There are times in our life when we simply get to the point where we say, “I can’t take it anymore.” “This marriage is just too hard.” “This depression is just too dark.” “The job I lost . . .” “The family member that I buried . . .” “The junk that I’m going through . . .”
And down deep inside your heart – you may not say it to anyone else, but something just starts happening, and it’s like, “I quit. I’m done. I’m opting out. I may go through the motions on the outside but I’m just . . . I’ve just had it.”
It’s a very private, dark, scary place to be. Your mind tells you things like, You gotta keep moving forward. You gotta trust God. There are promises. Everything’s going to be okay. And your heart says, “I’ve heard all that. It ain’t working for me.”
When you get to a place like this, there are some temptations that come into your mind that you think you would never even think about, and you’re now considering. And they dance around in your mind, and then they start lodging down into your heart. And you start actually considering and playing out mental fantasies of some ways to opt out, or sedate the pain.
And you begin to drift. You drift from people; you drift from God. And there was a group of people that were experiencing that, and they were drifting. And the Spirit of God spoke to the writer of Hebrews. And he wanted to encourage them; He wanted to draw them back. He wanted to give them perspective. And so, he reminded them, and this is what he said in Hebrews 10.
He said, “Think back on those early days when you first learned about Christ. Remember how you remained faithful even though it meant terrible suffering. Sometimes you were exposed to public ridicule and were beaten, and sometimes you helped others who were suffering the same things. You suffered along with those who were thrown into jail, and when everything you owned was taken from you, you accepted it with joy. You knew there were better things waiting for you that would last forever.”
He reminded them of what they’d been through in the past, how God was faithful, eternal perspective. And then, his word of hope – verse 35: “So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it will bring you!”
Don’t opt out. Don’t give up. There’s a great reward now; there’s a great reward later.
And then, you would expect, later, for him to give, “Now, here’s the solution. Here’s what you do. Here’s what’s going to make it all right. Here’s the formula.”
And he gives it to us, but we don’t like it. It’s verse 36. I put it in your notes. “For you have need of endurance, so that once you’ve done the will of God, you might receive what was promised.”
When you feel like that, when I feel like that, when things are going terrible, God’s word is, “Remember. Think back. Now you have need of endurance.”
Circle the word endurance. It’s one of those interesting Greek words: hupomeno. Hupo: under, meno has stress, pressure, pain. You have need to keep pressing ahead. You have need to hang in there.
And then, what the writer does, he says, “The Lord has no pleasure when we shrink back from walking by faith and trusting Him.” And so, he gives a whole chapter, in chapter 11, of people that hung in there, people that hung in there. It’s the hall of fame of faith.
And after he gets done with chapter 11, then he opens up chapter 12. And he says, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses” – looking back at Abraham, Enoch, Sarah, Daniel, Samson – we have such a great cloud of witnesses of people that, despite their ups or downs, their pains, their struggles, who remained faithful – he said, “let us lay aside every encumbrance.” Not necessarily sin – stuff, loads, weights.
It’s like a runner who puts on those little shorts, instead of a backpack, when he runs a marathon. It’s because a backpack is a lot of junk. Is it wrong to wear a backpack? No. But you just don’t want to do it when you’re going to run twenty-six miles – point two.
And then, he says, “Lay aside that and the sin and run the race with” – what? – “with endurance that’s set before you.”
Most people miss the greatest things in all the world with God, their future, relationships, career, and their family, because they have a window like I described, and sometimes they don’t outwardly quit, but inwardly, they quit.
And what you’re going to learn is, the great reward that God has for us in the midst of our adversity is when we keep pressing ahead. When we endure. And we’re going to learn why to endure, and we’re going to talk, in this new series, about how you can make it through anything.
Why? Because God has a great plan. He has a reward in this life, and a far greater one later. And He summarizes it in these three words. Jot them, if you will, right in your notes: “Keep pressing ahead, no matter what.”
God can help you get through anything. And whether that’s divorce, or depression, or separation, whether it’s you’re tired of being lonely or single, whether you’ve lost your job or your house, whether it’s cancer, or troubled health, or aging parents, or a child that you don’t know what to do with, or a parent you don’t know what to do with. Whether it’s you didn’t get in a school, or you’ve been betrayed by a friend . . .
And we’re going to build a framework of what the Bible says about how we need to think about and understand adversity, and difficulty, and pain.
And we’re going to follow the path of a man called Nehemiah, who has five different kinds of adversity, who responds differently in each kind of adversity, who refuses to give up. And he experiences the reward now, and an even greater reward later.
