Tough Times: Finding Perspective in the Face of Suffering ~ message 3

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Tough Times, Part 3

Finding Perspective in the Face of Suffering

Pastor Bruce A. Hess

I would like to invite you now to take out your Bibles and turn in them, in the New Testament, to the book of James, and chapter number 1. We are continuing our series that we have entitled, Tough Times, Finding Perspective in the Face of Suffering. Today is actually part number three of that series, then we will be concluding it with part number four, Lord willing, next week.

Now, many American novels open with a classic, stereotypical first line and that first line is this, “It was a dark and stormy night.” But isn’t that just what it feels like when a tough time comes into our life? It feels very dark and it feels very stormy. When those times come in our life, I think our first response is: “Why, God? Why do you have me in this novel? This isn’t the way I wanted the novel to run. What do the next chapters hold for me, God?” Those are natural questions that we would have.

When we are talking about Tough Times, remember tough times are called tough times because they are…well, tough, right? Tough Times will affect our heart, they will touch our soul, they will penetrate into us deeply. As we have seen in this little study, there are way more than 31 flavors of Tough Times. Maybe the tough time that God brings in our life is a mysterious, devastating disease. Maybe it is having mom or dad set you down, as a young person, and say, we are getting a divorce. Maybe it is a tough time that is a life-changing, severe injury that comes into our life. Maybe it is getting news from the doctor that you are never going to be able to have children. Maybe the tough time is care-giving, where we have aging parents that we give care to, or a spouse that we give care to, or a special needs child that we give care to. There can be myriads and myriads and myriads of other kinds of Tough Times.

This morning I was up very early and I was in the “meditation room”, the small room in the house [hint, hint] and suddenly the power went out in our whole neighborhood division. I’m in this little room, in the pitch black. What is the first thing you need when you find yourself in the pitch black? You want to find a flashlight to help illumine the situation. You know, to give you some orientation, give you some direction so that you can function. I certainly wanted to finish my business in the little room. I had my phone, thank You, Lord. I couldn’t see anything. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. When the phone came on, I got some orientation to things and I got some direction.

That is what Scripture is to us in a tough time. It will help illumine the situation; it will give us some orientation. It gives us some direction so that we can function. One of the things that I love about the word of God is it is very real. It is very, very real. For example, you have the book of Psalms—do you know that there are 67 of the psalms that are what they call lament psalms. That is where the author is frequently asking the question, ‘Why, God?’ Or, ‘Where are You, God?’ That is 45% of the Psalms. The word of God is very, very real. The word of God will help to illumine our situation. It will give us some orientation. It will give us some direction so that we can function.

Now, when Tough Times come in our life, I think there are four common reactions to tough times that people tend to have:

1) Some would say, well, you just Grin and Bear it. A tough time comes, you knuckle down [idiom for applying oneself seriously], you grunt, you slog, you plod through it in your own power.

2) Another common reaction is to Get Mad. Maybe we get mad at God or we get mad at other people.

3) The third common reaction, when Tough Times come, is to Withdraw. Maybe to isolate from God or isolate from others…to become deeply self-focused. We start holding a “pity party” [idiom for feeling sorry for yourself].

4) Then, another common reaction to Tough Times is to, once the tough time is gone, we Spend the Rest of our Life in (what I call) the ‘Why Zone,’ where we really demand answers from God. I mean, come on, God!

All of us have been through Tough Times and all of us, if we had the opportunity, would want to make a personal appointment to sit down in God’s celestial office and request some answers to the why? question. We would all like to be able to do that. But here’s the thing about these four common reactions: they are all spiritually counterproductive. Ultimately, they are all unsatisfying and all of them are detrimental to our spiritual life.

But Scripture does shed some light on the why question. If you’ve been with us in our study, we’ve been looking at seven pivotal points of perspective that we need to have as we face tough times. We’ve already looked at several of them.

