Summary: How to respond to hardships and disappointments and actually benefit from the process.
The Trying of Your Faith
During our teaching from the book of Judges we talked a lot about trouble that comes as a consequence of sin. The recurring cycle in that book involved God sending trouble to correct Israel’s disobedience –the chastening of the Lord coming upon His children because they are living in disobedience to Him. Jonah experienced it when he ran away from God’s calling on his life. David experienced it when he committed adultery with Bathsheba. Most of us here have some first hand experience with that kind of trouble. The law of sowing and reaping is one of the first lessons a young Christian learns.
But trouble in a Christian’s life is not always a consequence of sin or disobedience. Job’s so-called comforters thought it was. They had a very simple theology: “If you do good, then good things happen to you. If you do bad, then bad things happen to you.” That is a very inadequate explanation of life even though it is true some of the time. This morning I want to talk about difficulties that are not the result of disobedience. Why do they come? And how should we respond to them when they do come?
Let’s begin by hearing a testimony from a Christian lady who encountered this kind of trial. Her name is Pam. See if you can identify with her experience.
(Illustrate Volume one)
(>>Breaking Points>>Pam-loss of husband)
Here was a Christian woman trying to live for God with four children and suddenly her husband dies of a heart attack. She didn’t deserve that. It didn’t happen because of some sin in her life. What is going on in this kind of situation?
In 1 Peter 4:12 the apostle wrote, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” Why did Peter tell these Christians to not think that the ordeal that had come into their lives was some strange, abnormal thing for a Christian to experience? I think it was because that was exactly what they were tempted to think. Did you notice how Pam kept saying “why”? Questions do come to our mind when we feel we are doing our best to serve God and wham-we’re hit with some unexpected disappointment or hardship. Job has a whole lot of questions concerning the things that had happened to him. His counselors had very inadequate answers—so inadequate they had to ask Job to pray for them before it was all over with. Can you imagine how painful it would be for someone like Pam to be told that this is happening because of some sin she has obviously committed?
How do we deal with this kind of trial?
I. Recognize that it is a common Christian experience.
One of the cardinal rules I was taught in secular management was to not assume things. It is easy to just assume that being God’s favored children means everything will go smooth and our Heavenly Father will shield us from the kind of hardship Pam went through. But is that a biblical assumption? It is no doubt what we would like to hear. But let me just give you a few verses to dispel that myth.
Jesus’ words to his followers shortly before his death—John 16:33 "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." Why did Jesus tell them that? He did not want them to be taken off guard. Here is the bad news, “In this world you will have trouble.” Now comes the good news, “But take heart! I have overcome the world."
Paul’s words to the early Christians—Acts 14:21-22 “They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.” (That is what I am seeking to do even now—to strengthen your resolve and encourage you to be faithful to the Lord come rain or shine. Now listen to what Paul told them at the end of verse 22.) “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,’ they said.” The Message paraphrase puts it this way “...making it clear to them that it wouldn’t be easy: ‘Anyone signing up for the kingdom of God has to go through plenty of hard times.” On the surface that may not sound real encouraging. But we generally do much better at dealing with a problem if we know its coming rather than being caught off guard by it.
That’s why Peter wrote “Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude...” The word translated “arm” is “hoplisasthe” which has military connotations. Be equipped with the same attitude toward suffering that Jesus demonstrated. What is the world’s attitude toward suffering and hardship? Avoid it at all costs—lie, cheat, steal but by all means maximize pleasure and minimize pain. Jesus’ attitude was to maximize obedience to the Father whether it meant suffering or not. That’s the attitude we need toward suffering if we are to succeed in the long run.