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God's Purpose for Adversity

By Dr. Charles Stanley

Have you ever wondered why the Lord allows tragedy, sickness, and other suffering in our lives? Part of the answer lies in the fact that we inhabit a fallen world; the sin of Adam and Eve altered God’s original creation. However, the good news is that God uses adversity to show us our profound need for Him.

The Old Testament saint Jacob experienced something that forever changed how he related to God. The Lord weakened him physically to strengthen him spiritually. In a similar way, God wants to use adversity in our lives to draw us into a closer relationship with Him.

Jacob’s Journey

Read Genesis 32:1-32.

  •  As Jacob traveled to the land of his parents, what troublesome news came to him (Gen 32:6-8)?
  •  Why would Jacob expect the worst from his brother? (See Genesis 27:30-42 if necessary.)
  • On a practical level, how did Jacob prepare to meet his brother (Gen. 32:4-8, Gen. 32:13-20)?
  • Jacob also turned to the Lord in prayer. Summarize each section of his petition (vv. 9-12).

Example: v. 9—Jacob reminded God of His promise to prosper him.
v. 10
v. 11
v. 12

  • From Jacob’s prayer, what can you learn about how to approach God regarding your own problems?

After Jacob sent his family away (v. 23), he wrestled with a mysterious man. At first, he may have thought he was fighting one of Esau’s men, but later, he says he saw God (v. 30). In a similar way, we sometimes have a hard time recognizing how the Lord is at work in adversity. That can happen when we are busy blaming other people, ourselves, or the Devil.

  • What difficulty are you facing right now?
  • Who or what do you have a tendency to blame for your problems?
  • What purpose might God have for your hardship?

As the fight continued, the man touched Jacob’s hip and dislocated it. This may have alerted Jacob to the fact that he was wrestling with a supernatural being. He determined to hold on until he received a blessing (v. 26).
When we are facing adversity, we may need to wrestle with God—that is, stay at the throne of grace and mercy until we have what we need from Him (Heb. 4:14-16).

  • In your time alone with God, do you tend to wait until you hear from Him or sense His comforting presence?  Why or why not?

Many scholars believe the man Jacob wrestled was the pre-incarnate Christ (Jesus before He was born as a baby). Others think Jacob fought an angel. Either way, this supernatural being changed the patriarch’s name.  Jacob literally means “heel catcher,” an idiomatic expression that meant “trickster” or “supplanter.” Israel means “he struggles with God” or perhaps “a prince with God.”

  • Jacob became the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. Why do you think it was important for him to have a new name?

After this incident, Jacob walked with a limp (Gen. 32:31). With a dislocated hip, he would have found it almost impossible to defend himself against Esau. Jacob was forced to depend completely on God’s ability to protect him.

  • What does Esau’s greeting show about his feelings toward Jacob (Gen. 33:4)?

Jacob learned that he could rely on God more completely when he was weak. This is the same lesson Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” taught him (2 Cor. 12:7-10). The apostle wrote, “I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (v. 10).

  • Give an example of a time when your weakness provided an opportunity to rely successfully on The Lord’s power.
  • How could your present adversity help you lean more fully on God?

As we depend on the Lord, we learn more about who He is. After God spoke to Job, revealing His character and incredible power, Job said, “I have heard of You . . . but now my eye sees You” (Job 42:5).

  • What new insight has hardship given to you about God or the Christian life?
  • Adversity shows us how much we lack spiritually. Give an example of a time when difficulty revealed your weaknesses and need for God.

Apart from the Father’s help, we can never handle all our problems, consistently resist temptation, or avoid bitterness. In fact, when we attempt to wage spiritual battles on our own, not only do we wander away from God, but we ultimately fail.  

  • Jude 1:24 says that God “is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy.” According to this study, what is a believer’s role in handling problems, temptations, and suffering?

Prayer: Father, thank You for being willing to carry me through the challenges of life. Teach me to rely more on Your power rather than on my own strategies and coping abilities. Show me how You want to use the difficulties I face to draw me into a more intimate relationship with You. Amen.


Related Resources

Related Video

Adversity: Burden or Bridge?

No one wants to experience tough times. But when they come our way, we have a choice about how to view them: as a burden or a bridge. (Watch Adversity: Burden or Bridge?.)

Copyright 2015 In Touch Ministries, Inc. All rights reserved. In Touch grants permission to print for personal use only.

