Charles Stanley - Adversity: Burden Or Bridge?
Well, there are probably more people going through adversity today than a long, long time. And a lot of that is because of financial circumstances and situations. And they're facing things they never faced before. They never even thought about losing their home or not being able to send their kids to college. Never thought about the fact that they wouldn't have all their needs met and the way they'd been meeting them. Never thought about the somebody would walk in and say, We don't need you anymore in this job.
Adversity comes in all forms. And when I think about it, I think about how universal it is. It doesn't make any difference where you live, where you come from, what color, what culture, doesn't make any difference. Adversity is just adversity. What really makes the difference is our attitude. Makes all the difference in the world. And so, when a person's attitude is that they want to blame somebody else or put somebody else on the responsibility road, then things don't work out right. It's when my attitude is right that matters. And what I want you to understand in this message, I want you to understand that adversity in our life can either be this overwhelming sense of burden. This burden that is weighty, heavy. That makes us weary, tired, restless, and just worn out. Or the same adversity can be like a bridge. Like a bridge that leads me to a deeper relationship to God. It's all in my attitude and all in my understanding of what God is doing.
So, in your own life would you say that the adversity in your life is like a burden? It's a heavy weight in your life and you just keep thinking, God how much lo am I going to have to go? Or do you see it as an opportunity? As a bridge over which you can travel above those circumstances and above all the adversity that's there because you understand that it's leading you into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ? Well, the Apostle Paul is the best example in the Scripture of a person who not only went through all kinds of adversity but who understood the most basic principles.
So, I want you to turn to second Corinthians chapter twelve. And you'll remember in second Corinthians, Paul is writing about many things dealing with the church. But one of those things that he's dealing with here in this eleventh and twelfth chapters is his own adversity and the things he had to go through. So, in the eleventh chapter he lists many things that he had had to suffer. And he sort of ends up his list in the eleventh chapter he ends it up sort of in verse twenty-eight by saying, "Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me, of concern for all the churches. " And so, he said "daily pressure". That is, this wasn't something that happened once in a while. Daily he felt the burden. In other words, he had a tremendous responsibility and opportunity. But adversity was a big part of it all.
So, what did he learn? How did he go through this? What was his attitude? And I want us to come to this passage in a few moments just to look at all the things that he learned that you and I can learn that will help us face whatever we have to face in life. You're going to face adversity. The question is, how are you going to face it? How are you going to respond? Are you going to respond in a way that you come out winning no matter what? Or are you going to face it in such a way that you're going to try to deny it? That's not going to work. You go to alcohol and sex and drugs, they're not going to work. Or some kind of pleasure that none of that's going to work.
So, how are you going to face it? Are you going to crumble beneath it? Are you going to say, I can handle it some way? Are you going to deal with it in reality? I just want to start with this very first thing and that is, he learned this, that he and all of these are on the mag screens. And I want encourage you to write them down. He learned that he could experience contentment in the midst of his adversity. Which is what most people never learn. That he could be content in the midst of his adversity. Now, in chapter four of Philippians, for example, in that eleventh verse, he says this very thing when he's writing about what's happening to him. He says in verse ten, "But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you have lacked opportunity". They've been supporting him and then they couldn't be. He says, "Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstance I'm in".
Now, why could he say that? Because he knew how to respond. Here's what he learned, he learned that he was learning something about his relationship to Jesus. And he was learning that these things were not tearing him down but that somehow he could have contentment. And remember he's writing. He's writing Philippians and Ephesians, Colossians. He's writing these epistles from a prison cell because he's gone one jail to the other. And now he's talking about the fact that one thing he learned was that he could have contentment in the midst of all that. There's only one way to be content in the midst of adversity. And when we go through these I think as we add one upon the other you'll understand that. The second thing that I want you to notice here is this, he could experience God's supernatural strength in his weakness. Because that's what adversity does. Adversity makes us weak, emotionally or physically, whatever it might be. It makes us weary and tired and worn out.
