No one in his or her right mind actually wishes for adversity. No one ever really goes looking for trouble. No one wants conflict or pain or struggle or loss or scandal or anguish or confrontation or sickness. Difficulty is never desirable. Trials and tribulations are just no fun. Grief and woe are never welcome companions along the road of life.
Even so, there is not a soul on earth who is not well acquainted with all these deleterious effects of living in a fallen world. No one, rich or poor, famous or obscure, strong or weak, educated or ignorant, foolish or wise, has ever been able to escape distress, sorrow, and bother—the ever-present effects of sin and sinners.
Not only is adversity inescapably universal, but amazingly, it is also often quite beneficial. There is no school quite like the University of Hard Knocks. Nothing teaches us more. Nothing provokes us to greater maturity, focuses us on the things that matter most, and sharpens our sense of purpose like hardship. Suffering either makes us or breaks us—but when it makes us, it makes us more compassionate than ever before, more sensitive than ever before, more attentive to needs we would never have noticed before, more patient than we would have ever been before, and less likely to jump to conclusions or make snap judgments. Sorrow often softens us. Trouble can temper us.
As Isaac Watts declared, “God often digs the wells of joy with the spades of affliction.”
The fact is, we cannot choose our circumstances. But we can choose how we respond to our circumstances. Everybody suffers. But some people suffer well—and are actually improved by it. Some people face heartache and are broken by it. Others face the same kind of heartache and are embittered by it. Still others face that heartache and are all the better for it.
It is not our troubles that will ultimately define who we are. It is what we do with our troubles that will shape our calling and destiny. It is how we react to them. It is how we change and grow and mature in light of our troubles that makes the biggest difference in our lives. According to J.C. Ryle, “Often the same thing that makes one person bitter makes another better.”
Some people never recover from calamity. Some people come back better than ever. Some crumble under the pressure. Some are strengthened by the process. Some wither under the white hot intensity. Some are tempered by the fire. The difference is not in the character and nature of the trouble but in the character and the nature of the response to the trouble.
As Christian believers, we do not enjoy difficulty any more than any one else. But we do see it as an opportunity to advance, to show what we are made of, and to prove our mettle. In tough times, we gain resolve. We rise to the occasion. We not only grab hold of life, we grab hold of all that life offers—the bad as well as the good—and we make the most of it. It is not just that we are thinking positively, putting on the happy face, and looking for the silver lining; we really do believe that all things work together for good—somehow, someway—in accord with the good providence of an Almighty God. As C.S. Lewis has said, “Affliction is often that thing which prepares an ordinary person for some sort of an extraordinary destiny.”
1. Trouble cannot be avoided. We don’t need to go looking for trouble. It will find us. Trouble is always brewing. We have to be ever vigilant—because we can be sure that trouble is always on the way. That is just life.
As Alfred Tennyson wrote, “Sadness and sorrow attach themselves to all, there are no exceptions, there is no escape, such is the Adamic bequest to all who dwell upon this terrestrial ball.”
Or as Shakespeare said, “We were born for woe.”
Nevertheless, we cannot live our lives obsessed with caution. We can’t be perpetually compulsive about risk prevention. We simply do what is reasonable and what is possible and then get on with the business of life—knowing that there will be interruptions, disruptions, and difficulties no matter what precautions are taken. In other words, we have to be realistic—as opposed to either fatalistic or naive.
The disciple of Jesus has a clear estimation of the character and nature of this world, but we are stirred to constructive action by this rather than either being lured into a slumber or frightened into a stupor by it. We live in a fallen world. Trouble follows quick on the heels of sin and sinners.
2. Trouble causes us to despair of irrelevancy. Adversity leaves no room for false illusions. Trivial things cease to matter much in the face of the harsh realities of suffering and loss.
When issues of life and death intrude on our daily routines, we rightly despair of irrelevant things. We no longer place much stock in flighty, temporal things. We turn our attentions to family, friends, and faith. In the face of loss, heartache, and grief, we are awakened as if from a dream to the value of permanent things.
Likewise, when a family member is involved in an automobile accident, when a coworker is diagnosed with cancer, when a neighbor suffers a divorce, when a local teen gets involved in drugs, or when a friend loses his or her job we gain a perspective and are afforded an outlook that not only changes how we act and feel but who we are.
Thomas Wolfe observed, “There is nothing quite like calamity to reinforce reality.” The faithful Christian therefore, lives in the real world. We are actually brought to greater clarity and focus by the adversities of life.
3. Trouble drives us to our friends. When difficulty strikes, we turn to our friends. It is then that we discover how precious our friends really are. Winston Churchill quipped that “In prosperity a man may accumulate a plethora of acquaintances. But it is only in tribulation that a man is able to distinguish his friends from his throng.”
Samuel Johnson observed that, “The duration and depth of sorrow in one’s grief is often in direct relation to the durability and breadth of one’s friends.”
4. Trouble is at the heart of our story. People who talk incessantly about all their successes are braggarts. People who continually tell us about their most significant feats, greatest joys, and fondest memories are bores. People who are never vulnerable, never wounded, and never open are fakes.
Our greatest difficulties in life will actually open up more opportunities for us than our greatest accomplishments. It is what we have overcome that makes us interesting to others because it is what we have overcome that makes us real, approachable, accessible, and meaningful.
According to Charles Spurgeon, “It is the wounded friend who is the most helpful friend when we find ourselves wounded.”
It is not just a matter of empathy; people who have faced trials and tribulations and prevailed become an emblem of hope to others. Our testimony becomes a source of inspiration. The greatest adversity we have faced becomes the widest bridge to span the gap between lonely souls.