Tuesday, April 9, 2019

5 Reasons for Hard Times (part 3)

In my last two posts, I've covered four out of five reasons for difficult times in our lives.
Since I've had so much to say about each reason, what was meant to be one article turned into a three-part series. Well, I hope you haven't become annoyed with my wordiness. The last reason for adversity is...

5. Suffering Gives Us a Story to Tell

Now, when I say, “suffering gives us a story to tell,” I don't mean the kind of story where the victim of life's circumstances complains to drum up sympathy from others. What I mean is that our story may someday help others. 

The difference is in our motives: when we complain, chances are, we're doing it for ourselves. We may want to look like the victim, point fingers, and drum up sympathy from others. On the other hand, when we share our story in a beneficial way, we do so for the good of others, not out of selfish ambition. It helps us to empathize with them so they can feel understood and validated.

"I stopped venting and started praying, because I don't need sympathy - I need strength." - Unknown

With that in mind, every hardship we go through is an opportunity to experience God's greatness in a new way. While the world would complain and moan at the slightest hint of suffering, God's Redeemed stand strong. We thrive. We praise through the storm. We worship amidst the thrashing waves coaxing us to give up hope. 

The saint's joy during trials drives the lost into utter confusion. How can they still praise jubilantly through their suffering? What is so different about them?! What do they have that I don't? When we display this perplexing contentment, we show that because this joy doesn't come from the world, it can't be tainted by the world, either.

Hardship also gives us compassion for those who are going through the same thing. Suffering gives us wisdom and a tender heart. Later, when we help the hurting, we can respond with, "I can't imagine what you're going through, but I went through a similar situation..." and share what we've learned.

Therefore, hard times take "us" out of the way, allowing Christ's glory to shine like a beacon to the dark world around us.

Final thoughts

I think it's a good idea to summarize the five main reasons for hard times in our lives:

1. Hard times may be an answer to prayer

2. Difficulties humble us

3. Hardship produces gratefulness

4. Suffering beckons us to the cross

5. Suffering gives us a story to tell

Whatever you are going through, God knows. Not only does He know, but He cares. He cares for you so much, that He's willing to use hardships to draw you closer to Him. May we heed the words of James 1:2-4, considering it "pure joy" to go through trials, because we know that God has a great purpose for us being here.
I hope that you've been encouraged by this series. It's comforting to know that our suffering is never wasted and that our pain serves a purpose!
Soli Deo Gloria!

Friday, February 22, 2019

5 Reasons for Hard Times (part 2)

In my last post, I began a list of five reasons for hardships. I mentioned the wrong ideology that our relationship with God is a way to take the easy route in life. Some televangelists and other pastors promise that faith is a definite ticket toward financial success, physical blessings, and illness-free living.

This growing belief, most commonly known as the "prosperity gospel," is sweeping the nation.

This doesn't make it right.

In fact, being perfectly honest: the prosperity gospel is dead wrong.

If we view God as only the means to an end, that says something about how much we value Him compared to how much we value the world. This attitude reveals that God isn't our God; earthly prosperity is. The prosperity gospel is idolatry with the word "Jesus" sprinkled in a few times. It is not the Gospel.

Anyway, since this topic could (and possibly will) turn into a whole blog post, I suppose I'll get back to the point.

We aren't promised a shower of physical blessings here on this earth. We are to live a life broken and spilled out for the sake of gaining Christ. However, we are promised spiritual prosperity, as well as the hope of Heaven. Therefore, for the sake of God's glory and our spiritual prosperity, God allows adversity. Adversity is an extension of God's loving kindness towards us.

That is what this three-part series is all about. God always allows adversity for His glory and our good (Romans 8:28).

#3: Hardship Produces Gratefulness

Imagine if the night sky was entirely white, with no speck of blackness in sight. All the many billions of stars would still exist, but would we see them? Would we appreciate the dusting of stars across the white expanse? No. Why not? We wouldn't see the light of the stars, because there is no darkness to compare it to. It's only in darkness that we truly appreciate the light.

