“Most men are born crying, live complaining, and die disappointed,” said one observant writer.

Suffering is inescapable in a fallen world. If we are to effectively confront adversity we must understand that 1) God permits it, and that 2) God limits it. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able… but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”

Time is just a vestibule for eternity. In this passageway called time God is in the process of preparing a Bride for His Son. Ephesians tells us the Bride is to be spotless and totally free from wrinkles and blemishes. And how is God preparing the Bride? Suffering is a primary means of perfecting the saints. Watchman Nee said, “You will never learn anything new about God except through adversity.” Trials, temptations, and tribulations are really tools in the hand of God to make us ready to rule and reign with Christ.

Opportunity or Obstacle?

Paul Billheimer wrote a book entitled, Don’t Waste Your Sorrows. Anger, resentment, and bitterness will waste your sorrow. But by responding properly, conflict can actually help us stabilize rather than cause us to stumble. It can be a help instead of a hindrance if we confront adversity as an opportunity.

There is no such thing as a saint who has not suffered. It is impossible to control our circumstances but we can control our responses to our circumstances. Take the example of two children who grow up in a home with abusive, alcoholic parents. One child follows in the footsteps of his parents and becomes an alcoholic, while the other child grows up to be an outstanding citizen. The circumstances did not make those children; it was their response to that difficult situation that made the difference.

Someone said, “Circumstances are like a mattress: when we are on top, we rest in comfort; but when underneath, we are smothered.” How often have you heard, “I’m getting along very well under the circumstances.” The question is not, “How are things?” but “Where are you, beneath, or on top?” Once a year the Hindus in India have religious festivals where they load huge wagons with scores of idols. Men take hold of ropes and pull these chariots through the streets. Worshippers bow down as the pagan procession passes. Some are so caught up that they throw themselves beneath the wheels of the wagons and are crushed to death. If they get beneath the load they are crushed, but if they would just get on top of those chariots they would be transported farther down the road. So it is with adversity. It can crush us or transport us to a higher plane, depending on where we are in relation to it, beneath or on top. The songwriter said it this way: “Joy is not the absence of suffering; joy is not the absence of pain; joy is the presence of Jesus, and the freedom to call on His Name.”

“Every affliction comes with a message from the heart of God,” says Alexander MacClaren. The purpose of adversity is not to destroy us but to bind our will to His. It takes tremendous heat and pressure to weld two pieces of metal together. But once the bond is made it is actually stronger and harder than the metal itself. James tells us to count it all joy when we face difficulty because it affords us the opportunity to grow in grace. Adversity allows our will to be inseparably joined to God.

Brokenness or Bitterness?

There will be no blessedness apart from brokenness. The minute the word “brokenness” is mentioned, red flags shoot up in people’s minds. There is a great misunderstanding concerning brokenness. Some think if they are broken, they will never laugh again. Others think brokenness means a fallen countenance or a belittling and downgrading of one’s self, but nothing could be further from the truth.

What is brokenness? Brokenness is the avenue to joy and the way out of loneliness and depression. It is when I am more aware of others needs than I am my own. Brokenness has to do with inward attitudes and motivation. When I choose to be useful rather than famous, then I am broken. Brokenness is having a desire to serve rather than be served. It is when a person had rather die right than live wrong.

Jesus referred to Himself in Luke 20:17 as the stone which the builders had rejected. In this passage He issues a universal call to brokenness. “Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” We’re waiting for God to fall from heaven while He is waiting for us to fall on Him! But God will never fall until we first fall on Christ, the chief cornerstone. When adversity strikes it is time to humble ourselves and throw ourselves on Jesus. When hard times come, brokenness is the only alternative to bitterness. The question is, “Shall I be broken, or will I be crushed?”

As a Christian, nothing can touch me except what is filtered through the will of God. Brokenness is responding in humility. Joseph is a prime example of responding humbly in the face of overwhelming suffering. His father favored him and gave him a beautiful coat of many colors. His brothers were insanely jealous and despised Joseph. They sold him as a slave. Joseph did not rebel or kill his master. He became the model slave and was made lord of his master’s house. Later he was falsely accused when his master’s wife tried to seduce him. Because he refused to commit adultery he was thrown in prison. Though severely wronged, he responded in humility and was put in charge of the prison. In time, God exalted him to prominence in Egypt. His brothers came seeking food and were terrified when they found Joseph in charge. They feared his wrath because they had sold him into slavery. Joseph said to them, “Ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good” (Genesis 50:20). Joseph realized God was bigger than his brothers and his circumstances. Because he humbled himself God exalted him.

