The Christian life is the greatest life there is. God takes a life that was empty and aimless and, worst of all, headed to a certain judgment, and He turns it around and transforms it. That is more than enough right there. But in addition, He removes the guilt that haunted us, fills the emptiness inside of us, and takes residence in our heart. This all comes as a result of the gospel believed and followed. That is the good news.
But we also need to know there are some new problems that come along as a result of becoming a Christian. You get rid of an old set of problems, and you inherit new ones. As Bible commentator Ray Stedman put it, “A Christian is one who is completely fearless, continually cheerful, and constantly in trouble.” We need to be aware of the fact that the Christian life is not a playground; it is a battleground. In fact, the Bible tells us, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22 NKJV). But why does God allow trials and hardships in the life of the Christian? Let me give you a few reasons.
First, adversity levels us and keeps us humble. Prosperity has a tendency to make people proud and self-sufficient. We don’t think we need God when we have a wallet full of credit cards, a lot of money in the bank, investments, and good health. So we sort of ignore God. But when an economy goes south or the stock market crashes or our home burns to the ground, we turn to God because we are reminded of what really matters. As the psalmist said, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word” (Psalm 119:67).
When the people of Israel were poised to enter the Promised Land after years of wandering in the wilderness, God gave them this warning: “When you have eaten your fill in this land, be careful not to forget the Lord, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 6:11–12 NLT). We talk about the problem of pain, but let’s talk about the problem of prosperity. Prosperity brings responsibility. I am not an owner of anything; I am a steward. Everything God gives to me is a gift, and I am held responsible for what I do with the resources that are at my disposal. So we must take the responsibility of prosperity seriously and make sure that we remain dependent on God.
When life gets really hard and adversity strikes, we pray—and so we should. But sometimes when life is going reasonably well, we sort of forget about prayer. In his book The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis writes, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Second, adversity teaches us eternal truths that we would not otherwise learn. I avoid pain at all costs. That is why I don’t run. I have tried it, and it hurts. I have even had people say, “Just run a little. You know, walk, and then run from here to there.” So I do it. And I hate it. I avoid things that cause pain. We want to get into shape, but we want a pain-free workout. We don’t want to hurt. We don’t want our muscles to be sore the next day. But as the expression goes, “No pain, no gain.” And what is true for the gym is also true of life. No pain, no gain. If you are looking for a pain-free life, then you are not going to grow spiritually. Pain reminds us of a deeper need, which is a need for God. And he will teach us lessons in the valleys that we never would have learned on the mountaintops, things we need to know and things we need to share with others.
Think about some of the greatest lessons you have learned in your life. They have come through adversity, haven’t they? And those are the things that you pass on and share with others. You remember those times when God came through for you.
Third, adversity gives us a new compassion for others who are in pain. When you go through adversity, you have a new consideration of others. It has been said that success builds walls, and failures build bridges. If everything is always perfect and life is always firing on every cylinder, people don’t relate to that. But they do relate to a person who is going through or who has been through pain. The apostle Paul said, “[God] comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (2 Corinthians 1:4). We need to continue in the faith. Some may say, “Well, my faith has been tested, and I can’t handle this.” But the faith that cannot be tested is the faith that cannot be trusted. With all respect, the faith that cannot make it through adversity is not real faith.
Real faith gets stronger through hardship, not weaker. It becomes more resilient. It doesn’t fall apart. Emotions come and go. The Bible says, “The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17 NKJV); it doesn’t say the just shall live by feeling. So press on. And when you are facing adversity, don’t focus on emotions that fluctuate. Remember that God is there with you. And remember that He is in control.