Broadcast

Difficult Good

From the series Purpose FULL

Where do we turn when we experience pain, hardship, or even disappointment with God? Join guest teacher Ryan Ingram for this message as he tackles the tough subject of pain and its purpose in our lives. Don’t miss the one thing that can sustain us through all the ups and downs of life.

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Message Transcript

How do you live a purpose filled life through the difficulties of life? Like, can you really live a purpose filled, purpose full life through the difficulties, the hardships, the pain, the brokenness of our world? We would all agree life is hard, isn’t it? It’s difficult. Maybe for some, you would say this last year maybe knocked the wind out of you. You ever have that happen? Do you remember that?

Anybody have the, when, as a kid you have the, you just, you’re running, you get hit, or you fall on something and then you’re just, you’re gasping and you feel like you’re never going to breathe again, don’t you? And then all of a sudden, you get that air.

And I think for many, this last year has felt like that, hasn’t it? It has been a sucker punch to the gut. You feel like your legs got taken out. You feel like you have maybe been knocked out or knocked down or you’re losing hope. How do you live a purpose filled life in the midst of the difficulties of life?

Now, here’s what is so important. The pathway, listen up, the pathway of a purpose filled life always involves difficulty. The pathway of a purpose filled life always involves sacrifice and suffering. In fact, the sermon title today is simply this: A Difficult Good.

See, in our day today, those are an oxymoron, right? You don’t put difficult and good together. You just have difficult and get through it and then you have good and happy and fun and comfortable. And, yet, there is a difficult good that we need to embrace in order to live a purpose filled life.

In fact, I think there are many today, this sermon is so important, there are many today who are pursuing a comfort full life and as a result, missing out on a purpose full life, because you haven’t yet embraced the difficult good God has for you.

Over this series, like I said, we have been studying Paul’s missionary journey in the book of Acts and what I want to do today, rather than take you through more of that, I want to zoom out. I want to zoom out and let you kind of see all the missionary journeys. He went on three missionary journeys.

And an apt title, if you had to title all three missionary journeys would be a difficult good. And you’ll see why in just a second, that it was something incredibly difficult, incredibly hard. A lot of trials and tribulation and suffering and yet, so much good came out of it.

If you’ve got your notes, open it up. Let’s look at Paul’s missionary journey. His first missionary journey, you can find that in the book of Acts chapter 13 and 14. This happened somewhere around the time of A.D 47 to A.D. 49. His traveling companions were Barnabas, if you remember Barnabas the encourager came alongside Paul when no one else would come alongside. And then John Mark who is Barnabas’ cousin, remember?

And they start off and they go to the island of Cyprus. Well, they immediately encounter difficulty. It’s spiritual opposition from Elymas the sorcerer. And then they traveled to Perga and that they traveled by ship there. And when they get there, John Mark can’t handle the difficulties. And so, he deserts them.

And you can only imagine when you’re starting off on something and feeling deserted or betrayed in that moment. Well, he traveled on – Antioch, Pisidia. Jewish leaders drive Paul out of town. They go to the next town of Lystra and actually they thought because of the miracles Barnabas and Paul were doing, they interpreted them as being Greek gods in the flesh.

They’re like, “Oh my gosh, Barnabas and Paul.” And this is how fickle the human heart is. Eventually they realized they weren’t gods, some Jewish leaders came and persuaded them, and they dragged Paul outside of town and they stone him. I mean, he went from being almost worshipped to then having rocks hurled at you. That’s a bad week if you – yeah, for anybody right there.

Antioch, Jerusalem, as they head down at the end of their missionary journey, they experienced the internal opposition of Judaizers who were saying that you have to be saved, you have to become Jewish. So, his first missionary journey you see this good that came about, churches planted, people coming to know Christ. And yet, incredible difficulties along the way.

Second missionary journey, you can find in Acts chapter 15 through 18. This happened around A.D. 49 to A.D. 51. His companions were Silas and Timothy, Luke, and later on, Priscilla and Aquila. Some of the notable events is before they even set off on the journey, Paul and Barnabas split ways because of they were divided on whether to bring John Mark or not.

And so, now your traveling companion and partner in the ministry is now going separate ways. Incredibly difficult. And Phrygia and Galatia, Paul is actually, it says he is kept by the Holy Spirit to going into Asia. He’s going, like, “I want to go this direction, but the Holy Spirit is keeping me.” And there’s this, he gets this vision, this Macedonian call.

And here’s what’s fascinating when we think about the call of God and the will of God, we so often interpret the will or call of God based on our circumstances, right? Open door! And an open door is, everything is going easy. That’s kind of how we talk about open doors instead of, okay, God called me here. It’s going to still be difficult but I’m clear on my calling and what He has called me, so I can lean in through these difficulties. That’s what happened here.

Called to Macedonia, but they show up in Philippi, Paul and Silas end up, through the preaching and seeing what God was doing in this work, they get flogged and imprisoned. In Thessalonica, Jewish leaders try to arrest Paul and Silas. In Berea, there’s even more opposition where he ended up, Paul had to get out of town and go to Athens.

And then finally in Corinth, this is Jewish leaders try to arrest Paul and while he’s there, he actually pens the letters 1 and 2 Thessalonians to the church in Thessalonica. Think about these letters to encourage and equip the churches that he started.

His third missionary journey, Acts 18 through 21, it’s really his longest time away. It’s between A.D. 52 to 57. His companion is Timothy; his protégé, Luke, who is the author of the book of Acts and others along the way.