*First of all, we saw that we must Always remember that we live in a broken world. This is a broken world; this is not the way God designed it to be.

*Secondly, we must Expectantly look ahead to God’s promise of full deliverance. This life is not the end. Most of our existence is going to be in eternity.

*Then, thirdly, we have looked at the fact that we must Constantly rest in God’s sovereignty. We get a sense of security by doing that.

*Then, fourthly, we must Regularly revel in His consistent character and His great love. Remember Isaiah 43:1, “Do not fear, you are Mine!”

Now, this morning we are going to look at number five and this is a key perspective as we face Tough Times, we should Reflectively review His revealed answers to why. Isn’t that an interesting word, the word ‘why?’ It’s such a little word, three letters in English, but it is such a big question.

It is encouraging to know that God knows we are not robots. God knows that we have questions that reverberate in our mind. You know, if trouble occurs a machine does not panic. If trouble occurs a machine does not struggle with anxiety. A machine does not question some grand providential plan. A machine, when there is trouble, doesn’t start to have concerns about tomorrow. But God knows we’re not machines. He designed us to be sensitive, to be thinking, to be feeling and perceiving beings.

As we look at this, “reflectively reviewing His revealed answers to why,” I want to make one thing very clear up front. I do not even pretend to know what God is doing in your life. That is just something that is between you and God.

But we do want to look at five answers to the ‘why’ question that we find in the New Testament. Alright? So, let’s do that. Here is the first answer, revealed answer, to why God would bring Tough Times and that is: To deepen our spiritual character. This is the most frequently sited reason in the New Testament. The largest number of verses that address Tough Times and answer the question, ‘why?,’ are built around this one: To deepen our spiritual character.

I would like to read from James, chapter 1, verses 2-4. I am going to be reading from the NIV because I think it smooths a few things out. Here is what James writes, he says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds (and they come in many different flavors, don’t they?) because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” Then, he goes on to say, “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Do you see here what it is saying? That Tough Times have a goal:  not to ruin us, but to refine us. Not to discourage or destroy our life, but to develop us. You see, God’s plan for you and God’s plan for me goes beyond the idea that we would be adopted into God’s family—which is a wonderful thing. It goes beyond the idea that we would inherit salvation—which is an incredible thing. His plan for you and me goes beyond that:  because He wants you and me to be conformed to the image of Jesus.

God’s aim, as it says in Romans 8:29, is that we would be “conformed to the image of His Son.” When I look at that, the last time I checked with myself, I have a long way to go to be conformed to the image of Christ. But that is His aim for us. As His beloved, adopted child, He wants us to be conformed to the image of Christ. Therefore, He carefully crafts spiritual development for each one of His children. This is part of why He brings Tough Times in our life.

Let’s go back to James 1. James says there, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” Now, that little phrase, “Consider it” is actually an accounting term. We could translate it, ‘count it’ pure joy, or ‘put it in the column of’ joy. The moment we see that this is an accounting term, that tells us we need to ‘count it this way’ or ‘put it in a certain column’. We know that he is telling us that we must make a volitional decision. It is not an emotional thing. He is not wanting us to have an emotional response. He is not saying, ‘Conjure up an emotional feeling of joy when the tough time comes in your life.’ That is not what he is saying at all.

Picture in your mind, especially if you’re an accountant you can do this, you have a ledger before you. Maybe it is on your computer now, it used to be in a book, right? A ledger book. Here is what he is saying:  I want you to count it pure joy. I want you to put it in a particular column when it comes in your life. Don’t put it—the tough time—in a “self-pity” column. Don’t say, Why ,God, is it always me?

It’s me again!?! Man, I had a tough time three or four or five months ago…a year ago. Don’t put it in the “self-pity” column. Don’t say, Well You’ve probably forgotten me…that’s why I’m in the middle of this. He says, no, no, no, no, don’t count it there, don’t put it in that column!

