I recently gave a message at our Friday night fellowship on times of suffering for the believer where we looked at Psalm 88. We have several in that fellowship that are enduring some very difficult times right now. It is on my long to-do list to write up that message and post it here. Which means it may never happen. But seeing a Desiring God blog posting this morning on the subject, I felt compelled to write this posting.
In the Friday night message, Psalm 88 was an intro to a discussion on James 1. It was my intent to show that we can still have joy in the midst of difficult times. But of course we need to understand what is meant by “joy” correctly. Hebrews 12:2 notes that there was a joy set before Jesus to endure the cross. Obviously, even Jesus would not have been joyful to go to the cross in the way we usually think of joy. He prayed that the cup might be removed from Him if at all possible. But rather, His joy was in the outcome. I also pointed out that James doesn’t just say to consider or think of these difficult times as a joy, but that he says to ask for wisdom for understanding and growth out of that difficult time. The understanding may not come immediately. It may come through the trial itself. But as James states, wisdom is guaranteed! When he says to not doubt as a double-minded person who shouldn’t receive anything from the Lord, he isn’t talking about doubt in general, but doubt about receiving wisdom.
Many times the dark times cause some to turn away from God. For others, it deepens their intimacy with the Lord. I know that for myself, I always come out of with stronger faith and greater understanding of the ways of God. Not that I ever have complete understanding of God’s ways, but my understanding and faith does mature through the difficult times. You may even find that your faith even grows through the difficult times of others if you have been praying for them.
On Sunday afternoons we have a Bible study that is going through the Gospel According to John. There we see that each sign Jesus performs (of the seven signs), starting with the healing of the lame man (the third sign), there is more and more separation of those who will believe in Jesus and those who will oppose Him. Those that are opposed are looking at Him from their perspective. Those who believe in Him are seeing Him for who He is. If we will always look at our situations from a human perspective, generally a selfish perspective, we are more likely to despise God and be miserable – no joy. However, if we will allow the Lord to open our eyes to the situation and see it from His perspective, we can have joy for knowing the maturity that is coming through the time.
We might ask, “can’t the Lord mature us without the difficult times?” God knows what He is doing and we never learn as well as when things are difficult. Consider that the person who has to work a second job in order to purchase a car will appreciate the car more than someone who the car was given to. That was a materialistic example. Now think about relationships with others, and especially with God. Those relationships are more meaningful and deeply connected if we experience pain together, than if it was all fun and happiness all the time. If we experience Christ’s death and suffering for the taking away of our sins (see Romans 6), our faith is much more meaningful and we see the love of God firsthand, But if we think of it in a selfish way as merely a free ticket out of hell, our faith will be cheap and not likely to result in the transformative power that should be the result of a life changing faith.
Here is the link to the blog written by Jonathan Parnell: