One of the greatest challenges we have is trying to understand why there is pain and suffering in our life. I have a family member who claims they don’t believe in God. As I was talking with them, they shared with me that in high school, one of their best friends was killed in an accident. It’s hard for them to understand how God could be all powerful and loving and allow pain and struggle.
Just recently in the Warwick School District, in Lancaster, two kids were hit by a motorist. Jack and Meghan lost their lives. How does that even begin to make sense in this world? It leaves us with huge life questions. If God is so powerful, then why doesn’t God heal me, protect me, rescue me, do something? If God is so loving, then why doesn’t God heal me, protect me, rescue me, do something?
Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples told us,
Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. NIV 1 Peter 4:12-13
If Peter was with us today, it sounds like he would be surprised that we even wrestle with this question. For Peter, he basically said, it’s normal, don’t act surprised that you live with pain and struggle. But we do. It’s hard. It doesn’t make sense. And worst of all, it reminds us we are not in control of our lives.
What is even more remarkable to us is when we see Bethany share her testimony. She is so happy. She glows with joy. A shark took her arm and she is glad that God could use that to impact others. Who lives like that? Here is her quote.
“From what seems like such a horrible thing, God has just brought glory to Himself through me. I have been able to be light to people and share his love.” – Bethany Hamilton
That’s remarkable. How does Bethany take what was devastating and flip it into joy? That’s what I want to talk about today. How can we take our limits, our pain and flip it into joy? Now, we need to be upfront about this. What we are going to talk about is a big picture idea. A big picture, spiritual principle. It may not be your day-to-day emotional reality. What I say today may not help you immediately when you get bad news.
The best example I could give you is a sports analogy. In our school district, they say, “Be loud. Be proud. Be positive.” That’s the big picture principle. That doesn’t mean at every game, during every play, you will feel proud, loud and positive. That means, in general, as a group of parents throughout the season, be known for being good. And yes, there are moments when a girl smacks our girls and we scream to the ref. Do you connect with what I am saying?
Think about Bethany’s story. We see her interviewed after she has years to wrestle with what happened to her. She was not interviewed the next day in the hospital.
So later, when I read from scripture and it says …rejoice when you run into problems and trials… it is a big picture, spiritual principle. That doesn’t mean, when you get awful news, you have to be really, really happy about it. Many Christians believe that. They think when they are devastated, they need to be super happy and show everyone that they are victorious because Jesus is in their life. As they are acting super happy, at the same time they are torn up inside. They are fake. And, often times, they feel guilty because they somehow failed Jesus. Why? Paul said be happy and inside they aren’t truly happy.
Listen to how David prayed to God.
The wicked get by with everything; they have it made, piling up riches I’ve been stupid to play by the rules; what has it gotten me? A long run of bad luck, that’s what – a slap in the face every time I walk out the door. MSG Psalms 73:12-14
It doesn’t sound like David experienced problems and trials and was immediately happy. However, in general, David loved God and looks back on his life and rejoices that God protected him and loved him. Does that make sense?
This is a big picture, spiritual principle. Paul writes,
1 So now, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith in his promises, we can have real peace with him because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. 2 For because of our faith, he has brought us into this place of highest privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to actually becoming all that God has had in mind for us to be. TLB Roman 5:1-5
Paul is telling us, when you believe in God, you can have peace because there is nothing between you and God. You can live guilt free and shame free everyday. You can walk into the day with courage and confidence and know that God loves you to your core.
Before we move on from this thought, let’s talk about it a little longer. Imagine knowing that when God thinks of you, you bring him joy. He’s not disappointed in you at all, in fact, he loves you. When you slow down to pray, he is thrilled to hear from you. It’s like a loving father of a five-year-old. The five year comes running into her dad’s arms, jumps on his lap to tell him about her day. The father is just frozen with a smile on his face because he is so happy to hear from her. That’s how God views you. Imagine walking through your day knowing that. Is that your reality? Because if it’s not, you don’t fully understand God.
