Ephesians 1:17 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.
I wore purple today in honor of Katie Cobb, a fourteen-year-old girl, whose life is being remembered today at Winfield High School. She battled cancer for at least a year and has gone on to be with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in heaven. I hate cancer. I wish we had answers for every form of cancer every time someone is diagnosed. So much research has gone into trying to find cures. Advancements have been made for sure. Treatments do extend lives. Some people are treated and go on to live normal lives with normal life expectancies. Even though the faith and prayers of an entire community were extended like they were for Katie, many aren’t healed in the here and now.
Why did Katie pass away? Why wasn’t she healed of cancer here on earth? The only answer I can come up with is that it wasn’t God’s will that she would stay with us. I John 5:14 tells us that when we pray according to God’s will, we will have what we ask for. We didn’t get what we asked for. Why wasn’t it God’s will for Katie to be healed? I can’t say.
Was it a waste of time to pray for her healing if God wasn’t going to heal her after all? Did it accomplish anything? I think Pastor Chad and Sarah Cobb, Katie’s parents, would testify to help they received during Katie’s illness both from God and others which is the result of prayer. I believe our prayers helped the Cobb family’s courage and faith to inspire hundreds, if not thousands of people. I know Katie’s illness unified our community in profound ways as people came together to raise money for the Cobb family. I know you can’t find a purple t-shirt in any local store as they have all sold out in honor of Katie. I know Katie’s life was honored by all this past Friday night at the Homecoming football game. I know social media has been flooded with testimonies of how Katie’s life and faith and the faith of her family have positively impacted countless people. I know Winfield High School’s gym became a sanctuary this past Tuesday as hundreds of students gathered to pray together. I know there are people who are looking for spiritual answers for the pain of grief which is an open door for the Body of Christ to point people to Jesus. I know Katie is in heaven where we all long to be one day. Those of us who remain will continue to have strife and struggle, but she is forever free. In that respect, her adversity led her to the best possible place. We’re the ones who are left to struggle with her loss. She doesn’t know one second of struggle anymore. She is the winner, and we are left trying to make sense of it all.
What do we do with the unwanted pain and trials of life? Is it just about trying to look on the bright side, trying to frame things in a positive light or is there a blessing in trial and hardship? Can pain be productive? Can struggle be a way to strengthen our inner man? Can trial be the way to a testimony that can change lives around us? How can we process our personal challenges and adversities? How can we overcome during the struggle?
We often think of overcoming or victory as something that happens at the end of a competition, at the end of a trial or test, and it can be that. But what if there is something to gain in the midst of adversity? What if adversity actually moves us down the field, closer to the end zone, closer to the victory we have always wanted or truly needed? We look at adversity as a step back, but what if it actually is God’s way of taking us forward somehow? What if we can see God more clearly in the dark moments of life? What if the adversities we face reveal something about the goodness of God that can’t be experienced when life sort of unfolds without question, confusion or pain? How can we find a way to advance during adversity? I want to suggest three ways to you this morning.
We can advance during adversity when we desire God’s “good.”
- Desire God’s Good- Romans 8:28-And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Sometimes we hold “the good” hostage to our own expectations and definitions of good. We would never think of suffering or pain as good, and in and of themselves, they aren’t. When God created the world, and stepped back to evaluate what He had done, when He pronounced that it was all good, it was. There was no strife, no suffering, and no sin. It was truly “all good.” When sin entered the world, suffering and strife also made their appearance into the human experience. None of that was part of God’s plan. He didn’t create sin, strife or suffering. Humanity did that. We can’t blame God for the adversities of life.
The beautiful thing about God is that He has never let go. He could have taken the approach that we messed up and are on our own, but He didn’t do that and He won’t do that. Because He is God, He can bless us even through the difficulties of life. There is still pain and heartache, but as we stay bowed down and submitted to God, our troubles don’t have to set us back or take us down. With God’s help, they can actually take us forward. That will only happen, however, if we take our hands off of what “good” looks like. We need to desire God’s good and not the good we think should be the result of our trial.
“The good” isn’t always a fairy-tale ending. It isn’t always the answer we seek. The good isn’t always an earthly solution. “The good” is what God wants to do in us. Yes, God will do things for us. Yes, He does still heal. Yes, He does allow us to leave one circumstance because something better is waiting, but God’s main concern is His spiritual purposes for our lives and that we are in close fellowship with Him. Sometimes that deep fellowship with God is enhanced, strengthened, and deepened in times of adversity.
I know the opposite can also be true. I know some people can get angry with God for allowing something tough to happen. I know some people can start to doubt and their faith can get shaky when life hurts. I know it is tempting to turn away from God to the things of this world when we don’t get relief in a hurry, but those things happen when we are unwilling to allow God to define what “good” means. Those things happen when we refuse to give up our definition of “good.” God always does a better, deeper and lasting work in our lives than we would pray for ourselves because usually, we are just praying for relief. We just want the happy-ending. We just want the suffering to be over, but God wants to make us over during times of suffering.
