Over the next few weeks I will be posting the sessions I recently presented to the pastors’ wives at the National Church Planters’ Conference in Mentor Ohio, sponsored by ARCH Ministries. These sessions were adapted from my ladies’ Sunday School series on Biblical Womanhood created for Meadowlands Baptist Church of Edmonton.
Session 1 – Hardships: A Biblical Response to the Difficulties in Life
Ever had one of those days when everything seems to go wrong? How about a week, or a month, or a year? Ever ask, “Why me?” Ever think God was dealing harshly with you? We need to stop and ask ourselves, “What is the main purpose of a Christian’s life?” I Corinthians 10:31 tells us it is to bring glory to God. We tend to lose sight of this when bringing glory to God involves some hardship, suffering, difficulty or problem in my life. God’s intention is to order each part of our lives for our good and His glory, sometimes especially through difficulties.
Hardships come to us in many forms.
- The doctor gently explains that you have miscarried the eagerly prayed for child.
- A fire erupts in your home causing damage and your insurance policy does not cover the loss.
- You relocate the entire family far from friends and family to a place that is strange to then several months later your position is eliminated due to a downturn in the economy.
- A young son is seriously ill with a mysterious malady and physicians hurry in and out of his hospital room applying various treatments but nothing seems to be working.
- Your Mom is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and you helplessly watch as the person you know and love is closed off from you.
- Cancer with its cruel gobbling growth snatches a beloved sister from you.
- Co-workers in ministry who imagine an injustice begin whispering against you to others.
- You spend a great deal of time and energy biblically counseling a troubled lady in your church, yet she does not implement the counsel and instead bitterly complains to others that you are harsh and unloving.
- Seriously struggling with spiritual issues, your daughter seems unable to find peace in her life.
Difficulties of various types do come to us all.
Believers sometimes falsely think that because they are Christians they should lead problem-free lives. There is even a theology espoused by some that Christians who are walking with God will be blessed with good health and financial plenty. According to this “health and wealth” or “name it and claim it” philosophy, believers should lead a trouble free existence. But these Christians are soon conflicted by the reality that difficulties come to all Christians, no matter how committed or godly we may think we are. Proponents of this theology tell us that all we need to do is pray more, or believe more, or work more, or give more to have a prosperous and trouble free life. The problem, according to their teaching, is that believers with troubles do not have enough faith to reach the higher ground of a blessed life.
But this teaching does not line up with the teaching of the Bible. We are specifically told in 2 Timothy 3:12 that believers suffer (All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.) The apostle Paul spoke of his trials in 2 Corinthians 12:9 (And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me), while the sufferings of the sinless Lord Jesus Himself are mentioned in 1 Peter 2:23 (Who, when he (Christ) was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.)
We may ask, “Is difficulty in my life a sign of God’s judgement?” It is always good to bow in prayer before God and ask Him if our troubles are due to some sin in our lives. Sometimes troubles in life are punishment or chastening for our disobedience or sin. As we pray we may know within our hearts that there is something specific wrong between ourselves and God. Or our prayers may reveal something we did not recognize previously as sinful thoughts, actions, or desires.
The children of Israel were required to wander in the wilderness for forty years because they did not believe God when He told them to conquer the lands He had promised them. Jonah brought near calamity upon an entire shipload of people when in disobedience to God he listened to God’s directions and purposely ran the opposite way. When Lot’s wife defied God’s command and longingly looked back at Sodom, God took her life.
Yet we are given numerous examples from the Bible of godly people who suffered.
- Job was the most righteous man on earth, yet in spite of that fact he suffered the loss of ten children, all of his wealth, his health, and the good opinion of his friends.
- Joseph was a godly man who ran from temptation and conducted himself with integrity yet he was sold into slavery by his own brothers, falsely accused by his employer’s wife, and left to languish in prison.
- David was a man after God’s own heart but after he was anointed by Samuel to be king of Israel he became the target of King Saul’s murderous attentions. In all of his interactions with Saul David took care not to “lift my hand against the Lord’s anointed”, ( 1 Samuel 26:9) yet Saul repeatedly attempted to kill David.
None of these biblical examples were suffering because of wrong doing. Rather, our loving Father was perfecting these believers through hardships and giving future generations of believers an example of godliness to follow. The question, then, is not will we have troubles, but rather, how we respond to these hardships.
What do hardships do for us? There are several positive results of troubles in a believer’s life. First, we need to learn we are not the ones in control. Troubles in life direct us to acknowledge that the all-powerful, all-knowing, creator God is in control, not us. When Satan appeared before God to discuss Job, Job was unaware of the unfolding drama that resulted in his trials. God was the one who had complete control over all which transpired in Job’s life.
- Philippians 2:13 reminds us, For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
- Scriptures proclaim that God does what He pleases and receives glory through doing His own will with His creation. (Revelation 4:11 Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created and Isaiah 46:10, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.
- 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 reminds us that we do not have control over our own lives. What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
- In Genesis 50:20 we catch a glimpse of God’s intentions overriding men’s plans. But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good.
- God is the one in control. Job 23:14 says, For he performeth the thing that is appointed for me.
Second, our sufferings cause us to focus on the attributes of God.
- Are we suffering physically? God the Father who sent His only Son to suffer cross-death on our behalf sympathizes with physical suffering of His children.
- Are we grieving and mourning the loss of a loved one? There is tender solace and comfort for the bereaved with the Lord.
- The omniscient, omnipotent creator of the universe knows every detail of each of our lives. He offers peace and mercy and joy and grace in the face of circumstances that buffet and try the soul of the believer. He longs to sustain and succor the child who casts himself on God.
- In addition, our sufferings create in us a reflection of these attributes toward others. Once we have experienced death or illness or the spiritual struggles of a loved one, we can be more patient, more loving, more understanding in our ministry to others. When we respond properly to our troubles others see God in our lives.
Finally troubles make us understand how much more important it is to focus on eternal rather than the earthly things in life.
- An unexpected death shows us the brevity of life (Psalm 102:11 My days are like a shadow that declineth; and I am withered like grass. James 4:14 Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.)
- Losses suffered through a natural disaster or an economic downturn remind us that we need to invest in the spiritual, (Colossians 3:2 Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.) rather than the transitory nature of goods (Matthew 6: 19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.) and the shallowness (vanity) of depending on riches (Luke 12:19-21 And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.)
- Pain and sickness rob our vitality and self-sufficient sense of well-being. They cause us to more clearly think of the time when we will leave this life and go to be with God in heaven. (2 Corinthians 5:1 For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 Corinthians 5:8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.)
Will hardships, difficulties, trials, and sufferings come into our lives? Absolutely! Our desire in the face of this truth should be to bring glory to God through our responses to these events. Am I illustrating the attributes of God to a watching world? Are you?
Jim Berg’s When Trouble Comes
Layton Talbert’s Beyond Suffering
Jerry Bridges’ Trusting God Even When Life Hurts
Beneth Peters Jones’ The Wilderness Within