Our world is a big mess, we all know that. How did it get this way?
When God created the world it was a place of innocence and beauty.
What went wrong? The fall of mankind and free will—that’s what happened!
God created mankind with a free will—the ability to choose. When presented with the choice to follow Almighty God or Evil, mankind chose Evil. The consequences of that dreadful choice ushered in a host of dreadful consequences: mankind fell from his state of innocence into depravity and with it all the ugliness that accompanies our fallen state.
The Earth itself was cursed. Disease and death were introduced as our horrifying new bedfellows, and so the course was set in motion that plays out to this day. From the chilling atrocities of war that shock us afresh with each newscast to the aging process staring back in the mirror, the consequences of our fallen state are evident. This week we will unpack this difficult, but vitally important question.
Sorting Out Your Suffering
Read: Genesis 3; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 4:12-14; Psalm 65:2-4
If I wrecked my husband’s truck, getting a speeding ticket and DUI in the process, I would be in a state of suffering, no doubt! If I got cancer while simply going about my life, I would be suffering too. However, the first scenario would be self-inflicted by a series of bad choices while the second would simply be a terrible situation that happened because of our fallen world. When we look at the suffering in our lives, it is often a useful exercise to sort out our suffering to help determine what elements may be self-inflicted or what may simply be part of living in a fallen world. For example, we may find ourselves in financial hardship due to overspending. We may repeat destructive relationship cycles because we refuse to listen to wise counsel. We may be caught in the vortex of addiction because we will not get help. On the other hand, we may lose our job due to economic downturns, experience abandonment in our marriage or suffer debilitating illnesses through no fault of our own. It makes no sense and we find ourselves riding the maddening merry-go-round of the ending “why?” If we believe God’s purpose for His saints is perpetual happiness and ease, we will find ourselves perpetually confused and disappointed. He tells us in this Word that con ict and hardship will be a regular part of our lives. Though He does not promise a trouble-free journey, He does promise His constant presence to both comfort and guide.
As you look at the struggles of your life, are any of them self-inflicted? What elements of your trials are due to life in a fallen world? Have you found yourself confused and disappointed in the face of hardship? Are you riding the merry-go-round of “why?” Our Lord welcomes your confusion, disappointment and questions when you come to Him in honest, transparent prayer.
Strength That Comes From The Struggle
Read: Psalm 18: 25-36; Psalm 46:1-3; Psalm 55:16-19, 22; Psalm 59:16-17; Psalm 61: 1-4; Psalm 62: 5-8, Psalm 71:5-9
When hardship enters our world, we have many responses. We may crumple into a sobbing heap or ignore the problem, hoping it will go away. Reeling in fear, pain and confusion, we may shout our angry questions to the Heavens. When boiled down, though, we only have two basic responses—acceptance or despair.
Acceptance simply realizes the facts are true. What we do next is crucial. We can choose to reach up and take hold of God’s hand or allow ourselves to be dragged downstream by the undercurrent of despair. Acceptance faces the facts and says, ‘this is true but my trust is in the Living God, therefore I always have hope’. It faces the facts with all the strength that raised Christ from the dead; it faces them with complete trust and hope in the Lord of All Creation. Despair also faces the facts but says, ‘Because this is true, there is no hope’.
As we consider our hardships on one hand and hear both preachers’ and scriptures’ admonition to trust God, it all seems a bit lofty. How is it accomplished; what does it even mean? Webster defines trust as: “total confidence in the integrity, ability and good character of another”—trust in God, then, would be total confidence in His integrity, ability and good character. How do we develop that level of trust in God? It comes from spending time reading His Word, the Bible and doing what it says. It comes by engaging in conversation with Almighty God through prayer, worship and time with His family, the church. We learn His integrity and character by reading His word. We learn His strong ability as we obey and find Him faithful. When we take Him at His word, step out and follow Him, our faith grows. We find Him faithful once again and our trust grows—so the depth of our faith increases. This pattern applied repeatedly will help build an impenetrable trust and faith that will carry you through the storms of life.
Respond: Has hardship assaulted your life recently? God accepts your tears, anger and questioning; He desires a relationship with you. Whatever you are feeling, take it to God in prayer. Maybe consider writing out your prayer to God through journaling. How could you move toward acceptance and away from despair? Is there something God has asked you to do? Why not do it?
