Dealing with Adversity: Are we relating to adversity in a healthy, biblical way?

If there is one thing that unites us humans it is the fact that all of us must deal with adversity. For some people, adversity is a constant, a way of life. For others, it is an occasional reality. As believers, we too will face adversity and therefore we need to give some serious thought to whether we are relating to it in a healthy, biblical way or not. Doing so will really open our eyes to how much of God’s Word addresses the issue of adversity. This is an important theme throughout the entire Bible.

The following test is designed to help us see what our general attitude toward adversity is. Go ahead and take the test and see which statement(s) feel the most true to your experience and teaching:

a) If one is really walking with God, life should be easy, and things should come together without a lot of stress and strain. Hassles, adversity, and opposition indicate that God is not leading us in that direction.

Always True, Sometimes True, False

b) Persistent adversity in our lives indicates a lack of faith, because as sons of God we have the power to overcome adversity and the Adversary. We are superconquerors over every situation, meaning that we can and should exercise a victorious faith over negative circumstances because it is God’s will that we not suffer through adversity and He wants us to demonstrate His power.

Always True, Sometimes True, False

c) That adversity is caused by one’s personal sinfulness, and brought on because sin and idolatry have weakened our defenses. If we are really loving and obeying God as we should we would be spared adversity and manifest victory.

Always True, Sometimes True, False

d) (1) That adversity, temptation, or suffering is specifically, personally, and intentionally sent by God to discipline us, to purify our motives, or to prepare us for service to Him. (2) God is in complete control of everything that happens to us, good and bad, and that nothing happens unless it first goes across His desk for approval.

Always True, Sometimes True, False

e) Adversity is the direct result of demonic oppression or the attack of the Devil. Adversity validates that we are on the right path and the Enemy is trying to discourage us.

Always True, Sometimes True, False

f) Adversity is the necessary consequence of sin’s entrance into the world, and affects believers and unbelievers alike. Everyone will face adversity, which may or may not be related to our choices or actions, or that God or the Devil are involved. Learning to handle adversity well will result in purification of our motives, strengthening of our faith in God’s deliverance, and free us from the bondage of needing to be comfortable, among other things.

Always True, Sometimes True, False

This last statement is the only one that is always true. The others are sometimes true, or in the case of D. (2), false. Believing that God is in control of all adverse circumstances, as unfortunately many Christians do, is to be rendered unable to be discerning about the various sources of adversity—God gives it all. Furthermore, believing that God is the source of all adversity makes it hard to pray for deliverance, and in many cases results in people turning away from God altogether when they need Him the most. That adds tragedy to what may have only proven to be temporary adversity.

Recently the news has been full of natural disasters that affect saint and sinner alike. Hurricane Katrina has been a devastating storm, inflicting billions of dollars of damage in the Southern U.S. Then Hurricane Rita followed closely behind, wreaking even more devastation. People on our mailing list, strong believers in God’s blessing and providence, have suffered along with the rest of the population in those areas. Their challenge, as ours, is to endure such things with faith in God’s goodness and ability to bring deliverance and redemption to the situation.

Besides natural disasters, there are many other ways that we experience adversity. Marital breakdowns, parents facing teenage rebellion, financial hardship, crime, sickness, disease, accidents, problems with neighbors, friends, bosses, coworkers, city governments, and on and on. Sometimes the world seems like it spawns an endless amount of adversity. On top of that, being a Christian believer in an unbelieving world only increases the level of adversity that we experience. As it is written, “…everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).

When it comes to dealing with adversity, we all tend to have a default way to deal with it–get angry, get shut down and depressed, feel overwhelmed, etc. But to deal effectively with adversity we need to have a range of responses depending upon the source and nature of the adversity. Mental health is indicated by a healthy range of responses appropriate to whatever the situation requires. When we are under spiritual attack, for example, the appropriate response is to become aggressive in prayer and to take authority over the spiritual wickedness sent against us. When we are dealing with the kind of adversity that results from our choices and commitments, then we learn to take it in stride and not become reactive at all. We just accept it as the predictable effect of our choices.

