Victory in Spite of Everything
37/99 28/11/99 Scripture: 2 Corinthians 4:1-8
THE storms lashed Wollongong, destroying property, taking lives, inconveniencing plans, ruining homes, and immobilising cars. People were as battered as the landscape. Their lives were buried under troubles as their carpets were under layers of mud. Many found their troubles destroying them. The financial loss made some businesses close. Others faced bankruptcy. Many were unable to replace damaged property. The conflict with insurance companies played out at the NRMA annual meeting left others battered. But the damage to heart and mind caused by the stress was worse. Some never recover from such storms.
Trouble discourages some people. One Windsor market gardener watched his vegetable garden go under the rapidly rising Hawkesbury River. "It is discouraging. Six months work, and all of it washed way. It makes me want to give the whole game away." So trouble discourages people. (Psalm 6:3) "My soul is in anguish. How long, O LORD, how long?"
Trouble devastates some people. They feel isolated and alone. Trouble robs them of friends. People desert like rats leaving a sinking ship. Job said (6:4) "God's terrors are marshalled against me." The man in trouble feels devastated. Even God is against him.
Trouble defeats some people. Their troubles come upon them in such completeness that they are overwhelmed, their plans are ended, their dreams shattered. Hope disappears. Job said (3:25-26) "What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil." Troubles defeat many people.
Trouble destroys some people. Everything they are and everything they stand for, they see utterly destroyed. Some people in deep trouble present to the world a calm exterior but inside the stress is taking a terrible toll on their bodies.
When Jennie George, head of the Australian Council of Trade Unions was having an affair with Jack Mundy, former President of the Communist Party of Australia, her husband was totally unaware of it. Becoming aware of her emotional distance and absence from home, Paddy George confronted her. A biography of Jennie George states Paddy moved out of his home under deep distress. He was uninterested in other women. Six months later he was diagnosed with cancer and in seven months he was dead. According to her biography, Jennie "felt guilt over the breakdown of their relationship coinciding with the onset of his terminal illness and tortured herself over whether or not she had done enough to help Paddy when he needed it most." Did his stressful trouble bring on his cancer? That has been the experience of many.
Yet for some people, trouble makes all the difference to their lives for good. Trouble is the sharpening stone against which their character is honed; an anvil against which their character is hammered until it is toughened; a refining fire which burns out the dross and impurities; a storm against which they spread their wings and soar. Instead of defeat, they live victoriously in spite of everything! That is the experience of those brave Christians in lands where they are imprisoned, beaten, raped, killed. They face their troubles and in spite of everything have the victory!
The Apostle Paul knew constant persecution, opposition and trouble. He wrote to the Church at Corinth: (2 Cor 7:4-6) "I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds. 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. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us." In spite of everything, he was confident and full of joy. Amazing! Paul also wrote: (2 Cor 4:8-9 8) "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; (he refused to be discouraged!) perplexed, but not in despair; (he refused to be devastated!) persecuted, but not abandoned; (he refused to be defeated!) struck down, but not destroyed." (He refused to be destroyed!) Note that: he refused to let trouble make him discouraged, devastated, defeated or destroyed! Instead, he determined to have the victory in spite of everything! How can you have the victory in spite of everything? Here are four suggestions:
1. KNOW LIFE IS FOR REAL
Some people live a sheltered life, safe and secure from the storms of life in serene surroundings imagining that they can cope. Then one day they are faced with trouble and are overwhelmed. But people who have faced trouble from the earliest days, know that when storms come, what counts is the foundation beneath. They know life as it really is, and live secure. When you know life for real, you know that no matter how severe the storms, you will stand for you have built your (Matt 7:24-5) "house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock." They know life for real.
2. FIND DEEP RESOURCES
In time of trouble, draw upon your deep reserves. Face trouble, and choose to rise against it, like an eagle who faces the wind and rides upon it. (Isa 40:31) "Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They soar will on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint."
Prayer is one resource we have in time of trouble. A godly woman called Hannah was once in deep trouble sobbing and praying. The priest saw her and said: (1 Sam 1:14-17) "`How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine.' `Not so', Hannah replied, `I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.' Eli the priest answered, `Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.'" Many have found prayer a resource in trouble.
