Adversity—Burden or Bridge?
By Dr. Charles Stanley
Memory Verse: 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
I. Introduction: Adversity touches everyone sooner or later. Some believers crumble under the pressure of difficult times. They become so bitter and resentful towards God that they walk away from His calling on their lives. They might even resort to addictive behaviors in an attempt to escape pain. Others face similar challenges but have a totally different reaction. Instead of weakening them, trials make them stronger because they learn to depend more fully on the power of the Holy Spirit. Adversity can be either an overwhelming burden or a bridge to deeper relationship with God.
II. A Burden or a Bridge?
A. We can see tough times as a burden or a bridge.
1. A burden, spiritually speaking, is a heaviness that weighs us. We may feel weary or discouraged, without joy and peace.
2. A bridge, in contrast, is a way to rise above the difficulty and develop a deeper, more intimate relationship with God.
B. Two verses are the foundation of this bridge to greater intimacy with the Lord.
1. Psalm 103:19: “The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all.”
2. Romans 8:28: “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
III. Adversity as a Bridge in the Life of Paul
The life of Paul is one of the best examples of how adversity can act as a bridge to a closer relationship with God. Without the supernatural revelations the Lord gave him, we would have far less insight into living the day-to-day Christian life. But his closeness to the Father came only as the result of severe personal loss and hardship (Phil. 3:8,10). Through difficulty, he learned:
A. Contentment is possible in the midst of adversity. The apostle explained: “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am” (Phil. 4:11).
B. God provides supernatural strength in our weakness. Paul’s limitations allowed the Holy Spirit’s power to work through his life (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
C. The Lord is the source for all our needs. When we fully rely on the Father, we can count on His provision (Phil. 4:19).
D. We can trust in the Lord’s faithfulness. Paul had learned to depend on the Lord to carry him through any trial (1 Cor. 10:13).
E. The Father values service more than our desires. Instead of satisfying Paul’s natural inclination toward comfort and ease, God sent adversity to prepare him for greater service (2 Cor. 12:7). The Lord prioritizes character development over comfort.
F. In difficult times, God will give us strength to proclaim the truth. Because Paul was imprisoned, the entire Praetorian guard heard the gospel (Phil. 1:13-15). The more adversity we face, the more effective our message will be to others.
G. We can treat everything as if it comes from God. The Lord uses all we experience, even the wrongs of others, for His purposes in our lives. If we can embrace the circumstances that come our way as an opportunity to grow, it prevents our trials from making us resentful.
H. We learn more about the Lord through trials. Suffering often is the stimulus to greater closeness with God.
I. Adversity prepares us to comfort others more effectively. From God‘s viewpoint, suffering prepares us to minister to others (2 Cor. 1:3-8).
J. God has a specific purpose for allowing adversity. Paul’s thorn was designed to keep him humble and dependent on God, despite the astounding spiritual revelations he had been given (2 Cor. 12:7).
K. We are to know joy in the midst of adversity. In Philippians 4:4, the apostle wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!”
Most likely, you are experiencing some degree of adversity today. You can try to handle it using your own resources, or you can choose to see it as a path to deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. If you are a believer, the awesome power of the Holy Spirit is available to equip, transform, and carry you through any suffering. The bridge of adversity can take you to a place of indescribable closeness with the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
ADDITIONAL SPIRITUAL HELP FROM DR. STANLEY:
God’s Purpose for Adversity
By Dr. Charles Stanley
Have you ever wondered why the Lord allows tragedy, sickness, and other suffering in our lives? Part of the answer lies in the fact that we inhabit a fallen world; the sin of Adam and Eve altered God’s original creation. However, the good news is that God uses adversity to show us our profound need for Him.
The Old Testament saint Jacob experienced something that forever changed how he related to God. The Lord weakened him physically to strengthen him spiritually. In a similar way, God wants to use adversity in our lives to draw us into a closer relationship with Him.
Read Genesis 32:1-32.
- As Jacob traveled to the land of his parents, what troublesome news came to him (Gen 32:6-8)?
- Why would Jacob expect the worst from his brother? (See Genesis 27:30-42 if necessary.)
- On a practical level, how did Jacob prepare to meet his brother (Gen. 32:4-8, Gen. 32:13-20)?
- Jacob also turned to the Lord in prayer. Summarize each section of his petition (vv. 9-12).
Example: v. 9—Jacob reminded God of His promise to prosper him.
- From Jacob’s prayer, what can you learn about how to approach God regarding your own problems?
After Jacob sent his family away (v. 23), he wrestled with a mysterious man. At first, he may have thought he was fighting one of Esau’s men, but later, he says he saw God (v. 30). In a similar way, we sometimes have a hard time recognizing how the Lord is at work in adversity. That can happen when we are busy blaming other people, ourselves, or the Devil.
- What difficulty are you facing right now?
- Who or what do you have a tendency to blame for your problems?
- What purpose might God have for your hardship?
As the fight continued, the man touched Jacob’s hip and dislocated it. This may have alerted Jacob to the fact that he was wrestling with a supernatural being. He determined to hold on until he received a blessing (v. 26).
When we are facing adversity, we may need to wrestle with God—that is, stay at the throne of grace and mercy until we have what we need from Him (Heb. 4:14-16).
- In your time alone with God, do you tend to wait until you hear from Him or sense His comforting presence? Why or why not?
Many scholars believe the man Jacob wrestled was the pre-incarnate Christ (Jesus before He was born as a baby). Others think Jacob fought an angel. Either way, this supernatural being changed the patriarch’s name. Jacob literally means “heel catcher,” an idiomatic expression that meant “trickster” or “supplanter.” Israel means “he struggles with God” or perhaps “a prince with God.”
- Jacob became the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. Why do you think it was important for him to have a new name?
After this incident, Jacob walked with a limp (Gen. 32:31). With a dislocated hip, he would have found it almost impossible to defend himself against Esau. Jacob was forced to depend completely on God’s ability to protect him.
- What does Esau’s greeting show about his feelings toward Jacob (Gen. 33:4)?
Jacob learned that he could rely on God more completely when he was weak. This is the same lesson Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” taught him (2 Cor. 12:7-10). The apostle wrote, “I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (v. 10).
- Give an example of a time when your weakness provided an opportunity to rely successfully on The Lord’s power.
- How could your present adversity help you lean more fully on God?
As we depend on the Lord, we learn more about who He is. After God spoke to Job, revealing His character and incredible power, Job said, “I have heard of You . . . but now my eye sees You” (Job 42:5).
- What new insight has hardship given to you about God or the Christian life?
- Adversity shows us how much we lack spiritually. Give an example of a time when difficulty revealed your weaknesses and need for God.
Apart from the Father’s help, we can never handle all our problems, consistently resist temptation, or avoid bitterness. In fact, when we attempt to wage spiritual battles on our own, not only do we wander away from God, but we ultimately fail.
- Jude 1:24 says that God “is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy.” According to this study, what is a believer’s role in handling problems, temptations, and suffering?
Prayer: Father, thank You for being willing to carry me through the challenges of life. Teach me to rely more on Your power rather than on my own strategies and coping abilities. Show me how You want to use the difficulties I face to draw me into a more intimate relationship with You. Amen.
- How can I face the trials in my life with courage?
- Why does God allow times of difficulty and darkness?
- How can I be sure to succeed in the battles I fight?
- How should I respond to disappointments?
- How does God work through the valley experiences in our lives?
- How can I turn my crisis into an opportunity?