Don't Waste the Advantages of your Troubles
EVERYONE GOES THROUGH TIMES OF TROUBLE. Sometimes the trouble is severe. Your life may be threatened with severe illness or disease. An accident may change your family situation dramatically. Your employment may be suddenly terminated. Whatever it is, troubles surround you, keeping you awake at night, causing you worry, filling your mind.
Anyone in a position of leadership in our country, in politics, education, media, community life, business, the church, can expect to be constantly facing trouble. The leader of a country, President or Prime Minister lives moving from one trouble to another. Many of the troubles do not last, or else they are just handled by the competence of the person who is in leadership. Reflecting on all the troubles that assailed him when he stepped into the breach of a Great Britain almost defeated in the dark days of World War Two, Winston Churchill said "When I look back on all these worries I remember the story of the old man who said on his death-bed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened."
1. EVERYONE FACES TROUBLE.
Seeing people in trouble is the basis of much of our humour. Comic strips are based upon people getting into trouble. From the first edition of Popeye to the latest edition of Hagar the Horrible the hero is always in more trouble than Ned Kelly. Television sit-coms always have the central characters getting into trouble. Soap operas from "Neighbours" to "Days of our Lives" have the heroes facing some trouble in every episode. News services on TV would have no audience if it was not for people in trouble.
But none of us like being up the creek in a barbed-wire canoe without a paddle! We can do without trouble. But to be in trouble is the normal characteristic of life. To handle trouble is normal living. The only people who are never troubled are those in cemeteries! Job 14:1 "Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble."
Some religious sects promise a trouble-free life. That is their appeal. They say, "Join us and we will surround you with help and you need never be in trouble again." They take surveys on the street corners of Sydney asking young people on their own to answer some questions, and when they identify that the youth has troubles they zero in on them with the promise of a trouble free life.
Some denominations emphasise an emotional Christianity that is based on making you feel good and free from your troubles. That is a poor foundation for a Christian faith. Feelings alter and the person who has not based their faith upon sound learning of the Word of God and a life of disciplined obedience to the claims of Christ, find that when troubles come they have no support beneath them. Jesus described them: Matt 13:20-21 "The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away."
The Bible records that the faithful must face trouble. Every Biblical character faced troubles. But they took the advantages of their troubles.
Joseph spent years in prison. Moses killed an Egyptian commander. Job was the by-word for trouble. David fought Goliath. Daniel was in slavery in Babylon. Peter and John were arrested and imprisoned. All of the disciples died as martyrs for their faith. Paul was in prison in almost every land to which he travelled. Our Lord Jesus was arrested, beaten, imprisioned and crucified cruely. Paul sums up his experience, but he could have been speaking for many of the faithful in the Bible: 1 Cor 4:11-14 "To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. 12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; 13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world." Because Paul wrote many letters to churches and friends, we have insights into many of the personal troubles, he and the early Christians suffered.
In one illuminating passage he writes 2 Cor. 7:4-6 "I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds. 5 For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn--conflicts on the outside, fears within. 6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus." Later he recorded his reflections upon troubles he had experienced as an itinerent evangelist, taking the Good News about Jesus who died for our sins, through some of earth's most inhospitable areas. 2 Cor 11:23-28 "I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.
25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches." All the great heroes of the faith faced troubles. The Bible teaches much about how we should handle our troubles. It uses 64 different words for troubles we can be in. Jesus taught that those who would be faithful to Him would be persecuted, and that we are to be blessed if we are persecuted for His sake.
2. HOW WE HANDLE TROUBLE INDICATES OUR MATURITY.
When troubles come how we respond reflects our maturity, as a person and as a Christian:
Some try to escape them. Like a frightened teenager or a drunken socialite whose car has been involved in an accident, we want to run away. Many leave the scene of their difficulties. They run from their marriage troubles, run away from their parents, run from life in suicide. Many emotionally leave their troubles: empty their mind, dull their conscience by alcohol or drugs, and escape into fantasy, dreams, work, sickness, lies. Their prayer was uttered by the Psalmist: Psm 55:6-7 "Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. 7 I would flee far away and stay in the desert."
Some try to destroy those causing their troubles. So they attack the people causing their troubles by aggression, by wanting to hit them, by smearing their name, by violence of one sort or another. Some even call upon God to damn them: Ps 55:23 "You, O God, will bring down the wicked into the pit of corruption."
Some try to endure their troubles stoicly. They grin and bear it, put up with pain, try to outlast it. But Christianity does not encourage escape, it confronts trouble. It does not destroy the trouble makers but seeks to transform them. It does not endure the troubles stoicly. Rather Christianity boasts in trouble.
3. THE CHRISTIAN USES THE ADVANTAGES OF TROUBLE.
This is an audacious, alternative attitude to trouble. You are called as Christians to take the advantages of your troubles. Paul put it like this: Rom 5:1-5 "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, (literally, "We boast of our troubles") because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us."
One advantage is that problems are also possibilities.
"Two men looked out from prison bars,
One saw mud. The other saw stars."
Most people live trouble centred lives. They are problem imaginers, failure predictors, crisis enjoyers, obstacle prophesiers, cost exaggerators - they maximise their misfortunes and minimise their resources! The Apostle Paul in prison could not visit cities so he wrote to them, and his letters form most of our New Testament. Paul in prison could not build churches without free travel so he evangelised the guards and built a congregation among the prison guards of Caesar's household. Great achievers have used their handicaps to advantage. Milton could not see, yet his imagination pictured heaven more beautifully than any poet. Beethoven was deaf and therefore was not limited to the capacity of the instruments of his day, and wrote great music that required new instruments to be created to play his compositions. Bunyan, in prison, could not tell the Christian message so he wrote "Pilgrim's Progress" which was read by hundreds of millions of people. They took the advantage of their troubles!
"Milton the blind who looked upon Paradise.
Beethoven the deaf who heard vast harmonies.
Byron the lame, who climbed towards Alpine skies.
Who pleads a handicap remembering these?"
This week we saw a young Australian who is blind swim the English Channel, and another young Australia paralysied from the waist down planning to also swim the Channel. They are not defeated by their troubles. They take advantage of them.
Another advantage is trouble produces perseverence. v3. Nothing is achieved without perseverence, and we never learn perseverence until we start overcoming trouble. Paul said: "we know that suffering produces perseverance."
Another advantage is trouble produces character. v4. "suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character." Without troubles we would not grow in strength. Strength only grows with exercise against resistence. Weight lifters know that. Character likewise only grows strong when we face our troubles with perseverence and overcome.
Another advantage is trouble creates hope. "suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope." Those who live with the most difficult troubles know how to trust God in hope. The brave people I met in China who spent twenty years or more in Communist prisons suffering persecution have lived with hope and seen the church grow to great strength: in China from 4 million to 70 million believers. Troubles strengthen the church for the believers live with hope and trust in God.
Another advantage is trouble is the door for His Spirit. 5 "And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us." God enters our life through trouble. It is a door for His Spirit, for only in trouble do we humble ourselves and ask for God's help and blessing, thus allowing God to enter our lives. The old African American slaves lacked everything in terms of this world's goods. They were humiliated, beaten, abused, over-worked. Their lives were full of troubles. But they sang and lived with confidence:
"Nobody knows the troubles I've seen,
no-body knows my sorrows,
No-body knows the troubles I've seen,
no-body knows but Jesus." Yes, but He knows!
Gordon Moyes 1999
If you would like to receive a printed copy of Word Talk via mail, you can subscribe for just $15 per year. Please contact us on 02 9263 5555, or write to:
Turn 'Round Australia
PO Box A5555
Sydney South, 1235