Some of you are really motivated. The deeper, the more difficult, the more painful your problem, the greater the likelihood you’re open to hear from God like never before.
And so, in this first session, what I want to do is give a framework. And first is – are you ready? Step one is what I just call “a basic understanding of adversity.” This is just understanding the basics.
There are four specific principles in this one. It’s, you can’t, but Christ can. I hear people all the time – and I’ve said it to God: “God, I can’t. I can’t take it anymore. I can’t live with this anymore. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.” God says, “Good! That’s the first principle. You can’t, I can.”
Philippians 4:13 – the apostle Paul would say, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” And so, let’s just get out of the idea that you can do it – you can muster the strength; somehow you have the willpower. I got news for you. You can’t. But God can, through you.
Second, if you will, open your Bible to Psalm 34. The author of one of the greatest teachings in all of the Bible, in terms of how to make it through difficult times, is David.
Yes, he was a king; yes, he was powerful, but he went through some of the most devastating pain. The great majority of all the Psalms are written by a guy, and he shares his heart.
And in Psalm 34, verse 19, he says, “The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.” You need to believe. You need to believe, not just intellectually, but you need to believe that God wants to help you.
I memorized that in a different translation. It says, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous.” These aren’t bad people. This is of the righteous. These are people who say, “God, I want to do life Your way. God, I want to love people. God, I want my life to be exactly what You want it to be.
Many are the afflictions – the difficulties, the pain, the hardships – that righteous people go through. But the second half: “The Lord delivers them from them all.” He delivers out of them; He delivers through them. Not always the way you want, not always the time that you want.
But you gotta believe. God’s not down on you. He’s your Good Shepherd. He cares about you. He really wants to help you.
Third, is, you need to admit your need. Psalm 34:18 – he says, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted; He saves those that are crushed in spirit.” In fact, the big part of what God is doing in your adversity – He’s a good, loving, kind, absolutely in control God, who knows everything in a fallen world.
And when people betray you, and difficulty comes in, and things that you can’t control, God promises to take that adversity, and what He wants to do is, He wants to wean you of your self-dependency, and your pride. He wants to usher you into intimacy with Him. He wants all that difficulty to drive you to Him.
But you know what you have to do? You gotta admit you need him. There are some of us, “Oh, I’m going to do this. I’ll just buck up. I’ll be stronger. I can get through this. I know some people.” You know?
The velvet vice of adversity just gets harder and harder and harder and harder, and as someone wisely said, when you finally hit rock bottom, there’s only one place to look.
You meet with people with addictions, and I’ll tell you what they’ll all tell you: the people that have had addictions and broken through them, they will just say, “Until you come to the end of yourself, you’re just playing games.”
And God is near to the brokenhearted. He’s near to those who are crushed in spirit. To those who say, “I can’t do this” – and mean it – “I really can’t. I am powerless, and helpless to work my way out of this situation.” That’s how you respond to adversity.
Then, notice what David says in verse 17. He says, “I cried out to the Lord and He heard my prayer. The righteous cry, and the Lord hears and [He] delivers them from all their trouble.”
Now, notice, he didn’t say he prayed. He didn’t say he asked. He said he cried out. You might put in your notes – it’s not in your notes, but jot down Hebrews 5:7 and 8. This is tucked in this chapter, about Jesus, that we don’t think of Jesus this way. But it says, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission.”
This is Jesus, now. “Although He was a Son,” it goes on to say, “He learned obedience through the things which He suffered.” Jesus was fully God – perfect, never sinned. But He was fully human. And He walked with the Father, and blazed the trail, not in His deity, but in His full humanity.
It says, “In His days” – plural – “on earth.” There were days when He felt so overwhelmed, and so pained, and so – And He cried! It says “with loud cries and tears.”
If you would see Jesus, and we were over here, and He was a few stones throws away, He wouldn’t be saying, “Father, I’m on mission. Thank You very much. We’re going to get this taken care of, because I’m God.”
You would have heard Him crying out, “Oh Father! I can’t take it anymore! The people betrayed me; they’re not responding. I don’t know what to do. I feel tempted. My –” He was crying out to God. He cried before the Father.
And it says, “He was heard because of His reverent submission.” He didn’t give in. He didn’t give up. He didn’t opt out. He said, “Not My will, but yours be done.”
People, that’s the basics. Most of us spend our energy, in adversity, trying to avoid it, trying to deny it, trying to sedate it, trying to blame someone else for it, instead of asking God to use it in us.
I can’t, He can. I believe God wants to help me. I admit that I need His help. And then, at a level like never before, you cry out to God. And you let your emotions come out, and your frustrations come out, and your hurts come out. And the Lord is near to the brokenhearted.