 Don’t put it in the “complaint” column. Don’t say, God, this is random, this is haphazard, there is no design in this, this is unfair!! I don’t think You care. It doesn’t feel like You are even there! He says, don’t put it in the “complaint” column, don’t put it in the self-pity column.

What he is saying is: put it in the “spiritual development” column when a tough time comes. Because part of the reason for it is that I might become more like Christ. There is joy in that. To become more like the Savior.

I want you to notice he goes on to say, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that”—many translations say, “knowing that.” In other words, look at the outcome, focus on the outcome. He goes on to say, “Knowing that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” If you’ve been around Wildwood, we’ve talked about this word before that is translated ‘perseverance’ here. It is the word, in the original, ‘hupomone’ (h-u-p-o-m-o-n-e). Hupomone refers to the ability to hold up spiritually under pressure. The testing of your faith gives you the ability to hold up spiritually under pressure. Part of what he is arguing is this: the ability to hold up spiritually under pressure—anyone want that in their life? I do—it is developed by episodes of holding up under pressure.

Many years ago, many years ago now, I decided to run in the Brookhaven Run [a local race]. I was going to run the 4K, which is roughly 2 ½ miles. How do you get ready to run in a race like that, or any race? Well, you have to begin to train and you run a certain amount of distance and then, maybe you walk a little bit. Then you run a little bit more. Progressively, you want to run a longer distance then a longer distance, then a longer distance, then maybe a little faster in the longer distance. Then, eventually you are prepared to really run the race. That is the picture here: that the testing of your faith produces perseverance, the ability to hold up spiritually under pressure. We develop that more, the more that we do that, the more we face tough times.

I want you to look at a parallel passage from Romans, chapter 5, verses 3 and 4. He says there, “We exalt in our tribulations. “ The word ‘exalt’ really means “to take appropriate pride” in our tribulations. The word tribulation is another word we’ve seen before: the word ‘thlipsis’ (t-h-l-i-p-s-i-s). It refers to everything in difficulty just sort of crushing in, crashing in on you. He says, we exalt in all these things happening to us—here we go again—”knowing that tribulation brings about (hupomone) perseverance; and perseverance (what’s next??) brings about proven character.” Knowing that it brings these things, what is the point? It is saying that God uses tough times, at times, to deepen our spiritual character and to develop Christ-likeness in our life.

I want to go back to James 1, a very interesting statement. He says, “Let perseverance finish its work.” I think the ESV says, “Let it have its full effect.” “So that–what is the effect that we need to allow to finish?—that we may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” See how these phrases are so important? They are pointers. The idea here is some yielding that we have to do, some leaning into the process that we have to do.

How many people here have ever had surgery? Let me see your hands. We have less a percentage of people in here than we did in the first service. Man, everybody had had surgery in the first service. But many of us have. What is surgery really all about? There is pain involved, right? But what do we do in surgery? We yield to the pain to focus on the outcome. You know, I’ve been through major surgery numbers of times. You know, they prep you up and they put you on a cart, then they cart you into the operating room. Then, they want to transfer you to the operating table. I’ve noticed several times when I’ve gone in there and they’ve been transferring me—I’ve done it enough I start looking around—and I’ve noticed there are a lot of sharp surgical instruments in there. Can you imagine me saying at that point, ‘Oh my, my, I see a bunch of sharp tools in here. I’m out of here.’ Then I get up…and boom…and I run right out of the room. I don’t do that. I see the sharp tools there, but what I decide is: I want to yield to the ultimate, positive effect that is going to come due to my surgery. For us in the tough times realm, that means the positive, ultimate effect is that we would be more mature and we would be more spiritually complete, we would be more like Jesus.

So, five revealed answers to ‘why.’ The first one is To deepen our spiritual character. The idea is that Tough Times are carefully crafted by the heavenly Father to be transformational in your life and mine. Spiritual character grows best in the soil of difficulty. It is in tough times that God is training you and me, that God is building you and me, that God is developing you and me, that God is, yes, changing you and me.