“The pathway of spiritual progress will be marked by the bloody footprints of wounded self-love,” said Alexander MacClaren. True brokenness is responding with selflessness. A handicapped high school student was confined to crutches and was forced to hobble from place to place. He excelled in his studies and was well liked by his peers. His friends saw the problems he had getting around and sometimes they felt sorry for him. One day his closest friend asked him why he was crippled. “It was polio,” answered the student. His friend replied, “With so many difficulties, how do you keep from becoming bitter?” Tapping his chest with his hand, the young man replied with a smile, “It never touched my heart.” In pride he could have reacted angrily, “I deserve better,” or “This is not fair!” But he responded with selflessness. Adversity affords us with countless opportunities to decentralize self. That is at the heart of the Gospel call.

Jesus Himself is the perfect picture of brokenness. Through Him we see that total commitment is the road we must take if we are to be followers of the Lamb.

For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, Reviled not again; when he suffered, He threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously; (1 Peter 2 :21-23).

Will you commit yourself and your circumstances to God?

Victory or Defeat?

Adversity will be a stepping stone or sinking sand, depending on our response. Paul speaks of glorying in tribulation. Many times it takes the furnace of affliction to reveal our true character. Conflict can be the genesis of moving closer to God.

Abraham Lincoln said, “Rivers follow the line of least resistance, that’s why they’re so crooked.” Think of the God-allowed calamity that struck Job. Satan wiped out Job’s possessions and family and stripped him of his health. Loss, grief, and physical suffering accompanied Job along with his help-meet who told him to “curse God and die.”

Satan figured Job’s faithfulness was tied to God’s hedge of protection and obvious blessing on His servant. He reasoned Job would turn on God if overtaken by catastrophe. Financial, domestic, and physical loss did not defeat Job. He allowed adversity to further develop his integrity and God blessed him more in the end than at the beginning.

Conflict will also purge our souls from sin. “He that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin” (1 Peter 4:1). Those who have suffered the most often have the sweetest and purest disposition. Perhaps this is due to the natural tendency to ponder eternal truths and the brevity of earthly life when times of affliction come our way. The worst of times may in fact be the best of times if “the things of earth grow strangely dim.” Adversity provides us a time to evaluate our condition before God. Confession, cleansing, and spiritual reality mean victory and not defeat!

Despondency or Determination?

Will you be overcome or an overcomer? Will you persevere or perish? Perplexity, doubts, and calamity are sure to come. At these times we must determine to believe God despite our feelings.

John the Baptist was the mighty voice that prepared the way of the Lord. He is the one who cried, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1 :29). Jesus said there was never a greater born of woman than John the Baptist. But John was imprisoned, and his own death was imminent. He needed a word of affirmation and sent his disciples to Jesus with a question, “Art thou he that should come? or do we look for another” (Luke 7:20). John had gotten so low that irrational doubts had taken control of his mind. He desperately needed confirmation from the Savior. The Lord sent word back: “Go your way, and tell John… how the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached. And blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me” (vs 22-23). The words of Christ were what John needed to drive away his despondency.

Elijah had seen the fire fall on Carmel, witnessed miraculous answers to prayer, slew the false prophets of Baal, and yet we find him under a juniper tree praying to die! The juniper tree syndrome has at times overtaken the best of God’s servants. The Psalmist said, “I am so troubled that I cannot speak” (Ps. 77:4). When the waves of despondency roll over our souls we must determine to believe and obey God.

“If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small” (Proverbs 24:10). Regardless of what others do, you can go on! Hurt, disappointment, and agitation will not wipe you out if you have determination in your heart.

Once a young Oriental student decided to mock his elderly teacher. He caught a small bird and cupped it in his hands behind his back. He then approached the sage with this plan in mind: he would ask the old man what he had in his hand. If he answered correctly, he would then ask the teacher if the bird was alive or dead. If the old man said, “Alive,” he would crush the bird. If he answered, “Dead” he would release the bird.

Upon approaching the teacher, the young student said, “What do I have in my hand, old man?”

The man responded, “A bird, my son.”

“Is he alive or dead, old man?” the boy prodded.

The old sage replied, “The answer to that question, my son, is in your hands.”

God will use the adversities of life to prepare you for eternity if you confront it God’s way. Opportunity or obstacle? Brokenness or bitterness? Victory or defeat? Determination or despondency? The choice is in your hands.


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Harold Vaughan

View posts by Harold Vaughan
Evangelist Harold Vaughan is the founder of Christ Life Ministries, Inc. To date, his ministry has led him to preach in forty-eight states and many foreign countries. Click on "ABOUT" in the menu bar to learn more about Harold.
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