If you’re reading this, you’ve probably experienced some form of hardship. Actually, I’ll take it a step further. If you are a human being, then I know you have or are currently experiencing hardship. It may not be as dramatic as somebody else’s hardship, but it is hardship nonetheless. Hardship comes in many forms. For some, it could be finances. Perhaps you’re working hard to provide for your family and pay the bills, but they just won’t stop coming. Maybe your hardship is medical. You’re going through all the treatments, taking all the medications, and praying all the prayers but the relief just isn’t coming. It could be that your struggle is familial. There may be prevalent strife among you and your family members. You may be ready to reconcile but words were said, and feelings were hurt, and the other party just isn’t ready to let go of that. Maybe your problem is the lack of family. Maybe you’ve been praying for the blessing of a child. Maybe you and your significant other are doing all of the doctor recommended solutions, but you still lack that little addition to the family. Whatever your hardships may be, know this: they’re real. I know they’re real. More importantly, God knows that they are real. Don’t let anybody tell you any different. And while I would love to tackle everybody’s individual issues, that is beyond the scope of this blog entry. So, what I would love to do is to tackle the idea of hardships in a broad and applicable sense. I want us to observe 2 things that we must do in times of hardship.
1.) We must turn to the Lord in times of hardship.
I have a friend who LOVES the account of King Hezekiah in the book of Isaiah. In fact, his favorite book of the bible is Isaiah. Hezekiah was the king of the southern kingdom of Israel, Judah. And while he did indeed have his issues, his life also demonstrates to us what we should do in times of struggle and hardship. In Isaiah 37, Hezekiah received word that their foreign enemy, Assyria, had sent ambassadors to instill fear and doubt into the Israelites. They spoke words against Hezekiah, saying he couldn’t rescue them. They pushed for them to surrender and make peace with them. Later, Hezekiah received a letter from the Assyrian king, boasting of his exploits and belittling Hezekiah’s God. Now, if I was Hezekiah, I know how I would be feeling through all of this. I would be scared, trembling, doubtful, uncertain, and broken. Hezekiah not only worried for himself, but for his people. He was a king after all. But when we read Isaiah 37:14-20, we see Hezekiah’s initial reaction: he went to God with his hardship.
“14 Hezekiah took the letter from the messengers’ hands, read it, then went up to the Lord’s temple and spread it out before the Lord. 15 Then Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: 16 Lord of Armies, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you are God—you alone—of all the kingdoms of the earth. You made the heavens and the earth. 17 Listen closely, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see. Hear all the words that Sennacherib has sent to mock the living God. 18 Lord, it is true that the kings of Assyria have devastated all these countries and their lands. 19 They have thrown their gods into the fire, for they were not gods but made from wood and stone by human hands. So they have destroyed them. 20 Now, Lord our God, save us from his power so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are God—you alone.”
What do we get from this account? First off, we see that Hezekiah didn’t seek counsel from within himself. He didn’t go to see who else could get them out of their predicament. There was only one who could save them: “Lord our God…you alone.” (v. 20) Hezekiah went to the Only one who had the power to save. Then we see that he prayed to God. He ascribed honor and glory to Him first, recognizing that He was the one true God. Then he went to Him with his petitions. And we see that he didn’t just ask for the sake of himself and his people. He also hoped that God Himself would be glorified in His work, “…save us from his power so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are God – you alone.” (v. 20) So, what does this mean for us? The same as it did for Hezekiah – we turn to the Lord! How do we do this? First and foremost, we spend time in His Word. The Bible is our Word from God. Within its inspired, infallible, and inerrant pages we find the truth of an almighty God that created and sustains the universe. Now, friends, if He’s able to sustain everything that He has created…don’t you think that He’s got you too? I know it may not seem like it. I know that it may seem like God is far away. I know deliverance from your struggles can seem like a far-fetched idea. But He’s with you. He’ll always be with you. He told us He would be in Matthew 28:20, “…And remember, I am with you always, to end of the age.” Also, we pray. Prayer is a way for us to communicate with God. Through prayer, we’re able to ascribe honor and reverence to our Lord. Paul writes about the effectiveness of prayer in Philippians 4:4-7:
“6 Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
That’s amazing to me. We have a God that wants to hear our prayers. We have a God who is accessible to us. He has made a way for us to worship Him through prayer. We get to go to Him with thanksgiving. What an honor and a privilege! We get to take our requests to Him and receive the peace of God! The peace that surpasses all understanding! We are able to take our struggles, our questions, our doubts, our insecurities, and lay them down before Him. Spurgeon said it well, “Oh, that God might teach us how to avoid the evil that is here forbidden, and to live with that holy carelessness which is the very beauty of the Christian life – when all our care is cast on God, and we can enjoy and rejoice in his providential care of us.”
