When Life Gets Tough

troubleLife is tough.  Everybody knows that.  There is no way for us to get away from the troubles and difficulties that we all have to face.  Sometimes, it’s little more than the inconveniences of traffic, dealing with an overbearing boss, or misplacing a wallet.  Other times, it’s infinitely worse.  Those are events in life that seem to define our lives from that point on:  financial ruin, discovery of a malignant tumor or the sudden death of a loved one.

How do we deal with these life-altering challenges in life?

Well, put simply, we can despair.  We can assume all is lost and crawl into the fetal position and give up…or we can hope.  We can find out what God says about the subject in His Word and determine to trust Him.  Obviously, some won’t and they will pursue their own coping techniques and they may experience some level of comfort, but for me, I trust in the God who is there; the God who brings life out of death. The God who I have seen give grace and strength in some of the most desperate of times.

Jesus’ half brother, James, who initially was not a believer in Christ but later became totally sold out to Him after He saw Jesus resurrected and eventually led the Church in Jerusalem, has some challenging instruction in the first chapter of his letter:

 Count it all joy, my brothers,when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

First of all, he’s talking about joy, not happiness.  Happiness is circumstantial whereas joy is not.  I can maintain joy, for example, at the death of a loved one who has trusted in Christ and gets to experience life beyond death, though I am not happy about their absence from my life.

So, James is basically saying (according to the new, international Price version!), “Look, if you have trusted in Christ, keep the big picture in mind here.  All sorts of difficulties are coming your way because of sin in the world.  You can’t get around it.  Yet, because of what my brother and Lord, Jesus, did on the cross, even the bad stuff is making you stronger and complete.  You don’t have to like it, but embrace the glorious truth and grow through it!”

That, I can embrace.  I can hold onto the truth that WHEN (not if) trials come.  I may weep.  I may struggle with the challenges.  I may need people to hold me and to comfort me.  However, I can know that God is good and He is in control.  I can know that He will provide grace and strength through it.  In short, I can stand!

What are some ways you have experienced God working through challenges to bring about good in your life?

Related passages: Romans 8:28, Joshua 1:9, 1 Peter 4:12-13, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, John 16:33, 1 Peter 1:3-7, Ephesians 6:10-11, Romans 5:1-11

If you would like to watch the related message from our current series, FaithWorks: Living the Letter of James, you can visit the video archive of The Gathering, Chattanooga.  Also, check to see if the video has been posted on this blog.



Who’s to Blame?

Ever wonder who’s to blame for all the junk in your life? When you sin, did the Devil make you do it?  When you stumble, is it because your parents didn’t teach you well enough?  Are you overweight because McDonald’s serves those dog-gone fries?  We’re great at assigning blame.  That’s nothing new, of course. Remember our first ancestors?  Adam: “It’s that woman you gave me. She gave me the fruit and I ate it.”  Uh, who ate it, Pal?  Eve: “It’s that blasted serpant’s fault!” (my paraphrase). So, it’s been happening from the beginning and we have continued the tradition right on through today.  

Here’s a thought to consider: What if God is the cause of much of the junk in your life?  Gasp!  “Heresy! Heresy!  This guy’s a heathen!” (or heathern if you’re from the South).  OK, I’m not talking about the sin, just the hard stuff…maybe even much of the stuff you blame the Devil for.

Consider a couple of passages of Scripture (you’ll have to read these on your own) where Job assigns the blame for his calamity squarely at the feet of God Himself:  Job 16:14 and Job 19: 6-12.  

Job is actually right in assuming that God ordained that these bad things to happen to him, but wrong in assuming that they are for his downfall.

Look at it like this: Satan is the agent through which Job’s challenges come, but God is the Sovereign…even when it is bad.

I am reminded again how even the bad that comes, for one who is in the favor of God, is not ultimately bad. As John Piper has said, for the one who has been redeemed by Christ, suffering is not punitive, it is purifying. What great encouragement!

In light of Christ, we can rejoice that “all things work together for good, to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28),  All things are purifying. Job was purified through his suffering, in the end coming to see God more clearly than he had ever seen Him before…this time looking at God through humbled eyes.

I want to encourage you, when you are walking through the wilderness of despair because things just aren’t working out for you, before you start placing blame everywhere else, consider a couple of steps first:

1. Look in the mirror.  Is there something in you that needs to be dealt with (a character flaw that needs to be cured, a sin that needs to be killed, an attitude that needs to be adjusted)?  If so, lay that down in prayer. Ask Christ to minister to you in these areas.

2. Look to Christ. Is there something that He is wanting to do in your life to make you more like Him?  The refining fire is usually painful.  Did you get that?  It is usually painful.  In other words, what you are going through is not uncommon; you’re not the only one in the world dealing with this, so don’t fall victim to following the pity-party-path.  If you are being refined, it is a blessing!  You are not being left to your own depravity, but the Spirit of God is active in you.  Choose to celebrate this fact in the midst of your pain or discomfort.

3.  Share it.  Walking through refinement alone is sometimes necessary.  However, most of the time you have the opportunity to gain support from those around you, encouragement in the toughest parts, and people to celebrate with when you see the growth.  Often, it takes those on the outside of the “cloud” to point out to you just how much growth is actually occurring in you.  Take advantage of these gifts God has put in your life.

The bottom line is this: God is a good and sovereign God. Deal with this.  Understand that often what appears as evil in our lives is actually the grace of a holy God and the only way you are going to know the difference is by walking closely with Him in prayer.  

The real change in Job happened near the end of the story, when it was just Job and God in conversation.  Then again, that’s when real change always happens.

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