Christian Living When It Gets Tough

// February 3rd, 2019 // Sermons

This entry is part 7 of 15 in the series Last Days Christianity

What is your typical response…  You can listen online or download it and listen later…Christian Living When It Gets Tough…when your world caves in around you?  How should a Christian respond when hard times come?  What can we do to keep our faith strong – even when life gets tough?

We all, at some point, will go through deep trials; and, when that happens, everything we believe is put on the line.

A man by name of Jim Warren and a pastor I know, were talking about how to respond when hard things happen.  Jim said, “When hard times come, be a student, not a victim.”  That is one of the most profound things I have ever heard on the subject.  Be a student, not a victim!

We all know people who go through life as professional victims –always talking about how hard their life is or has been.  Perpetual victimhood dooms you to a life of self-centered misery because you learn nothing from your trials.

  • A victim says, “Why did this happen to me?” – A student says, “What can I learn from this?”
  • A victim blames others for his problems – A student asks, “How much of this did I bring on myself?”
  • A victim compares his lot with others and cries out, “Life isn’t fair.” – A student looks at life and says, “What happened to me could have happened to anyone.”
  • A victim believes his hard times have come because God is punishing him – A student understands that God allows hard times in order to help him grow.
  • A victim complains instead of finding a solution – A student has no time to complain because he’s making the best of his situation.
  • A victim feels so sorry for himself that he has no time for others – A student focuses on helping others so that he has no time to feel sorry for himself.
  • A victim begs God to remove the problems so that he can be happy – A student has learned through the problems of life that God alone is the source of joy, and that joy is more important than happiness.

As Christians, we believe in the sovereignty of God – so that when hard times come, we know that God is at work for our good and His glory.

Paul is writing to new believers who suddenly found themselves in great hardship.  They were being persecuted for their faith in Jesus, so Paul gives them five truths about hard times. 

#1: Trials Can Shake Us – v. 1-3a   

One translation, in v. 3 reads – “so that no one would be unsettled by these trials.  The ESV uses the word “moved”; the NLT, “shaken”.

The Greek word means to “wag the tail.”  It has the idea of being so shaken/rattled by circumstances that came upon you, so that you fall away from the right path in life.  The word “trial/affliction/trouble” comes from a Greek word that has the idea of being “under the thumb” because of pressure from above.  Most of us know from experience, the unrelenting pressure from circumstances that keeps you awake at night and sap your strength during the day.

When I study what the NT teaches about trials, two truths stand out.  First, trials are a common experience of every Christian.  No one gets a trouble-free ride to heaven.  If this is not where you find yourself today, put these thoughts from this passage of Scripture in your back pocket, because you will need them sometime in the future!

Second, the kind of trial you face doesn’t matter as much as how you respond to it.  We tend to focus intently on the details of our difficulties as if the difficulty itself were the most important thing.  It may seem that way, at the time, but it’s not really true.  God is much more concerned with how you respond than with the trial itself.

Why?  Because most of the time you don’t have a choice about the tough stuff that comes into your life.  Usually these things enter without any rhyme or reason.  But, you can control how you respond — will I step forward in faith or unbelief, in humility or arrogance, in forgiveness or in anger, in hope or in despair.

Our trials often come with very little warning.  James 1:2 reminds us to “Count it all joy when you encounter various trials”.  That’s not possible when you focus on the trial itself.  But if your focus is on God, then you can find joy even in the worst moments of life.  Now, the 2nd point…

#2: Our Trials Are Appointed – v. 3b 

“But you know that we are destined for such troubles”.  The phrase “we are destined” comes from a verb that means “to put or to place.”  It’s a very strong way of saying “these hard times were placed here by God.”  They didn’t happen by accident, fate or coincidence.  This is the opposite of chance or circumstance.

Roy Zuck wrote:  “For the child of God, there are no accidents, only incidents.”  That is the best summary of Romans 8:28 I’ve ever seen. 

No accidents!  Incidents—yes.  Troubles—yes.  Heartache—yes.  Difficulty—yes.  Disappointment—yes.  Loss—yes.  Failure—yes.

But accidents?  No!

