Tough days. We all have them. Some are worse than others. Like the one a hard-hat employee reported on his accident form:
“When I got to the building, I found that the hurricane had knocked off some bricks around the top. So, I rigged up a beam with a pulley at the top of the building and hoisted up a couple barrels full of bricks. When I had fixed the damaged area, there were a lot of bricks left over. Then I went to the bottom and began releasing the line. Unfortunately, the barrel of bricks was much heavier than I was-and before I knew what was happening the barrel started coming down, jerking me up.
“I decided to hang on since I was too far off the ground by then to jump, and halfway up I met the barrel of bricks coming down fast. I received a hard blow on my shoulder. I then continued to the top, banging my head against the beam and getting my fingers pinched and jammed in the pulley. When the barrel hit the ground hard, it burst its bottom, allowing the bricks to spill out.
“I was now heavier than the barrel. So I started down again at high speed. Halfway down I met the barrel coming up fast and received severe injuries to my shins. When I hit the ground, I landed on the pile of spilled bricks, getting several painful cuts and deep bruises. At this point I must have lost my presence of mind, because I let go of my grip on the line. The barrel came down fast-giving me another blow on my head and putting me in the hospital.
“I respectfully request sick leave.”1
Ouch. That was a tough time. We’ve all experienced them in one form or another. Sometimes suffering involves committing a sin against ourselves and other times against another person.
There are also the times when we do what is right and yet suffer for it. The perfect example is Christ, who was insulted and treated badly many times. He never sinned nor was anything malicious or deceitful ever heard from His lips. He also suffered and died to atone for our sins “the Just for the unjust that He might bring us to God” (I Pe.3:18a).
The reason Jesus’ suffering is so important to remember is that it is to this kind of life to which we have been called. Peter made it clear that Jesus suffered on our behalf, and we should follow in His footsteps. When He was reviled and insulted He made no retort, and when He suffered He didn’t threaten anybody. What He did do was commit His case into the hands of the righteous Judge. That is, He turned the matter over to His heavenly Father.2
If we do wrong and suffer for it, what credit is there in patiently taking the deserved punishment? On the other hand, if we do right and suffer for it patiently, this does win God’s approval and is acceptable to Him.3
One day, the chancellor of the University of Glasgow introduced to the young men of that university, “God’s missionary”, David Livingstone. When Livingstone stood up and walked to the front of the platform to speak to the group of university men, the students looked at him earnestly. They saw his hair burned crisp under the torrid tropical sun. They saw his body wasted and emaciated from jungle fever. They saw his right arm hanging limp at his side, destroyed by the attack of a ferocious African lion. When the students looked at Livingstone they stood up in one accord, in awe and silence before God’s missionary.4
After the first century Jewish Court had the Apostles flogged, they ordered them to not speak anymore of Jesus, and then they released them. Luke tells us that the Apostles left the Sanhedrin “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41, NIV). Paul wrote to the Philippian church, “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Phil.1:29). Also to Timothy, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (II Tim.3:12, NIV). Furthermore, Peter tells his readers that even if they have to suffer for the sake of what is right, they are still blessed, and they shouldn’t be afraid of people’s threats, nor be troubled by them.5
So what should we do when experiencing such persecution or adversity? The Scriptures come to our rescue with the following principles:
- Entrust our lives into the hands of our faithful Creator (I Pe.4:19b).
- Do not return evil for evil (I Pe.2:23; 3:9).
- Keep doing what is right (I Pe.4:19c), even toward our enemies (Rom12:20).
- Leave our case in the hands of the Judge who judges righteously (I Pe.2:23; Rom.12:19).
- Love, pray for and bless our persecutors (Mt.5:44; Lk.6:27-28).
Well, persecution is one thing, but what about the trials that occur in all of our lives? Perhaps it’s in the form of close friends moving to another place, an accident, a separation or divorce, abuse, financial difficulties, a severe illness or death in the family, or other troubles and hardships. What does God have in mind when He lets His own children suffer trials and persecution?
A man found the cocoon of an emperor moth and took it home to watch it emerge. One day a small opening appeared, and for several hours the moth struggled but couldn’t seem to force its body past a certain point.
Deciding something was wrong, the man took scissors and snipped the remaining bit of cocoon. The moth emerged easily, its body large and swollen, the wings small and shriveled.
He expected that in a few hours the wings would spread out in their natural beauty, but they didn’t. Instead of developing into a creature free to fly, the moth spent its life dragging around a swollen body and shriveled wings.
The constricting cocoon and the struggle necessary to pass through the tiny opening are God’s way of forcing fluid from the body into the wings. The “merciful” snip was, in reality, cruel. Sometimes the struggle is exactly what we need.6
James, in his epistle, writes: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (Ja.1:2, NIV). In other words, count it nothing but joy whenever you find yourself surrounded by various trials. Why? “Because the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (Ja.1:3, NIV). That’s not all: We’re to let endurance finish its work so that we can be mature and perfectly equipped, not coming up short in anything.7
On a commuter flight from Portland, Maine to Boston, Henry Dempsey (the pilot) heard an unusual noise near the rear of the small aircraft. He turned the controls over to his co-pilot and went back to check it out.