“Adversity” is a state of hardship or affliction; misfortune. “Hardship” is “privation” or a “lack of the basic necessities of life.” Much of what we in more prosperous countries run into is hardly worthy to be called adversity. The Western world, with most of the rest of the developed world not far behind, is becoming increasingly committed to comfort, ease, and convenience. We are determined to make life easier and eliminate hardship—we have indoor plumbing, electricity, cars, stores to buy everything under the sun instead of growing it, making it, etc. We have more and more “drive through” convenience but maybe we are not better off—we have added more stress, we’re busier than ever, and in our commitment to being comfortable we’re losing our ability to endure hardship.

It may help us to recognize the difference between an inconvenience, a problem, and a predicament. An inconvenience is a circumstance that is not suited to one’s comfort, purpose, or needs. Most of the time we just need to endure these situations with patience and hope.

A problem is a circumstance that is a hindrance to us achieving a goal. We need to work to find solutions to our problems, using our faith, our resources, our imagination, and intellect to overcome our problems. It is not healthy to expect God to overcome our problems for us. He has given us, and will give us, what we need to overcome our problems ourselves. He guides us and helps us along the way, but allows us to grow up, to be resourceful, and to be fully alive and aware of His provisions around us. This also takes faith, and is an expression of faith—we trust that God has provided the solution to our problems and we just need to act accordingly.

A predicament, however, is a set of circumstances that defies a solution, and reaching a goal is impossible with our available resources. These situations are common in our fallen world, and cry out for us to have faith in the God of the possible. As the old hymn says, “God specializes in things called impossible.” The sooner we realize we are in a predicament, the sooner we can turn the situation over to God, recognizing that it is out of our league. This can bring us great peace in the midst of adversity.

A “crisis” is defined as a situation that demands more of us than we have resources to cope with it. When we run out of our standard coping resources, this is an invitation to reach out to God and others for help. How we handle such crises tests our faith, our humility, and our patience to endure apparently hopeless situations with the kind of hope that Abraham had when told he was to father a child at 99—“Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed…” (Rom. 4:18).

Inconveniences, problems, and predicaments all represent “temptations.” Temptation is not sin, but it is an invitation to sin. It is also an invitation to have faith. Adversity tempts us to doubt God’s provision and protection, and presents us with an opportunity to sin. It therefore serves us by letting us see what is in our hearts. To “tempt” is literally “to pierce.” So in a sense to be tempted is to be cut open so that what is inside is revealed. Sometimes we do not know how strong we are until we are tested. Other times we fail the test and wimp out. In either case, adversity helps us to see what we are made of, and when we do not like what we see, to have the opportunity to shore up our faith and character so that we will not break there again. It is said that the place where metal is welded together after a break is stronger than the original metal. If it breaks again, it will not be on the weld.

God is like a plumber who will test pipe joints by gradually raising the water pressure and seeing where the leaks are before turning the pressure on all the way. God works that way with us as well, to bring us along in the faith so we can handle more and more responsibility and spiritual pressure.

We often just do not have the right attitude toward adversity. We think it is from God when it is not. We think it’s from the Devil when it’s not; we resist it when we need to accept it; we accept it when we need to resist it. Sometimes we blame others when it’s the consequence of our own choices. We need to take more responsibility for the consequences of our choices instead of playing a victim role and feeling persecuted.

Rather than being times that seem to threaten our faith, or reveal our lack of faith, shouldn’t we look at these times of adversity as the very times that most invite us to deepen our faith in God? —and to endure in faith with much profit to ourselves and others? Shouldn’t we learn to let adversity drive us into the loving arms of our strong Father to depend upon Him and His goodness?

But sometimes we try to tough it out instead of reaching out to have others help us. We do not let our needs be known, or request to have people pray for us. We are always amazed by those silent sufferers who have been dealing with terrible circumstances without telling a soul. But we were meant to face adversity in community with others—and how wonderful is it when a community comes together to help one another—like in the aftermath of 9/11, or the recent hurricane disasters. When other Christians have hurt us we often withdraw and isolate ourselves thinking that we will be better off. But isolating ourselves in order not to be hurt does not eliminate the potential for pain but it does prevent the possibility of being connected to others for mutual support in times of adversity.

People who have been taught a prosperity/health/wealth gospel are often filled with shame for being unable to cope with their adversity alone and needing help from others. Feeling shame on top of the painful circumstances they are experiencing doubles their misery. Somehow they think that they are not a very good believer if they are facing such adversity, forgetting that God’s Word says that we will all have a full measure of adversity to deal with as Christians.