Maybe the good is that we learn how to pray. Maybe the good is that we cross paths with people God wants to use to bless us down the road or vice versa. Maybe the good is that we learn more about God’s Word. Perhaps the good is that we gain an understanding of how the Holy Spirit works. Maybe it is the growing of our faith, the learning to trust God daily, the gaining of wisdom, or the development of integrity or patience in our lives. Adversity is God’s opportunity to work in us and our opportunity to receive a new work of grace.
It isn’t good that Tyler McGough was born with conditions which are consequences of someone else’s bad choices, but we see something special, something supernatural about the goodness of God in and through Tyler’s life as God has enabled something which isn’t really possible in the natural. Tyler has been the recipient of a miraculous ability to sing against what the laws of this world say are possible. By virtue of that supernatural and miraculous gifting, God’s plans for Tyler, in spite of the bad things that happened to him as he was being fashioned inside his birth mother, those good plans and God’s amazing grace and power are now on display every time he opens his mouth! What a blessing! That is God’s kind of good.
There is a blessing to be gained as we desire God’s good over our own. Pray today to seek God’s good above your own idea of what good should look like. Adversity will advance you because God will grow you. Advance through adversity by desiring God’s good.
Second, you can advance through adversity by choosing God’s joy.
- Choose God’s Joy- James 1:2-4 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Notice what kind of joy James is speaking of here. He says we are to look at our trials and label them a “pure joy.” Now, when I think about “pure joy” I think about the laughter of a newborn baby or the first hill on a rollercoaster or two scoops of chocolate chip ice cream with hot fudge from Graeter’s Ice Cream in Cincinnati. I don’t think of hardship as pure joy, ever.
Remember, I said that adversity provides God with an opportunity to do a deep and lasting work in us. Joy is a deep work. Joy goes beyond the surface. Joy goes beyond circumstances. Joy is supernatural. It is a gift from God. We don’t have it in ourselves to be joyful. When James tells us to consider our trials pure joy, He is really saying, “Receive something special from God during this time. Receive something supernatural from God in your heartache. God has joy to give you even while you are facing trials of many kinds. Even while your faith is being tested, there is joy to receive. Be joyful about the fact that God will help you endure. Be joyful about the reality that God doesn’t want you to be lacking in any way, so He is allowing you moments that teach you about perseverance in Him.”
In other words, James is saying, be joyful or glad about the fact that God can not only advance you THROUGH adversity to a place of satisfaction, but He can also advance you IN adversity as He develops you into a faithful Christ-follower.
You see, trials reveal whether we have faith or not. Faith is more than belief. It is something that is demonstrated or lived out when it is tried. It takes no faith to simply believe something. It takes faith to live something out. If our faith is never tried, we don’t know if our faith is more than belief or if it is maturing so that we aren’t lacking anything. Trials bring revelation to us about the depth of our walk with Christ, and trials have transforming power to produce character in us we couldn’t otherwise obtain. Think about that and be joyful!
Pastor James McDonald tells this story:
I played a lot of basketball in high school and a little bit in college, and I sprained both ankles many times. I learned too late that the best way to handle a sprained ankle is to fill a wastebasket with ice and water and to put your foot in—right after the injury. It is so awfully cold. You’ve never been cold until you’ve had to do this. If you only leave your foot in there for one minute, it’s not very helpful. But I’m telling you, after one minute you feel seven seconds away from dying. That’s how bad it hurts. But if you can keep your ankle in for two minutes, the injury and its recovery time will be cut in half. If you can hang on for two and a half minutes—even though at that point you are out of your mind with pain from the cold—you can be playing basketball again by Thursday. It hurts so bad! But if you can hang on for three minutes, you’ll be walking on your ankle tomorrow, because all the blood flow is stopped. But it’s so hard.
The point is that remaining in the place of pain produces the result, and if you cut that process short, you’re not going to get the full benefit. James McDonald
There are benefits to receive in adversity! We can be joyful about that. We need to hang in there for those benefits! God will allow adversity to be purposeful in our lives so that we grow into mature believers who lack nothing He desires to give us. We must not just say, “Forget it!” and walk away from Jesus when life gets hard. The benefits come to those who persevere, to those who don’t give up, to those who faith their way forward through adversity. There is joy on the way! “Weeping lasts for the night, but joy comes in the morning!” Psalm 30:5 Oh, does anyone know what I am talking about this morning? Hold on until the morning, friends. Life with God will get better and better if you don’t quit!
