished us according to our iniquities. (NKJV)
- Ezra 9:13 And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, since You our God have punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and have given us such deliverance as this, (NKJV; the context is Israel, but the application to us is very real)
Life is hard. And the closer you get to God, the harder your circumstances may become… but the greater the peace, blessings and grace will flow.
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 uses adversity to transform us into the image of Christ (Heb 12.11;1Pet 1.6-8)
- Tough times pull us back on the right path when we have strayed away (Psa 119.67)
- We accept suffering for Jesus sake and His glory (Luke 6.22)
Hardships Enable Us to Sympathize and Relate to Others
One of the great realities of enduring suffering is that it enables us to better relate to and sympathize with others who endure the same suffering. On the highest level this allows Christians to better relate to what Jesus suffered resulting in deeper love and appreciation for our Savior.
On a human level adversity keeps us reminded of the reality of life in this sin-cursed world. When we receive the blessing of suffering it ensures that we never stray too far from being able to empathize with our fellow Christians. This works itself out on two levels:
- First, it helps the non-persecuted church remember and relate to the persecuted church. When I say persecuted in this context, I mean the part of our church today that actually experiences tangible physical persecution such as discrimination, imprisonment, deprivation, beatings and even martyrdom. It is very difficult for those of us who live in an environment of religious liberty to understand and share in the hardships of those who might lose both their possessions and possibly their life for their profession of faith.
- (Note: however, we should strive to try and share in their suffering by reading about their trials and trying be informed. We may not physically participate, but we can care by making ourselves aware of their hardship and doing what we can. By extrapolating or magnifying the relatively light adversity most of us experience, perhaps we can at least understand a hint of what our persecuted brothers and sisters endure. Two good places to start: Foxe’s Book of Martyr’s [which should be required reading for all Christians] and Voice of the Martyr’s – http://www.persecution.com )
- Secondly, the blessing of suffering increases our capacity for compassion towards others who are suffering the same thing we have endured, and those who are suffering hardship in general (even if the affliction is something we haven’t experienced).
By accepting adversity as a blessing from the hand of God,
we can be assured that we will never stray too far from the
reality of all the hurting people God wants you to love.
Despite the current teaching of material prosperity (“the good life”) and the “Jesus-will-improve-your-life” version of the Gospel that is so popular today, the Biblical reality is that we live in a sin cursed, fractured, and deteriorating world that is no longer “good” as God pronounced it originally.
Jesus does not promise to “improve your life” in the
sense that unpleasant circumstances will diminish or cease.
The reality is that once you start living for Jesus, the war is on
and suffering is just around the corner.
The Lord does, of course, miraculously and supernaturally improve our INNER (spiritual, emotional, devotional) life if we allow Him to. Once saved, we are now capable of, and have at our disposal everything we need (through the Holy Spirit) to live a perfectly happy, contented, fullfilled and wondrously joyful life. But our circumstances and suffering with intensify externally, guaranteed.
When the façades are stripped away, the wishful thinking ceases, the rah-rah seminars are over and only brutal realism is left, it is plain for anyone to see that life truly involves tough times (Ecclesiastes) for every single person and ESPECIALLY FOR THOSE WHO NAME THE NAME OF CHRIST.
Let me stop here and make one point clear. Am I saying that we are to walk around sad, discouraged and depressed all time? Are we to have a pitiful countenance and a “woe is me” mentality? Are we to proclaim and bemoan our inevitable suffering? Absolutely not. We are to rejoice in all things. Christians of all people are to be characterized by joy, happiness and fulfillment. This is possible only in Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit and is in spite of the world we live in, not because we ignore the reality of the world we live in.
It is yet another great paradox of Christianity that we will suffer the most AND still be the happiest people in all the world.
