Part three in a three-part series on acceptance of difficulty.
“We must accept and cooperate with the inevitable. If we rail and kick against it and grow bitter, we won’t change the inevitable; but we will change ourselves.” – Dale Carnegie
Unfortunately, the Dale Carnegie quote above reflects the way many people go through the trials and difficulties of life. They rail, kick, and over time grow bitter, assuming that all difficulties are bad things, harmful to our senses of equilibrium and justice, and therefor harmful to us. They change themselves in the process, diminishing themselves and limiting the good that is intended for them in the process.
When facing trials and difficulties, an attitude of acceptance and the resulting worship, joy, and gratitude sadly is not common among believers. Things do not go the way they were expected to go. Disruptions, difficulties, or dangers appear. People question the will, the goodness, and the love of God. They may sink into self-pity, or even into depression. Some may even lose their faith in God.
These responses to difficulties do not reflect a sound faith or trust in our God. They ignore the plain teaching of the Bible. Jesus promised that we would have trouble in this world. James, the brother of Jesus told us that we will with experience various trials. Peter speaks of the fiery ordeals Christians will face. And Paul the apostle described this world with terms such as futility, bondage to decay, and pain. We live in a fallen world controlled by an enemy bent on causing grief and disruption. Suffering is the universal experience, and no one is exempt.
Our God is at work in every situation to make us complete. He is doing so out of His love for us. At the end of Romans chapter 8, the apostle Paul writes these words of hope: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
If these words we just read do not reflect our attitude toward difficulty and loss, we need to seek our God to change our attitude. In Philippians 4:11, Paul said, “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.” No matter how difficult the situation, Paul had learned to be content. This contentment comes from trust in the love and the goodness of our God no matter what is happening to us or around us. Paul clearly understood the value of accepting whatever came his way, be it good, bad, or indifferent. He demonstrated that in difficulties, trials, chaos, pain, hardship, and suffering, he not only was accepting of the circumstances as having come from His God, he was joyful.
So how do we gain this attitude of acceptance in difficulty, trial, and suffering? David, writing in Psalm 57 expresses the attitude of prayer we can have when storms of difficulty assail us. “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, until the destroying storms pass by. I cry to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. He will send from heaven and save me, he will put to shame those who trample on me. God will send forth his steadfast love and his faithfulness.” David pleads for mercy, aware that God’s mercy can be known even when destroying storms pass over him, and people trample him. He does not pray that these difficulties will never pass over him – David knew better. He was aware of the universality of suffering. Yet David is confident that God will be his refuge, that God’s purpose will be fulfilled in his travails, and that God acts only out of His mercy, steadfast love, and faithfulness.
I began this series with a quote that I have found meaningful. “That which does not kill you makes you stronger.” Here is why I like that quote. No matter what comes my way my God will use it all to further His purposes and to make me stronger. The hard news is that we will fall victim to the depredations of the rebellion, the sin, the evil, the decay and disease that are now a part of this world. We are not exempt. The great news is that our sufferings have great meaning and value to us. They are being used by our God to strengthen us and to fit us for eternity.
“The Lord knows the frame of each of us, our hopes and disappointments, and He has promised that our suffering will one day turn into glory if we’ll respond to it in faith and obedience. That’s the actual crux of the matter.” – Elisabeth Elliot