This is true in all of life: we don't tend to thank God for our health until we're sick. We don't appreciate our job until it's gone. We don't even give our next breath a second thought until we realize the brevity and uncertainty of life. Unfortunately, we may not even appreciate our loved ones as we should until they're gone. It is in these moments that death shows us how to live.

This is how God utilizes contrast. How would we know the beauty of a rescue without peril? When it comes to salvation, how do we revel in our freedom while denying the fact that we were in chains? From the dimness of the night sky to the darkness of difficulty to the bleakness of our sin, God allows us to appreciate the stars, the good times, and undeserved grace.

#4: Suffering Beckons Us to the Cross

Think about when you were first saved. What drove you to that point? Likely, it was a need. An emptiness. A longing. A desire that refused to be quenched by the empty things of this world. A disaster. An overwhelming feeling of guilt.

Often, God uses suffering to draw us to Him. When we refuse to get on our knees, He allows hardship to send us there. It is in that vulnerable state that we see His glory. He has to get us out of the way in order to see Who He is. We're blocking the view of His glory, and that has to be taken care of.

Even as Christians, God often uses hard times to draw us to Him.

His love for His child doesn't stay within the grounds of what we want. He reaches beyond our comfort zone and refuses to be limited by us. If our life never left our comfort zone, we would become all too comfortable...all without Him.

Through hardship, we share in Christ's suffering (1 Peter4:13). Jesus can sympathize with any pain we go through (Hebrews 4:15), because He Himself went through far greater suffering than we can even ever imagine.

Jesus sympathizes with both our physical and emotional pain. Not only was He beaten, whipped, and nailed, but He was scorned, humiliated, rejected, isolated, and grossly discriminated against. He felt. 

Jesus also sympathizes with our temptations (Matthew 4:1-11). After forty days of fasting in the desert, when Jesus' body was weakened, the devil toyed with His senses and dangled the carrot of pride in front of His Face. The very world (literally) was offered to Him, with the seemingly "small" price of a "little sin." Yet, Jesus denied sin. Every. Single. Time. In His thirty-three years of living on this earth, among sinners, through childhood, adolescence, and even during His suffering on the cross, He refused sin.

When we face trials, temptations, hardships, and pain, it is a reminder of what Jesus went through for us. He willingly went through suffering of all kinds for us. As we remember this, it draws us closer to our Savior.

Stay tuned for the third and final part of this series: Five Reasons for Hard Times.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

5 Reasons for Hard Times (part 1)

Oftentimes, the Gospel is advertised as a ticket out of hard times.

We may say things like, "If you believe in God, He will heal your body." Or, "If you have enough faith, God will take away your financial struggles." 

Some say that God wants you to chase your dreams. While He often does use our desires for His glory, our number one goal should be to chase Jesus.Whatever gets us to that end, we can be willing to endure for the sake of worshiping, enjoying, and exemplifying Christ. After all, I don't think it was Paul's dream to go to prison. However, he learned to be content in all circumstances (Philippians 4:11) through the joy that Christ brings.

Although we serve a healing, delivering, all-powerful God, we aren't promised that life will be a bed of roses.

In fact, quite the opposite is true.

The Bible promises hardship (see John 16:33, Hebrews 12:5-8). However, there is hope.

One thing that you won't hear me say is that God will take away your financial troubles, sicknesses, and other tribulations in this life. But, thankfully for us, this life isn't the end of the story.

All day, every day, we can choose to root ourselves so deeply in Christ that we see everything else as it truly is - temporary. Our trials? Temporary. Our earthly prizes and achievements? Temporary. We should value Christ so much that even earthly pleasures are counted as loss. This is what it means to live with an eternal perspective.

Below, I want to share five reasons that God may allow hardships in our lives.

#1: This Hardship is an Answer to your Prayer

What?! How is this difficulty an answer to prayer? I never prayed for this!

It's true. You may not have prayed for this specific difficulty, but chances are, you've prayed to grow closer to God. You've probably prayed for patience, contentment, or holiness. As a result, here you are with a situation forcing you to grow in these areas.

This reminds me of a hymn titled, "I Asked the Lord That I Might Grow". The first verse reads:

I asked the Lord that I might grow

In faith and love and ev’ry grace,
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek more earnestly His face.

