Not very many people would ever prefer hardship in life over peace and easy circumstances. For us as Christians, when adversity shows up, we should be able to view it as a source of benefits. That’s right! Adversity and hardships are filled with unforeseen benefits for the one who knows how to see them in a Godly perspective. One particular person like this was Dave Dravecky who was a Major League Baseball player. His pitching career was cut short by cancer in his throwing arm, an arm that was eventually amputated. This would crush most of us if that happened to have something we worked so hard for all of our lives taken away from us like that. But Dravecky has used his difficult trials to speak to a countless number of people about God’s faithfulness despite the loss of his pitching arm. That inspired me when I heard his story because the Gospel is being spread as a result of Dave Dravecky’s troubles. God has turned Dravecky’s trial into a testimony for Jesus Christ! Another such person I draw great encouragement from on how he handled his trials and adversity is the Apostle Paul. Every town Paul visited he usually made two stops. The Synagogue and then to the jail! I’ve especially seen a model of how to grow during hardships from Paul when he was imprisoned and wrote to the church in Philippi in the book of Philippians to let them know that God was at work in spite of his incarceration.
As I’ve been reading Philippians recently it is this series of events that Paul refers to in verse 1:12 when he says, “The things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.” Paul believed that everything that happened had its place in God’s plan. That’s why he could also write in 2 Corinthians 12:10, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Unlike most people, if being weak and troubled was a way to see God manifest His strength, then Paul was willing to be weak. That’s not the norm for society today who runs from trials and constantly complains when things don’t go the way they want them to. Many social media platforms like Facebook are filled with constant posts filled with complaints about how things that particular day are not turning out how a person wants. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if everyone looked at problems like the Apostle Paul and gave thanks in all things and saw their adversities as a chance to grow and see God’s power manifested and spread? What a breath of fresh air that would be to be uplifted all the time by others instead of torn down. Paul’s underlying message to the Philippians is, “Don’t worry about me. God is doing great things!” How would that be if everyone going through trials reported to not worry, but give praise because God was doing powerful things during their hardships and didn’t complain? I think the secular world would see and marvel in God’s Sovereignty in us in how we handle troubles and want to have what we have in Christ. As I’ve been reading Philippians verses 12-21 of chapter 1, Paul gives us six reasons for looking positively on hardships and adversity and every one of them really speaks to my heart about how I should handle myself during trials. Here they are:
- Trials and adversity promotes the progress of the Gospel: It’s mind boggling for most of us to see how in Philippians 1:12 that Paul doesn’t talk about his own situation, about being confined in a Roman prison. The first thing that flows from his pen is about the how the Gospel is advancing even though he is unable to proclaim it! The word “furthermore” in verse 12 is an engineering term that refers to the removal of obstacles. Somehow, his being in prison was removing barriers that allowed the Gospel to flow freely. As mentioned earlier, if Dave Dravecky had not lost his arm, he never would have received hundreds and hundreds of invitations to give his testimony and share the Gospel. Are we focusing on the Gospel during our tribulations more than ourselves? Paul sure did and so can we!
- Trials and adversity provides opportunities for witness: The guards assigned to prisoners awaiting a hearing before Caesar were chained to their prisoners. So Paul’s would have been chained to a Roman guard 24 hours a day, four shifts per day, for two years. This equates that Paul had nearly 3,000 opportunities for witnessing to Rome’s Praetorian Palace Guards. As a result of Paul’s access to Caesar’s elite troops and others of his staff and household, some became Christians. Some of these Roman soldier converts eve sent their greetings to the church in Philippi in Philippians 4:22. Adversity gave Paul an open door to share the Gospel with a large group of people to whom he would never have had the chance to witness to otherwise.
- Trials and adversity produces courage in our fellow believers: Paul’s boldness and witness in the midst of his imprisonment gave courage to “most of the brethren in the Lord to speak the word without fear” in Philippians 1:14. When other Christians saw how bold Paul was witnessing for Christ right in Caesar’s palace of all places they realized they should be speaking out more boldly as well. And they did!! Persecution and adversity makes people talk, and Christians talk about the hope that lies within them in midst of trouble as in 1 Peter 3:15. Trials can become a positive force for spreading the Gospel in more than one way.
- Trials and adversity proves the character of our friendships: There is no certain way to test the fiber of your friendships than to go through times of hardships and see who sticks by your side. Your true friends will say beside you and others won’t. In Philippians 1:15-17 Paul recounts how some men took advantage of his imprisonment and began preaching the Gospel out of selfish ambition and probably trying to usurp Paul’s position as the chief of apostles. We learn things about people we wouldn’t learn when everything is going fine.
- Trials and adversity promotes growth in our lives: I’ve personally learned the most about spiritual maturity in hard times and not easy times. Paul was the same way. In Philippians 1:19 he shows the courage that he is going to be delivered through it all. It echoes verse1 6 when he says “He who has begun a good work will complete it!” Paul’s maturity in Christ began on the road to Damascus in Acts 9, and it was continuing in the prison in Rome. God uses everything that happens in our lives the beginning to the end to accomplish the goal of our Christ-likeness. None of us grow when things are easy and Paul took advantage of everything that the enemy threw at him as a chance to further the Gospel of Christ.
- Trials and adversity purifies our motives: This really hits on what is probably the key verse in Pauls’ letter to the church in Philippi. Verse 1:21: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” For a lot of people in our world, one writer has suggested that this verse would ready this way: “For to me, to live is to die.” You live and then you die and that’s it! But the words I excluded are what make the difference for Christians: “Christ is gain.” It is Christ who makes all the difference, whether we live or we die. Christ in our life purifies our motives for living. Are we living for ourselves, to get all we can in this life? Or are we living for God and living in a way that He is exalted and glorified? Paul realized that living for Christ and dying in Christ are both to gain. He showed us that there is no loss for the believer in either. His motives were pure and his conscience crystal clear. Paul had only one goal and that was to glorify Christ.
In times of hardships many can be tempted to make a deal with God to get what we want. But when we are living for Christ like Paul, trials are nothing to be escaped since we know it is part of God’s purpose and plan. We live in the face of even death the same way we would live in the freedoms of life. If you are having a time of difficulty or trouble in your life, I sure do hope you will look at it the way Paul did. If you do, you will reap the harvest of benefits that trials bring with it. If you will live for Christ, you can and will prosper regardless of what happens around you. Charles Spurgeon once said: “The Lord gets His best soldiers out of the highlands of affliction.” After studying Paul’s life, I believe that statement. Be encouraged. Your greatest trials will become God’s biggest and best testimonies your life speaks into the lives of others!
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