Tough Times: Finding Perspective in the Face of Suffering Message #1
Bruce A. Hess
We are going to be launching a new series. I want to invite you to take out your Bibles, and if you would, turn with me to the very first book of the Bible and the very first chapter of that book, which is the book of Genesis. We are going to be starting a four-0part series that I have entitled, Tough Times, and the subtitle is, Finding Perspective in the Face of Suffering. We could have subtitled it, Probing the Mysteries of Suffering.
You know, you don’t have to live for very long–you don’t have to be very old—for you to realize that tough times and suffering are a regular part of life on planet Earth. We’ve seen Tough Times in our culture recently. We’ve obviously seen the pandemic for many months, we’ve seen political unrest, we’ve seen the loss of loved ones (some of us have) who have died.
We’ve seen Tough Times just in where we are living, geographically. You know, a few months ago we had a severe ice storm, one of the worst I’ve ever seen in my years here. Then, we have just gotten through a fifty, to seventy-five, maybe a hundred year snow storm, which knocked out electricity for a lot of people, with a record cold. I know my son, Kyle, and his family and his four little boys down near Tyler, Texas, were out of power for multiple days.
So, these tough times are all around us and they come in different forms. Sometimes the tough time is the diagnosis of cancer that we receive or maybe some other serious disease or autoimmune disease. Sometimes it can be the loss of a job. Sometimes it can be acts of racism and acts of rioting that we get to experience in our culture. Sometimes it is a wayward child. Sometimes it is ongoing chronic physical pain that we suffer from.
How do we process all of this? What does God have to say about this? Where is God in all of this? What does the Scriptures say? Knowing that I had a four-part series coming up, I have been praying about and asking God, what do You want me to speak to, Lord? I have just been sensing it is time for a closer look at this whole idea of Tough Times and suffering. And as we do this series, we’re not going to be looking at one passage, we are going to be looking at a wider few of what Scripture has to say.
When we have Tough Times, they can be physical tough times, they can be financial tough times, they can be relational tough times, but all of the tough times that we experience are spiritual tough times. Why do we say that? Well, when we are face-to- face with Tough Times and suffering, it affects our heart. It touches our soul. It penetrates soul deep. So, as I’ve done this sermon graphic, we have a crinkled heart here. You will notice that there is wrinkling everywhere. Hopefully, the graphic communicates what we want it to communicate and that is: there is a lot that needs to be ironed out before life is going to be smooth. Satan loves to attack our heart especially when we are face-to-face with Tough Times.
Now, during this series we are going to be going in and out of multiple passages, so you are going to have to hold on to your spiritual hat, because we are going to cover a lot of ground. But here is what is interesting, as I was working on this series I realized (you know) God’s word has so much to say on this subject matter. My biggest concern in preparation would be how I would adequately cover it in four messages, but I am going to try to do the best that I can in that regard.
I want to give you a quick preview of where we are going when we are talking about tough times and finding perspective in the face of tough times and suffering. What we are going to be doing is, looking at seven pivotal points of perspective that we need to have as we face tough times. So, this is where we are headed looking at seven pivotal points of perspective as we face Tough Times. I want to give you a preview of what we are going to be covering.
- First of all we are going to see that we need to always remember that we live in a broken world.
- Secondly, we are going to see that we must expectantly look ahead to God’s promise of full deliverance.
- Then, third, we must constantly rest in God’s sovereignty.
- Fourthly, When we are face to face with tough times, when we are dealing with suffering, we need to regularly revel in His consistent character and great love.
- Number five, we must reflectively review His revealed answers to WHY?
- Number six, we must deeply embrace the promise of His presence.
- Then, number seven, we need to daily draw upon His grace.
Does that sound like a worthy journey to look through those things from the word of God? I think it is.
The very first point, that we want to make in these seven pivotal points of perspective as we face Tough Times, at a glance it appears to us to be too basic. At a glance, we think, ‘Really, we have to talk about that?’ Yet, this first pivot point of perspective is a vital foundational truth for when we come face-to-face with tough times and suffering. What is that first pivot point of perspective? That is, we need to always remember we live in a broken world.