2 Corinthians 1:3-7 – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation. (NKJV)
Notice the sequence in these verses. God is the source of mercy and comfort. He comforts us first so that then we may comfort others. We know how to comfort others because God has provided the example for us, and of course that example is perfect. As the sufferings of Christ abound in us (in other words to the degree in which we experience suffering) we will increase our capacity to bring comfort to others. If for no other reason than that, adversity becomes a blessing.
Pay attention to the promise at the end of the passage: to what ever degree we partake of suffering, we are promised consolation (comfort). The end results is that we are then able to pass that comfort on to others because it is now real to us.
Our Response to Suffering Should Always Be Thanksgiving
There are many ironies in the Christian life. Many things that God asks of us are distinctly opposite of what the world would say is appropriate. What person (who is not filled with the Holy Spirit) would ever decide that they should be thankful for adversity and affliction? No, the human dream is comfort, ease and luxury.
In a world gone mad with self gratification, we are told many times a day how much we “deserve” every good and luxurious thing in life. “Get the car you deserve”, “take the vacation you deserve”, “you should have the job you deserve”… this is the new Madison Avenue marketing mantra that we are told over and over and over every day. Advertising now appeals to the lowest common denominator of man’s sinful nature which is pride and self-love (same thing) and tells us that not only should we have what we want…
We are persuaded to believe we actually DESERVE the things we want; and we deserve to have them NOW.
Given that, it leaves no room for the idea that we deserve suffering, much less that we should be thankful for it. And like all the ways of the world it goes directly against God’s Way. We’re blessed to not get what we REALLY deserve.
Psalm 103:10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor punished us according to our iniquities. (NKJV)
We are clearly commanded in Scripture that we should not be surprised when we suffer, that it should bring us joy, and that in EVERY thing we should give thanks. I will not go into it here what all the reasons are because that is the overall goal of this entire series. The point I’m making here is that we should have no doubt that our response to adversity should be one of joy and thankfulness. Doesn’t matter if we agree, care or understand. It’s still commanded of us.
1 Peter 4:12-13 – Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. (NKJV)
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (NKJV)
Suffering Provides Us Proof That God Is Always Faithful
God promises to care for us, comfort us, provide for us, guide us and allow us to cast all of our cares, burdens and suffering on Him. Each time that we experience a trial or hardship it is an opportunity to see in action the faithfulness of God.
Each time that God proves Himself faithful, it deepens our faith and strengthens our relationship with Him. We are drawn us closer to Him as we learn to trust in HIS trustworthiness..
Psalm 119:75-77 – I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are right, And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me. Let, I pray, Your merciful kindness be for my comfort, According to Your word to Your servant. Let Your tender mercies come to me, that I may live; For Your law is my delight. (NKJV)
1 Thessalonians 5:24 – He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it. (NKJV)
God does not always promise a way out. He promises grace and strength to endure. He DOES promise blessing and peace. He DOES promise that it will all work out for our ultimate best (Rom 8.28). He DOES promise that He will sustain us. He DOES promise to be with us, that we will never suffer alone.
Learn to see adversity from God’s perspective. Find those who are suffering and let the compassion that God has poured out on your in your time of trial spill out onto others in need of comfort. Give thanks to God is knows perfectly and exactly what you need to become more like Christ. Turn to God in your hour of trial and see if He is not faithful, without fail, to comfort and strengthen you.
Lord God, As You comfort us, may recognize the opportunities to console others. Thank you for knowing what is best for us. We pray for wisdom to understand it. In Jesus name, Amen.
Contemplation: Has your suffering gone to waste? Have you ever helped someone else by using your experience of affliction to comfort and counsel them? Are you truly thankful for adversity? Do you honestly understand yet the reasons to be thankful? Can you recall specific times when God has been faithful to see your through tough times?
Application: God is always faithful. If you think you got through tough times on your strength, that is sad. You are missing a blessing (and sinning). Learn to thank God for suffering. You don’t FEEL thankful? Sorry, I missed that part in the Bible. The verses don’t say a word about how you feel about it. It says be thankful. BE THANKFUL. Just do it. Feelings always follow choice.
- 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?