Understanding Adversity recognize and appreciate God’s purposes for difficulties
James the Apostle recommended a surprising response to troubles: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1:2–4).
The Apostle Paul expressed a similar perspective on adversity: “We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly”(Romans 5:3–6).
These men understood that in light of what Christ did for us by providing salvation, the difficulties we experience in this life take on new meaning. They are a means through which God works to accomplish His will in our lives: to shape us so that we reflect the character of Christ. (See Romans 8:28–30.) On the basis of this purpose, all adversity “works together” for our good and God’s glory.
Adversity gets our attention.
When adversity comes, we are forced to face problems and pressures that are too big for us to resolve. In this way, God gets our attention. We can’t continue to pursue our goals, tasks, and relationships in the same manner. We have to stop and evaluate our situation, ask God for wisdom, obey His Word, and trust Him to bring the help we need.
Troubles point out our weaknesses and prompt us to rely on God in ways that we wouldn’t unless we had significant needs. Christ’s invitation to those who are weary becomes very attractive in the midst of trials: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30). Adversity is a classroom in which we can learn more of Christ and become more like Him.
As we come to God with our needs, our inward prayer should echo these words of the Psalmist: “Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in thee: let me not be ashamed, let not mine enemies triumph over me” (Psalm 25:1–2).
Adversity reminds us of our weaknesses.
The Apostle Paul knew what it meant to live with adversity that would not go away. He learned to see the good that God intended to bring to his life through it and to rejoice in God’s design. He wrote: “Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (II Corinthians 12:7–10).
As we accept our unchangeable features and embrace God’s purposes for our difficulties, we will experience the power of Christ in our lives. We can trust God to care for us and to provide all that we need. “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame: he remembereth that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13–14).
Adversity motivates us to cry out to God.
God responds to the cry of His children when they suffer. “The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles” (Psalm 34:17).
- We are to cry out to God with our voice. “I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill” (Psalm 3:4).
- We can cry out to God for mercy each day. “Be merciful unto me, O Lord: for I cry unto thee daily” (Psalm 86:3).
- We are to cry out to God in humility. “. . . He forgetteth not the cry of the humble” (Psalm 9:12).
- We are to cry out to God with a pure heart. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Psalm 66:18).
Adversity is an assurance of God’s fatherly love and care.
Wise discipline brings a child to maturity. Just as a loving father helps his children learn and grow through the discipline he carries out in their lives, so God uses adversity to help us grow in holiness and become more like Him. When we persevere through hardship, we have proof that we are God’s children.
For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; and make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed (Hebrews 12:6–13).
Adversity motivates us to fear the Lord.
Adversity reminds us that God is present and we are accountable to Him for our every thought, word, and action. God’s Word reveals that the fear of the Lord is the key to life, wisdom, and lasting achievement. (See Proverbs 9:10, 14:27, and 22:4.)
If we lose our awareness of God and begin to think and act as if He does not exist, God often allows painful reminders of our need for Him, just as He did with the nation of Israel. “The anger of the Lord was hot against Israel; and he said, Because that this people hath transgressed my covenant which I commanded their fathers, and have not hearkened unto my voice; I also will not henceforth drive out any from before them of the nations which Joshua left when he died: that through them I may prove Israel, whether they will keep the way of the Lord to walk therein, as their fathers did keep it, or not” (Judges 2:20–22).
Adversity strengthens our hatred for sin.
The pain of adversity helps us recognize the deception of sin. Our hatred of evil will increase when we realize how sin keeps us from living in a way that honors God and how it damages the lives of those we love.
God wants us to know that He will not ignore sin. “. . . God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting” (Galatians 6:7–8).
If we could only perceive the final cost of our sin, we would shrink from committing it. Therefore, in His mercy God exposes secret sin, and He allows others to see its devastating consequences. In this way, we are warned not to be fooled by “. . . the pleasures of sin,” which last for a season. (See Hebrews 11:25.)
Adversity is a call for self-examination.
The discipline of the Lord is a part of the life of every Christian, and adversity should motivate us to examine our lives and discern if we are disobeying God’s Word in any area. Jesus warned the complacent church of Laodicea, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” (Revelation 3:19).
God’s Word should be our guide in self-examination. Many cause-and-effect sequences are recorded in Scripture for our instruction and warning. When we experience specific difficulties in our lives, we should discern if they are consequences of sin. The following verses are examples of the connection between our actions and the circumstances in our lives:
- “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).
- “Whoso rewardeth evil for good, evil shall not depart from his house” (Proverbs 17:13).
- “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).
- “Honor thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth”(Ephesians 6:2–3).
The observance of the Lord’s Supper is a time when God calls us to self-examination. As we regularly remember Jesus’ sacrifice, we are to seriously consider our behavior in light of God’s Word. “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep” (I Corinthians 11:28–30).
