Adversity, anguish, trials, tribulations, and heartaches operate as lessons in the school of experience. They bring us to a place of new insight and understanding. They can alter our perceptions of the world, our views of God, and lead us to change our behaviors. The Lord, of course, is the ultimate Teacher. He is the One to whom we must look for the meaning of any lesson related to adversity.
God allows adversity for at least three reasons:
1. God uses adversity to get our attention.
The Lord uses a wide variety of methods to gain our attention when necessary—adversity is one of them. One of the best responses I know to adversity that strikes us suddenly (and yet obviously) with a God-intended message is to turn to Psalm 25:1–7 and make it our personal prayer:
To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in You I trust, do not let me be ashamed; do not let my enemies exult over me. Indeed, none of those who wait for You will be ashamed; those who deal treacherously without cause will be ashamed. Make me know Your ways, O Lord; teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; for You I wait all the day. Remember, O Lord, Your compassion and Your lovingkindnesses, for they have been from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to Your lovingkindness remember me, for Your goodness’ sake, O Lord.
Don’t delay in responding to the Lord when He moves to get your attention. Respond quickly and humbly. Hear what He has to say to you.
2. Adversity leads to examination.
At times, God allows adversity to motivate us to self-examination. The winds of adversity blow away the surface issues and force us to cope with things on a deeper level. Nothing has the ability to drive us closer to God than tribulation. It removes the cloak of denial and reveals who we really are, as well as what we believe about God, His deity, and faithfulness.
We need to examine both our faith and our levels of discipline. Are we committed to standing firm in our trust in Christ, or are we blown off course by every ill wind that blows our way? Paul encouraged the Corinthians, “But a man must examine himself” (1 Cor. 11:28). In other words, “Take a straight forward look inside and discover what is driving you, motivating you, and enticing you.” If it is anything but God, then it is not right. He needs to be your motivating factor at every turn in life.
Those who have accepted Christ as Savior are the temples of the Holy Spirit, and He wants us to be clean and usable vessels. We have no reason to allow the rubbish of the world or our past failures to remain in the forefront of our lives. The Lord desires that we free ourselves of anything that might keep us in inner bondage, whether mentally, emotionally, psychologically, or spiritually. When we become complacent and accept the hurts of the past as a part of who we are, we have accepted the wrong view, the wrong definition, and the wrong game plan. We are new creations in Christ. There is never a point where we are separated from Him. He has sealed us with His Spirit. The old is gone; the new has come. And that newness of life is the very thing that gives us hope in hopeless times.
3. The effective lesson leads to change in behavior.
When we act like Christ, our true identity emerges. Teachers often prepare behavioral objectives for their classroom lectures. These objectives list in concrete and measurable form the behaviors that the teacher desires for a student to display as proof that the student has learned the lesson. The lessons that the Lord teaches us through adversity are ultimately for that very purpose: a change in behavior, including a change in the belief that prompted the behavior.
It isn’t enough that God desires to get our attention or that we take time to look truthfully at our lives. We must allow His Spirit to have free access to every area. We learn to watch, listen, and look for His guidance and direction. We can see a problem or feel a flush of anger and think: How should I respond? We may make the wrong choice, say the wrong word, or ignore what we know He is telling us to do. Unless we change our response and behavior, we will never benefit from adversity or grow as a result of it. God provides a challenge, and we have an opportunity to obey or disobey Him. The choice is ours, and the consequences that come belong to us, as well.
Jesus came to bear the burdens that plague our lives. He will help us carry our burdens to the cross and deal with them there, once and for all. He always has our best interests in mind. He alone knows that pain paves the path to complete spiritual healing and restoration.
If you are willing to allow God to surface the inner rubbish of your life, and if you are willing to change what needs to be changed, you will emerge from adversity closer to Christ, more mature as His child, and with far greater potential to reflect the love of God to the world around you.
Adapted from The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, © 2009.