Charles Stanley - An Intimate Look At Adversity
Adversity, a word that describes the world in which you and I live. Think about it for a moment. When you think in terms of adversity, we could come up with all kinds of words to describe it. A time of difficulty, a time of distress, a time of disaster, a time of tragedy, of trauma, of crisis, of trials, time of misery, affliction, suffering, pain, sorrow, loss. Everywhere you look, this is what we see happening. This is a terrible time of adversity for the whole world. Anywhere you put your finger on the map, you'll find all kinds of trials that people are facing.
Now when you go through a trial and when you face adversity, how do you respond? You complain? Do you ask God what's going on? Why are You treating me this way? How do you respond when adversity comes your way? Those times of trial and hardship and heartache and burden that really we can't fully explain. And when you try to tell somebody else what you're going through, you can only tell them struggling. But it's in adversity in your life. It's a time of great trial and hardship. And you desperately need somebody to pray with you, to hold your hand, to cry with you, to encourage you in some way. Would that be true of you today? Would all of these words seem to explain what you're going through? How are you responding?
And so, I want you to turn if you will to Second Corinthians, chapter eleven, beginning in verse twenty-three. And if you'll turn there for a moment, and I just want to read a portion of this because this passage of Scripture describes the Apostle Paul's time of great adversity in his life. And he lays the foundation for it before the verses I'm going to read, but I'll just start down here with His description of what's going on in his life. And he says, beginning in verse twenty-three of the eleventh chapter, "Are they servants of Christ? I speak as if insane, I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death".
Explaining all the things and all the adversities he's been through and then he says, "Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. And at the end of those lashes were these bones that cut through the flesh. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned". And remember this: He was stoned and left for dead in Lystra. He says, "Three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep," trying to survive, "I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from my countrymen dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me and concern that I have for all the churches".
Now the next time you have a pity-party and think, "Ohhhh, poor me!" Just read this eleventh chapter and be reminded of the Apostle Paul. He knew what real adversity was like. And you know, he spent years in prison. And finally, Nero, had him beheaded. You'd think, "Well, that wasn't fair and that was terrible. I can't imagine why God would do such a thing". You want me to tell you why? Here's a reason why. Because if the Apostle Paul had continued to travel all of those years, continuously making journeys in the Mediterranean area, and preaching and teaching the gospel to the last day he died, you know what you wouldn't have? You wouldn't have Ephesians and Colossians and Philippians and on and on we go.
God used the most difficult, trying times of his life to bless us and bless us and bless us all the days of our life and all the generations following the Apostle Paul. Which leads me to say this. All adversity is not bad. It's a matter of how you look at it. It's a matter of how you respond to it. He could have sat in prison and moped and groaned and asked God, "Why am I here? Why don't You get me out of here? God, if You're who I say You are, why don't You get me out of this Roman prison"? And you read the book of Philippians, and you know what the theme of the book of Philippians while he's in jail? Joy! And how many people do you know going through difficult times have joy? The difference is between the people who understand and believe that God can take anything and everything and turn it into something good, if we respond the correct way. But if I respond the wrong way, I'm going to suffer hurt, pain, sorrow and all these other things that may come our way, and glean and gain nothing from it. And when people do, here's what happens. They get bitter.
Now the one thing you don't want is a bitter friend. Because they're always spewing it, just like pumping out. "He did this. They did that". Hm-hm-hm. On and on and on they go. Or, you can have the kind of person that understands what adversity is all about. And so, what I want to do in this message, I want you to just take a good look at what adversity's all about, applying it to your heart. And I want to begin by simply saying this. We need to look at adversity, however it affects your life. Whether it's sickness, trial, financial loss and divorce, name it, and you lose your children, lost job, whatever's going your way.
Think about it in this light. Adversity is universal, that is, it plays no favorites. It's everywhere. You face it on your job. You face it in your family. You face it among your friends. You face it in your schools. In other words, adversity, difficult times, hard times, tough times everywhere. Secondly, it's impartial. It makes any difference how much money you have, how poor you may be, how educated, uneducated. Believers and unbelievers, that is, adversity reaches every single aspect of life. It's because we live in a fallen world. And as a result of that, we're going, we're going to suffer hardship. And of course, it's painful, it's emotionally painful, it's physically painful.
Great hurt comes from the adversity of how people treat each other. Sometimes it's sudden. You get in your car to go to work on Monday morning and you don't get five miles from home until what? You have an accident, bad accident. Or you go to the doctor and you're feeling fantastic and you can't wait to tell him how good you feel and he tells you, "Let me tell you what you have". And you walk away full of feelings of adversity and wonder why God's doing what He's doing. And so, sometimes it's prolonged. It goes on for years and years and years. And I think the people with the hardest time with adversity are people who have been sick for years and years and years.
