Trusting God in the Midst of Troubles
If I were to ask, what are your three biggest troubles in life, what would they be? I posed that question to an elementary age person and they told me: 1. School, 2. School, and 3. School. Wouldn’t it be nice if school was only problem of life? A more mature person, someone who has faced a few more of life’s challenges, might say any of these things: Painful Relationships, Poor Health, Difficulties at Work, Not Enough Time, or Not Enough Money. What would you say?
Now let me ask another question: What are you doing with those troubles? Are you trying to ignore them, are you worrying about them, or are you committed to eliminating them? I doubt if any of us would say, "I’m learning to live with them until God takes them away." That’s not the kind of statement most people want to hear is it? It is not the kind of teaching that will fill a stadium with thousands of people or cause them to buy millions of books. But that statement is exactly the answer that the Bible gives us when it comes to the question of life’s external troubles: "I’m learning to live with them until God takes them away."
One of the biggest delusions people live under – and one of the biggest temptations before us – is that we set up for ourselves the goal of a trouble free life. That is the fastest way to ruin your life. The wise person understands that there will always be troubles in this life. The wisest person is the one who knows what to do with those troubles.
All things work together for good to them that love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
1. God deals with our internal troubles.
Before we go any further with this, we have to make a very important distinction. There is a difference between external troubles and internal, or, self-inflicted troubles. When I asked you earlier, what were your three biggest troubles or problems in life, did anyone think: "my sins." Probably not. This is something that is easily passed over. Romans 8.28 is talking about external problems. This verse is talking about the troubles we encounter in an evil world. But most of the Bible is concerned with the internal troubles – the evil inside – the evil we’re all born with. In fact this verse totally depends on that idea. St. Paul says, "all things work together for good to them that love God."
A basketball team works to confuse their opponents. Quick passes and clever plays are designed to catch their opponents off guard. But if the team itself is working against one another… hogging the ball, showing off, criticizing rather than encouraging, they have a hopeless future.
In the same way we cannot face our external problems until we’ve faced the internal problems. Romans chapters 1-7 deals thoroughly with the internal problem of sin. Before God no one can claim to be righteous. That’s honest. Everything else is what I call "virtual spirituality." We imagine our selves to be "pretty good," or simply "good enough" for God. But "good enough" is not good enough for God. Instead God, who created everything, shows His glory even more by healing the infection of sin. He did this with the most expensive medicine imaginable – He sent His Son to endure the justice we deserved. St. Paul said, "But God demonstrates His great love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5.8).
The more you think about this, the more you will love God. This is being "called according to His purpose." His purpose is to save you and others. Real spirituality puts the emphasis on God. Virtual spirituality puts the emphasis on you and your external problems: If you enlarge your vision… If you make a decision to live victoriously… If you choose to be happy… and If you develop a prosperous mindset… then you’ll overcome or eliminate your troubles in life. This is the theology of the motivational speaker who calls himself a pastor. This is the best way to ruin your life. Instead of an "If you mindset…" God simply urges us to have a "Look unto Me" mindset.
This is always the approach of the Bible. The writer of the Book of Hebrews talks about the "race of faith" – the troubles that every Christian will face sooner or later in life – But he begins with God’s solution to our internal problem of sin: "Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us… looking unto Jesus" (Hebrews 12.1-2).
2. God allows us to live in a world where sin still temporarily rules.
Now we can really start talking about the external troubles of life: These are the painful experiences over which we have no control. There are many people still enslaved to sin. Some are worse than others, but sooner or later we’re going to cross paths with those who lie, cheat, steal, hurt, and make life painful for us and everyone else. There are also many people who are opposed to Jesus Christ and to His followers. They make life difficult. Sometimes they even persecute Christians. We are troubled by deceitful people who claim to follow Christ but instead want to lead us astray into the virtual spirituality I mentioned before. On top of all of this God sends us into a dying world, and we must die with it, physically but not eternally. We also must work with sweat and toil. We also must suffer accidents and sickness like everyone else. We can’t avoid these hardships. But we can learn to live with them, and, better than that, we can see how troubles and hardship ultimately work together for good when people love God and are called according to His purpose.
