This week's 'thought' comes to you from Jerry Bridges and is found in his challenging book, "Trusting God."
Jerry is a prolific writer whose books are wise, balanced, true to Scripture, and helpful in both understanding and living the Christian life. This particular selection (edited and shortened) has to do with growing through adversity. For those who have been, or are presently going through hard times, his words (I trust) will inspire and give both hope and understanding. Enjoy.
"Every adversity that comes across our path, whether large or small, is intended to help us grow in some way. If it were not beneficial, God would not allow it or send it, "For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men" (Lamentations 3:33). God does not delight in our sufferings. He brings only that which is necessary, but does not shrink from that which will help us grow...
In the spiritual realms, God must prune us. Because we still have a sinful nature even as believers, we tend to pour our spiritual energies into that which is not true fruit. We tend to seek position, success, and reputation even in the Body of Christ. We tend to depend on natural talents and human wisdom. And then we are easily distracted and pulled by the things of the world -- its pleasures and possessions. God uses adversity to loosen our grip on those things that are not true fruit. A severe illness or the death of someone dear to us, the loss of material substance or the tarnishing of our reputation, the turning aside of friends or the dashing of our cherished dreams on the rocks of failure, cause us to think about what is really important in life. Position and possessions no longer seem so important. We begin to relinquish our desires and expectations -- even good ones -- to the sovereign will of God. We come more and more to depend on God and desire only that which will count for eternity. God is pruning us (through adversity) so that we will be more fruitful.
Adversity reveals the corruption of our sinful nature. We do not know ourselves or the depths of sin remaining in us. We think we are making good progress and growing in the fruit of the Spirit... until adversity comes. Then we find we are unable to love, from the depths of our hearts, the person who is the instrument of the adversity. We find we don't want to forgive that person. We realize we are not disposed to trust God. Unbelief and resentment surge within us. We are dismayed at the scene. The growth in Christian character we thought had occurred in our lives seems to vanish like a vapor... Yet through this experience God has revealed to us some of the remaining corruption within us... In making us holy God goes deeper that just specific sins we may be conscious of. He wants to get at the root cause: the corruption of our sinful nature manifested in the rebellion of our wills, the perversity of our affections, and the spiritual ignorance of our minds... God uses adversity to pull in affections that have been drawn out to unholy desires and to subdue our stubborn and rebellious wills.
God has to teach us through adversity to rely on Him instead of ourselves. Even the apostle Paul said of his severe difficulties, which he described as, 'far beyond our ability to endure,' that they had occurred so 'that we might not rely on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead' (II Corinthians 1:8-9). God allowed Paul and his band of helpers to be brought into a situation so desperate that they despaired even of life itself. They had no place to turn except to God... Whatever his thorn in the flesh was, it was an adversity that Paul desperately wanted to be rid of. But God let it remain, not only to curb any tendency for pride in Paul's heart, but also to teach him to rely on God's strength. Paul still had to learn that it was not his strength but God's grace -- God's enabling power -- that he must depend on.
God also brings adversity into our lives to equip us for more effective service... God could have taken Joseph directly to Pharaoh's palace without taking him through prison. And he certainly did not need to leave Joseph to languish in prison for two more years after he had interpreted the cup-bearer's dream. Joseph's difficult circumstances were not necessary just for him to be in the right place at the right time. They were necessary to make him into the right kind of person for the responsibilities God would give him... To the extent that we are able to lay hold of the great truths of the sovereignty, wisdom, and love of God, and find comfort and encouragement from them in our adversities, we will be able to minister to others in their times of distress... Adversity in our own lives, rightly responded to, enables us to be instruments of comfort and encouragement to others.
Relationship With Others
Trails and afflictions also have a mutual drawing effect among believers. They tend to break down barriers between us and dissolve any appearance of self-sufficiency we may have... We sometimes worship together with another person, pray together, and even serve together in ministry without ever truly feeling a bond of fellowship. But then, in a strange way, adversity strikes us both. Immediately we sense a new bond of fellowship in Christ, the fellowship of suffering... The Christian life is not meant to be lived in isolation from other believers. It is to be lived as members of the Body of Christ. God wants to use our times of adversity to deepen our relationship with other members of the Body -- to create a greater sense of sharing together the life we have in Christ.
Relationship With God
Part of coming to know Christ in a more intimate way is through "the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings" (Philippians 3:10). If we are to truly grow in knowing Christ, we can be sure we will to some degree experience the fellowship of his sufferings. If we are to experience the power of His resurrection, we can also be sure we will experience the fellowship of His sufferings... Repeatedly in the Bible, we see men and women of God drawn into a deeper relationship with God through adversity... The Psalms are replete with expressions of ever-deepening knowledge of God as the psalmists seek Him in times of adversity (Psalms 23, 42, 61, 62)... God, through adversity, seeks us out. It is God who draws us more and more into a deeper relationship with Him. If we are seeking Him it is because He is seeking us. One of the strong cords with which He draws us into a more intimate, personal relationship with Him, is adversity. Instead of fighting God or doubting Him in times of adversity, we will seek to cooperate with God, we will find that we will be drawn into a deeper relationship with Him.
There is not question that adversity is difficult. It usually takes us by surprise and seems to strike where we are most vulnerable. To us it appears completely senseless and irrational, but to God none of it is either senseless of irrational. He has a purpose in every pain He brings or allows in our lives. We can be sure that in some way He intends it for our profit and His glory."
Although our "quality of life" culture has succeeded in convincing many Christians that God's job, if He loves us, should be to protect us from all pain and every form of suffering, such a notion actually runs in the face of a tremendous portion of Scripture which teaches just the opposite. Job, Psalm 43, Psalm 119:67 and 71, Romans 5:1-5, Romans 8:17, Philippians 3:10, Hebrews 12:1-12, and many more, assure us that trials, hardships, and the like, are fruit-producing (good fruit producing) elements in the spiritual life.
Of course, trials, hardships and the like would not be necessary if it were not for the deeply rooted aspects of sin still embedded even within the renewed soul. But that's not the case. The sin is there. And because it often lurks beneath the surface hidden, and thus unaddressed in the believers life, God must stir things up (through adversity) to make known what is there, but is undetectable during times of stillness and calm. Like the hiker that comes upon a pool of crystal clear water in the woods, all it takes is a little shifting of a rock, or a stick to stir the bottom, and the mud that had settled there floats to the top to be seen and thus dealt with.
Yet it must be remembered that the good we can derive from trials and afflictions is often misconstrued because we fail to view (or interpret) such things in light of the Gospel. A Gospel that assures us that, "our God Reigns" (Isaiah 52:7). He is in control. He is sovereign, all-knowing and all-powerful. A God whose goal in redemption is to restore His image in us, not pamper us. A God who loves us with a firm, holy, unbreakable, irrevocable, and covenant love that sees us as entirely acceptable in Christ, and thus works in us to instruct, form and mold us, not punish us. As one has rightly said, "In Christ God loves justified sinners just the way they are, yet far too much to leave them just the way they are!"
In the Grip of His Grace... even when we're hurting, Pastor Jeff