Or they have gone through something, for example, in their marriage. They stick together, they hang in there but twenty, thirty, forty years and they wish they'd never seen each other, but they're still there. But it's a miserable marriage. And they feel like that they should not separate or divorce and so there they are. And sometimes it's very intense. And once in a while I've talked to people who hurt so badly, in listening to them I started hurting. In other words, there is pain. There is hurt that is so deep that when it's shared, you cannot help but share the burden of what they're feeling in life. And then of course, it's beyond our control. There are some things that we have no simple answer for. And if you ask me, "Well do you have an answer for all adversity"? The answer is: absolutely not. But on the other hand, yes, I do.
Can I tell you why God allows certain people to suffer the way they do? No, I can't. If you ask me, "Will God turn even the most difficult things into something good"? Yes, yes He will if you and I respond in the right way. Now, there are two primary questions that people ask about difficult times. And the first one of course is, "God, why do You allow this to happen to my life? Why"? And somebody says, "Well if you're a real Christian, you won't ask why". Well, you and I know somebody who asked that question, don't we? Jesus said, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me"? When He was bearing and the reason He was saying that, because He was bearing the total blunt and total guilt of all mankind for all ages in those moments in His body, His mind, His will, His emotion. "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me"? Even though He had a oneness of relationship unequalled by anything you and I could enjoy in life. He was feeling it. He was bearing it. And He was asking, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken me"?
And I'm grateful He did, because there are people today who ask the same question. "My God, My God, why do You let, why do You let me continue in this? Just take me home, God". Or, "Why have You allowed this to happen"? So, the question of why is a relevant question. And let me just say this to you. God doesn't get upset because you ask Him why. He knows why you ask Him why. And He understands your lack of understanding and your lack of knowledge. Because you see, you and I look at today and God looks at today, but He's also already seen tomorrow. And that's why God can do the most awesome work in our hearts and changing our attitude and lifting the burden, doing all kind of things in our life because He not only hears our ache and our pain, but He also knows what He's up to and what He intends to do as a result of it.
And so, when the question "why" comes, it reminds me of that song, it goes like this: "Trials dark on every hand and I cannot understand all the ways that God would lead me to the blessed Promise Land. But He'll guide me with His eye and I'll follow till I die and I'll understand it better by and by". And then the chorus goes, something like this: "By and by when the morning comes, when the saints of God are gathered home; we'll tell the story of how we've overcome". Hallelujah. "And we'll understand it better by and by". Whoever wrote that song had to have known what adversity was all about, because the truth is there are some things you and I will never fully understand till we get on the other side of life.
So, the question is, "Why does God allow these things"? There are some situations in which God and God only will know. But I believe that for most part, He will show us why if we approach Him in the right way and for the right reason, a right motive. And of course, there's a second question though and that's who? That's who's behind this? Well, one of, for example, one of the reasons people suffer adversity, the "who" is themselves. It's actions that they've done, things that they've done, sins that they've committed, the way they've treated people, and how they've responded to the Gospel, how they've responded to others. And in their selfishness and in their pride and egotism and all the rest.
So, one of the reasons of, when it comes to who, well "who" can be me. And, I was talking to someone not long ago, and I thought I was going to have to convince this person of why they were going through the difficulty they were going through, and all of a sudden, the person said," I know why I'm here. It's decisions that I made in my life, and l look back and realize I made decisions that got me where I am". I was blessed, but grieved at the same time that at least they understood why they were going through the adversity they're facing. Our sin brings on adversity for one thing and secondly, Satan. He is behind it. Satan hates godly people.
And when you look in the Scripture, for example, you read the book of Job. What happened and how God allowed Job to suffer, but how He blessed him in the end. And then of course, God is the ultimate cause of some of our adversities. "Now, now wait a minute. You mean that God loves me and has the best for me and will allow me to go through pain and suffering and heartache and loss"? And the answer is "yes". Yes, He will. We don't even need to read any more Scripture. Look at what Paul wrote to the Corinthians. He says, "All of these things I've suffered through and have survived, besides the weight and the burden of all the churches in those days".
Remember these weren't churches like this. They were groups of people meeting together, separately, and they did not have a Bible as you and I have. And imagine the kind of things that they had to deal with when it comes to their doctrine and what they believed in the middle of a Roman Empire that was absolutely saturated with wickedness and vileness and immorality. And here's a group of believers here and a group of believers there and he felt responsible. And so, does God allow adversity? Does He even send it? Yes, He does. Second Corinthians in the next chapter, listen carefully. The questions does, in other words, we know it's because of our sin and we know it's because of the devil.
But listen to this: "Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored," or prayed, "the Lord three times that it might leave me". God, deliver me from this. " And He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.' Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, persecutions, difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong".
So, does God allow it? Yes. Can God be behind it? Yes. But for the most part, people disobey God and they begin to suffer the consequence. And of course, Satan's always behind all kind of suffering and difficulties. But what you and I have to deal with is this. We have to look at our lives and be honest and say, "Did I bring this on myself"? Because this is, this is the law of God. It's the law we live by. We reap what we sow, more than we sow, later than we sow. And either I do it to myself, or Satan attacks us and we have God's help and strength to see us through that. Or it may be something that God wants to do in your life. And adversity can be dealt with properly if we're willing to eliminate all the excuses and say, "Okay, God, what's your purpose"?