Now, focus is a big key here. Stick with me here. Lean in a little bit. As a follower of Jesus if my focus is merely on being healthy and wealthy and comfortable, when a tough time comes I will tend to resist, rebel, complain, get angry, or get embittered. Now, watch this. If we remember the goal is to deepen our spiritual character, that the goal is to make us more like Christ—it is far easier to lean into it, to yield to what God is doing.

Revealed answers to why? Tough Times: The first one, To deepen our spiritual character. The second one we want to look at…Why?? To expand our ministry in serving and encouraging others. Beyond even increasing our endurance and developing our spiritual character, part of what God wants to do when He allows Tough Times into our lives—now a lot of people miss this—is He wants to equip us. He wants to equip us.

Turn with me to 2 Corinthians, chapter 1. I want to read for you verses 3 and 4 of 2 Corinthians 1. Paul writes there, in chapter 1, and verse 3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” He says, “Blessed be the Father of mercies.” He is the originator of mercy. He is the God of all comfort.

When a tough time comes to us, how does God minister to us? How does He do it? Verse 4, “He comforts us in all our affliction.” In all that affliction (thlipsis), that crashing and crushing that comes on us, He comforts us in all of that. But you will notice we have that little phrase again, right here in verse 4, So that…” He wants us to be able to do something. He wants us to be equipped.  He wants us to be prepared for something. What is it? “So that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

See, God will have a comfort ministry in our life, but part of the benefit of His comforting ministry that comes to us does not end when the affliction ends. Follow me here. Because He wants us to become flesh and blood agents of His comfort to other people!

In Romans, chapter 12, and verse 15, it says that we are to, “Weep with those who weep.” How do you learn how to do that?? Well, when we ourselves experience pain, when we ourselves have experienced tears, we are qualified now to weep with those who weep.

One of the greatest illustrations of this principle to expand our ministry in serving and encouraging others, maybe the greatest one I’ve heard of because it is so extreme, is the life of Joni Eareckson Tada. Many of you know her story and her background that when she was a young woman, she had a diving accident. She became a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the neck down. Now, just try to picture that happening to you. Why would God do that? Well, part of what she has said and believed is that He wanted to expand her ministry in serving and encouraging other people. She believes that one of the reasons why she became a quadriplegic is so that she could share the sufficiency of God with other quadriplegics…so that she could share the comfort of God which she had received with those who had experienced a similar tough time.

I might minimally be effective in coming to someone who has become a quadriplegic in sharing some of the sufficiency of God. But if I had actually experienced it, man, I would be a whole lot more effective in sharing the comfort and sufficiency of God. That’s just the way God does things.

Many of you know that I’ve battled prostate cancer two different times. This principle really helped me because I knew when it happened to me, this is part of what God was doing in my life:  to expand my ministry in serving and encouraging other people. In all the years and years since this has happened, I have talked to dozens and dozens of men. “Pre”—when they are discovering a treatment for how they were going to deal with prostate cancer,  and “Post,” having to deal with the effects of prostate cancer. Why has that happened? Because someone who is going to go through it wants to talk to someone who has been through it.

Who is best to counsel a woman who is post-abortive, who has had an abortion in her life in the past? Who can help most with that? Well, if you’ve also experienced an abortion in your past [as sad as that may be], I mean there is a simpatico that exists there. Who best to give some comfort to someone who has lost their job than someone else who has lost their job and has seen you can come out the other side? How about someone who has been bullied? Who better to help them than someone who has experienced bullying?

How about someone whose parents are divorcing—if someone else has had that experience, that means something to them. Who best to minister to someone who has become a widow than somebody else who has been a widow? That is one of the reason we have Anna’s Friends [Wildwood’s ministry to widows] here at Wildwood.

At first—hang in there with me—this is easy for us to miss. We should think this way: that Tough Times uniquely qualify us to minister, comfort and to encourage other people! Those who are in the midst of a tough time are always looking for somebody else who’s been through it before them, right?