There are no accidents with God, only incidents that are appointed by Him for our good and for His glory!

Pastor Tony Evans stated that everything that happens in this world is either caused by God or allowed by God – and there is no third category.  Nothing ever “just happens” and nothing is caused by someone or something outside of God’s control.  That means there is no such thing as chance or fate.  Now, we come to the 3rd truth regarding hard times:

#3: Our Trials Are Necessary – v. 4

Paul wrote, “…we warned you that troubles would soon come—and they did, as you well know.”

Some people might see this as a negative, but it is a positive.  Every rose has its thorns, and the sooner we understand that the more content we will be.

Romans 5:3-4 spells out the process:  “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.  And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.”  We all want hope, but we don’t want trials.  If you want hope to overflow your heart, it starts with trials that leads to endurance that produces proven character that results in the Holy Spirit filling us with hope.

Nabeel Qureshi was the writer of the book “Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus”.  Within days of releasing that book he was diagnosed with stomach cancer.  This is his testimony:

In the past few days my spirits have soared and sank as I pursue the Lord’s will and consider what the future might look like, but never once have I doubted this: that Jesus is Lord, His blood has paid my ransom, and by His wounds I am healed. I have firm faith that my soul is saved by the grace and mercy of the Triune God, and not by any accomplishment or merit of my own. I am so thankful that I am a child of the Father, redeemed by the Son, and sealed in the Spirit. No, in the midst of the storm, I do not have to worry about my salvation, and for that I praise you, God.

That is the kind of faith that Paul has in mind in Romans 5 and what he is trying to pass along to the church in Thessalonica.

The Bible Knowledge Commentary reads:

When trouble comes, Christians often react by doubting that they are where God wants them to be; they often think that they have done something wrong and that God must be displeased with them. Even some mature Christians react this way, as evidenced by Paul’s words of reassurance to Timothy…“Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).  Yet storms often come to believers to make them able to stand firm, rather than to blow them away (2 Cor. 4:15-16).

The fourth truth we need to remember when hard times come…

#4: The Dangerous Side of Our Trials – v. 5

“…when I could bear it no longer, I sent Timothy to find out whether your faith was still strong. I was afraid that the tempter had gotten the best of you and that our work had been useless.”

Satan uses a variety of means to tempt us to fall away during our trials.  This caused Paul to be worried about these young Thessalonian believers.  How does the devil tempt us in hard times?  There are three ways that come to mind:

First, he tempts us to doubt God’s goodness.  He whispers in our ear that God has forgotten us, that God doesn’t care, and that God isn’t good. 

Second, he tempts us to retaliate against others with anger and resentment.  When hard times come friends and family sometime get the brunt of the response.

Third, he tempts us to give in to despair and discouragement.  If we’re sick, we feel as if we’ll never get better again.  If your marriage is in trouble you can’t see any way out but to divorce.  If you’ve lost your job, you feel like you’re not qualified to do anything.  The devil loves to have us think we are losers!

All three of these lead to the ultimate act of desperation where we give up our faith in God altogether.  That is precisely the concern that Paul – he worried that under pressure these new Christians would crumble and give up on God.

Hard times wear us down…little by little, we lose the joy we once had.  Under pressure we begin to give in to bad habits, wrong attitudes, and start to slide in the wrong direction.

A young woman had been raised as a Christian and at one time had a strong faith in Christ.  But, as a teenager she felt lonely and fell in with a bad crowd.  A little here and little there, she dabbled in sin and eventually experimented with drugs.  Before long she knew she was addicted, which led her to terrible extremes in order to finance her drug habit.  When she is high, she wants to talk about God, even able to quote Bible verses from memory.

She wants to be free but the pain of coming off heroin is so great that she is terrified to face it.  She went to visit the pastor of a church nearby – he challenged her to become a woman of truth because the truth will set her free.  His parting words were the words of Jesus, “Go and sin no more.”   She smiled, thanked him and said she needed to go and get some heroin or she wouldn’t make it through the day.

