Can We Really Allow Difficult Circumstances To Become Opportunities?

Can We Really Allow Difficult Times and Hardships To Become (Unrequested and Maybe Unwelcome) Opportunities?
Written by: Pete McClanathan

“Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  (James 1:2-4)

Let’s not pretend: these words of James can be daunting. We are tempted to skip over them. How can he ask us to find joy in trouble and pain? Can’t I just skip some of that “trials and steadfastness” stuff and just live in joy with the Lord’s presence and blessings?

Well, it seems that the Lord has more things for us than ongoing worldly peace and success. But in order to attain these things, it usually is necessary to face things in our lives that the Lord wishes to remove or change in order to conform us to His character and will. And like it or not, suffering and struggles are the tools He seems to use best.

Does the Lord use these less comfortable methods because we don’t listen and respond well to the more gentle leadings of His Spirit and instructions in His Word? Maybe so. Regardless, if you are a follower of Christ you are guaranteed to experience loss, fear, grief, sorrow, stress, conflict, and disappointment. The Word of God promises it. And often they come in ways that are unexpected, seem unfair, or seem unnecessary.

So let’s try to get real: you don’t need me to tell you that we are living in challenging times. You don’t need me to tell you about the current pain and struggles of your own lives, the lives of those important to you, or the scars of a lifetime living in a fallen world with nothing but fallen people everywhere. 

And I suspect you have heard many good reminders of how we in the body of Christ are called to respond during difficult experiences and challenging times. Anything I would say has been said better many times.

You also know that our church body, together with our brothers and sisters at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, are beginning a season of intentional study, personal examination, and prayer. Please realize that “The First 40 Days” was not inspired by current events or struggles. I was allowed to be part of its development, and I can tell you in complete honesty that is never the case. The only goal was and is to challenge us, to pause and examine our lives and hearts in the light of God’s Word. And that is fruitful for any time or situation.

That said, I believe difficult times, painful events, and challenging seasons of life can be part of that journey if we use them well. Allow us to explore a bit below the normal surface and consider what that might mean.

I state up front that I will make every effort not to allow this discussion to drift into platitudes and nice sayings such as we often hear from well-meaning voices in our own circles and in the Christian culture as a whole. “Trust in the Lord,” “rejoice in sufferings,” and “He has a plan for everything” are correct statements of biblical truth, and we will do well to keep them in front of us. However, as stand-alone statements, they can ring hollow in difficult times when trust seems like a mirage and rejoicing feels far from our understanding, let alone our grasp. This is true even simply in the rapid-fire events of daily living. 

We will be working to understand what the Bible tells us about these things. Not simply the principles and commands, but also what lies behind them: their meanings and purposes, and how they fit together and contrast with our normal human reactions. I intend this to be an unhurried, deliberate process over a good length of time that will allow us to chew upon a wide variety of Scripture topics. To taste them well and experience their flavors as they apply to our real lives, and allow them to be digested into our hearts and minds, our thoughts and actions, and our values and priorities. This is all part of the ongoing process of biblical change. 

I anticipate for us a mutually strengthening journey: for myself as I study, pray, prepare, and write, and for you as you study, reflect, pray, and apply. But also together as we speak together, exchange comments at the bottom of these blog posts (let’s get those going), and perhaps get together from time to time. But first a few words of encouragement. 

Truth be told, I suspect many of us can find ourselves discouraged by what may seem to be a disconnect between God’s Word and the realities of our lives and feelings. Somewhat along the lines of, “The Bible states that I’m not to feel or react as I do so often.” Or “I’m told to step into fresh ways of thinking and acting that sound good but seem so foreign. So there must be something wrong with my relationship with the Lord. Maybe I don’t study enough to equip myself. Maybe I don’t pray enough. Maybe I’m just disobedient. Maybe I don’t really love or trust the Lord after all. Maybe I’m not even saved.”

Is any of this perhaps sounding all too familiar to your life? Join with me as one who has experienced those frustrations and thoughts many times. But join me also in coming to understand what is real and true and what is not. 

Christ absolutely does not and never has intended His people to live in fear of not measuring up. Jesus’ words speak for themselves: 
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John 6:37)

It doesn’t get any clearer than that. But if you, the Christian born-again follower of Christ, have any lingering concerns that you don’t measure up to God’s acceptance (as if it were possible to fall short in that way), then consider the failings of our spiritual ancestors. Abraham (coward and liar), Jacob (self-willed deceiver), Joseph (arrogant smart-aleck), Moses (impulsive murderer). Gideon was a coward and idol worshipper. Samson was a gifted man who squandered much of his life pursuing personal gain and pleasure. David was an adulterer, murderer, and unsteady leader. 

The apostle Peter had shown himself to be impulsive, quick to speak up on things that were beyond his understanding, a betrayer (out of fear). Thomas had expressed doubt over Jesus’ resurrection (I suspect all of the eleven felt something of the same upon encountering the resurrected Lord). James stood on the sidelines until witnessing Jesus’ resurrection. Paul and Barnabas fell into a power struggle that separated them and impaired their ministry.

Yet the Bible tells us God used each of these, and many others, for His purposes when they acted in faith and obedience. If you believe you’ve failed the Lord, you’re in good company, and you’re right. What else can God expect from us other than failure? We needed His saving grace and atonement because we were failures. And we need His ongoing grace because we’re (that’s right) still prone to fail.

Let’s not shrink away from the Lord’s Word and its challenges to us. A common theme of Hebrews is the Lord’s discipline:

“For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and cleanses every son whom He receives.”  “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness for those who have been trained by it." (Hebrews 12:6, 11)

If we correctly view the term “discipline” as training and correction (not in its punitive sense as punishment), we will be at a good beginning point. 

For now, begin honestly asking yourselves some questions. However you wish. Just to get the thinking started. We’ll meet here again soon.  

1 Comment

Rose - October 1st, 2020 at 9:14am

So much good insight into this article..enjoyed reading it this morning. We would all like to be perfect and holy, and yet the struggle to be that is not so easy. I find it is a lifetime of shaping and bending to become the person the Lord wants us to be.