2. We must work for the Lord in times of hardship.
I want to turn our attention to the New Testament. The apostle Paul was no stranger to hardship. If you read 2 Corinthians 11:24-28, you’ll find out about some of the stuff that he went through.
“24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”
Dude had it rough. He was also imprisoned for his faith and witness. And church history tells us that ultimately Paul was martyred for the faith, beheaded in Rome. During his imprisonments, he wrote a few letters to the churches that he had planted or had come into contact with. One of these letters was what we know as Philippians. Philippians is one of my most favorite books of the Bible. It’s a fantastic letter on the Christian’s true source of joy – Christ. Many of us would probably not be able to write like Paul did. This was a man who was sold out for the cause of Christ. He gave everything he had to do so. He saw countless lives come to Christ. And then he was imprisoned. Many would probably deem him as a failure. Many would’ve have quit. Many would have rebuked God Himself for allowing that to even happen. But not Paul. Paul continued preaching.
“12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.”
Paul could have just thrown in the towel. He could have just given up, recanted, and went back home. It would have been easier. It would’ve been safer. But that wasn’t Paul’s outlook. Paul instead decided to work for God in the meantime. He continued to witness to those around him. And look what happened! The whole palace guard knew that his chains were for the cause of Christ. In 4:22 we also see that Caesar’s household even greeted the Philippians saints. What an impact Paul had on these people! And through Paul’s faithful witness, brothers and sisters in Christ gained confidence from his imprisonment. They dared to proclaim the gospel without fear! For me, that implies that there’s a sense of danger when it comes to their evangelistic efforts. They were so emboldened by what Christ was doing in Paul that they were preaching the gospel no matter what the cost may have been. But I believe a key point in this passage is found in verse 16. Paul said that those people know that he was “…appointed for the defense of the gospel.” (v. 16). The Greek word used there for appointed is keimai. It means to be sovereignly and authoritatively placed. This means that Paul was not imprisoned where he was by accident. It wasn’t as if God didn’t see this coming. No, God sovereignly placed Paul in this particular hardship. Why? To advance the gospel! God was able to use Paul through his hardships.
So, what does that mean for us? The same thing it meant for Paul. I know that it sounds crazy, but what if we started looking at our times of struggle in a different way? What if instead of asking “God, why are you doing this to me?” we started asking “God, what do you want me to do with this for you?” I think sometimes we’re so busy trying to figure out what’s wrong with our situation and playing the blame game that we so often forget that we’re called to preach the gospel at all times. I know it’s true for me. My wife and I are currently experiencing some hardship right now. There are things that we’re praying for and working through that we just don’t simply understand. I mean, we just don’t get it. And often times I dwell on that for too long and too much. Our situation will take precedent over what we’ve been called to do. And it’s just so easy to do that. It is so easy to sit back and allow the misery and despair to pile down upon us until we’re so bogged down that the idea of getting up to do any kind of ministry sounds like too much work. But friends, we can’t afford to have that mentality. The gospel is at stake.
Time and time again, when people to do their most for God in the midst of the hard times, stuff happens. Can you imagine the impact of a witness that has been through the mud but still has the praise of God flowing from their lips? Can you imagine the magnitude of a witness that just hasn’t had a break in years, but still speaks of the hope that he has in Christ Jesus? Now, I’ll be the first to tell you that it isn’t easy. Ain’t none of this easy. But man is it worth it. I’m praying for you. Always feel free to send your prayer requests to The Bearded Christian. We’re here for you. I’ll leave you with this,
“When the sea billows of misery roll, I will cling to the only majesty I know. King Jesus, the One who paid my deed and set me free indeed.”