Paul is saying, when you believe in God, you can finally be at peace. You can enter your day at peace. Then he continues.
3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, TLB Roman 5:1-5
This is interesting. Paul didn’t say, if you are a good person and do good things, God will give you the American dream of success, health and comfort. Paul didn’t say, when you believe in God, everything will work out just the way you want. One of my favorite Sam’s sayings is, ‘When we are on the Jesus team, that doesn’t mean everything goes our way.’ Paul said, problems are coming. So many people have a wrong view or wrong understanding of God.
Sin has been released in this world. That means we live in a fallen world where bad things happen. When we put our trust in Jesus, that doesn’t mean Jesus removes our problems, that means we have someone to walk with us through our problems.
Paul said, rejoice when you run into problems. Now remember, that is a big picture, spiritual principle, that may not be how you feel emotionally day-to-day when you get bad news. Why does Paul say rejoice? Because there is nothing between you and God. You have a loving father who is on your side. You have someone to walk with you through the problem.
Let’s keep reading.
3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us-they help us learn to be patient. 4 And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady. 5 Then, when that happens, we are able to hold our heads high no matter what happens and know that all is well, for we know how dearly God loves us, and we feel this warm love everywhere within us because God has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. TLB Roman 5:1-5
Why view our problems and trials with joy? Because something bigger is going on. God is allowing us to walk through hard times to learn how to trust him. In the process of trusting God, that is how we grow up spiritually. That is how we develop our character. That’s how we move from being spiritual infants to spiritual adults. Spiritual maturity isn’t based on how much information you have in your head. It’s based on how much you trust and love God.
What does someone do if they don’t have God? Or, what does someone who grew up in religion do if they don’t believe that God is a good God? If I don’t believe in God, I am not at peace with God. I walk through life with sin and I don’t know what to do with it. I have feelings of guilt or shame and fear.
If I grew up in religion, I might have learned that God is someone to be afraid of. I view God like an angry father who is always disappointed with me. I live on eggshells waiting for him to smack me on the head with a newspaper. No matter what do, I believe that I am a disappointment to God. I work hard at doing good religious things in hopes that God will like me. I live in fear of God.
Think about this. If I don’t have God or if I grew up in religion, when problems and trials come, I can turn inward. I might feel like a victim and become very negative. I might believe God is against me. I might believe He is punishing me. I might believe He is angry with me. I might even resent God for what He allowed in my life.
Paul said, rejoice. Again, that is a big picture, spiritual principle. It may not be a day-to-day reality in your emotions.
Rejoice because God is on your side. As you trust God, in that process, God will shape and mold your heart. On the other side of your pain, God will be in more control of your heart. There will be less pride. There will be more love. There will be less of you and more of God. It’s called spiritual transformation.
This is what David wrote about walking through pain.
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. NIV Psalms 23
I know what I am telling you is hard. I know it almost seems impossible. But hear me, when you face pain, lean in on God, don’t run from him. Why? He loves you and wants to walk with you. When you do, it changes everything.
I have three daughters. I tell them all, I am the number one person who will love you for life. And I am the number one person who will protect you. Take a picture of me and show the boys who is coming if something goes wrong. When they go through hard times, I want them to run to me. If they need to talk a lot, maybe their mom – lol. They can do nothing to stop me from loving them. It would hurt me to know they walked through a hard time and they didn’t come to me.
I leave you with a couple of things. First, when hard times hit, and they will, that’s when you know how you really view God. Do you believe scripture that you can be a peace in your heart while you walk through problems and trials? When problems and trials hit, do you stay away from God, do you run to God, what do you do?
Think about the Bethany Hamilton story. Have you flipped devastation into joy? Have you experienced devastation and stayed there? What is holding you back?
Please hear me, God is with you. That doesn’t mean He removes the struggle, that means God wants to walk with you through the struggle. If you are being crushed by life now, I’m sorry. Let us pray for you and invite God’s presence into your situation.