I’ll tell you what, I look back on my life, and I remember one of my kids in the ICU. And we didn’t know if he was going to make it. I didn’t pray some simple, little prayers. “Oh Father, in the name of Thy Lord Jesus, would You heal my son?”
My wife got cancer. I didn’t pray little prayers.
And I will tell you, in those windows of time, when I came to the end of myself, and literally not just cried out, but cried, I experienced a love from God that I’ve not experienced at any other time in my life.
And that intellectual knowledge, that I know that God loves me not because I do something, and God loves me if I do something – that unconditional, “You are My son. You are My daughter…” You will experience that. And adversity is allowed by God, and, at times, caused by God, to bring you to that point, because He loves you. And He wants the best for you.
I’d like you, at this point, before we go on, to ask – most of you are there, at least your heads and body language are telling me you are. What’s the number one issue you’re wrestling with? What’s the biggest adversity? What’s the biggest problem?
Because you know what you do? After a while, you just put it over in a little category, and put it in a box, and you just keep on living. And we just pretend it’s not there. And we just keep the noise up, and figure ways to deal with it. I want you to get it out of the box, and get it right in front of you, and right before God. Because step one – these are the basics.
Step two is, you gotta stop believing the lies about adversity. You’ve been pumped, most of your life, with, every time difficult, painful, unjust, hard things come into your life, here are the lies that have just bombarded your mind. And they’re subconscious, many of them. You believe these. You don’t even know you believe them! But they determine your behavior.
So, you’re in a tough situation: “This isn’t fair. It’s not worth it. God doesn’t love me. This is the way it is; things will never change. I’m being punished by God. I guess I’m a terrible person. There’s no hope for me. No one cares about me. If God is really good, how could He let this happen? This is too much. I know He says He won’t give us more than we can bear, but this is more than I can bear. I’m out.”
Or sometimes, “I’m a failure.” And you just turn off. “What’s the use?” You’ll tread through the motions of life, but no vision, no passion, no dream, because you’re a failure.
Let me tell you the truth about what God says about adversity. Number one, it’s normal. Ready for that? Adversity is not unusual; it’s not unexpected. It’s normal. Authority? Jesus. John 16:33. It’s the last night. He wants to prepare His men for what they’re going to go through.
He doesn’t say, “Look, I’m going to die; I’m going to rise from the dead. We’re going to make this thing happen.” He said, “In the world you will have tribulation.” This is a promise. “But be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”
This is a promise you don’t even have to complain to receive. He said, “Look, I’m telling you in advance, it’s going to be hard, difficult. You got trouble coming.”
The apostle Paul would go on to say – talk about a promise. Second Timothy 3:12 – he says, “For all of those who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus, you will be persecuted.” Well there’s a happy… Gosh, thanks, Paul. “So, you mean if I really live it out, if…” Yeah.
But what happens to so many of us? You fly your flag, or you love someone, or you take a step of faith and you get a little flack: “Oh, God, what’s wrong?” Nothing! This was what happened to Paul. This was what happened to Jesus. This was what happened to Peter. This is what happens to all Christians.
Are you ready? Adversity is normal. Peter would go on to say it’s expected. He writes, in I Peter 4:12, he says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you” – notice, there’s purpose – “for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.”
Why are you surprised? I meet Christians all the time – and I fall into it myself. Something difficult will happen. “Well, why? What’s wrong? What did I do?” instead of, “This is normal. It’s expected.” But here’s when it gets at least kind of good for me. It’s purposeful.
Romans chapter 5, the first five verses – In fact, these are five verses that are worth memorizing, the apostle Paul, looking at what all God has done. And then, he opens up chapter 5, and he says, “Therefore…” He talks about, we’ve been justified by faith, through Jesus Christ, and we exalt in this new relationship. And he talks about, we have this introduction into grace in which we stand.
And you have the apostle Paul looking at his past, looking at the work of Christ, this grace, this forgiveness, this promise of the future. And he says, “We exalt in hope of the glory of God.”
And the word exalt means “rejoice,” and “take pride in,” and there’s this sense of, Wow! And we also exalt in what? It means we rejoice, take pride in, embrace, lean into, squeeze every drop of profit out of tribulation. Why? Because it’s purposeful.
Tribulation leads to endurance. That’s our word, hupomeno. Endurance leads to proven character. Proven character leads to hope. And hope doesn’t disappoint, because in the midst of that pain, in the midst of that difficulty, as you keep pressing ahead, that’s when the love of God gets poured into your heart.