That doesn’t mean we can only help someone IF we’ve had the same experience. Notice it says there in verse 4, you are equipped then to “Comfort those who are in any affliction, not just only the one that you’ve been through. In any affliction. In the original this really means each and every affliction.

I like the way Edith Schaeffer put it, “The most effective school to train comforters, is the school of life,” because we learn from how God comforts us.

Here is another thing to remember: Tough Times attract the attention of people all around us. When we are going through a tough time, if it is a medical tough time, there are doctors and nurses who are noticing. There are maybe extended family who are noticing when we are going through a tough time. There may be neighbors who are noticing. There are maybe co-workers who are noticing. Part of what this principle is teaching us, is we need to learn—lean in here—that we should turn our tough times into testimony. That we need to turn our mess into ministry. We need to see our tough time as a platform to point people to Christ.

Because why? We are all called to play a role in what God is doing, right? Therefore, we need training. That is part of why He brings Tough Times in our life. You see part of our assignment from God is, as it says in 2 Corinthians 4:10, “That the life of Jesus may be manifested in our body.” That is part of our assignment, that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our life.

So, why does He bring Tough Times? Well, first to deepen our spiritual character, then to expand our ministry in serving and encouraging others. Then, the third answer to why He would bring tough times is, to discipline us when we drift significantly. Turn with me, in your Bibles, to Hebrews, chapter 12. I want to look at a few verses in Hebrews, chapter 12. You can read through the whole chapter later, but in Hebrews, chapter 12, verses 5 and 6, he is quoting from Proverbs 3, where it says, “Who the Lord loves He disciplines.” Then, let your eyes go down to verse 9. It says, “We had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they (earthly fathers), verse 10, disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He (God) disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. Verse 11, All discipline (for the moment) seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”

Now, when we are talking here about discipline from a father, he is not talking about divine condemnation or judgment—that fell completely on Jesus on the cross. He is talking about corrective discipline that a father has to do with his children from time-to-time.

This past week, it was actually on Monday, we had both of our cars in the garage and I was sort of going sideways down the side of the garage with the car behind me, trying to walk through there.  I didn’t notice that we had a push broom laying up against the wall. I stepped on the bottom of that push broom and whap! The handle went right up the side of my head. I mean, wow, did that hurt my ear. It was just like someone had taken the handle of that push broom and went whoomp, right up the side of my head! You know what is really interesting is, sometimes we view the discipline of God that way. You know, like He has a broom handle and we have a wrong thought and whomp, right up the side of the head! Oh, you said a wrong word, whomp! Right up the side of the head.

That’s not the biblical idea of spiritual discipline. That is why this word, “significantly” is in here in the statement. To discipline us when we drift “significantly”—not for every little thing that we do. I mean, we’d be black and blue all the time if He was doing that.

You know, the illustration we’ve already used in the series is the illustration of Jonah. Go to Nineveh, Jonah. No!!  I’m going the opposite way. Well then, spend your spring break [school break every spring] in the belly of a fish. Whack! His disobedience was a significant thing.

We see this mentioned in 1 Corinthians, chapter 11. This is hard to believe, but it says that some of the Corinthians were actually abusing the Lord’s Table. They were being very cavalier, they were being very careless, they were actually gorging themselves on some food that they brought. Some of them were getting drunk at the Lord’s Table! Then, other people present had absolutely nothing. Paul says, because of that some of you are sick, you have illness in your life. That’s a little discipline from the Lord.

Many of you know the story of my youngest sister, Laurie. Laurie came to Christ when she was young, but as she went through her teen years and into her young adulthood, she made every bad choice that you could think of, short of murder really. She was in her rebellion and she was working at an industrial job and she had a desk in this industrial job, right in front of this big picture window. She knew what she was doing. She knew it was some significant drifting and wandering that she was doing.

