Jesus told us in the book of John to expect trouble, but often times we are caught off guard by adversity, believing the lie that if I love and serve God, I can expect a trouble free life. However, adversity is not always bad and certainly does not go without benefits. Scripture offers several encouragements of how God uses adversity in our lives.
First, God uses hardship to move us to another place. That may be a new city, job, relationship, or ministry opportunity. The book of Ruth is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. I probably like it because it’s a love story, but it also shows how God can take the most terrible circumstances and turn them into the best situations. In a short amount of time, Ruth, a Moabite, lost her father-in-law, brother-in-law and her husband. Talk about a tough situation! God used the death of these men to move Ruth to Israel to become one of His people, marry a wonderful man, have a baby, and eventually be in the lineage of Jesus. What an incredible ending! We often think we know best and that the “death” of something means the death of a good life. However, God knows what’s best for us and sometimes uses adversity to get us where we need to be.
Second, God uses trouble to build our character. Romans 5:3-4 tells us “we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Similarly, James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” There is no greater testing ground or learning curve than adversity.
Sometimes God uses hardship to build gifts or experiences in our lives to help others. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” When we experience hardship in our lives it gives us empathy and compassion for others that we would not otherwise have.
2 Corinthians 12:7b-10 gives us a couple of reasons why God allows adversity. Paul says, “In order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
First, we see that God allowed this “thorn” to keep Paul from becoming conceited. Sometimes God uses hardships to protect us—often from ourselves. I can frequently get “too big for my britches” and need someone or something to remind me who and what I really am. He can also use it to protect us from events that will take place. I often think about those that missed being in the Twin Towers on 9/11. I’ve heard stories from a missed alarm clock, to traffic, to a sick child. I bet those people weren’t happy about their adversity before 9 am, but boy, how God used it!
2 Corinthians 12:7b-10 also shows us that God wants to display his supremacy through our trials. God loves to demonstrate his power in our weaknesses. We and others around us can see that it is God’s power and strength that sustains us and not ourselves. It’s about Him and not about what we can do.
Here comes the use for adversity that no one likes to hear—discipline. Hebrews 12:7 says, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?” Sometimes we suffer because of a fallen world or a bad decision of another, but sometimes we suffer because of our own bad choices. I wish that in saving us, God would take away all of our negative consequences, but He loves us too much to do that. Just as a parent loves his or her child enough to correct detrimental behavior, God loves us too much to leave us in our sin.
Lastly, God can use suffering in our lives to show Himself to others. Our lives are never on display more than when we go through a public hardship—a miscarriage, a death, cancer, loss of a job, or a cantankerous toddler. It’s in those times we have an opportunity to witness to those around us by our actions, reactions, and our faith. My life is NEVER on display like when my toddler is screaming in Walmart. It’s at that point that I’m able to display the fruit in my life (or lack thereof).
The key to dealing with adversity is our willingness to be the pliable clay God wants us to be. We can meet trials and suffering with bitterness and resentment and refuse to learn anything from those situations, or we can use every opportunity in life to glorify and become more like Christ. In return, He promises to use every circumstance in our lives for good (Romans 8:28).