Adversity exposes pride.
The sin of pride is the source of many difficulties, as the following Scriptures point out:
- “Only by pride cometh contention . . .” (Proverbs 13:10).
- “When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom”(Proverbs 11:2).
- “A man’s pride shall bring him low: but honor shall uphold the humble in spirit”(Proverbs 29:23).
- “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 14:11).
God detests pride, but humility prompts the gift of His grace. “. . . God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:6–7). Hard times expose our pride, because they highlight our need for God and for others. In the midst of adversity, seek to grow in humility, and receive God’s grace with gratitude.
Adversity is evidence of spiritual warfare.
A Christian must be aware of the spiritual battle that rages between God and the enemy, Satan. Learn to recognize that sometimes adversity comes in the form of spiritual warfare through weariness, confusion, division, and spiritual oppression.
In the midst of these trials, do not become overwhelmed or yield to the temptation to give up. The Apostle Paul encourages us to be strong, courageous, and prepared to be good soldiers: “Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints” (Ephesians 6:11–18).
Adversity is God’s method of purifying our faith.
Faith is essential for living the Christian life, because the ways of God are opposite to the natural inclinations of man. Thus, adversity may come at the hand of those who mock God’s principles, or it may come when we violate God’s principles. In either case, adversity is designed to strengthen our faith.
“. . . Now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:6–7).
The development of patience is another benefit of having our faith purified by the fire of adversity. “. . . The trying of your faith worketh patience” (James 1:3). It is through faith and patience that we inherit the promises of God. Be “. . . followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:12).
Adversity is a reminder to pray for our authorities.
Those who are in positions of responsibility are supposed to provide protection for those under their care. When there are failures in the life of a leader, his “umbrella of protection” weakens, and those who are under that authority become more vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy. As we experience the pressures of temptation, we should realize that those who are in authority over us are also undergoing temptations and are in need of our intercessory prayer.
The Apostle Paul wrote that we should intercede for those in authority over us so that we can lead a quiet and peaceful life: “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (I Timothy 2:1–2).
Adversity is a signal to reevaluate priorities.
In troubled times, we need to consider our priorities and discern if we are spending enough time preserving the most important aspects of our lives: our relationships with God and others. We should regularly evaluate the health of our relationships and invest the time and effort needed to maintain them honorably.
When we do not spend time with God, memorizing and meditating on His Word, and praying, we miss out on one of the most important means God uses to give us wisdom and to change our hearts. We also rob others of the spiritual encouragement, direction, and testimonies we could share if we were faithfully spending time with God.
Adversity that comes because of having wrong priorities may be the consequence of trying to do more than God intended for us to do. “It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2). If we have more projects than we can manage to do in six days, we have undertaken more work than God intended. “Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work” (Exodus 20:9).
Adversity reveals if our work will last.
How we weather the storms of life shows what we have built our lives on. Jesus gave this example: “Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not; for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:24–27).
The Apostle Paul explained to the Corinthians that each person’s work will be tested. “Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (I Corinthians 3:13–15).
Adversity tests our friendships.
The strain of adversity impacts relationships. Hard times reveal if people want to get or to give. Fair-weather friends won’t endure the test of trials and difficulties, but true friends will remain to offer support, comfort, and encouragement in the midst of challenges. Proverbs 17:17 states, “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”
True, lasting friendship is described in the Biblical account of David and Jonathan. “The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (I Samuel 18:1). When adversity shook David’s world, Jonathan could have rejected David for many reasons. Instead, he remained a faithful friend to David until the end of his life. Jonathan befriended, encouraged, warned, and protected David, accepting him as the one who would be the king of Israel in his place. When Jonathan died, David was deeply grieved. “I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women” (II Samuel 1:26).
Adversity invites us to experience the power of God.
One of the ultimate purposes of adversity is to cause us to desire more of Christ’s power in our lives. Troubles reveal that on our own we can’t live in a way that honors God. We need to rely on God and receive His grace.
Paul willingly suffered the loss of all things so that he might gain more of Christ and experience the power of Christ’s resurrection. He said: “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death” (Philippians 3:8–10).
God works within the Christian in a mighty way, making him dead to sin and alive in Christ and enabling him to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit rather than according to fleshly desires. (See Romans 6–8.) For the church of Ephesus, Paul prayed “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what [are] the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all” (Ephesians 1:17–23).
Adversity prepares us to comfort others.
One of the most valuable results of adversity is that through it we receive God’s comfort, which we are then able to share with others who face similar troubles. “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ” (II Corinthians 1:3–5).
Suffering brings pain, but it is not an end in itself. “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. . . . So then death worketh in us, but life in you. . . . For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day” (II Corinthians 4:8, 10, 12, 16).