Affliction is a treasure and scarcely any man has enough of it – John Donne
How often does everything go right in life? How often does everything happen in just the way it should? There’s a struggle all the time, isn’t there? Not just struggle but sickness, injury, pain and setbacks in life. There are painful moments; loss of a child, miscarriage, and deaths of loved ones. There are moment of betrayal, gossip, slander and persecution. These things are called life.
Life is filled with affliction and adversity. As Christians, we sometimes think that we shouldn't have to go through these things. We think that God should protect us from all suffering and pain. We accuse the devil, “That lying devil, he’s attacking me.” But today I want to examine that.
As Christians should we be able to expect an easy life, free from all adversity and problems? Is it right to expect God to keep us from problems, sickness, and setbacks? Is it right for us to think we should be blessed and never expect any adversity? Let’s examine that today from this portion of scripture:
Isaiah 30:20-21 (NKJV)
30:20 And though the Lord gives you The bread of adversity and the water of affliction, Yet your teachers will not be moved into a corner anymore, But your eyes shall see your teachers. 21 Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, "This is the way, walk in it," Whenever you turn to the right hand Or whenever you turn to the left.
The Bread of Adversity
I think that this is such an interesting scripture, especially the phrase – “the bread of adversity and the water of affliction.” Bread and water are the necessities of life. He’s comparing adversity and affliction to food and water. How long can you live without food? About forty days. How long without water? About a week. So this scripture tells us that adversity and affliction are life preserving. We need adversity and affliction, like we need food and water. But it’s difficult to accept that, isn't it?
Look at what Paul says:
2 Corinthians 12:10 (NKJV)
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.
How many of us really take pleasure in those things? Isaiah says those things are life preserving. Why is that true? These are things that God uses to work in us. We don’t always see it while we’re struggling through it, but often when we look back, we can see how that worked something through in our lives, like patience or character or hope. Adversity results in hope:
Romans 5:3-4 (NKJV)
5:3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope.
Character and hope don't come from blessing. Tribulation and trial make us more like Jesus, and that’s the intention of trials. Look at how Jesus faced the trial of crucifixion. He spoke not a word, in fact, look at this:
Hebrews 12:2 (NKJV)
12:2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
He endured the cross for the joy that was set before Him. That’s hope, right? He endured suffering knowing that something better was coming. This is what we should see. Jesus had character in the face of overwhelming adversity and hope in the midst of trial. We need to endure suffering in order to be more like Him. After all, that’s the goal of Christianity…to be like Jesus.
We need adversity, it’s necessary to the Christian lifestyle. It’s what shapes us and forms us into being like Christ and so a faithful God ALLOWS us to have adversity. He ALLOWS us to face torment and struggle. Adversity is really a gift: That’s why Paul said, “I take pleasure in infirmities.” That’s why he said, “I glory in tribulations.” That’s what he meant when he said, “For when I am weak, I am strong.”
The question today is, “Do you want to be Christ-like?” because if you want to be Christ-like you’re going to have to endure some adversity. It’s life preserving because it’s the bringer of hope.
I know what it’s like to be hopeless. Hopelessness takes away the desire to live. When you have no hope, when there’s nothing to look forward to. When there’s nothing to believe in then life becomes a miserable time of struggle and disappointment, but when you believe, then adversity can become life affirming. Look at Joseph’s take on adversity:
Genesis 50:20 (NKJV)
50:20 But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.
It was meant to be evil, but God meant it to be good. It refines us, it teaches us. Can we only expect good things from God? Or is God doing a good thing when he gives us trouble?
Job 2:10 (NKJV)
2:10 But he said to her, "You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
Job’s wife is advising him to “curse God and die,” and he responds with this, “You fool!” God is faithful to bring adversity – It’s a gift from God.
Psalms 119:75 (NKJV)
119:75 I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are right, And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.
It’s as necessary to us as food and water.
God Uses Affliction to Make us Better
It’s easy to see God’s intention with adversity, when you look at scripture. God uses affliction to chasten us:
Deuteronomy 8:5 (NKJV)
8:5 You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you.
You know a measure of our love for our children is that we will sacrifice to “chasten” them. You’re not doing your children any favors by not correcting them. It’s a sacrifice that parents have to make to raise their children properly. My wife and I hated to spank our kids. We hated to restrict their privileges. We hated to stop what we were doing to correct their behavior, but they needed that, and as good responsible parents we had to do it. It’s because we made that sacrifice when they were little, that we have very little trouble with them now. I know other children that have put their parents through hell, because the parents wouldn't fight the fight when they were young. Look at this:
Proverbs 3:12 (NKJV)
3:12 For whom the Lord loves He corrects, Just as a father the son in whom he delights.
So adversity is used to correct our behavior. We want to blame the devil for every problem we have in life, when very often, the problem is really the consequence of our own behavior.