Correctly handling or “rightly dividing” God’s Word as to the place of adversity in the life of Christian faith is difficult; we must find a balance between the extremes of “faith conquers all” and “God sends all adversity so do not bother praying to be delivered from it.” Perhaps there is some truth to these beliefs, but not in every case and situation, and rigidly holding to them as absolute truths is toxic. We have got to understand the place of adversity in the life of a Christian and come to a healthy attitude toward it—one that will be able to use adversity as a means of building faith and godliness.

The biggest key to handling adversity well is to keep in mind how endurance can further God’s purposes in our own lives, and on others’ lives as well by our example and influence. God is interested in building our faith, our trust, and our character—and helping us to learn to trust Him. Sometimes He does this by asking us to endure hardship. He is more committed to our growth in godliness than in ensuring our comfort. Adversity of all kinds can be used by God to fulfill His purposes in our lives; in fact, true godliness is revealed, developed, and strengthened through facing and handling adversity well.

Adversity comes from four main sources and we need to discern the source in order to handle it appropriately:

  • The fallen world
  • Our choices
  • The Devil and wicked spirits (Eph. 6)
  • God and Jesus Christ

The Fallen World

Since sin entered the world through Adam’s fateful decision to disobey God’s direct command, enduring adversity has been a necessary part of the life of all humanity in this fallen world ever after. This reality is described poignantly in Genesis 3.

Genesis 3:16-18
(16) To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
(17) To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.
(18) It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.

When sin entered the world, adversity followed like the tail on the dog—guaranteeing it as a universal human experience. This means that we all must accept our own measure of pain and suffering—we cannot get out of it; I cannot suffer yours for you nor can you endure mine for me. Owning my own pain means that I should not make others pay for my pain. I do not want to be one of those hurt people who hurt others. I want my hurt to be redeemed and used by God to help me heal others. I want it to make me compassionate, committed to relieving the pain of others, and long for the new heaven and earth wherein dwells righteousness (2 Pet. 3:13-KJV).

Our choices

Because adversity is a reality, we cannot choose to avoid it. But we can often choose what adversity we want to deal with. For instance, we can choose to be married, and accept the “trouble in the flesh” that comes along with it (1 Cor. 7:28-KJV). Or we can choose to remain single and deal with the adversity of aloneness. We can choose to live in the path of hurricanes, or on earthquake fault lines. Whatever we choose to do, we should accept responsibility for whatever adversity comes our way because of our choices, whether the consequences are known or intended.

Furthermore, enduring adversity is a necessary part of the life of a believer. When a person chooses to accept Jesus Christ as their savior, they move from death unto life and from the power of Satan to God. The Devil will do what he can to make us regret that choice, and “…steal and kill and destroy…” (John 10:10) when he can. The Apostle Paul, a very strong believer, describes his experience in 2 Timothy 3.

2 Timothy 3:10-11
(10) You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance,
(11) persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.

Paul then makes a profound prediction in verse 12: “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” If this is so, is the solution then to live an unrighteous life in order to keep from being persecuted? No way, because the wicked person will flee when no one pursues, and has a host of problems of his own (Prov. 28:1, etc.). Plus, the ungodly have no basis for believing they will be delivered from their problems, where the righteous can expect to see the salvation of the Lord: “A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all” (Ps. 34:19).

Yes the LORD is faithful to deliver His people when they trust in Him. They have chosen the adversity that comes from serving the true God, and for that they will be richly rewarded in this life and in Christ’s Kingdom.

Another choice we make is whether to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, or to love something else more. Biblically, these are called “idols.” Idols are a poor substitute, and cannot deliver us when we are in trouble. When we discover that we have been caught up in worshiping idols, we repent and turn again to God. This will make a big difference in our ability to see the power of God deliver us from troubles.

The Devil and Wicked Spirits

Sometimes our adversity comes as a direct result of being attacked by the Adversary. The Hebrew word for Satan even means “Adversary.” His entire purpose is to oppose the purposes of God, and if we are in the will of God helping to accomplish His purposes we can expect to have satanically inspired opposition. We ought not to take this opposition personally, though, as if the Devil has any personal interest in us. Rather, his purpose is simply to oppose God, and we are getting in his way. This helps us to remember not to attempt to fight him in the flesh, but by prayer, by faith, by holding forth the powerful Word of God. We resist him, and he will flee from us, promises James 4:7.

