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While nobody enjoys trials, in God's loving hands, they are tools for our improvement.
When it comes to adversity, none of us are immune. We have all experienced the heartache, pressure, and anguish caused by hardships. Whatever form our trials may take—whether sickness, financial problems, animosity, rejection, bitterness, or anger—we tend to consider them “setbacks” in our life. God, however, has a different perspective. He views adversity as a way, not to hinder the saints, but to advance their spiritual growth.
When facing tribulation, we often wonder where it came from. Is this my own doing? Is this from Satan? Or is this from you, Lord? Regardless of the specific source, ultimately all adversity that touches a believer’s life must first be sifted through the permissive will of God. That is not to say everything coming your way is the Lord’s will. But God allows everything that occurs because He sees how even adversity will fit into His wonderful purpose for your life. ( Romans 8:28)
According to Isaiah 55:8-9, God’s thoughts are higher than ours, so we cannot expect to understand all that He is doing. He oftentimes takes the most painful experiences of adversity and uses them to prepare us for what lies ahead. God wants us to regard our struggles the way He does so that we won’t be disillusioned. Therefore, far more important than determining the source of our adversity is learning how to respond properly.
Consider Joseph, one of the very few people in the Bible about whom there is nothing negative, but whose life is characterized only by adversity. It is interesting to note Scripture says that God was prospering Joseph in the midst of his affliction—even in a foreign jail! Every trial was part of God’s equipping Joseph to become the savior of Egypt and also the savior of his own family, who would later journey there to avoid starvation.
The Bible reveals a number of reasons that the Lord allows difficulties in our life. As we begin to comprehend His purposes, we can learn to react in ways that will strengthen rather than discourage us.
One of God’s primary purposes for adversity is to get our attention.
He knows when we are frozen in anger and bitterness or set on doing something our own way. He may allow adversity to sweep us off our feet. When we stand before God, stripped of our pride and self-reliance, He has our complete attention.
Saul of Tarsus, later known as the apostle Paul, had to learn a lesson this way. Proud and egotistical, he was doing everything he could to rid this earth of Christians. Then God struck him blind. Lying on the Damascus Road, Saul asked, “Who are you, Lord?” (Acts 9:5) God had totally captured his attention. At the time, it must have seemed like a screeching halt to his life’s work; in actuality, it was the beginning of an extraordinary preaching career.
Another way God uses adversity is to remind us of His great love for us.
Let me ask you: If you moved out of God’s will into sin, and He just let you go that way, would that be an expression of love? Of course not. He loves us too much to let us get by with disobedience.
The Bible realistically agrees that “No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it is painful!” (Hebrews 12:11 nlt) We can all say “Amen!” to that. But just as we lovingly discipline our children to protect them from developing harmful patterns in thinking and behavior, so our heavenly Father trains us by discipline in order to bring about “a quiet harvest of right living.”
Hebrews 12:5-6 says: “My child, don’t ignore it when the Lord disciplines you, and don’t be discouraged when He corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes those He accepts as His children” (nlt). If you are without discipline—which is correction in love—you are an illegitimate child, and not one of God’s own. So if you are experiencing adversity, allow it to be a reminder of God’s great love for you.
A third reason God sends adversity is for self-examination.
When God allowed Satan to buffet Paul with a thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7), the apostle prayed three times for its removal. In the process, Paul certainly must have searched his own heart, asking the Lord, “Is there sin in my life? Is my attitude right?” When we encounter adversity, we would also do well to ask, Am I in God’s will, doing what He wants me to do?
Perhaps you’ve done that and confessed any known sin, but the adversity persists. God deals not only with acts of transgression, but also with pre-programmed attitudes from youth. For many believers, it isn’t a matter of overt sin or not loving the Lord, but something from the past that may be stunting spiritual growth.
To deal with “roots” —like self-esteem, attitudes toward others, and even misguided opinions about God’s capabilities—the Lord sends adversity intensely enough to cause deeper examination than usual. He wants us to ask: What fears, frustrations, and suffering from childhood are still affecting or driving me? Is an old perfectionism or grudge destroying me? Did a comment cause feelings of rejection or worthlessness? An attitude lying dormant for years may be hindering progress. Recognize in your adversity God’s loving desire to help you reach your spiritual potential.
A fourth purpose God has for adversity is to teach us to hate evil as He does.
Satan sells his sin program by promising pleasure, freedom, and fulfillment, but he doesn’t tell you about the “interest charges.” The truth is, “Whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7)—and he reaps later than he sows and more than he sows.
People once trapped by drugs, alcohol, or sexual indulgence, but now freed by God, will speak of their hatred for the sin. Because of the suffering, helplessness, and hopelessness they experienced, they have learned to despise the very thing they at one time desired. David agrees: “Before I was afflicted, I went astray” (Ps. 119:67). If we could learn to anticipate sin’s ongoing and future consequences, our lives would be far more holy and healthy.
As parents, we need to level with our children about our failures. There is no such thing as a perfect father or mother, and pretending to have no faults is detrimental. Our children need to understand that God allows adversity for their protection. We should be candid about our weaknesses and clearly explain sin’s effect, Satan’s desires, and God’s solution. Warn them by explaining how you responded to sin in your own life, and how they can avoid it in theirs. Your children will be blessed by your honesty.
A fifth reason God sends adversity is to cause us to re-evaluate our priorities.
We can become workaholics, exhausting ourselves and ignoring our children until it’s too late. Or, we can get so enamored of material things that we neglect the spiritual. So what happens? The Lord will do away with the things that dislocate our priorities.
God doesn’t initiate family breakdowns, but when He sees us neglecting His precious gifts or focusing in the wrong place, He may send a “breeze” of adversity as a reminder to check priorities. If the warning goes unheeded, however, a hurricane may be in the forecast. Then, if we persist in ignoring the intensifying storm, it’s as if He withdraws His hand and lets the adversity run its full course.
For example, many women work hard to balance career and motherhood. There are inevitable points of conflict between the two, which can serve as cautionary breezes. But if priorities are misaligned, and moving up the corporate ladder becomes the exclusive goal, a whirlwind of adversity may be approaching. Don’t choose the world over your family, or they may decide to let you have your way.
Another important purpose for adversity is to test our works.
God already knew the outcome when He told Abraham to sacrifice his son. His purpose was not to discover what the response would be, but to show the patriarch where he was in his obedient walk of faith. When Abraham came off that mountain, not only did he know more about God than ever before; he also understood more about himself spiritually.
Besides that, Isaac, more than likely, never forgot the experience! Children often remember things we do not expect—things far deeper than the externals. More than the sight of that pointed dagger, Isaac remembered that he had a father whose obedience to God knew no boundaries.
So when God sends adversity to test us, does our family watch us buckle, or do they see us standing strong in faith, trusting the Lord to teach us, strengthen us, and bring good from the circumstance? Remember that our response carries a weighty influence for good or for evil in the lives of those who love us most.
As you face hardship, keep in mind that its intensity will not exceed your capacity to bear it. God NEVER sends adversity into your life to break your spirit or destroy you. If you respond improperly, you can destroy yourself, but God’s purpose is always to bless, to strengthen, to encourage, and to bring you to the maximum of your potential.
Adversity touches every life. Instead of running from it, ask the Lord, “What are You trying to teach me?” While it’s okay to tell Him you don’t like it and you wish He’d take it away, I challenge you to add, “But don’t quit, God, until You have finished.”
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