Now, the Bible clearly teaches that. We see it in Genesis, chapters 1 and 2. We are going back to the book of Genesis, which really means the book of beginnings. It is the headwaters of all of history. I want you to notice how everything begins. We see it in Genesis, chapter 1, verses 26-31. We are going to see that God created a world that was a perfect place. It was a paradise.
I want to read verses 26-31 of chapter 1, you can follow along.
“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Verse 27) “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Verse 29) “Then God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of the earth and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to everything that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food,’ and it was so. And God saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good.”
That little phrase “very good” means: excellently good. It means: abundantly good. It was a virtual paradise that He created. Everything is yours!
But when we come to chapter 2, verses 16 and 17, we find out there was one restriction. All the trees and all the fruit you may eat from, all of it. But when we come to chapter 2, verse 16, He says to the man–who was the one most responsible–He says, “From any tree of the garden you may freely eat; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (one place!!) you shall not eat that fruit, for on the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” What happens in the drama? Adam and Eve eat from the one tree they were not to eat from.
Then, you come to chapter 3 and everything starts to unravel there. To the woman God says, because of what has happened, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth. In pain you will bring forth children; yet your desire will be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” Then, He goes on to talk to Adam, who was the primary responsible party. He says to Adam, “Because of what you have done, cursed is the ground because of you.” Before it was blessed, now it is cursed. “In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life, both thorns and thistles shall grow for you.” Then, He goes on to say, “By the sweat of your face you will eat bread. Until you return to the ground because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Everything starts to unravel in chapter 3.
Before chapter 4 even ends, we have more disobedience. We have jealousy that erupts. We have resentment and anger that shows up on the scene. We have polygamy. We have sibling murder, and we have looming violence on the planet.
The choices of Adam and Eve made a deep impact on the human race and on the whole world environment as death and decay and sin were introduced. This is what the Old Testament says and we see the same message coming through in the New Testament. We see it in Romans, chapter 5 and verse 12, where He says, “Just as sin entered the world through one man (Adam was primarily responsible) and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” There was now a broken world, where there had been paradise.
And Romans, chapter 8, and verse 20, Paul says, “The creation was subjected to (what?) to futility; to brokenness that came into the world.
Then, in Romans, chapter 8, verse 22, he says, “We know that the whole creation (interesting verb choice here) groans.” We live in a groaning, broken world that only bears a dim resemblance to the original design that God had in mind.
In Romans, chapter 8, verse 23 it says, “We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan within ourselves..” In other words, as human followers of Jesus, we ourselves groan inwardly. I’m going to ask you a question, have you been groaning lately? When you are groaning think about what caused that groaning in your life. See, because we live in a broken world, life is now stuck in struggling mode. The idea—ultimately in all of this–that he is trying to communicate is that we long to be released from the sin and the suffering and the Tough Times of this world.
Paul David Tripp does a great job emphasizing how this is a broken world. He says this, “We live in a broken world where people die, food decays, wars rage, governments are corrupt, where people take what isn’t theirs and inflict violence on one another, where spouses act hatefully towards each other, children are abused instead of protected, people slowly die of starvation or die suddenly from disease, where sexual and gender confusion lives, where drugs addict and destroy, where gossip destroys reputations, where lust and greed control hearts, where bitterness grows like a cancer, and the list could go on and on.”
Men and women, the evidence is everywhere that we live in a broken world. We see it in humanity, we see it with disease and decay and death. We see it in the fact that our bodies really grow old–and I’m beginning to notice that more and more. We can have, in our bodies pain: pain when we walk, pain when we sit, sometimes pain when we lie down.