The biggest difference is that we don’t have to despair. We know that all trouble and hardship in this life are temporary. "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Romans 8.18). We also know that God uses them to develop our character. "But we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope" (Romans 5.3-4).
One of the most interesting illustrations of this truth is found in a little furry animal that all of us in North America are familiar with… the beaver. This amazing little can cut down trees with its teeth! But the beaver that is fed soft food will soon have a fatal problem. His teeth need the abrasion he gets my gnawing on tree trunks. Without this his teeth will grow too long, and he won’t be able to eat at all. He will die.
If all we want is a soft and easy life, we will soon find that our faith will whither. Martin Luther said, "Were it not for tribulation, I should not understand Scripture." King David said, "Before I was afflicted, I went astray, But now I keep Your Word" (Psalm 119.67). We have a man in our congregation who suffered a serious illness that left him blind. Yet as I spoke with him recently he affirmed the words of Luther: "If it wasn’t for this illness I would never have understood the Scriptures as I do now."
But the most important reason for our troubles has to do with God’s purpose to bring others to faith in Jesus. Let me remind you of two very important instances where God used troubles to bring others to faith. The first involves the Lord Jesus Himself. When He was dying on the cross, two thieves mocked Him. But as time went on, one thief admitted to his miserable, sinful condition. But he realized that next to him hung a man, like him, who had done nothing wrong. Yet He was dying. The thief believed in Jesus. He believed that Jesus was dying for him. In a similar way people can see Christ in us when we are suffering. They might never give Him any consideration. But somehow the power of God’s love becomes apparent to them when they see us cling to Jesus even in the worst of circumstances.
The second incident is found in Acts chapter nine. There we read about a lady named Tabitha. Tabitha toiled in this life. But she knew her toil was part of God’s high purpose. She toiled joyfully making garments which she gave to others. Her life apparently made a big impact on a lot of people. The Bible says she became sick. Yes, even Christians become sick. In a few days she died. Peter was summoned. He knealt down beside her lifeless body, and he prayed. Miraculously Tabitha was raised from the dead. Now comes the important part – God didn’t allow Tabitha to go through this sickness, to die, and to be raised for her own sake. "It became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord" (Acts 9.42).
This is one of the most important reasons God allows His people to "live with troubles." These hardships, whatever they may be are used by God to show other people His love, His higher purpose in life, and above all His salvation in Jesus.
3. God promises that all our troubles work together for good because He is in control.
Why is it that our troubles, when lived out in faith, work together for good? The answer is that my salvation, my enduring of any problem, and the good that comes out of any of my problems is not up to me. Paul goes on to point out that this calling is not an accident. It is not a happenstance. It is part of a plan that has been in place long before you or I were ever became aware of it.
Paul says that my salvation and your salvation were predestined. He is also saying that my troubles and your troubles are part of a divine destiny that ultimately "works together for good." The Bible never encourages us to speculate how this could be so? The Bible tells us this to encourage us to keep living with our troubles in faith, in joy, and in perseverance.
Our questions about this are much like that of the young child who constantly wants to know why you are doing this? Why that? How does this work? The bewildered parent simply has to say, "I can’t explain it to you now. Someday you’ll understand. Just believe me for now." This is what God does for us. Like the loving Father that He is, He assures us that He knows what He is doing, why He is doing it, and where it is all going. But He doesn’t explain it just yet.
So are there troubles ahead? Yes. Are we going to cry about them? Yes, we will cry. But is that all? Is life one grand effort to avoid trouble as long as possible and finally when it can’t be relieved we’ll seek an out through death? No! Mixed with faith our troubles will transform us. Mixed with faith God will use our troubles to transform others. Life is not an hour glass in which all the good of life is slowly slipping away. Life is a journey with many difficulties leading to all the goodness that God can create. Amen.
Pastor Michael P. Walther
Michael P. Walther, Copyright, 2005
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