As he reached the tail section, the plane hit an air pocket, and Dempsey was tossed against the rear door. He quickly discovered the source of the mysterious noise. The rear door hadn’t been properly latched prior to takeoff, and it flew open. He was instantly sucked out of the jet.
The co-pilot, seeing the red light that indicated an open door, radioed the nearest airport, requesting permission to make an emergency landing. He reported that the pilot had fallen out of the plane, and he requested a helicopter search of that area of the ocean.
After the plane landed, they found Henry Dempsey-holding onto the outdoor ladder of the aircraft. Somehow he had caught the ladder, held on for ten minutes as the plane flew 200 mph at an altitude of 4,000 feet, and then, at landing, kept his head from hitting the runway, which was a mere twelve inches away. It took the airport personnel several minutes to pry Dempsey’s fingers from the ladder.8 Talk about endurance and perseverance!
God wants the difficulties and trials of life that come our way to serve a good purpose. He wants to see our faith mature. Peter wrote to his readers,
“… for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (I Pe.1:6-7, NIV).
How often do we become distressed by various trials? Yet God wants them to serve a good purpose in our lives-that our tested faith be found genuine and result in praise and honor at Christ’s appearing.
And this tested faith also develops and produces perseverance. We learn to “hold on” and “keep swimming round.”
Two frogs fell into a deep cream bowl,
One was an optimistic soul;
But the other took the gloomy view,
“We shall drown,” he cried, without more ado.
So with a last despairing cry,
He flung his legs and said, “Good-bye.”
Quoth the other frog with a merry grim,
“I can’t get out, but I won’t give in
I’ll just swim round till my strength is spent,
Then will I die the more content.”
Bravely he swam till it would seem
His struggles began to churn the cream.
On top of the butter at last he stopped,
And out of the bowl he gaily hopped.
What of the moral? ‘Tis easily found:
If you can’t hop out, keep swimming round.9
Notice the difference in attitude between the two frogs. It made all the difference in the end results.
Speaking from his experience as a prisoner in the Nazi concentration camps, psychiatrist Dr. Viktor Frankl said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms-to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Charles Swindoll says it this way:
“Attitude is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company, a church, a home.
“The remarkable thing is, we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past. We cannot change the fact that people will act in certain ways. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude.”10
We see this played out in the life of the apostle Paul. To prevent him from thinking too highly of himself (because he saw so many magnificent revelations) Paul was given a sharp pain in his body-a thorn in his flesh that came as Satan’s messenger. Three times he prayed to the Lord to relieve him of it. Yet God’s answer was: My grace is sufficient for you-it’s all you need, for My strength finds its full scope in your weakness.11
Paul’s attitude then changed. He writes, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (II Cor.9b-10). Being content with such hardships came as the result of a revelation from the Lord. Paul saw that his very weakness made him strong in Christ. That’s why he could be content with such humiliating circumstances.
For the Christian, there is not just the hope of future joy. We can be full of joy here and now even in our trials and troubles. Afflictions and suffering bring about perseverance. And this endurance works in us strength of character. This tested character produces hope-a hope that never disappoints.12
No matter what you and I go through, we need to keep our attitude right and our trust in the One whose plan is always good for us.
For Personal Reflection/Group Discussion:
- Discuss or write your “theology” of persecution and troubles.
- What is your attitude when difficulties come your way? Which “frog” are you and why?
- What are the good things that God wants to develop in your life as you pass through hardships?
REFERENCE NOTES TO CHAPTER ELEVEN
- Michael Green, Illustrations for Biblical Preaching. As told in Swindoll, Charles R., The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart. Nashville, Word Publishing, 1998, pgs.21-22. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc.
- I Pe. 2:21, 23.
- I Pe.2:20.
- W.A Criswell, Expository Sermons on Galatians. As told in Swindoll, Charles R., The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart. Nashville, Word Publishing, 1998, pg. 580. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc.
- I Pe.3:14; cf.Mt.5:10-12.
- Larson, Craig Brian, ed., Illustrations for Preaching and Teaching from Leadership Journal, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993, pg.266.
- Larson, Craig Brian, ed., Illustrations for Preaching and Teaching from Leadership Journal, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993, pg.114.
- Walter Knight, Knight’s Master Book of New Illustrations. As told in Swindoll, Charles R., The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart. Nashville, Word Publishing, 1998, pgs. 440-441. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc.
- Charles Swindoll, from Strengthening Your Grip, as seen in Reader’s Digest, (February 1995).
- II Cor.12:7-9a.
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