The evidence is everywhere. We see it in history. We see the inhumanity towards other people. We see racism, we see slavery, we see wars, we see ethnic cleansing. It is everywhere, the evidence is. We see it in the environment, with the blight of pollution. We see it in entertainment, where the number one practice of humor is insult humor. I absolutely hate that stuff. That is what humor has become, where you are insulting other people in the most clever way. We see it in entertainment, we see it in the gratuitous violence that exists, we see it in pornography, the incredible distortion of the beauty of God’s design for sex.
It is everywhere. We see it economically with debt and overspending and people who are embezzling. We see it in government, where leaders care more about themselves than the people they are called to lead. We see it in political corruption.
It is everywhere. We see it in the family, an environment that was designed to nurture people. But we see abuse and we see divorce and we see hurt and we see conflict and we see marriages growing distant.
It is everywhere. We see it in the church. I mean, the church is filled with people just like me and like you; people with flaws and weaknesses and personal struggles. We see it in the church, where we see conflict–not over eternal issues, but frequently over non-eternal unimportant, secondary issues.
It is everywhere. We see it in events. We see it in floods and we see it in hurricanes. We see it in tornadoes, we see it in avalanches, we see it, yes, in pandemics. This brokenness surrounds us every day in multiple ways.
You know, a number of years ago Baskin Robbins used to always celebrate that they had 31 flavors of ice cream. Anybody remember that? Right, the 31 flavors? I don’t know what your favorite flavor was of Baskin Robbins ice cream, but they liked to talk about we have 31 flavors!! Do you know that brokenness comes in more than 31 flavors?
Sometimes brokenness means we will be disappointed in our life. Sometimes brokenness means we will be misunderstood in our life. Sometimes brokenness means we will be mistreated in our life. Sometimes brokenness means we might have a debilitating auto-immune illness. Sometimes brokenness comes in the flavor of the breakup of an important relationship that we have. Sometimes it means rejection by our peers.
Sometimes the brokenness has the flavor of the “C” word, you know, cancer; which I’ve heard given to me two times, and nearly a third one in my life. Sometimes the flavor of brokenness is adultery, Sometimes it is significant financial loss. Sometimes it is betrayal. Sometime it is a prodigal child. Sometimes it is the death of a beloved one in our life.
Brokenness surrounds us every day in multiple ways and this, men and women, has been true for generations and generations and generations and many people who’ve experienced tough times have experienced tough times far greater than ours.
I want to take you to Hebrews, chapter 11, where it talks about some of those men and women of faith and some of the tough times and the suffering that they went through. So, as you think about some of yours recently, see how it compares to theirs. “Some were tortured…others experienced mocking and scourging, yes also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned (how about this next one?) they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword.” He said, some of their tough times and their suffering was, “They went about in sheepskins and in goatskins,”
–meaning they didn’t have any other kind of clothes, they grabbed the only thing they could, to wear–“being destitute, afflicted, being ill-treated…wandering in deserts and mountains.” Why are they wandering? Because they don’t have a place to live. They were wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and yes, even holes in the ground. How many people have said, that’s where I live? In a hole in the ground somewhere.
See, this has been going on for generations and many people have tough times and suffering that are far more significant than what I have experienced.
You know, what is really interesting to me, is that Scripture is a supernatural book and it clearly teaches us that we need to remember we live in a broken world. It is not only a supernatural book, it is a realistic book. The Bible openly recognizes that we live in a broken world. When you open up the Bible, what do you see? You see things like sibling murders, plural. A brother killing a brother. You open up the Scriptures and you see disease and you see famine. You see political corruption, you see religious corruption. You open up the Bible and, yes, you see rape, you see manipulation, you see child sacrifice. It is a realistic book. We see adultery. We see infanticide–where a whole generation of young people, for political reasons, were going to be wiped off the face of the planet. That’s what Herod did at the time of the birth of Jesus.
It is a realistic book. We see corrupt, distorted justice that was given to, not just anybody, but to the incarnate Son of God. Then, the most violent execution ever devised was perpetrated on a totally innocent man, the person of the Lord Jesus. It is everywhere. The Bible isn’t shy about it. It shows us that we live in a broken world.