And here's what he says, he said, he learned that he could experience God's supernatural strength. Listen to what he says in this passage in second Corinthians, in verse ten, "Therefore I'm well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake," he says, "for when I am weak then I am strong". Here's what he learned, he says, when I am the very weakest, I get my greatest surge of the presence of the supernatural energy and power in my life. I can keep going. It's when I think I can't that I begin to realize who is my Lord? Who is my strength? What is this life within me? It is the life of Jesus. And he says, When I come to those points that I think I can't handle it, that's when I get this new, fresh awareness and energizing of Christ within me. Energizing me and enabling me.
And so, that being true, whatever he was facing, like a bridge, these truths would help him to drive right over it. And then he said he had learned the, listen, he said he had learned the source for all of his needs. Notice what he says in this passage, he says beginning in verse nine. "And He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.' Most gladly, he says therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me". He says, I've learned that my sufficiency is in Christ. He says, I've learned that when I'm going through these difficulties, when there's no one there to help me; and oftentimes he was abandoned even by his friends. He says, I've learned that whatever my need is, Christ is my sufficiency. Knowing Him, loving Him, being loved by Him, being cared for by Him. This relationship, this intimate relationship that he has with Christ. He says, What I've learned is that even in my worst adversity, that relationship gives me a sense of sufficiency. Because I know that He's made promises. He's made promises that He's going to guide me and keep me and supply my need whatever that might be.
And he also, listen, came to realize that he could trust in the faithfulness of God. He could trust in the faithfulness of God. That is, that God was going to be true to His promises. And when I think about that promise I think about what he says in verse ten. He says, "Therefore I'm well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I'm weak then I'm strong". He said, I know that my God is going to be faithful to keep His word. That's He's going to supply my needs. That that I'm going to be sufficient in Him to face any and every situation and circumstance of life. And because His nature is to be faithful to us we can trust Him. That in whatever circumstance we're going through, whatever the situation may be, that we can count on Him to be who He says He is, count on Him to do what He says He'll do, and see us through it no matter what.
Then another issue that he learned here and that I think is so very, very valuable. He says, for example, he learned that God valued his service more than his desires. Now listen to what he says in this twelfth chapter, verse seven. He says for example, "Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from exalting myself"! Here's what he saying, it's an awesome valuable lesson. He says, I've learned that from God's perspective, He knows exactly what it takes to bring me into an intimate relationship with Him.
And, listen, watch this, God is so desirous to bring us into that living, eternal, listen, satisfying, enjoyable, indescribable, intimacy with Him. That look, He will overlook my desires in order to do what? He will overlook my desires in order to equip me to serve Him. But if I choose to just soak and have self-pity and all the rest, I'm going to lose the most wonderful opportunity. And the most wonderful opportunity, watch this, is not just being a servant of God, but this wonderful, intimate relationship that develops in that kind of adversity that comes no other way. Then I think about what he says. He learned that even in his adversity, that God was strengthening his message to his followers.
And that's interesting because in Philippians, here he is in jail and here's what's happening. Some of his followers were out there and they're not being very understanding of the Apostle Paul, in fact they're criticizing him. And here's what he says in verse thirteen, "So that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole Praetorian Guard". And they were the ones who had defended the emperor, "And to everyone else, And that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the Word of God without fear". Now he says, "Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some are for good will".
That is, here's what he's saying, he says, That even in our adversity, God is doing something in our life. What is He doing? He's strengthening our message. Because you see, when you go through difficulty and hardship and pain in your life and you begin to understand how God is working in your life, your faith, for example, becomes stronger. And he also learned to see everything as coming from God. Which is one of the basic principles to prevent a person from being bitter and resentful and hostile. Listen to what he says in this passage. He says, for example, in verse seven, "Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from exalting myself"! Now, where did that come from? Ultimately it had to be God. That is, God could have stopped it. He could've stopped all of that. But He allowed it.