Adversity will advance you because God will sustain you in your trial, and you can become more like Jesus.
I assure you that Jesus was a Person of great joy. He didn’t lack in the joy department. Because He was mature in His faith, the Father was able to use Him in ways that released other people to experience joy. Listen, once you know the deep joy of Jesus because you have persevered through a few trials, you are going to know an even greater joy which is the result of helping other people discover God’s joy for themselves!
There is NOTHING on earth that compares to it, not the wedding of your dreams, not the birth of your children, not the promotion you have been striving for—nothing compares to helping others grow in their walk with Jesus. Advance through adversity by holding onto the joy God can provide.
Third and finally,
- Seek God’s Perspective- James 1:12–Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.
If all we had to look forward to was an earthly life in physical bodies, then I would say, “Go ahead and whine and complain and moan and groan about everything unpleasant and unwanted in your life.” But it’s not! There is a crown to receive! There is a prize at the finish line! When you think about what awaits you, it will give you courage to stay in the race. You can advance through adversity by reminding yourself this life is just the beginning of an eternity of joy and happiness that will last forever. God will reward you.
God sees the end from the beginning. He is in heaven right now, looking at you and He is saying, “If you only knew what was coming, if you could see what I see, if you could know what I know, If you were aware of all of the good things I have to give you, you wouldn’t be able to stand your excitement!”
Last year at this time, I surprised Thom with a 50th birthday party. His birthday isn’t until November 26th, but I purposely had his surprise party in October to throw him off. I also purposely didn’t have it here in our area. I gathered people from his childhood and college days and had them waiting at a Golden Corral in Kentucky. I worked hard to get people to commit to being there. Some drove quite some distance to get there for the big surprise. It was almost a year-long effort, and he was so surprised, so blessed, so happy, so overcome with emotion and gratitude for his loving wife’s efforts to make his day, probably his year ?, that I am sure he still looks back on it with fondness.
I knew a year ahead of time that something awesome was coming to Thom. It took planning. It took working with many different people. There was a lot of communication. There was behind the scenes effort. I was working on a surprise unbeknown to him. On days when he may have been a bit discouraged I thought, “Oh how I wish I could just tell him, “Hang in there, Baby! Something awesome is coming your way!” But I couldn’t tell him because it wasn’t time for the party, and it would have ruined the surprise!
God has something special for you! I truly believe that. I believe He will give you blessings in this life as well as at the end of your earthly journey. Having God’s perspective simply means that you acknowledge that God isn’t sitting around eating bon-bons and just watching the show of your life unfold. No, He is always working, behind the scenes, moving people into place, creating circumstances that are for your good. Just when you least expect it, He will surprise you with something amazing! Don’t give up hope! Can you hear Him say to you this morning, “Hang on, Child of Mine, I’m working on a surprise for you?”
God’s perspective tells us this is a marathon, not a sprint. It isn’t about today. It is about eternity. God’s perspective tells us He has reasons for everything allows. If we believe God is sovereign, then nothing is random. If He somehow controls all things, even though He allows us free will and the ability to choose, if He is still maintaining all authority, then nothing happens by chance. If He is also always good, which Scripture teaches, then He won’t allow anything to happen to us that doesn’t have the ability to produce goodness in our lives. Again, it all comes back to having God’s perspective. His idea of “good” and ours aren’t always the same. Do we want His goodness? Do we want His perspective?
Our verse of the month, Ephesians 1:17 is followed up by another powerful prayer. Let me read those verses back to back for you: Ephesians 1:17-19 (NIV) 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
We cannot always see and appreciate God’s purposes with our eyes, but we can with the eyes of our hearts. Let’s pray that the eyes of our hearts will be enlightened to see the finish line and to anticipate the surprises God will give us along the way. You can advance through adversity and not give up, when you remember that God will reward you.
Maybe instead of asking, “Why did this happen to me?” we need to start asking, “How can this advance me in the purposes of Christ?”
God works all things together for the good of those who love HIM, to those who have been called according to HIS purpose. Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love HIM.
Can we learn to make it about HIM and HIS purposes when we are dealing with adversity? Can we continue to love HIM and lean on HIM when we are in times of testing and trial? As we do, our faith will increase, our spiritual vision will clear up, and we will be able to choose joy and persevere until the end.
As I was finishing the message for today, I received a text from someone who shared that even though their heart was broken due to the passing of a loved one, at the same time, their heart was so full because of the love and support of God’s people during that time of trial. A broken heart, but a full heart. That is the difference God makes in our adversity.
Knowing Christ doesn’t exempt us from life’s pain, but it does give us an opportunity to advance through pain and to advance in pain as we choose God’s good, as we choose God’s joy, and as we seek God’s perspective over our own. He will grow us. He will sustain us, and He will reward us as we exercise our faith in Him!