God’s Purpose in Troublesome Times
By Dr. Charles Stanley
Getting sick is frustrating to me. I am an achievement-oriented person; I like to see projects begun and completed. I enjoy setting goals and writing to-do lists. When I get a cold, I usually think, "What a waste of time! Lord, don't you know how busy I am?" But it is during these times of rest that I have learned some of the most exciting spiritual truths. Once I get over my initial frustration, I ask, "Lord, what are you saying to me? What do you want me to learn?" When I return to the pulpit, I am full of insight and enthusiasm. This has happened so many times now that my congregation gets excited when I get sick. Not because they want me to be ill, but because of the blessing they receive when I get back on my feet and share what the Lord has taught me.
I realize the adversity in your life may be a far more serious ailment or situation. I don't mean to oversimplify hardship or promise you a quick and easy answer to what you are facing. Instead, I'd like to share what God's purpose is for allowing difficulty in the lives of His children—to advance our spiritual growth. It is within the context of this principle that Paul was able to say:
All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28, NKJV).
This is a conditional promise. For the person who does not love God and thus is not interested in knowing Him or growing spiritually, all things do not necessarily work for good because sometimes the "good" is a spiritual lesson or depth of character developed as a result of adversity. God values character far more than wealth, prominence, health, and many other blessings we cherish.
Romans 8:28 does not necessarily promise that a man who loses his job will get a better one. It may be the story of how that man comes to a greater understanding of what it means to trust God daily. This biblical passage doesn't guarantee that if a young lady loses her love, she will find a better catch later on. Instead, through that tragedy, she might discover God's call to enter full-time Christian service.
The reason so many of us struggle with adversity is that we often don't understand God's perspective and priorities. As you read about the lives of biblical characters, you will notice quickly that all of their stories don't end, "And they lived happily ever after." Moses died in the dessert outside of the promised land, Paul was likely beheaded by Nero, and most of the disciples were martyred.
Are we to conclude from these examples that God has no interest in His children being happy? No! We are told that heaven will be a place of great rejoicing. But God wants far more for us than a problem free life. The happiness that God desires for His children is a state of well-being that reaches deep into our souls and comes only through the process of spiritual maturity. If we don't keep the Lord's priorities in mind, we will find adversity more difficult. We will tend to blame God and become bitter. Instead of seeing adversity as a tool God is using for our benefit, we see it as something He is doing to us. When our priorities are ease, comfort and pleasure, we will have little tolerance for adversity. We see it as an interruption rather than a part of God's plan for our lives.
But when we allow God to shape our priorities, adversity can take on a whole new meaning. We learn to see it as an integral part of what God is doing in our lives. We begin to understand that adversity is sometimes a means to greater joy and peace. We don't panic and assume God has forgotten us. Why? Because according to Romans 8:28, God is in the process of bringing another blessing into our lives.
Spiritual men and women emerge from adversity excited about what God has taught them. Carnal men and women often emerge bitter and angry with Him for what He "put them through." They are quick to point out that "all things don't work together for good," conveniently ignoring the second half of the verse, which focuses on God's purpose in the life of a believer.
The Bible gives us plenty of reasons to believe that the Father could erase all adversity from our lives with just a word. But experience tells us He has chosen not to do that. If we are believers, God is in the process of teaching us about His faithfulness, goodness, compassion, and holiness. From His perspective, our spiritual growth is more important than our ease, comfort and pleasure. The Lord allows adversity in our lives to teach us how to rely on Him. We won't necessarily welcome difficult times. But if we understand why He permits these circumstances, we can face trouble with the assurance that God loves us, and take comfort in the fact that He is still in control.
Adapted from "How to Handle Adversity" (1989).
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