What was He doing? He was allowing these things in his life. And Paul said one of the greatest things he'd learned was to be able to see everything as coming from God. Then of course he learned something else. And that is, he says, we become far more capable of being comforters to other people when we have been through adversity and have been comforted ourselves. Now he says that in different ways in this particular passage. But I want us to go back to what he said in the first chapter of this book. This is the twelfth chapter we've been talking about but back in the first chapter, he starts off this letter to the Corinthians.
And here's what he says. He says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, Who comforts us," watch this, "Who comforts us in all our afflictions," or adversities, "so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God". Then he says on later in the same chapter. "For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, but we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life".
That's what he was going through. And what is he talking about? He's talking about, that God, in those situations by comforting him, has equipped him to be a comforter of other people. And as we said before there are some situations and circumstances that people go through. And they come to you and want to share it and you say, Oh, I understand, I'm going to pray for you brother, just trust the Lord. A lot of that is just stuff. That's what that is, stuff. You can only comfort people genuinely when you've been hurt, when you've felt pain, when you've felt rejection, when you have felt in need, and when you have felt yourself heading in the wrong direction.
When you've felt yourself losing it, losing it, losing it in life and somehow God begins to work in your life His awesome comfort. And he says, what he's learned is this, we become the most effective when we've hurt the most. When we have to be comforted then we understand what it means to comfort someone else. And then of course he mentioned something else. He says he learned that God had a specific purpose for the adversity. Now that's what he starts off saying in this twelfth chapter. Listen to what he says, "Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations". Now what is he talking about? Now the Book of Revelation is singular, revelation; because it was one prophetic revelation. When he talks about these surpassing revelations that he has it meant those times, those situations and circumstances in which God revealed to him this truth and that truth and this truth and that truth. He says, God had given to him such awesome, surpassing revelations, that in order to keep him from becoming prideful and arrogant, he says, "There was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from exalting myself"!
Now, you might think about this. When you're going through something and it's very difficult, you might ask yourself the question, God, what's Your purpose for this? In fact, you have a right to ask that. In fact, you should ask it. What's Your purpose? And Paul said, I know what the purpose is. He said, God's been so awesome to me. So good to me, so revealing to me, that in order to, watch this, in order to protect the ministry to which He's called me, in order to protect the truth He's given me, in order to protect me from becoming useless, He allowed this thorn in my side which nobody understands what that is. He says, watch this, if God has, watch this carefully, if God has a purpose for everything He allows in our life, would you say is it a good purpose or a bad purpose? I didn't get much answer on that. I do understand that.
Listen, what kind of God is He? He is a good God. He's a perfected God. He's an unconditionally, loving God. So, that whatever He allows in our life, there is a specific purpose He has in mind. And that purpose, listen, is not only good for Him, but it's good for us. What did He say? He said, "My God causes all things". Now what we do, we take out all things and we interpret it to be sweet, loving, wealthy, all these wonderful things, famous, all this. He causes all things, yes, pain, suffering, hardship. We sort of misinterpret that word. What we put in there what we want to happen. "My God causes all things". All includes all. "To work together," for my good because He loves us.
And so, when you think about that, if you really and truly believe that, listen, this is painful, I don't like it. But somehow according to what I read in the Scripture God's working this thing out for my good. Think about this, is God a God of action without purpose? Listen, God has never done anything without purpose. There's no such thing as happenstance with God. In other words, things don't just happen with God. That's not even in His vocabulary. Things don't just happen with Him. He purposely directs and allows things. You say, Well, why in the world would He do that to the Apostle Paul as fine a man as he was? We just got through telling you how many reasons there were. All of which is to do what? Is to open this man up, give him understanding. And, listen, to draw him into what Paul said he wanted more than anything else is an intimate, personal relationship with Jesus.
And until you experience that, the Christian life is going to be pretty light. I mean, answered prayer and all that's being used of God is one thing. That's not what He's up to. He is up to drawing you into an intimate relationship with Him of understanding who He is and all the things that become a part of an intimate relationship. Let's say, for example, your husband or wife, you're married. Well, what kind of relationship do you have? If it is not an intimacy that goes beyond the flesh and sex, then you don't have much of a marriage. Intimacy means, I'm able to get on the inside of you and pull out who you are and how you feel. And what hurts you and how can I love you. In other words, intimacy gets on the inside of the other person. And the truth is, all of us want somebody to know us. Amen? In other words, whoever you're married to or whoever your friends are, you want somebody not to know you for what you do, but to know you as a person on the inside. And you see, when two people love each other, they can't get enough of the inside of that other person. That's what intimacy is all about.