You see, if you remember that whole list of Paul's adversities, all the things he went through, and God didn't remove it, but he yielded himself to God will he, till the Lord showed him, "I'm doing something in your life to protect you. Listen, I'm going to protect you from ruining your testimony. I'm going to protect you from wasting your life by doing it some other way than the way I've said do it". And when the Apostle Paul settled in to God's perfect will for whatever God was doing at that particular time, look how God used him. Thank God for those jail terms, because while he was in jail, he was writing out a prescription for you and me, how to live a godly life. And he suffered as no one has ever suffered for the Lord Jesus Christ and look what it's done for all of us.
And so, when I look at all that and think about how God works, and I want to just mention four principles that we need to remember when we're going through adversity in our life, and the first one is this: Adversity is one of God's most effective tools for strengthening our faith, because our faith gets tested in times of trial and adversity. And if I trust Him, what happens? And nothing, nothing changes, and I trust Him, and nothing changes, and I trust Him nothing seems to change. But what's happening? It looks like it's not changing, but my faith is growing. I'm trusting Him and watching Him help me and strengthen me and enabling me to live through this pain and heartache and whatever it may be. And so, it's a time for, for strengthening of our faith. Secondly, remember this principle. When God sends adversity in your life, He never sends it to hurt us, but to help us. God always allows it to help us, not to hurt us.
Now we may feel the pain, physical pain. But ultimately, He's in the process of helping us in some way. And God helped the Apostle Paul. And somebody says, "Wait a minute. Don't give me that Apostle Paul business. I'm not the Apostle Paul. I'm not a preacher. I'm not a missionary". And on people go. I say, "Wait a minute. He was just a man. He was a man given a task unequal like any task God ever put on anybody. And he had to learn just like you and I have to learn how to respond to the most difficult times". God will do something good in your life if you'll let Him. But you have to remember that He's not here to hurt us. And then, a third principle is this, and one of the most important ones: we are never alone in our adversity. Thank God! He's always there. Sometimes you don't feel He's there. Sometimes you wonder, "Where in the world, God, are You"? He's always there. You remember that verse? "I will never leave you nor forsake you," period.
You cannot face any adversity, if you're a believer, you follow Jesus as your Savior. Listen to this, not "may not," not "might not," cannot. You cannot walk through one moment of adversity as a child of God without His presence. "I will never leave you nor forsake you". Period. Not except, if, what, no. A child of God is always in the company, in the presence of Almighty God through His son Jesus Christ who lives on the inside of us. What an awesome assurance. And then, the last thing I would say here is this: adversity can be a precious gift from God. And, that's the way He intends for it to turn out. A precious gift from God. Anything that turns me around from the wrong direction. Anything that takes my hands out of where they should not be. Anything that guides my step in the right way. Anything that changes my mind and my thinking, and thinking about God is always good.
So, if you'll remember those four things, that puts a whole different tone to adversity. Does it make it less painful? Not necessarily. But, there's some, listen, if you feel all alone, what do you need? Companionship. You have it in the person of Jesus Christ. So, whatever you're going through it's like this. It's like sometimes I think, "Lord, here we go, so hold my hand, Lord. Here we go. I see it coming". And so, when we are willing to respond correctly by trusting Him, He will see us through that adversity, and we'll profit from it. That is if you're a believer. I trust if you've never trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, you will be wise enough to ask the Lord Jesus Christ to forgive you of your sins, not because you deserve it, but because He loved you enough to send His Son, Jesus, to the cross and what that's all about is Jesus, the Son of God dying on the cross, shedding His blood which was the payment for all of your sins, mine and the sins of the whole world.
And if you're willing to ask Him to forgive you on the basis of Christ's death, on the basis of the testimony of His Word in all these pages of the Word of God, He will forgive your sin. He'll give you a new beginning. Begin to live His life in you on the inside of you so that you can think the way He thinks is what we've been talking about. This is the way God thinks. And, I would just encourage you if you've never trusted Christ as your Savior. Listen, you're headed for a mess. There is no way to live in this world, and survive, and have any peace, or joy, or happiness that's prolonged, and continuous. It doesn't mean you'll not have up and downs. But, the peace that you're looking for, and the joy that you're looking for, it begins with Jesus, it continues with Jesus, and it ends with Jesus, and without Him you don't have a chance.
And, Father, we thank You this morning for the awesome assurance of Your Word. And, thank You for all the years that You've proven over, and over, and over again the truthfulness of Your Word. I pray that You'll speak to that somebody strongly who desperately needs to get saved today, speak to their heart, and give them the wisdom to make that decision today. In Jesus' name. Amen.