Scripture is another resource for the believer. People turn to the Scriptures and find God strengthening them through His Word. Christian fellowship is another. Many people in deep trouble have said they would not have survived but for the strength of Christian fellowship they found among other Christian people. The Spirit within is another resource. "The Spirit helps us in our weakness." That is the difference between Christians facing trouble and those who deny the existence of God and the spiritual resources, and who find in their troubles nothing to help them stand except their own braces. The atheist has no invisible means of support. Christians have victory in spite of everything because they have deep resources.
3. LET TROUBLES HELP YOU
Dr Harry Emerson Fosdick was a "minister to millions" through radio and television in New York. His work grew out of his own profound suffering of body and mind. As a student he said, "I was shot to pieces, done in and shattered in a nervous breakdown, all my hopes in ashes and life towering over me saying, You are finished. You are done for." Yet out of those troubles he wrote one of his first books which sold millions of copies and gave courage and hope to so many, "The Meaning of Prayer." Dr Fosdick answered when asked why he wrote such a book so early in his life: "It came out of a young man's struggle and suffering. I was sunk unless I could find at least a little of what Paul had in mind when he said `In him who strengthens me, I am able for anything.'"
Professor William James became one of the most significant minds in psychology. His books, lectures and insights trained two generations of psychologists and counsellors. Early in his life he went through a period of depression so severe he was on the verge of suicide. On recovery he was determined to understand what had happened and how that information could help others who became depressed. It was said "he was constantly lifting men up by the contagion of his courage." He made his troubles make him help others. These Christians helped others from their own trouble. Because of trouble in his own life due to misfortune, accident and the death of his family Job was able to help others: (Job 30:25) "Have I not wept for those in trouble? Has not my soul grieved for the poor?" None want trouble, but we can be victorious in spite of everything if we help others from our troubles.
4. REFINE YOUR CHARACTER
God is not primarily interested in making us happy or wealthy or important. He is interested in us growing in character to become the people He intended, and to develop to the fullness of our potential. That was true also of Jesus. In a daring sentence, the author of the Book of Hebrews says of Jesus (Heb 5:8) "Although He was (God's) son, He learned obedience from what He suffered."
At the centre of our faith is a cross, not the symbol of the absence of suffering, but of using that suffering to a greater good. Christianity is not a religion to comfort us from life's stress but to enable us to confront life's stress and overcome. Christian faith equips us and enables us to face the future confident, because it uses trouble to carve into our character the qualities of Christ. When Jesus was facing death upon the cross, He prayed: (John 12:27-8) "Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? `Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!" He had victory in spite of everything.
Anthropologists know the human spirit is not developed by security but by danger. Dr Weston Barrie says trouble enabled mankind to develop his capacities, "earliest man was booted into humanity by a harsh environment." Trouble was part of man's character building and what was true of mankind is true of us as individuals. When trouble comes, do not despair, be discouraged, devastated, defeated, destroyed - but rejoice! You can have the victory through your faith in Jesus Christ in spite of everything! It is hardships, difficulties, suffering, troubles that make our characters like Christ's.
I remember at a Chapel in the City, about twelve years ago, trying to explain some Christian answers to tragedy. That week our pianist, Christine Freer, then an administrative secretary, had faced the appalling tragedy of her brother Greg Black and her brother-in-law Alan Cooper, being electrocuted while delivering milk during an electrical storm. We sang the hymn: "For all the saints who from their labour's rest" which pictures faithful men and women who have suffered trouble and persecution, now pouring into heaven:
"From Earth's wide bounds,
from ocean's furthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Hallelujah!"
"Through gates of pearl"? Why pearl? Because pearl is the product of pain, and those who enter heaven are those who have faced their troubles and sufferings, being made beautiful by them:
"If an oyster has a problem when some sand gets in its shell,
Then it covers it with beauty and makes a pearl as well.
A worthless lump of carbon hidden deep within the earth
Changes form because of pressure and a diamond is given birth.
Without problems, without pressure, they'd both be sand or coal,
Let's be thankful that our troubles help to make a lovely soul."
Now, before troubles commence, get your life right with God through surrender to the claims of Jesus Christ. Acknowledge Him as Lord. For those already in trouble, it is still not too late to turn to Him and find in Him the resources to make your troubles make you instead of destroying you. The storms of life can overwhelm some people. Those same storms make other people stronger, finer, more able to help others, more like Jesus Christ. It is not the storms and troubles that make or break you. It is your response to them. Because with God you can have the victory in spite of everything.
Gordon Moyes 1999
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