1: The Make or Break Question
There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit! - Romans 5:3-5, The Message
Why are some people able to transcend adversity while others cannot? Even when the adversity is the exact same thing, why are there such vastly different responses? Likewise, why are some people able to discover wisdom in their pain and suffering while others do not?
When life is difficult, why do some people lose their way and not seem to find it again? Why do some people resume their previous way, but with less life? And why do some people engage, reflect, discern, respond, and become different (and better) people?
Now, let’s make it very personal. What about you? What kind of person are you when life is difficult? What response do you have when you encounter hardship? How have you responded to the seasons of suffering?
Consider Your Past Story: What are several of the more difficult things you have experienced? How have you responded to times of hardship?
Reflect on Paul’s Story: What do you learn as you think through Romans 5:3-5? What mindsets do you see in Paul that will serve you as well?
Decide: Will present and future suffering make or break you? Will you live with faith, hope, and love... or fear, anger, and discouragement?
Pray: Listen to God. Listen to your heart. What are you hearing and what do you need to ask of God?
Choose Life - Always. Everyone will age. Everyone will face some hardship. Many people will face significant pain. Death comes to everyone. Often, sickness is a steady companion. Don’t let hardship create a slow fade for you. Choose life. Choose to learn, to grow, to be with people, to care, to engage, to fight the good fight. Choose life!
2: Expect the Expected AND the Unexpected
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. - Ecclesiastes 1:9
Read and reflect on Ecclesiastes 3:1-14.
Expectations! They make all the difference. Our culture does not have good expectations about hardship and difficulty. In fact, we have terribly distorted expectations that hurt us. We expect life to go well, for things to work out, for problems to be solved, for obstacles to be removed, and for suffering to be minimized.
In fact, we have more than expectations about this. We feel entitled to a basically problem-free, life-is-generally-good, and things-run-smoothly-for-us way of living. When it doesn’t, we become irritated and angry; disappointed, then discouraged, and sometimes depressed; fearful, and worse, anxious.
We are disappointed with God. Phillip Yancy wrote a book with that title. We wonder, where is God when it hurts? Yancy wrote another book with that title. We begin to believe God is not keeping his end of the bargain.
Life happens. Hard things happen. Often. And to everyone. It is simply common sense to expect the unexpected. That is the message of Ecclesiastes 3.
And then accidents happen as well. Tragedy hits. Misfortune manifests in your life. And even disaster materializes. All unexpectedly. Usually, from out of nowhere.
Think About This: What is your capacity to expect the expected and the unexpected? How realistic are your expectations about hardship? What do you think will happen to you if you are not able to adjust your expectations?
Prepare Yourself: What are some practical things you can do to adjust expectations for the future and be prepared when trouble comes your way?
3: Be Responsible AND Trust God
What then shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? - Romans 8:31
Read and reflect on the beautiful words of Romans 8:31-39. This is the strong theology and deep spirituality you need to get through times of trouble.
Now you must remember everything from the first message in this series. You must take full responsibility for how you respond to times of trouble. You simply MUST! Do it quickly, and keep doing it, being fully responsible.
Don’t withdraw. Don’t complain. Don’t avoid reality. That just is not a workable strategy. While you can avoid reality for a short time, you cannot avoid the inevitable consequences of avoiding reality, especially when the reality is the reality of tough times. The absolutely worse thing you can do when you suffer is to be irresponsible in your next steps.
Pray the Serenity Prayer every day. Pray this prayer whenever trouble comes your way. This is the prayer of responsibility and trust. The rest of the prayer says this:
Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen. (Reinhold Niebuhr)
The strong truth of Romans 8:31-39 is the reason you can pray the Serenity Prayer. Look at those verses one more time.
Buy a nice print of this prayer and hang it in a place where you will see it often. Pray it until it becomes a way of life for you.
4: Confront the Brutal Facts AND Do Not Lose Hope!
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. - Romans 8:28
Read 2 Corinthians 4:7-9; 16-18. In this passage, Paul gives us some clear thinking about the reality of suffering, and yet his vital optimism/hope about what God is doing in these hard times.
Jim Collins was the leadership author who taught me to confront the brutal facts, and yet do not lose hope.
It does no good to ignore what is real. Nor does it do you any good to give up when life is hard.
Living Word has three statements that merge together to form our essential vision of life at Living Word. We talk about the messiness of life, the message of hope, and the beauty of Jesus. In other words, we confront and clearly state things as they are. And we dream, pray, and work for how things could be.
Study the two passages for today. Make a list of the three or four best insights you find that can sustain hope when things are hard.
Discern: What is some of the messiness of life you see around you? What can you do about that mess? What mission is God inviting you to join, to bring a message of hope where life is very messy for someone else?
5: Wounded Healers – That is What We Are!
For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have... Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me - put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. - Philippians 1:29-30; 4:9
Read 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 to discover how Paul viewed his own suffering for the sake of others.
We talk quite a bit about the flourishing of the world at Living Word. We are here to fulfill God’s purposes of Tikkun Olam - to repair the world, renew what is broken, and reverse the fall. But let’s be clear. We do none of that as people who are perfect and whole. Instead, we do all of it as people who are still being repaired, who still hurt, and therefore, who have great empathy and wisdom to help others. (Read this paragraph again.)
In the words of author Henri Nouwen, we are Wounded Healers. Rick Warren describes how others find healing, and even hope, in your hurts.
Your most effective ministry comes out of the lessons you learn, the grace you receive, and the love you gain through times of suffering.
Read the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12. Five of the eight statements indicate some kind of difficulty, but each difficulty begins with the word blessed. The Beatitudes describe what Wounded Healers are like. They are full of God’s presence, and therefore, they become God’s people living out God’s purposes in the world.
What shall I do when life is difficult? Embrace the call of God. Say yes to the way of a Wounded Healer. It is the way of Tikkun Olam. Keep your eyes open. You will have the opportunity to be a Wounded Healer every day of your life.
- Songs We Sing
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