She gets up from her desk and she walks about fifteen feet to the side and this automobile comes blasting right through the window. It blew up the desk where she was sitting. She knew God was disciplining her and she repented. She turned her life around and many of you know that she has been in vocational Christian ministry now for more than 25 years.  But here is the point: the loving Father is not satisfied having a beloved, adopted child who chooses—in a significant way—to wallow in foolishness and fleshly behavior.

Now, I want to tell you my experience of the Christian community is this:  when we talk about this idea of being disciplined by the Father, there are two extremes I see. One extreme is to over-emphasize the discipline from the Father so that every tough time in my life is a spanking from God! That is an over-emphasis. Another extreme though is to ignore this principle and to never even consider it when a tough time comes in our life.

 Now, I think that most tough times in our life have nothing to do with sin and disobedience, but we should pause long enough to reflect: Is there a clear sin in my life, as this tough time has come, that I have been tolerating? Or, in the words of Nancy Sinatra, from her song from 1966, have I been “ A messin’ where I shouldn’t be a messin’?”  That is a good question to ask.

[note “a messin’ is a shortened form of messing]

We see in Proverbs 28, verse 13, People who cover their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and forsake them, they will receive mercy. I don’t know what is going on in your life. Is there something that you should confess today? Where you’ve been “a messin’ where you shouldn’t be a messin’?” Because when we repent from such behavior—as it says in Hebrews 12:11—it will yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

So, why Tough Times? To deepen our spiritual character, to expand our ministry in serving and encouraging others, to discipline us when we drift significantly. Number four:  to point us to His sufficiency. Hey, when everything is going smoothly in our life what is our tendency? We start to operate very self-sufficiently, right? We start to just sort of run our own life. We go on spiritual “auto pilot”. Whenever tough times, though, show up it heightens our dependency, right? Whenever tough times show up, we rediscover new depths of our dependency on God.

We are going to focus on this one more next time. That is why you want to come next week. We are going to look more at the resources that God has given us and He wants to remind us often of those resources, that is why He brings a tough time in our life.

So, why tough times? To deepen our spiritual character, to expand our ministry in serving and encouraging others, to discipline us when we drift significantly, to point us to His sufficiency, and the fifth revealed reason is ????????

We don’t really know. It is just part of the mystery of His will. We may never know this side of heaven why God allowed it.

One of the ways to illustrate this is the experience of Adoniram Judson. Many of you have heard about him, perhaps. He was the first to bring Christianity to Burma. Burma today is known as Myanmar. You will see [from the projected map] that Myanmar is bordered by India and bordered by Thailand. Judson was the very first one to bring Christianity to that land. Philip Yancey tells a little of the hardship in Judson’s life. He says, “Hardship stalked his life. When war broke out with England, the Burmese arrested Judson because he was light skinned and English speaking, he looked and talked like the enemy. Judson was force-marched barefoot for eight miles to a prison, where each night the guards passed a bamboo pole between his heavily shackled legs and hoisted the lower part of his body high off the ground. Blood rushed to head, preventing sleep and causing fierce cramps in his shoulders and back. Clouds of mosquitoes feasted on the raw flesh of his feet and legs.  Treatment like this went on for almost two years. Judson managed to endure only because his devoted wife brought him food each day and would plead with the guards for better treatment.

A few months after his release, Judson’s wife, weakened by smallpox, died of fever. Shortly after that, their baby daughter also died. Judson nearly had a breakdown. He would kneel by his wife’s grave for hours each day, regardless of weather. Eventually, he built a one room hut in the jungle and worked in solitude on a translation of the Bible in the Burmese language. Only a handful of Burmese showed any interest in the Christian message.

(think about how he is processing, why these tough times?) He goes on to stay there thirty-four years in all. (while he didn’t see this) Because of his faithfulness, more than three million Christians in that country today trace their spiritual roots to Judson. The dictionary he compiled now nearly 200 years old, remains the official dictionary of Myanmar.”