What a great prayer! We'd all love to grow in faith, love, and grace. However, the writer of this hymn expected this growth to come 'in some favored hour' when all was going his way. Instead, trials pelted afflictions at his soul. Heartbreak threw him to the ground, where he found himself on his knees. He asks the Lord why He would allow this. God replied, saying that He was using this hardship to turn him back to Him. 

The storms that flung the writer to and fro forced him to cling to his Anchor. He grew closer to God in a way he wouldn't have otherwise. The Bible mentions this form of growth frequently (James 1:2-4, 2 Cor. 12:10, 1 Peter 5:9-10, Rom. 8:28). I'm not negating or minimizing the tragedies that we go through. However, for the sake of your joy, I will say this: hardships aren't a break from serving God. We are still called to seek Him, not just what He can do for our situation. Despite our circumstances, we are still called to pursue holiness (Romans 12:11-12). 

"Trials are intended to make us think, to wean us from the world, to send us to the Bible, to drive us to our knees." - J.C. Ryle                    
#2. God is humbling you  

The truth is, we could all use some more humility in our lives. One of the ways God shows us who we really are is by showing us how dependent we are on Him. When everything is going well in our lives, we can sometimes think that we're the ones keeping things in check. We might think, "I'm doing much better financially because I worked so hard and earned that promotion." It's moments like this that we forget Who's really in control of our situations. It was God who kept us healthy so we could go to that job every day. God was the One Who gave us the will to work hard. Our abilities come from Him. Our talents come from Him. Our good character traits (such as work ethic) come from Him. And yet, we can sometimes pride ourselves on our accomplishments. 

Through life's most unexpected curve-balls, God shows us Who's really in control of our situations. And this should comfort us. It's amazing how we sometimes trust our limited, sinful, human selves more than the all-knowing, righteous, loving, sovereign God.

(Stay tuned for part two of this series on, '5 Reasons for Hard Times')

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Praying for People's Spiritual Needs

     If you keep a prayer journal, I'm sure your list of prayer requests is very long. In whatever local church you attend, you are sure to find countless needs: people going through sicknesses, deaths, job losses, financial struggles, and more. The list goes on and on with all kinds of physical and emotional needs. However, we often forget about the most important needs of all: spiritual needs.

     How often do we (myself included) pray for our friends in the good times? Not just when they are facing a difficult diagnosis or going through financial problems, but when life is going well. I assure you, even when someone's physical, emotional, and financial health is flourishing, their spiritual health could be withering.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

A Different Kind of Integration

     This afternoon, my parents and I had one of those great, deep discussions. I love it when that happens. It's an impromptu conversation (or an occasional debate) where we express our views on political or theological topics, discern the truth, and I pay absolutely no attention to the fact that I'm still a teenager.

You may have been surprised that a discussion between a teenager and their parents could follow all of the following:

1. The discussion includes the teenager (not just the parents).
2. The discussion is not a lecture.
3. The topic is deep, mature, and meaningful.
4. The teenager is actually interested (and participative)  in what is being discussed.

This is exactly the kind of integration and unity that I want to write about today.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

More on Hymn Memorization

     In my last post, How to Memorize Hymns, I mentioned that I might do a hymn study on 'Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery." However, I feel God leading me in a different direction. The words speak for themselves, and I just wanted any excuse to share the lyrics.

So, I decided to just share the link for them and also a lyrical music video for the song. The reason I wanted to share the music video is because that is part of how I learned the words. Lyrics are much easier to memorize when you know the tune of the song. Also, it is a great song to get stuck in your head, because the lyrics can replay over and over in your mind.

Monday, March 26, 2018

How to Memorize Hymns

One day, as I was sitting and reflecting (one of my favorite hobbies), I began to write down goals I wanted to achieve and things I wanted to do. Specifically, I wondered, "What things should I start doing (or doing more) that will grow me spiritually?"

A question came to mind that changed my perspective and flipped my priorities upside down. 

I asked myself, "If I were stuck in a prison cell for the rest of my life, with no personal possessions, what spiritual sustenance would I want to have stored up in my mind and heart?"

In other words, what would I want to have memorized?