Now, you might say, okay, Bruce, wow, thanks for blessing us on a Sunday morning. It is so good we could spend so much time talking, but why are we talking about this SO much? I think part of the problem is, we too often succumb to something that some people call ‘location amnesia.’ What do I mean by that? It means too often we lose sight of the fact that we live in a broken world. We live, men and women, in a fallen place, populated by a fallen race and I don’t mean black or white, I mean “human race.”
Sometimes, we have this location amnesia, where we just forget that we live in a fallen place populated by a fallen race. I think even for dedicated followers of Jesus, there are times in our life when we are sort of operating under an illusion, where because I know Jesus and I seek to follow Jesus, somehow I am going to be given an immunity card from Him that says, no tough times allowed for this child of Mine. See, sometimes we have location amnesia, we forget we live in a fallen place populated by a fallen race.
Obviously, we don’t experience all brokenness, everyday, and in every way. And, thank God for that! Some of these tough times and suffering, we may never experience like some of those experienced in Hebrews 11, but indeed, the reality is, we live in a fallen place populated by a fallen race and we must always remember that we live in a broken world.
Now, tough times do not mean that we have been forsaken, rather it is an indicator that we live in a world that does not function the way God originally designed it to function. We must always remember that we live in a broken world.
That is the first pivotal point of perspective we need to have as we face tough times. There is a second one I want to look at this morning and this applies to those of us who are followers of Jesus, you know, those of us who look to the Lord Jesus as our rescuer from sin and judgment. This second perspective involves those who would say, Hey, look, I am unable, I am incapable of dealing with my personal sins. Those of us who say, I can never earn my way out of the debt of death that I have earned. Those who would say, Hey, I can’t do it, but Jesus did it. My sins are fully paid for at the cross. For those who have that position, there is a second key perspective and that is: we must, as we go through tough times and suffering, expectantly look ahead to God’s promise of full deliverance.
In other words, when we are in tough times and when we are suffering, when we are having adversity, we need to remember there is a new world coming. There is a promise, there is a guarantee of a better future ahead. When you go to the book of the Revelation and chapter 21, and verse 5, the Alpha and Omega is sitting on His throne and there and He says this, “I am making all things new.” You know, if you were going to summarize the Scripture story, it starts out with this perfect paradise beginning. Then, there is this rebellion and the world becomes broken and the people become broken. So, you have this perfect paradise beginning, but we live in what is often this dark and painful middle. But for followers of Jesus there is going to be a glorious paradise at the end. And, It is important that we remember that.
I am going to go back to Romans, chapter 8–where remember it says we live in a groaning world and we ourselves groan–and there is great encouragement there and a key statement of facts that you can see in Romans, chapter 8. For example, in chapter 8, verse 18 Paul says, “For I consider (the tough times) the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared (with what?) the glory that is to be revealed to us.” There is something coming because of the promise of God in the future. We need to be looking forward.
In verse 21, he says, we are looking to be set free from the corruption that we are experiencing now, the brokenness of the world, into the freedom of what? The glory of the children of God 1 There is something coming in the future and we need to keep our eyes on that.
In verse 23, he talks about how we are “Waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons.” What is he talking about there? He is talking about we look eagerly to the redemption of our body. We are going to have, not a perishing body, but an eternal body. You can go to 1 Corinthians, chapter 15, if you want, to just see more of the details of what our future body is going to be like.
Romans, chapter 8, verse 31, he says, “If God is for us, who is against us?” In other words, we have an amazing future guaranteed. We need to be looking forward to that.
I want to go back to Hebrews, chapter 11, and the Hall of Fame of faith. Those people who are in the Hall of Fame of faith, in their tough times their focus was looking ahead. Look at verse 10, it says, by faith, Abraham–and he had all kinds of tough times and ups and downs–it says, by faith Abraham was doing what? What was he doing? He was looking forward to the city with foundations whose architect and builder is God. He was looking forward to the promise of what was ahead.
In verse 16, talking about those in the Hall of Fame of faith, what were they doing? They were desiring a better country. That is, a heavenly one. They were looking forward.