Let me tell you a story. This falls under the “when I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible” category. When I was a young man I didn't file my income taxes for three years. I didn't think anything of it. I had overpaid what I owed I just didn't file the paperwork. That’s against the law in the US. So I got a letter from the IRS saying that I owed them US$15,000. It was a horrible thing. I was afraid to get in touch with them because I didn't have that kind of money. Finally, I broke down and called them and they reduced it to US$5,000, even though I had already paid them at least that much. Penalties and interest were still accruing. I ended up paying about US$9,000 by the time it was all over. I learned something through all of this. It wasn't the devil attacking me, I was being chastened because of my irresponsibility. I knew it was God, because it drew me to a place of repentance. It was a huge adversity but it wasn't an attack on my finances, it was the consequence of my irresponsibility
Seneca. A fourth century philosopher said, “Gold is refined in the fire, acceptable men in the furnace of affliction.
God also uses adversity to refine us. What does that word refine mean? According to Mirriam-Webster Dictionaries it can be defined as: to free from impurities or waste matter 2: IMPROVE: PERFECT
So God uses adversity to refine us; to improve us: To make us free from impurities. Doesn't it feel like we’re going through a fire when we have troubles and afflictions? We have an expression in the US, “He’s in the hot seat.” We use it when someone is trying to do something and things are going wrong and everyone is putting the blame on him. I've been in the hot seat a number of times in my life.
Have you ever seen gold or silver refined? The gold ore, this is rock that contains gold is crushed and then put in a furnace that’s heated to 1064C (1947F). The gold in the ore melts at that temperature then the remaining rock and impurities float to the top where they’re scraped off and only the purified gold remains. This process has to be repeated a number of times. The more it’s done the purer the resulting gold.
What does it mean to be pure? In our case it means to be holy or it means to be in the will of God, not living in your flesh.
Isaiah 48:10 (NKJV)
48:10 Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.
Take some time and think about the impurities in you…are you pure? Are you holy as God is holy? We all have some flesh that rises to the top.
I've seen it the saints: I've seen pride. I've seen laziness. I've seen irresponsibility; all of these things are impurities that need to be rooted out.
It’s like bamboo. Have you ever tried to get rid of bamboo? We had this neighbor who planted bamboo in his yard. The idea was that it would grow and provide him with some privacy, but it was awful because bamboo grows underground and pops up in another place. It grew under the fence and came up in our yard. We were constantly digging it up and trying to get rid of it. Finally, the guy tried to take it out, but the next year it came up again. He had to dig really deep to make sure he got all the roots out, someone suggested that he burn the roots out.
That’s how sin is in our lives. We have to root the sin out and sometimes the only way to do that is with fire. This is what God is doing through refining. He’s pulling out the impurities and refining us, making us more and more pure. He’s preparing us for Heaven. We’ll never be ready for Heaven until we get there. God will keep refining us.
Finally, He uses adversity and affliction for the furtherance of the Gospel.
Philippians 1:12-14 (NKJV)
1:12 But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, 13 so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; 14 and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
The people watching Paul became much more bold, because they'd seen how Paul handled his imprisonment. The thing that Paul did here was that he demonstrated how Christ was Lord over his life by how he handled his afflictions. By how willing he was to stay in the will of God despite the trials and struggles he went through.
One thing that I think is an interesting phenomenon is that it's during the times of trial and persecution that when we see the greatest and fastest growth in the church. China is poised to become the largest Christian nation in the world at a time when it suffers the greatest persecution. Persecution is something that’s afflicted on the entire church, but it manifests itself in individual affliction. It is individuals who go to jail and work camps. It is individuals who are beaten or murdered for their faith. Yet, even in that the church grows, and the Gospel moves forward, even faster than in places where there is freedom to worship.
What are the Rewards of Adversity and Affliction?
James 1:2-4 (NKJV)
1:2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
The reward of adversity and affliction is growth and maturity; being ready to enter into God’s kingdom. I know most people think they’re ready for Heaven right now. I’m ready to go to Heaven, but I’m not ready to BE in Heaven. God hasn't completed or perfected me, yet. I've got a few more things to go through before I’ll be ready. After I've been through them I will be perfected, like the gold in the refiner’s fire: Like the child who’s been disciplined. Then I’ll be ready to move to the next thing, which in this case, is Heaven.
Will you allow God to complete those things in you? Will you allow Him to perfect you? I know it seems hard now, but it’s worth it.
When I first started working, I worked in the lowest position that was in our company. I drove a pickup truck and picked up people’s trash at minimum wage. It was a time to learn; it was a time to gain new skills. It was difficult, not always pleasant work, but when I had gone through that I was ready for the next level of my career. I had to go through the difficult things to be ready for the next thing. The next thing wasn't any easier; I just had different things to learn so I could continue to move up.
You have to go through the difficult things here on earth to be ready for what awaits you in Heaven. It’ll be a better place:
Revelation 21:4 (NKJV)
21:4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away."
That’s the next thing… Strive for that!