Coping with Adversity
A Christian life is not an easy road. The world hated our Lord and Saviour and it will not treat His followers any better. Not every adverse situation comes from persecution, however. We may have financial difficulties, health problems, family problems and domestic problems. We will, of course, pray about all these things and God may remove our testing situation or leave it. This study seeks to show, briefly, why God allows Christians to face difficult situations and show that everything is intended for our good if we have the right attitude to it.
Coping with trial and temptation
“Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for, having been proved, he shall receive the crown of life, which He has promised to them that love him” (James 1:12).
It has been assumed by some Christians that because they are now saved that they will have an easy and prosperous life on earth. When we look through the Bible we see a lot people who were faithful to God having a very difficult time. The Lord Jesus made clear that, if we are standing for God, the world around us will hate us “If the world hate you, know that it has hated me before you. If ye were of the world, the world would love its own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, on account of this the world hates you” (John 15:18-19). The Lord Jesus even says “Blessed are ye when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from them, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as wicked, for the Son of man's sake” (Luke 6:22). The world around us will either persecute us or reproach us in other ways as they seek to discredit the testimony of Christ in you that touches their own conscience with a sense of their guilt. This is no different to the way we also felt before we were saved. The Lord wants us to be Christians that stand firm for Him and do not give up, even when things get hard. Thus we find that God has a particular value for the martyrs in the Revelation who have given their lives for the gospel.
The Lord warns, in the parable of the sower, that there would be some who received the word but then give up when things get hard. These are those in whom the seed fell upon the rock and had no real depth to their faith: “But those upon the rock, those who when they hear receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a time, and in time of trial fall away” (Luke 8:13). We don’t want to turn back and give up, but those who will remain true to the Lord always. “But we are not drawers back to perdition, but of faith to saving the soul” (Hebrews 10:39).
The ‘Old Man’ or ‘the Flesh’
However, difficult circumstances, whether coming from the enmity of mankind or from other quarters have a greater purpose. God has allowed many things to afflict us for two main reasons:
- To discipline us so that we turn away from something that will do us harm.
- To test His work in us so that we might see what He has done in us.
In discipline we must remember that we are often like wayward sheep. We are inclined to turn after things of our own desires and this often leads us into problems. In Revelation 3:19 the Lord says “I rebuke and discipline as many as I love; be zealous therefore and repent”. Sometimes we need discipline to guide us back to the way of blessing. We can look at many of the prophets, etc, in the Old Testament and see how God used discipline to correct their thoughts and actions so that they would become more effective in their service and have a greater understanding of God’s wisdom and love.
God also often tests His work in us. Abraham is a good example of this. God had tested Abraham’s faith to the extreme in making Him wait until he was a hundred years old and his wife Sarah was ninety before miraculously causing Sarah to give birth to the son he had promised would become a great nation. Then, God asked Abraham to sacrifice this son. What heart wrangling’s must have gone on deep within Abraham but ultimately his faith in God’s promise and his love for God won through. God stopped Abraham just before he slew Isaac and declared His delight in Abraham’s faith. God Himself would not be able to spare His own son on a cross near that spot several thousand years later.
Job is another example. He was put through great trial, involving the loss of all his wealth and his family. Then, he lost his health (though Satan was not permitted to take his life). His three friends thought that Job must have sinned grievously for God to punish Job like this. However, we find at the end of the book that Job came to a deeper appreciation of God and His sovereign ways than he had ever known at the beginning this experience. As a result, He gained greater blessing than he had ever had before. The experience of Job shows us that trial is not linked to our failings but is rather the result of God’s sovereign will.
Testing is often part of God’s purpose for us and is governed by His love for us
We often struggle when God allows us to pass through times of trial but James says in our initial verse that if we endure in faithfulness we will find true and real life with God. “No temptation has taken you but such as is according to man's nature; and God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above what ye are able to bear, but will with the temptation make the issue also, so that ye should be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). God is love and He is faithful. He does not allow us to suffer more than we are able to bear. We might despair at times (as Paul also did, see 2 Corinthians 1:8) but the power is available (“the issue” from God) to help us to be able to endure. In Romans 5 we find the value of endurance and tribulation, “And not only that, but we also boast in tribulations, knowing that tribulation works endurance; and endurance, experience; and experience, hope; and hope does not make ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Romans 5:2-5).
God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9). His plans are for our blessing, even though we might not be able to see it at the time. “But we do know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to purpose” (Romans 8:28). In Jeremiah God told Israel they were going to go through great suffering and yet he says “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith Jehovah, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you in your latter end a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). The suffering was to bring out greater blessing for them in the end as they would be taught to give up idolatry and trust in God again. As we pass through trial we will find that although, “no chastening at the time seems to be matter of joy, but of grief; but afterwards yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those exercised by it” (Hebrews 12:11). We need be exercised in spirit to know what God is teaching us by the circumstances in which we find ourselves. In doing this we will get greater spiritual blessing and a stronger link with God that we had before. Some of the greatest examples of faith have been seen in those who were passing through great difficulty.
Paul said “And that I might not be exalted by the exceeding greatness of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn for the flesh, a messenger of Satan that he might buffet me, that I might not be exalted. For this I thrice besought the Lord that it might depart from me. And he said to me, My grace suffices thee; for my power is perfected in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather boast in my weaknesses, that the power of the Christ may dwell upon me. Wherefore I take pleasure in weaknesses, in insults, in necessities, in persecutions, in straits, for Christ: for when I am weak, then I am powerful” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Paul doesn’t say what the “thorn for the flesh” was, but it was something that reminded Him of His weakness and prevented him from being proud. Some have speculated that it was bad eyesight or perhaps a stutter. Regardless, the Lord told Paul that it was given to him to help him rely on the Lord’s grace and not his own ability. Paul says therefore that he would rejoice in his weaknesses for then God’s power would be seen in him and he would be forced to rely on the Lord even more. He desired Christ’s presence and power more than anything else.
Many of those who displayed such faith in the face of adversity are listed in Hebrew 11. They went through great suffering and yet God’s work in them stayed firm and it resulted in the blessing of others. “Women received their dead again by resurrection; and others were tortured, not having accepted deliverance, that they might get a better resurrection; and others underwent trial of mockings and scourgings, yea, and of bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned, were sawn asunder, were tempted, died by the death of the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, evil treated, (of whom the world was not worthy,) wandering in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caverns of the earth. And these all, having obtained witness through faith, did not receive the promise, God having foreseen some better thing for us, that they should not be made perfect without us” (Hebrews 11:35-40).
“And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; and he will purify the children of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver; and they shall offer unto Jehovah an oblation in righteousness” (Malachi 3:3). In Malachi, God is described as a refiner of silver. A silver refiner keeps the silver in the fire to burn off the impurities. He keeps it there until he can see his reflection in it and then he has to remove it before it is heated too far. This is a wonderful description of our loving God who, while putting us through the heat of trial, never takes His eye off us and doesn’t allow us to suffer a moment longer than necessary. “Wherein ye exult, for a little while at present, if needed, put to grief by various trials, that the proving of your faith, much more precious than of gold which perishes, though it be proved by fire, be found to praise and glory and honour in the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7).
Take courage: Our suffering may be so others can see our light
As a Christian we can, as the early Christians, rejoice in suffering knowing that every suffering has a purpose in God’s ways. He knows us better than we know ourselves and is always acting in love for us. When we pass through suffering of any kind we can take encouragement from seeking God in it. Remember, our suffering may be for the benefit of someone else. Many have been brought to salvation or to greater faith through seeing the faith of another passing through times of adversity. May our lights shine brightly and still brighter when we are called to suffer.