Then, in verses 24-26, we see about Moses. It says, “By faith Moses…refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt.” Why? “For he was looking to the reward.” Looking forward. His focus was forward to the promise of full deliverance.
You know, earlier we were reading about some of these people and talking about their tough times and their experiences–you know, in verses 35-38, about how they had torture that they went through, how they were stoned, how they were sawn in two. How were they handling all of that? We notice it says in verse 35, their focus was so that they might obtain a better resurrection. They were looking at what was coming.
Then, in verse 40, it says they believed that God has provided, what? Something better! Not today, but eventually.
Now, this principle is vitally important. It is a vitally important perspective when we have to face Tough Times. It is important that we expectantly look ahead to God’s promise of full deliverance.
Men and women, we know this in many of in our heads, but we are not so much emotionally connected with it. This world is incapable, even with its riches and even with its passing pleasures, it is incapable of being the paradise that our souls long for. The saints throughout the centuries have found perspective in tough times and sufferings in the long view of eternity.
I want you to see another quote by Paul David Tripp. I just love him, he just has a great way with words. Here is what he says, think about this, “There will be a day when you are invited to the one funeral you will actually want to attend.” I’ve been to a lot of funerals, I’ve officiated at a lot of funerals. They weren’t ones I wanted to attend. But, he says, “There is going to be a day when you are going to be invited to the one funeral you will really want to attend. This funeral won’t bring grief to your heart or tears to your eyes. This funeral will make you sing and celebrate. This funeral will make you wonder how you could have been chosen to be the recipient of such blessing. There will be a day when you will attend the funeral of sin. Sin will die and you will live forever, permanently freed from the tyranny of sin.” And, I might add, permanently freed from the brokenness of the world. It’s something that we need to be looking forward to.
Now, waiting—right?—it’s hard, waiting is a hard thing. It is hard. Some of these weather things that were happening [recently] in our region. There were a couple of traffic accidents where the traffic was backed up for nine miles! Can you imagine what it was like waiting in that traffic? It’s hard to wait. It is hard to wait in long checkout lines. It is hard to wait for a pandemic and all the restrictions to pass. It is hard to wait for the results of the biopsy to come back. It is hard to wait for a prodigal to come to their senses. But, it can be worth the wait in light of eternity.
I want you to see what Paul has to say in 2 Corinthians, chapter 4, verses 16-18. He says, “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying (the older and older you get, you realize that) yet our inner man is being renewed day-by-day.” He is really saying: God is at work, even in the tough times, even in the suffering, He is working.
Then, he says this, “For our momentary, light affliction,” I want to remind you when Paul is talking about some of this suffering, the Tough Times that he went through, just what that was like. You can see it in 2 Corinthians, chapter 11. I just want to pull a few things out from verses 23-25. Here is part of what Paul went through, he says, “I was in multiple imprisonments, I was beaten times without number.” I was beaten up more than I could tell you. He says, “I was often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes.” That is one lash short of being beaten to death. That happened to him five times. He says, “Three times I was shipwrecked…” and so forth and so forth and so forth.
But he says, regarding those things: they were momentary, light affliction. Really? He says, “Momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison,” comparing to what is coming. He goes on to say in verse 18, “We look not at the things which are seen but at the things which are unseen; for the things which are seen (that is, experienced in this broken world) are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
What is his point? He is saying, what looms large to us now, what seems and feels to be unbearable now, thousands of years into eternity what truly felt overwhelming, what truly felt dark and difficult, what truly felt unbearable, will be a brief flash. Through the lens of eternity it will be small and miniscule.
So, as we face Tough Times and as we process suffering, we need some pivot points of perspective. The first one is, we need to always remember we live in a broken world. Secondly, for those of us who know Christ, we need to expectantly look ahead to God’s promise of full deliverance for us.