Her story demonstrates the fact that having Bible knowledge cannot save you from the consequences of wrong decisions.  What happened to her can happen to any of us if we respond in the wrong way to hard times.  Let’s not be quick to condemn the sin of others, instead we need to consider how vulnerable we are to Satan’s attacks.  Truth #5…

#5: The Productive Side of Our Trials – v. 6                          

“But now Timothy has just returned, bringing us good news about your faith and love. He reports that you always remember our visit with joy and that you want to see us as much as we want to see you.”

Paul tells his readers that we can overcome our trials by faith.

  • Faith in God’s Character—that He is good and makes no mistake.
  • Faith in God’s Word—that it is true no matter what happens to us.
  • Faith in God’s Purpose—that He is conforming us to the image of Jesus Christ.
  • Faith in God’s Promise—that He will never leave us or forsake us.
  • Faith in God’s Presence—that He is with us in the darkest moments of life.
  • Faith in God’s Power—that He can deliver us from every temptation.

In hard times, we are also able to receive help through the shared faith of God’s people.  Many believers struggle because they try to handle their problems alone.  But God never intended that you should walk through the lonely valley by yourself.  We grow stronger as we lean on each other.  If you’re having a hard time keeping your head above water, tell somebody.  Don’t fight the battle alone.  Let the Lord use the body of Christ to minister to you.

In v. 7-8 Paul mentions another way that our trials are productive – he writes: “So we have been greatly encouraged in the midst of our troubles and suffering, dear brothers and sisters, because you have remained strong in your faith.  It gives us new life to know that you are standing firm in the Lord.”

We need to know that in hard times, we never suffer alone.  People watch to see how we react to hard things, to see if what we say we believe is really enough for us in the hard times.  And, unbelievers watch from a distance, they wonder if Christ is real or not.  They are watching how we respond when we are mistreated, when we face malicious accusations, sickness, the loss of a job, the end of a marriage, a career setback, or a financial collapse.  They watch us as we suffer to see if what we have is real or not.

Notice, 1 Thess. 3, Paul drew strength from the courage of these new believers.  The persecution had “torn him away” but essentially, Paul is saying, “I can face my trials because I see how well you are facing yours.”

Some of you are going through some things right now.  For some of you its prodigal children, broken relationships, serious illnesses, financial set-backs, worries about the future.  Maybe you are a Christian and you find yourself struggling with doubts, hemmed-in by fear, or maybe you are dealing with lingering bitterness towards a family member or a fellow believer.

As I thought about these things, I concluded that even if I had the power (which I don’t)…but, if I had the power to take away whatever is causing you difficulty, I don’t think it would be wise for me to take the pain away or make the hard times disappear.

You see, we need to believe that God has ordained that your trials are part of His plan to make you like Jesus. There are no shortcuts to spiritual maturity.

And so, if I were to take away the pain, I could hinder what God wants to do in your life.  I have limited vision, because I see things from a human perspective; and for that reason, I might actually hurt you instead of help you even though my motives would be good.

Last week I finished reading through Job – now there’s a man who knew what it was like to go through hard things.  Listen to Job 23:10 “He knows the way that I take.  When he has tried me, I will come forth as gold.”

So, you can have an easy life, or you can have a deep faith, but you can’t have both!  There is no gold without the fiery furnace!

Our hard times are designed to bring us closer to the Lord.  Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.  We must intentionally decide to endure our trials with grace and courage, knowing that in the end the clouds will part and the sun will shine again.

Imagine if Jesus, while He was hanging on the cross, having been crucified for our sins – imagine Him crying out to the Father that it was too much; and the Father sending His angels to remove His Son from the cross – because it was too hard!  What a dreadful thought!

But, because the Son was faithful to obey the Father’s great plan…we today, can know that our sins can be washed away; our guilt can be removed; our relationship with our Creator restored; our eternity absolutely certain.  Let’s imitate Jesus – and let the Father’s will be done in us!

One aspect of the Father’s will that we obey on a regular basis, is to celebrate the Lord’s Supper together.  We eat a piece of unleavened bread – to remind us that the sinless Son of God gave His body as a sacrifice to pay for our sin; and we drink “fruit of the vine” from a cup, to remind us that the unblemished Lamb of God allowed His blood to be shed so that our sins could be forgiven – Heb. 9:22 says, “…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”.

Let’s pray…

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