Once we have eliminated other possibilities and realize that we are under spiritual attack, we should respond aggressively and go into “warfare mode.” We resist the Devil, not accommodate him or accept his schemes. We seek to bring his schemes into the light, and resist them aggressively. When God’s people are not discerning and fail to see the attack of the Enemy, they accept circumstances that they ought not to accept. This is particularly true of sickness and disease, but is also true of other kinds of circumstances that God has nothing to do with. In such situations, God is waiting for us to trust Him for deliverance, which will not happen if we are willing to accept the circumstance, or not fight back.

Dealing with adversity tends to make us feel put upon, but its value is found in how it can serve to further God’s purposes in us and in those we serve by and through the adversity. Even when adversity is directly sent against us by the Enemy, which certainly happens, God can use it for His purposes, as He did with Jesus’ torture and death by crucifixion.

God and Jesus Christ

Sometimes God calls us into adversity, or is the source of adversity. He drove Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted of the Devil (Matt. 4:1), and He disciplines us as a Father does his children. That often means that He lets us learn from our mistakes, but sometimes it means that He asks us to endure hardship that is training in righteousness or godliness.

The Bible is honest about the reality of hardship for those in relationship with God, and it prepares us for hardship by describing the often-difficult lives of David, Jesus, Paul and many others. In fact, this is one of the stated purposes of God’s Word–to prepare believers for adversity by providing them with examples of godly individuals who show courage, hope, and the capacity to endure.

Romans 15:4
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

There is a very close relationship in Scripture between godliness (being like God) and adversity. In fact, godliness is more clearly seen and revealed through adversity. The following Scripture shows that godliness is built upon perseverance, which is enduring adversity:

2 Peter 1:5-6
(5) For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge;
(6) and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness;

In James 1:2-4, perseverance is given a human quality, being pictured as one who works. The work that perseverance does is a “perfect work,” purifying faith and godliness.

Romans expresses a similar truth by founding godly character upon the basis of perseverance:

Romans 5:3-4
(3) “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;
(4) perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Hope, called an anchor in Hebrews, serves like an anchor on a ship to keep us facing the adversity and helping us to ride out the storm.

Having godly character is a good way to get God’s attention when you’re in a predicament. 2 Peter 2:9 says that the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials.

God’s Word actually compares physical exercise and “exercising” godliness.

1 Timothy 4:7-8
(7) Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.
(8) For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

Just as there are many benefits of physical exercise, so there are of godliness. Physical exercise requires resistance against something: gravity, weights, body weight, etc. No resistance, no work, no gain. But the benefits of physical exercise are many–relieving tension and stress, stimulating the mind, helping maintain stable weight, controlling appetite, boosting self-image, improving flexibility, increasing “good” (HDL) cholesterol, strengthening bones, etc. Similarly, godliness is training against resistance. We actually exercise (and grow) our faith by and through handling adversity. Memorizing Scripture is a good mental exercise, but when remembered and applied in times of adversity it is especially profitable. Scriptures held in the mind but not applied are profitless.

The Apostle Paul was in godliness training all his life. 2 Corinthians 12 describes one such training experience:

2 Corinthians 12:8-10
(8) Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.
(9) 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.
(10) 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.

Paul prayed three times, thinking that he could alter his circumstances. But the answer to his prayer was not to change the circumstances but to change him—to give him whatever he needed internally in order to endure the outward circumstances. Jesus experienced the same thing in the garden of Gethsemane. His prayer for another way was not answered, and he surrendered to the will of God, which in that case was to endure the cross, and despise the shame associated with it (Heb. 12:2).

Next time you are dealing with adversity, try the “three prayers test.” If after the three intense prayers your circumstances are unchanged, perhaps you need to go through the adversity and not around it. Begin praying for strength to endure, for patience, for love for others, for other elements of godliness.

Sometimes by God’s grace we triumph over the adversity and see the miraculous transformation of our circumstances—as in the parting of the Red Sea or other miracles of God’s provision. Other times the transformation is internal—the Christ in us is magnified and we come out of the adversity with greater faith and confidence in God and ourselves. We learn that we have the ability and strength to endure and keep trusting God regardless of what life throws at us. That is very freeing, and even more valuable than deliverance from any particular adverse circumstance.