Experience As The Teacher
Read: Hebrews 12:7-12, Genesis 45:1-8; Ruth 1-4; John 6: 16-24
How did you learn to ride a bike? By reading a book on the subject or by getting on the bike and riding? How did you learn to swim or drive? By watching a YouTube video on swimming or driving? There are some things we can only learn by experience. Such is the case with our trials and hardships. Our Lord may be taking us through a struggle to teach us something we can learn no other way. Although our tendency is to take the shortcut through the struggle or avoid it at all cost, God’s purpose may be for us to go through it or remain in it for a while. Where did Joseph learn humility and servant hood but as a slave in Potiphar’s house? Where else could David learn His God was big enough to handle Goliath but by becoming a worshipper of God as he tended sheep in the wilderness? Where did Ruth learn God was her Redeemer but in widowhood, caring for her aging mother-in-law, and working in the barley fields. Where else but in turbulent waters could the disciples see that Jesus controls the wind and waves? Where else could you learn what He’s teaching you than right where you are?
As you reflect on a recent or current trial you are encountering, what do you sense God could be teaching you? Is He revealing any potential purposes for your hardship? Take time this week to meditate on the purposes God has for your trial, and then plan a time to discuss this with a mentor, or your Community Group.
Repeating The Play
Read: Rom. 5:1-5; Heb. 12: 7-12; 2 Tim. 2:3; 1 Cor. 9:24-27; Heb. 12:1-3
Peyton Manning is no doubt among the best NFL quarterbacks in modern history. He became great by grueling workouts, intense lm study and long practice sessions. Just as our favorite athletes became strong, tough competitors by hard workouts, we become strong, tough competitors in this faith-race by hard soul workouts known as suffering and trials. The trials we face are not meant to crush us but to bring us into spiritual maturity, to make us grow up in our faith. Just as we become more in shape physically by regular exercise, so we become spiritually in shape by allowing hardship to do its work in us. Hardship can refocus our priorities, humble us, drive us deep into His Word and force us to depend on our Savior like nothing else can. It is possible, however, to endure great difficulty and never learn the lesson God intended. If our spirit is stubborn or unteachable we cannot receive the lesson. Just as a coach will require his players to repeat a play until they get it right, so our Lord will often do with us. Those with stubborn souls may find themselves “repeating the play” until the lesson is learned.
Is your heart teachable? How are your current struggles making you stronger in your relationship with God, and in your personal character? Are you learning the lesson or will you be “repeating the play”? One way to evaluate is to count how often in a week you complain about your hardship to others vs. how often in a week you go to God in prayer for that situation.
Read: Jeremiah 17:7-8; Job 1-3, 31:1-11, 38-40; Psalm 52:8-9
If the goal of our suffering is spiritual maturity, how do we know when we’ve reached our goal? On one hand, we really never arrive because no matter how strong we are, we can always improve. On the other hand, there are benchmarks we can use to assess our own progress.
Re-read Jeremiah 17:7-8. What a picture of the strong Christian enduring hardship! This tree is flourishing and fruitful even during long droughts. Does flourishing fruitfulness mark your life even through difficulty?
Re-read Galatians 5:22.
These character qualities may mark our lives on good days, but what shows up when the bottom drops out of our lives? It has been said that suffering does not make our character, it reveals it. What is hardship revealing about your character?
Re-read Philippians 4:6-8.
When hard days wash over your life, what character traits rise to the surface? Do anxiety and fretfulness drag you down or do you rise on the wind currents of thankfulness, prayerfulness and peace? Any serious discussion on suffering would be incomplete without mentioning Job—the poster boy for suffering. Although he lost everything of earthly significance, he lost nothing of eternal value. He was forced to sort through his suffering with the “help” of well-meaning friends. He felt the gamut of emotions just as we do—and took them to God who showed Himself faithful, yet never answering Job’s “why” questions. Job fought the battle with acceptance and despair and with God’s help, acceptance won the day. Job sat in the schoolroom of suffering, learning the hard lessons he could learn no other way. He did the hard work of grappling with His Maker through gut-wrenching questions coming full circle to worship once again in humility and reverent wonder. Job emerged from God’s crucible purified, humbled and a worshipper of the God who had met him with grace in his darkest moments, and yet leveled him in His Sovereignty.
How can we, like Job, find our Maker in this whirlwind of pain and suffering? Where are you on this journey? Wherever you are, cry out to Jesus and He will come for you. Spend some time focusing and prayerfully meditating on this passage from Psalm 147.