So, who is this God? He is this awesome, infinite, indescribable, awesome God of love. Listen, if you and I only could understand one attribute of God, let's say it's love, you and I could dig for eternity and we'll never be able to exhaust the full understanding of how much He loves us. Listen, He wants us to know Him. Not just receive from Him, just serve Him. He wants us to know Him, Him Him, Him. He wants us to know who He is. And Paul is understanding that. He understands this purpose. He says, God knows that I'm, remember this, he was a Pharisee. He was a big deal in his day and time. When he was among the Pharisees, he was the biggest persecutor of the church. They thought he was it. And God had to crush the it, until He could get him totally dependent upon Himself.
And in love, listen, not with the Mosaic law, as interpreted by Pharisees, but with this carpenter, who came from nowhere. Changed his life when I think about that. Radically changed his life. That's why he wasn't complaining about the thorn. Naturally, he would like to have done it some other way. But he says, For what I've learned, bring it on. And then of course, he learned that he could rejoice in the midst of his adversity. And I love Philippians because it's so many wonderful verses here. But look if you will in this fourth chapter of Philippians. Here's what he says, he says, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice"! He wrote in jail; in a Roman prison. And he's talking about rejoicing. Why? Because here's what he learned, all these things that had happened to him, instead of having a pity party and wanting to break out of jail, and getting somebody to rescue him, and spending his days and nights of crying, God, please, please rescue me, please get me out of this place.
What was he doing? He was just taking all those experiences and running them over in his mind and his heart, and gleaning and learning and reaping the most richest of rewards of who this God is that he served. So, whatever adversity you're facing, most of the time you can't control it. So, you have to decide how you're going to think about it. Are you going to think about it as a bridge that God is building for you? Listen, to bring you into an intimate relationship with Him for which no man on earth can create for you. A relationship to Him that you will never be able to fully fathom all the days of your life. A relationship with Him for which He died to make possible.
A relationship with Him that'll absolutely revolutionize your life; equip you to be a strong servant of God. Or do you want to just have pity parties? Drink, carouse, sex, anything to get your mind off of it? And it's interesting your mind never gets off of it. So, that's the devil's approach. Or you can take Paul's approach. This is a bridge and I'm going to travel above all this because I know what's on the other side, this indescribable, sweet, precious, eternal relationship with Jesus Christ. That's what it's all about. So, look at your adversity whatever it may be, and ask yourself the question, God, how have I been acting? How have I been responding?
And let me just say this, you may not be a Christian and you think, What in the world is all of this about? Here's what it's about, it's about God, getting your attention. Sending you enough heartache and pain and suffering that finally it'll drive you to Himself. You can resist it. You can rebel against it, but only to your own hurt and pain. What He wants is for you to recognize He created you for Himself, not for yourself. He wants you to confess your sinfulness, your inadequacy and rely upon Him to forgive you of your sins through His Son Jesus who died at the cross and paid your sin debt in full. Surrender your life to Him and watch Him. You say, Will that take away all my adversity? Not necessarily. Because you see, look, He knows how much of that you need to make you the person He wants you to be. But you do have two choices. You can rebel or you can surrender. And that's the best way and that's my prayer for you.
Father how grateful we are. Thank You for not giving us all the peace and joy and happiness we want, when that's not what You want for us. Thank You for loving us enough to control us, and at the same time, giving us a partially free will. I pray for every person who hears this. Oh God, there will be adversity. You already know what's ahead for every single one of us. I pray that they'll be wise enough Father, to get this in their heart, not just on their paper. And begin not only to live it out, but to share with people all around them who are full of adversity. We'll thank You for it and believe You for it. In Jesus' name, Amen.