Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Valley of Discouragement Surrounded by the Peaks of Adversity


Today I want to talk about something I am currently going through.  We all have peaks and valleys through life and sometimes the idea of rejoicing seems rather foreign to us.  There are many trials that are very hard to rejoice for or be thankful in, but yet we are called to do that nonetheless. I am in one of those times, one of the valleys of life when all I see around me are sheer cliffs.  I do not see an easier road and I do not see an end to the one I am on.  I know the answer is not to focus on my circumstance but upon the One who will take me through them, but sometimes even that is hard when your circumstances seemingly do not take well to being ignored and constantly poke at you. First of all, I should not be surprised.  None of should be surprised, as what is happening to me has happened to all of us. 
These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. John 16:33 NKJV
The Bible also tells us how we should react to these times in life.
Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls [to Him] in doing good, as to a faithful Creator. 1 Peter 4:19 NKJV
We learn several important things from those two passages.  The first thing we learn is that life will have tribulation.  Life is not about health and wealth for the Christian. We have to remember Job, a righteous man of God who had his family, wealth, and health stripped from him leaving him poor and in painful misery.  We know that God ultimately restored everything he had and more, but Job was living the story not reading it and so for him I am sure there was a point when no end was in sight.  We have Isaac, who lived the last few decades of his life blind and bedridden.  We have Jacob who spent years thinking that his most-beloved son was dead.  We have Paul who had his thorn.  We have the early Christians who suffered every kind of persecution imaginable.  The fact is that trials and tribulations are part of our life.  The Bible prophesies it and illustrates it and life reflects it.  What I am going through or what any of the rest of you may be going through should be no surprise. The simple reality is that life is not fair, not even for the Christian. 

We also learn (from 1 Peter) that we are still committed to doing good.  We have no excuse to let the the circumstances of our lives overtake us and drag us down. We have no excuse to lash out at other people.  We have no excuse to be grumpy (something I struggle with at times).  We have no excuse to do anything other than to continue to be the light and salt of the earth that we were made into when we came to Jesus.  A Christian should never excuse bad behavior by saying they are having a bad day.  We are all guilty of this from time to time, but that does not mean it is right. 

If that were the end of the story, life would be pretty bleak even for the Christian.  Basically, what I just said (in a nutshell) is that life sometimes stinks and we just need to deal with it.  If that were all, this would be a pretty depressing message.  Life is unfair.  We do need to deal with it.  However, the other thing we learn (coming back to John) is that we can take heart because Jesus has overcome the world.  We must never forget our place in Christ.  It defines how we deal with the trials and tribulations we go through in life.  On our own, the circumstances of life would quickly overcome us.  We would end up on drugs, drowning ourselves in some kind of vice or sin, or even ending our own lives.  Sadly, every day people make that tragic and terrible decision.  In Christ, though, it is a different story.  If we are in Christ, we are in the one who overcame already the problems we are facing today.  Jesus overcame temptation.  Jesus overcame persecution.  Jesus overcame rejection.  Jesus overcame the world and now sits at the right hand of the Father preparing a place for us. 

And it is that hope that gets us through.  It is that hope that I am sure Isaac looked to even as his earthly body failed him all those years.  It is the grace that was sufficient for Paul and he struggled with his thorn.  It is the blessed hope that we must keep in our minds that no matter how bad this world can be at times, those times will end.  If they do not end in this life (as they did for Job), they will surely end in our eternal life.  That precious hope is the gospel.  We have been given eternal life in paradise where none of the problems that poke our lives on earth will exist.  No more pain, no more heartache, no more bad jobs, no more poverty, no more sickness, and no more injury.  The hardships we face in this life will not follow us into the next.  That is our blessed hope and one we can never forget. 

While keeping our eyes on eternal life, we must not forget about this present life.  The hardships we face all have a purpose.  Some are to show our witness in how we handle our trials with the grace of Jesus.  For some, it is a time of training and preparation for something the Lord has for us in the future.  That is why we can not ever forget who we are in Christ.  Think about the amazing witness of holding onto your faith and joy in Jesus no matter what you might be going through. Think of the witness of showing love to a world that is rejecting or persecuting you.  Think of the witness of showing the peace of God even in the midst of the most tragic of circumstances.  Think of the witness of sharing joy and hope even in the most hopeless of illnesses.  Many of these situations are ones we will have to face at some part in our lives.  The smaller trials we go through now may be training us for the larger one to come.  That is why it is so important to always keep in mind the eternal life to come.  It is the glorious good to come that gives up the hope to pass through the temporary pain we face on the way there.  For others what we deal with now are to help others through similar circumstances.  The same God who gets us through is the same God that will get them through should they turn to them.  Our witness may very well be what leads them to turning to God. 

In the end, life may not be fair, but it is not supposed to be.  Fairness is about getting what you deserve.  Was it fair for Jesus to die for your sins?  There are many wonderful things you can say about the sacrifice of Jesus, but calling it "fair" is not one of them.  There was nothing fair about it.  He paid penalty for sins He did not commit.  In fact, He had no sin and so He deserved no punishment whatsoever.  He was innocent of any sin and so deserved no punishment from God.  He committed no earthly crime, especially the ones He was convicted of, yet he was illegally tried, illegitimately convicted, and ultimately received unjust capital punishment.  Whenever you think life is not fair, think of Jesus who suffered the ultimate unfairness so that you might live.  Life was not fair for the Son of God nor will life be fair for us.  Our hope is not in this life, but in the eternal life to come.  Hold onto that hope and it will take you through the trials that come.  When they do come, remember your witness and allow God to give you the grace to come through that trial as an example to an unbelieving world.  I know that sometimes problems seem like they will never end.  I assure you that they will.  I assure you God has a plan and a purpose behind all that you are going through and someday, sometime, you will look back upon that long hard trail you just traversed and you will see that it was the only way to take you to the glorious place where you are. 
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have [its] perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.  James 1:2-4 NKJV

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