New Year and Change

With 2018 behind us, we know the year ahead will be full of life’s typical highs and lows but always hoping and praying life’s troubles will somehow skip over us and pass us by!  That’s because most of us lack a Biblical perspective of trials, troubles and suffering. We complain when the church building is too cold in the winter or too hot in the summer. We moan when our cars break down. We feel ripped off when we find ourselves pinching pennies. We feel abandoned when we face sickness, and punished when bad things roll our way.   If one would take a moment on the internet and discover the intense suffering and persecution that many Christians face daily around the world, we’d be more thankful and tolerant of life’s disruptions. Jesus told us that we would face trials, troubles, persecution and even suffering in this world.  He told His followers, “A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you.”  (John 15:20 NLT) Moments later He said, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.” (John 16:33 NLT). God makes it pretty clear that we all go through seasons and circumstances of pain. Some more than others. Since our faith in Jesus doesn’t insulate us from trials and troubles, how should we respond to those hard times we all face living on this planet? First, we should find comfort, encouragement and strength in knowing that in the midst of our troubles and trials, we are never alone. The full verse of John 16:33 reads, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But be of good cheer for I have overcome the world!” Though we often have no explanation for the troubles and trials that come our way, Jesus – the victor and conqueror over sin and death – is right here with us each step of the way! That means we can lean into Him and depend on Him when life gets brutally hard knowing that when we’re too weak to keep putting one foot in front of the other – He will gently lift and carry us all the way through! Jesus promised “I am with you always!” And He said, “I will never leave you or forsake you!” Second, though God is never the source of our suffering, He promises to use it for His glory and for our benefit in making us more like Jesus. The Apostle Paul wrote, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28 NLT) God can take everything life (and the devil) can throw at us, and turn it around for good!  James echoes the same truth and teaches us that in such hard times our faith, character and endurance grows stronger. “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So, let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. (James 1:2-4 NLT) Finally, realize that God never wastes our pain. He comforts us and brings us through it all so that in time, we can comfort others with the same comfort He gave us. “God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NLT) Those gut wrenching trials, troubles and suffering we experience, are often God’s springboards launching us into ministry to others. Have you, with the awesome grace and comfort of God endured the heartache of addiction? A painful divorce? Chronic illness? Loss of a child or loved one? Lose your career and job? Faced bankruptcy? Homelessness? Incarceration? Then you are equipped to share the same comfort and grace with others in the midst of their storms! You can confidently and truthfully say what most other can’t, “I know how you feel!” Why? You’ve been there! And then comes the opportunity to ministry: “Let me walk with you in this season of pain and share with you how God comforted and sustained me and got me through to the other side!”