One way we learn how to live the overcoming life is through trials and problems. It’s also probably one of the most misinterpreted and least liked ways of growing as a believer, but it’s one of the most effective ways. Of course this key to a life well-lived is not hidden at all. It’s just that we Westerners, with our first-world problems, seem to have trouble grasping it.
One problem is, we tend to believe that our obedience will make problems go away and our disobedience is why we have them. My wife and I recently ministered to someone who was totally distraught to the point of despair because of a series of bad circumstances she was going through. She thought maybe she was having this trouble because God was punishing her for some unknown reason. Sadly, this interpretation is far too common among sincere Christians, and it’s one of the darkest lies from the pit of hell itself.
God doesn’t bless or curse you because of what you’ve done—good, bad, or ugly—He blesses you because of who He is. And, by the way, under the New Covenant there are no curses (see Gal. 3:13). We need to stop reading the Old Testament as if Jesus never happened.
So, why do bad things happen to devoted followers of Christ?
To answer this question, we first need to remember Jesus told us clearly that we live in a world filled with much pain and heartache. I like how the Amplified version brings this out:
33 I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace and confidence. In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you.] (John 16:33 AMP)
If we believe this is true (and we should), then why are we so surprised when trouble and distress and frustration comes our way? But this isn’t even the main point of His statement. Read the last part again:
“…but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you.]*
The point is, we’re meant to overcome in the midst of our trials. In fact, it’s the problems in life that cause us to grow in faith the most! Don’t believe me? What does James say?
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4 NIV*)
Paul clearly understood the importance that hardship and trials play in forming Christ in us:
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side,but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. (2 Cor.4:7-11 NIV*)
Of course, we know God doesn’t cause the trials and problems. The world we live in does that for us. It’s the tragic result of Adam and his offspring (called the human race) not trusting God, living aliened from Him, and painting His face with the Serpent’s brush, which had calamitous effects on everything in the cosmos.
20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope (Rom.8:20 NIV)
Notice that God subjected it “in hope,” not in despair or to punish us. He did so in order to use these tragic flaws for redemptive purposes, for He’s relentless in His determination to shape us into the image of His Son. Bad circumstances aren’t something we’re supposed to just put up with and hope to survive; we were meant to learn how to thrive from them. He wants us to learn how to live in this world from that sacred space where Christ has “deprived it of power to harm you,” for He has “conquered it for you.”
He wants to break you and me from habitually being circumstance-led—living by the limitations of our life—so that we can become Spirit-led, which is living according to the exceedingly great power of His life. Because when we’re Spirit led, circumstances cannot defeat us. This is called “fighting the good fight of faith,” which is a fight we’re meant to always win.
You see, trials and even crisis cannot defeat you, but fear can make you believe a lie. Its evil purpose is to dis-appoint you, to make you lose sight of your fruitful purpose in Christ (see John 15:16).
Think about it. What man or woman of great faith in Scripture ever got there without overcoming great, even seemingly impossible, obstacles?
Our problem is, we keep asking the wrong question. We ask “why?” when a more helpful question would be “what?” “Lord, what are You trying to work in me in this situation?”
Beloved of God, we have great need of reinterpreting the trials and troubles that come our way. And we don’t consider it “pure joy” because of the trials themselves, but for what they’re working in us as we learn to trust God in greater measure than before. We really need to believe that God works ALL things for good to those who love Him. I’ll let Paul remind us of this truth.
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us,who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom.8:28-38 NIV*)