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  • November 26, 2012 10:06 AM


    The WORD of God is surely Bread of LIFE:) SOOOOOOOOOOO BLESSED!!!!
  • November 25, 2012 12:17 PM


    Thank you Lord for this lesson. It is amazing the timing of your Words and their meaning in my current struggles in life. Please bring me closer each day and make me more humble and dependent on you.
  • November 25, 2012 10:32 AM


    This forum is great! As a believer who has been saved since I was 12, I still struggle with "letting go and letting God". I have allowed other things to take over & have seriously limited my time at church where I can interact and learn from other believers. I tend to beat myself up for not being a "better" Christian and not taking time to listen to God. There is so much to write here, but I won't (at least not now) :) I am so very grateful for the my blessings which I know are all God given. I thank you for getting the Word out & for providing a forum for us to ask questions and well, just vent.
  • November 25, 2012 10:24 AM


    This was excellent for me. I'm going through a lot right now and this will certainly help me get through this difficult time. I will study this lesson until I fully understand what God is saying to me.
  • December 16, 2010 04:43 PM

    by SuperUser Account

    Someone wrote: "Isn't there somewhere the above questions are answered for the teacher?"

    Not at this time. However, if you have a specific question, contact us through the contact form, and one of our writers will respond with the answer.
    The In Touch Team
  • December 05, 2010 09:24 PM


    Hello: I recently turned 49 yrs old. I was one who blamed my past for everything. It might not seem like much to others however it has been a struggle most of my life. I grew up without my father, my mother moved to a different city when they divorced, I was put in school early (1 yr younger than peers), my stepfather was an alcoholic, my mother was dominating, controlling and she really didn't live in reality. I have had many fantastic opportunities in life, however for some reason, I squandered those self made opportunities away due to my selfishness, lack of self esteem, pride and my search for a real family. Today, I am struggling through a divorce. I have many worldly things, a job, two homes, 2 children, however, I feel due to my youth (grade school, high school) I never found out who I was was due to many unstable reasons. Now I know who I am, however it feels those life changing opportunities are few and far between. I thank the lord for what I have, and I am very thankful for his word, without it, i would have nothing. It is difficult to deal with adversity, when I have been dealing with it all my life. I pray for God's mercy, graciousness, guidance, direction and wisdom to fulfill his plan he has for me until the end of my days. Thank you for this forum to speak, I give God the glory and may he strengthen me to be the son, brother, father, friend and god fearing man, I'm suppose to be. In Jesus name, Amen
  • November 28, 2010 05:48 PM


  • November 23, 2010 03:17 PM

    by SuperUser Account

    Someone wrote: "What do you do when adversity is in the form of an abusive husband and the wife has 6 children from another marriage( that husband is deceased). How long does she wait for God to intervene while she is getting abused. The law keeps letting him out."

    In Touch encourages her to contact a resource for battered women in your area for help. This is a serious problem that requires action on her part. A search on the internet should pull up some non-profits in your city or region who would have the resources to help her deal with this situation. God bless you and we'll pray for this person.
  • November 23, 2010 02:00 PM


    What do you do when adversity is in the form of an abusive husband and the wife has 6 children from another marriage( that husband is deceased). How long does she wait for God to intervene while she is getting abused. The law keeps letting him out.
  • November 17, 2010 10:29 AM


  • November 12, 2010 05:11 AM


    I thank God for the strength I receive when I did this study. Things are not going well for me right now. But I will not let go of the hand of God. It's hard not having a place to call your own. We need a home. My husband have a job. But it is our credit it not good. Believe with us for the favor of God. Just like he pardon Jacob, we too need that. Thanks
  • November 09, 2010 12:00 PM

    by SuperUser Account

    Catherine, we would like to offer you some encouragement. Please see our contact information under About Us and write in or call so we can assist you.

    The InTouch Team
  • November 09, 2010 11:57 AM

    by SuperUser Account

    Our studies are printer-friendly. Just click on the icon next to "print page" to get the process started.

    The InTouch Team
  • November 09, 2010 10:57 AM

    by SuperUser Account asked: Isn't there somewhere the above questions are answered for the teacher?

    At this time, we don't provide answers to the study. Is there a specific question or two that you were unable to answer by looking up the verses? We'd be glad to help.

    The In Touch Team

  • November 08, 2010 07:39 PM


    what do you do when you dont know what to do when adversities strike as it has with me. I feel so all alonge depressed and fearful. What must i do? Catherine
  • November 08, 2010 08:16 AM


    Isn't there somewhere the above questions are answered for the teacher?
  • November 08, 2010 05:11 AM


    Amazing! Very powerful and encouraging!

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