“The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him.” Nahum 1:7
“God whispers in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world”- C.S. Lewis
“If God is good, why is there evil and suffering in the world?” “If God really loves me, why am I facing so much difficulty in my life?” “He was a good Christian, why did that happen to him?” We have all heard people ask these questions and at some point, most of us have asked them ourselves.
Walking with God we often think that if something is God’s will, it will automatically happen. However, this is a very cavalier approach to faith. In fact, if something is part of God’s plan for our lives, we will probably have to contend for it all the more. It is through much tribulation that we enter God’s Kingdom (Acts 14:22). After all, we live in a fallen, sinful world (see Romans 8:17-26), and if you walk through a cow pasture long enough, you are eventually going to step in something!
Please understand, this is not a fatalistic message, nor is it intended to take away personal responsibility for our circumstances. Quite the opposite is true. When people spend their lives aimlessly drifting from crisis to crisis, never experiencing any breakthroughs or victories, that is often a sign of a deeper problem. In the words of that noted American philosopher, Charlie Brown: “That’s the secret to life… replace one worry with another…” (1)
Faith is active, not passive. God wants us to face our difficulties with a bold, aggressive faith that refuses to be denied. I am about to make a statement that will be shocking to many of you: God is not moved simply by need. In Luke 4:25-29, Jesus referred to a time when a horrible famine was in the nation of Israel, but the only person who received help was a widow who fed the prophet (1 Kings 17:9). Another time, there were many in the land who suffered from leprosy, yet only one actually received divine healing (2 Kings 5:1-14). In both of these cases, it was not simply people’s needs that moved God to respond, but it was how these people responded in the face of those needs that got His attention.
Often we spend our time begging God to do what He has already done. We ask, “Why doesn’t God do something,” when in fact, He has already done all He is going to do. When Jesus hung on Calvary’s cross, all of the love and compassion that God’s heart can hold was delivered to this planet in its fullness. His death bought back everything that the curse of sin had stolen from us. The price was paid so that every believer would have everything they need to live a victorious life.
Sometimes that victory may involve being instantly delivered from a difficult situation. However, the way out is often through. Jesus is not some genie which will simply take all of life’s problems away with a rub of a magic lamp, and anyone who comes to Him with that expectation will be greatly surprised. . Jesus never said that following Him was always easy, and in fact, there are some things we will suffer specifically because of our relationship with Christ (2). He told us that as long as we live on this earth, we would have tribulation, but to be of good cheer, He has overcome the world (John 16:33)! Not only that, He invites us to share in that victory as well!
However, there is no victory without struggle. If you are going to be an overcomer, there will be things you will have to overcome. Trials and tests are a necessary part of the Christian life. They reveal our character and the genuineness of our faith. Pressure shows us where our weak spots are. Jesus taught that if our faith fails during a trial it is because the Word of God has not taken root in our hearts (Luke 8:13). In fact, 1 Peter 1:7 tells us that the testing of our faith is more precious than gold which is tried and purified by fire. To the master refiner, the gold is only pure when he can see his reflection in it.
Often, our most difficult times turn out to be the very things that God uses to bring us into our destiny. For example, Joseph endured being sold into slavery (Genesis 37:28), being falsely accused of a heinous crime (39:7-20), and many other horrible trials. However, he remained faithful to God, maintained his integrity and became one of the most powerful leaders in Egypt as a result (41:37-44). Similarly, Daniel’s faithfulness in the face of the lion’s den (Daniel 16:10-22) was the avenue for great blessing and promotion in his life as well (25-28). This gives us all the more reason to trust in the goodness of God in our suffering. He is the faithful Creator, and we are to commit the keeping of our souls to Him (1 Peter 4:19).
We will now take a look at how we apply these principles to our own lives. It has been said that when we do find ourselves facing trials, how we respond in the first few seconds will often determine success or failure. Following are some strategies which I have learned through my own study of the Scriptures, as well as my own personal life experiences. This list is not exhaustive, nor is it intended to be a set of “quick fix” solutions. Rather, look at it as a list of practical guidelines for learning from life’s difficulties, as well as overcoming them.
I TAKE INVENTORY OF YOUR SPIRITUAL LIFE-Our lives are governed by spiritual dynamics. In some (although certainly not all) cases, negative circumstances stem from violating these dynamics. Ecclesiastes 10:8 tells us that “… whoso breaketh a hedge, a serpent shall bite him.” Job 1:10 describes this “hedge” as a barrier of protection that God places around us. There are things which can “break the hedge” and leave you open to an attack by the enemy. This includes things like unconfessed sin (Psalms 66:18), unbelief (James 1:5-6), marital discord (1 Peter 3:7), strife and unforgiveness (James 3:16). If any of these things are present in your life, the obvious first step is to make the appropriate changes.
II. BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF-Faith is not denial, ans this is an area where I feel that charismatics (and I am one) sometimes miss it. We tend to get so “confession conscious” that we hide our faces from reality. Please don’t misunderstand: I firmly believe that confessing God’s Word is a vital aspect of faith. However, the Apostle Paul was very frank in describing the struggles he faced in his life. He tells us openly of his bouts with weakness (2 Corinthians 12:10; cf. 2 Corinthians 2:3; 13:4, 9; 1 Corinthians 4:10) , affliction (2 Corinthians 12:10; cf. 1 Corinthians 12:9) and infirmity (2 Corinthians 12:10; cf. 1 Corinthians 12:9). He did not consider it unspiritual to acknowledge the reality of his circumstances. The difference is that he knew how to face them head on, boldly declaring that he was more than a conqueror in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:37). After all, if God was for him, who could be against him (Romans 8:31)?
III. REMEMBER, YOU WON’T ALWAYS UNDERSTAND WHY-I recently heard a well known preacher with a strong healing ministry tell about a woman who was miraculously healed of cancer after the preacher had prayed with her. However, she later became sick again and subsequently, she died. In his prayer time, the preacher asked God why this happened. God responded “That’s none of your business!” When my sister died in 2004 after a long bout with leukemia, I must admit that I asked plenty of “whys” myself.
The Book of Job gives us some good insights into this. As most of you know, Job was a righteous man who endured horrible trials, including the loss of his sons, his property and his health. As most of us would, he eventually asked God why all of this was happening. Interestingly, God never told him why. Instead, God responds with a lengthy decree which stops Job in his tracks: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” (38:4) “Have you commanded the morning?” (38:12)”Can you send out lightning?” (38:35) In the end, Job repents and as a result God does a beautiful work of restoration in his life (42:1-6, 10). Later, the New Testament records Job as an example of faith and patience during difficult times, in spite of not knowing the reasons for those difficulties (James 5:11).
IV. PRAY-This seems elementary enough, but James 5:13 says that if any be afflicted, let him pray. Notice that it says “let HIM pray.” It is certainly not wrong to recruit prayer partners to stand with you during difficult times, but this cannot be an abdication of our responsibility to pray for ourselves. Also, keep in mind that prayer is not begging. It is approaching a loving God with full assurance that what He is promised, He is able to perform. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all (Psalm 34:19)!
V. MAINTAIN YOUR JOY- In Isaiah 64:5, we find the wonderful promise that God meets us when we rejoice in Him! The spiritual dynamic of joy is found all through the Bible. “…the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10), ” Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice…” (Psalm 32:11), “… I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” (Habakkuk 3:18), Unlike happiness, which is dependant on circumstances, joy is a condition of the heart that we can hold to no matter how difficult life becomes.
When King Jehoshaphat was surrounded by enemy armies (2 Chronicles 20:14-25), his response was to send singers ahead of his army to praise God (v. 21). As a result, God have his a glorious victory (v. 22). Similarly, when we face battles in our own lives, one of our key weapons is a joyful heart overflowing with God’s praise. A joyful Christian cannot be defeated!
VI. DON’T TRY TO GO IT ALONE- Spiritually speaking, there is safety in numbers. There are people who allow difficulties in life to come between them and their local church, which is a horrible mistake. In the hard times, you need your spiritual family more than ever. Ephesians 4:16 describes the Church as being a body joined together, with each member supplied. Consequentially, if you are not joined to Christ’s Body by being part of a local church, you will not be supplied. You will be like a severed limb, or a coal that is removed from a fire, and quickly burns out. Having trusted Christian friends to pray with you and encourage you is vital. I have used this illustration before but it bares repeating: When a lion stalks a herd of animals, the one he goes after is the one who strays from the herd.
VII. BE PATIENT- Trust me, I don’t like this one any more than you do. However, we are told that the trying of our faith produces patience, and consequentially, we are to let patience have “its perfect work” (James 1:3-4). It is a good idea not to make major decisions when you are in a crisis, because your emotions often cloud your ability to reason. It is important to note that patience is not passive. It does not mean simply rolling over and taking a fatalistic, “whatever will be” attitude. In Scripture, the word “patience” comes from the Greek word “hupomone” (Strong’s # 5281), which means “cheerfulness, hope, endurance, constancy.” As we yield to the Holy Spirit during these hard times, we will see Him develop these vital traits in our lives.
VIII. USE YOUR EXPERIENCE TO HELP OTHERS-2 Corinthians 1:4 tells us that we comfort others with the same comfort that God comforts us with. The trials you face in life give you extra credibility to help others who may be facing a similar trial.You have been there, you know how it feels and you have more compassion for those who are there now.
IX. LIVE WITH ETERNITY IN MIND-Thankfully, the Christian’s hope goes much deeper than this world. For those of us who know Jesus, we are promised that the sufferings of this present time are nothing compared to the unspeakable glories that will one day be revealed in us (Romans 8:18). Even in the face of death itself, His love is even better than life (see Psalm 63:3). That is where it all begins. Nothing will bring your life into focus like a relationship with Jesus Christ. If you do not have this relationship, then you have no hope beyond this life. Why not ask Him into your heart right now?
NOTES & BIBLIOGRAPHY:
1- Schultz, Charles M. from quotationspage.com. Publishing date unknown. 14 May, 2004.
2-This includes being persecuted (Matthew 5:10; 13:21), being rejected, sometimes even by our own families (Matthew 10:14, 21-36), being hated by the world (John 15:18-21).