Now, there are still questions we haven’t even addressed. Does God really care about what I’m going through now in this broken world? Has God just left us to fend for ourselves in this broken world? Well, there are answers to those questions but, you need to come back, as we have a four-part series. We are going to look at five more pivotal points of perspective in the next three messages.
But, I want to leave us with two concluding thoughts today. We have looked at the point of perspective, Always remember we live in a broken world, and then, secondly, Expectantly looking ahead to God’s promise. The first concluding thought is this:, Biblical waiting is not passive. The fact that we are looking forward to something doesn’t mean that we are just going to passively sit here and let the waves just smash us, and we’re just going to endure it somehow…figure out some way. No, Biblical waiting is not passive. It involves at least three things on our behalf.
First of all, it involves actively remembering. Biblical waiting means we are actively remembering who God is and what God has done and what God is doing. That is part of what we are going to be covering in future weeks. Biblical waiting also involves actively accessing: accessing God’s spiritual wisdom from the word of God. It means we are actively accessing the divine resources that He has provided for us and we are going to look at some of those in this series. Biblical waiting involves actively remembering, it involves actively accessing and it involves actively serving Jesus. Yes, even when we are facing Tough Times.
A great verse for this is 1 Corinthians 15:58. Paul says, “Beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable,” (occasionally? sometimes? every once in a while? No, he says, “always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” Even when we are going through Tough Times, we are to be actively serving Jesus.
Now, there is a second concluding thought I want to have as we close this morning and that is: the promise of a future full deliverance is only given to those who turn to Jesus as their rescuer. Jesus is the solution. He is the solution to a groaning, broken world, Jesus is. The solution to groaning, broken people is the person of the Lord Jesus.
You know, we read in Romans, chapter 5, verse 12, that through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, so death spread to all men. But, we also learn in that same passage, it says that through one man, the solution to a broken world, came.
Romans 5:6, “While we were still helpless,” what does that mean? There was nothing we could do about our brokenness. “While we were still helpless…Christ died for the ungodly.” That is me and that is you, in God’s eyes.
Then, in Romans, chapter 5, verse 8, one of my favorite verses, it says, “God demonstrates His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners,” what did Jesus do? “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” On the cross He took the full penalty for our rebellion, our sinfulness, our brokenness.
I just want you to know that Wildwood and Bruce Hess, we want everyone to receive the promise of the future full deliverance. We want everyone to receive eternal life. I don’t know where everyone is coming from spiritually, but we desire that for you. No matter who you are, I want you to know that this has been earned for you. It is offered to you as a gift—but a gift isn’t really effective until it is received and that is what we do by faith. You don’t have to be in a special building, you don’t have to run around and do something special. This is a transaction that happens between the living God and your heart. Where you say—you know what—I can’t fix my brokenness, but Jesus did. And that’s what I want to count on and that’s what I want to believe. If you’ve never done that, do that, do that.
Let’s pray. Father, we thank You again for the word of God. We thank You how practical it is, how penetrating it is. We thank You for these principles that we need to remember, about being in a broken world and then the promise to those who know Jesus of this ultimate, full deliverance. Help us to learn how to walk through this broken world for Your honor and for Your glory. And, we pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Questions for Reflection
Tough Times – Week one
1. What situations in life most easily remind you that we live in a broken world? Make a list.
2. Bruce said, when we face Tough Times and suffering it affects our heart and touches our soul. Agree?
Why do you think that’s so?
3. It was mentioned in the message that too often we succumb to “location amnesia.” What was meant by
that? What contributes to our tendency to succumb to it? Discuss.
4. How can the promise of a better eternal future ahead assist us as we encounter Tough Times?
5. Re-read 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. What practical truth for everyday life does Paul share in those verses?
6. Bruce said, “biblical waiting is not passive.” He elaborated by saying it involves actively remembering (who God is and what He has done), actively accessing (spiritual wisdom and divine resources), and actively serving Jesus. In which area do you most need to grow and why?
7. Take some time in prayer before the Heavenly Father to freshly admit your limitations and to re-affirm your deep need for His perspective and strength.