Is there something in your life that you might pray three times about? Go ahead and pray, and keep praying for the will of the Lord to be done. But try this also: ask God to use the situation to produce godly fruit in your life instead of just praying for the situation to be over. These times test our commitment to God’s purposes in our life. Do we want to be like Christ and have godly character? Sometimes this must come at the expense of our comfort, our convenience, and our autonomy or independence.

Requirement for Christian Leaders

Handling adversity well is a requirement for those who would lead God’s people. In 2 Timothy 2:3, Paul encourages Timothy to “endure hardship with us [the English transliteration is sugkakopatheo –literally “suffer evil,” i.e., undergo one’s share of suffering or share in hardship with someone] like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” He then likens Christian servant-leadership to military service, which involves a lot of hardship, and athletic competition, which also imposes a good deal of discipline and hardship. In athletic competition it is always harder to compete by the rules and some will therefore try to cheat. But competing within the often-difficult rules is the very thing that makes the competition exciting. Similarly, Christian servant-leadership requires a strong commitment to the purposes of God even at the expense of our own comfort. We must be prepared to go the more difficult way if that is the way the Lord leads.

Again, Paul exhorts Timothy, and thus all who would serve the Body of Christ, to “…keep your head in all situations, endure hardship (Greek kakopaqew)…discharge all the duties of your ministry” (2 Tim. 4:5). Clearly it is not going to be easy doing so, and one will face much adversity in the process. But the rewards will be great, in this life and in the Millennial Kingdom.

The fact is, the Body of Christ needs servant-leaders who have demonstrated an ability to handle adversity in a healthy way—people who can endure all kinds of personal opposition, accusation, judgment, and persecution without bitterness, desire for revenge, defensiveness, and lashing out against others. Anyone can pretend to have godly qualities in evidence when things are going well, but to manifest godliness in the face of adversity shows that it is real and can be trusted. Some of these will be people who have hit bottom, cratered under adversity, but bounced back and are the better for the experience.

Christian servant-leaders must be people of integrity, who do not sell out their values when things get tough and they stand to lose something. They are people who exercise godliness regardless of the personal cost. A wise man once said, “Following the path of least resistance makes men and rivers crooked.” Christian servant-leaders should be men and women who are prepared to meet the greatest resistance when necessary. The true God is not calling us to an easy life, but a life of obedience and faith despite the circumstances.

Conclusion

In conclusion, let us revisit the test you took at the beginning of this article, and rewrite each statement so it is accurate.

a) If one is walking with God, sometimes life is easy, and things come together without a lot of stress and strain. Other times we can be in the will of God and all hell is breaking loose. We cannot judge the righteousness of our spiritual path by the circumstances that accompany us.

b) Persistent adversity awaits those committed to a righteous path, but God will deliver them from all their troubles. We are superconquerors in Christ, if not in this life, in the next because of the reward that will come to us for our faithfulness to stand in the face of adversity.

c) Adversity is sometimes caused by our personal sinfulness, and brought on because sin and idolatry have weakened our defenses. When we suspect that this may be the case we quickly repent and seek God’s forgiveness and restoration of fellowship with the expectation of deliverance. We take responsibility for our choices and the consequences that followed from them, both intended and unintended. In this way we grow in wisdom and understanding about how life works and how to avoid many problems.

d) That some specific kinds of adversity or suffering is allowed by God to discipline us and fashion our character. We know He is for us, and only against our sin. This in no way impinges upon our faith in God’s goodness, and that we can go to Him for comfort and deliverance in times of trouble.

e) That some adversity is the direct result of demonic oppression or the attack of the Devil, and may or may not mean that we are on the right spiritual path. We steadfastly resist these assaults by being strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. We fight a spiritual fight using the name of Jesus Christ and the sword of the spirit, the Word of God. And we always keep in mind that the Enemy is interested only in hindering the purposes of God, and otherwise has no interest in us personally.

f) That adversity is the necessary affect of sin’s entrance into the world, and affects believers and unbelievers alike. Everyone will have a measure of adversity that can result in purification of our motives, strengthening of our faith in God’s deliverance, and free us from the bondage of needing to be comfortable. The believer has the advantage of having faith in God to help during the trial and to deliver him or her out of it.

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