I want to say it again. I do not pretend to know what God is doing in your life. He is the one who is “large and in charge.” He is the one who has a plan and purpose in what He does. But I do also want to say this: when we talk about some of these reasons we’ve been looking at, it is very important to remember that when the tough time actually hits you with fury, when you are in the midst of the process, it is difficult to process the whys, because we are in shock, right? For example, a loved one dies and we didn’t know it was coming. We are just numb, we are disoriented. The pain is too great.

Many of you know that after one of my surgeries, I had what is called an ileus. That means that my system wasn’t functioning, so my stomach became totally bloated up with gas. I was nauseous. I couldn’t even move. I thought I was going to explode. You think I was processing the whys? right then? No, the best I could do was put my head against the wall and just say, Lord, help me, help me.

Some of you know that my son, Kyle, his first child—which they had already named Hannah—was carried to full term. Just before they were anticipating her birth, I got a call late one night from my son and he said, Dad, we can’t find her heartbeat! What do you think I did? Did I say, Hey, wait now, let’s review the whys? of why God brings tough times in our life? No, I mean, I’m praying for them, I’m being there for them, I’m comforting him. The truth is tough times sometimes don’t have a happy ending. They lost their daughter. God, in His grace, has given them four sons since then.


But here is the thing: when we know Jesus and those tough times come, we have a living God who understands what we are going through. He has a plan and a purpose. He is there for us with comfort and hope> He will walk with us and He will resource us in the midst of that tough time, which is part of what we are going to talk about next time.

I just want to draw to a close with a benediction that is found in 2 Thessalonians, chapter 2, verses 16 and 17. It says, “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace.  May He comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.”

Let’s pray together. Father, we just thank You again for Scripture. We need it desperately. We thank You that You’ve given us these revealed reasons to why You allow tough times in our life. May You encourage us, Father, that You are a God who gives comfort and good hope by grace. And for any of us who are right in the midst of a tough time right now—may You comfort and strengthen their hearts for Your honor, for Your glory, and we pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Questions for Reflection

Tough Times – Week three

1. Bruce mentioned four common reactions to Tough Times (all of which are spiritually


      – Grin and bear it (grunt and plod through it)

      – Get mad (at God and others)

      – Withdraw (from God and others and start the pity party)

      – Spend the rest of your life in the WHY? zone (demanding explanations)

       When you find yourself facing a Tough Time, what has been your most

        common response?  Elaborate.

2.  One reason why God allows Tough Times in the life of a believer is to deepen our spiritual

     character. Name some passages in the New Testament that reveal that information. In His

     spiritual development plan for every follower of Jesus, what is the primary work God is

     seeking to accomplish?  [hint is found in Romans 8:29 and 2 Corinthians 4:10b]

     How have you experienced spiritual development in your life by walking through a Tough Time?

3. Another reason why Tough Times come in our lives is to expand our ministry in serving and

    encouraging others.  Re-read out loud 2 Corinthians 1:3-4. Think about some of your Tough

    Times. Can you name an instance where what you went through enabled and equipped

    you to more effectively comfort and encourage someone else?

     Ponder this: Ask God how he might turn your mess into ministry or turn your Tough

     Time into a testimony. Look around you for those who might need comfort and encouragement.

4. Two more reasons for Tough Times in our life may be 1) to discipline us when we drift

     significantly, or 2)  to point us to His sufficiency.  Can you identify any Tough Times where God

      has worked in that way in your life?  Explain.

5. Finally, Bruce said some reasons for Tough Times are part of the mystery of His will. We may

   never know the “why” this side of heaven.  What Tough Time in your present, or past, would you

   most like to have “why?” answered?  Explain some.

6. Turn off your phone and the TV.  Real aloud Proverbs 28:13 and Psalm 139:23-24.

     Prayerfully reflect on how God may be speaking to you.

7. Close by reading aloud 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17.

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