Notable events: preaching the gospel in Ephesus. He was so effective, think about this, he was so effective that the silversmiths start a riot in the city because his effectiveness and the gospel is impacting their bottom line, because people aren’t buying idols anymore or silver idols. And so, they throw a riot in Corinth, or in Ephesus. Paul actually writes the first book to the church in Corinth, 1 Corinthians there.

Macedonia and Greece, Paul then writes 2 Corinthians and the letter to the church in Rome called Romans. And Agabus, the prophet, this is on his way back to Jerusalem says, “Your difficult good isn’t quite over yet. In fact, when you get to Jerusalem, you’re going to get, be in prison there.”

See, a difficult good, the pathway of a purpose filled life always involves difficulty, always involves sacrifices, always involves some level of suffering. I want you to notice something. God did incredible good and we are here today because of the efforts that Paul went out in those missionary journeys.

In fact, we have this new, what we now call, the New Testament. 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Galatians, Philippians – these are letters that the apostle Paul penned, many while he was in prison.

And today, we have them now because he leaned into this moment. Churches were planted, the gospel was spread, people gave their lives to Christ, and – and it was difficult. And it was hard.

So, so how do you live a purpose filled life in the difficulties of life? How do we do that as a church? How do you do that as an individual? Well, I can think of nobody else who I would want to hear about how to do that than the apostle Paul.

In fact, as he was describing his difficulties to the church in Corinth, when he was defending his apostleship, listen to what he says about what he experienced. This is amazing. I just want you to kind of think about what you’re walking through and then understand what Paul walked through. He says, “I have worked much harder and been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, I have been exposed to death again and again, five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked.” Man, that’s a lot of shipwrecks.

“I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move, I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles, in danger in the city, and in danger in the country, and in danger,” it’s sounding like a country song right there. “In danger in the sea and in danger from false believers. I have labored, I have toiled, and often gone without sleep. I have known hunger and thirst and often gone without food. I have been cold and I have been naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure, my concern for all the churches.”
His heart was heavy for those churches and people that he planted. He felt and was their spiritual father. And what I want to do with our time is actually give you four keys to navigating this purpose filled life through the difficulties of life.

They come from the letters that the apostle Paul penned to, one, his protégé Timothy, and also to those churches as everybody gets to watch and see how he has gone about his life and what he has done. And he’s saying, “Listen, I want to help you navigate this well. I want to help you live a purpose filled life, no matter what you are facing.”

And so, when life is difficult, when life is hard, the first thing the apostle Paul is going to tell us is: Get clear on your purpose or get clear on your “why” and don’t be surprised by suffering. Don’t be surprised by problems.

Listen to what the apostle Paul says to his young protégé Timothy. He says, “You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith,” he’s got very clear on his purpose and everybody else can see it. And this led to, “…patience, love, endurance, persecution, sufferings.” He goes on to say, “What kind of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra,” on his first missionary journey, “the persecutions I endured.”

Like, you know all of those things. You have seen that. Now, notice this. “Yet,” and circle if you’re taking notes, circle that word “yet”. I love this, by the way, when you’re going through something hard. “Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.”

When you’re going through something hard, it’s so easy to forget the good that God did and His faithfulness in your past. Remember His faithfulness. Remember how He showed up. Remember how He moved and how He delivered in the past and why you’re going through the present suffering.

And then he says this, “In fact, everyone,” that means, by the way, everyone. So, that’s all of us included, “…who choose to live a godly life in Christ will be persecuted.”

The first thing that the apostle Paul wants us to know navigating this, purpose filled life in the midst of the difficulties of life, is get clear on your purpose and don’t be surprised by suffering. Don’t be surprised by problems.

You know one of the things I hear a lot when we’re going through things? “I can’t believe this is happening.” “How could this?” And, yet, Jesus said what? “In this life you will have trouble.” He said while we’re here on this planet, life is hard, isn’t it? It is. Life is difficult. “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Like, in this life, the circumstances, the things that are going on, you’re going to have hardship, you’re going to have some of those things, but you can take heart. You don’t have to lose heart – why? “Because My death and My resurrection has declared victory over anything and everything that is going on. And I have overcome it all. And since you’re in Me, you are an overcomer. So don’t be surprised by it, be prepared for it.”

And so, what do we do? We get clear on our purpose.

I’ll just give you a brief big picture purpose for every single person. Your purpose is to know God and then to make Him known. And as you get to know God more, then you get to understand more specifically how God has called and designed you to make Him known in your giftings and who He has made you to be, in the places where He has put you to be. Get clear on your purpose.

I like how Gail Hyatt said it. She said, “People lose their way when they lose their ‘why’.” Like, have you lost your “why” over the last year? Have you lost your “why” over your marriage? Have you lost your “why” with your work? Or why God has placed you there? Or with that friendship? Have you lost your “why”? And he says people lose their way when they lose their why. Get clear on your purpose.

Have you lost your “why”? Have you lost your purpose? See, when you’re traveling through the difficulties of life, get clear on your purpose. Get back to your “why”.
I like how Gail Hyatt said it. She said, “People lose their way when they lose their ‘why’.” Like, have you lost your “why” over the last year? Have you lost your “why” over your marriage? Have you lost your “why” with your work? Or why God has placed you there? Or with that friendship? Have you lost your “why”? And he says people lose their way when they lose their why. Get clear on your purpose.

Have you lost your “why”? Have you lost your purpose? See, when you’re traveling through the difficulties of life, get clear on your purpose. Get back to your “why”.

The second thing the apostle Paul is going to say is recognize suffering has a purpose; it’s not pointless. When life is difficult, recognize that suffering has a purpose. God is actually at work in the difficult seasons of life. He may not, He’s not the cause of the pain or the difficulty, but He will not waste your pain.

Listen to what he says to the church in Rome. He says, “And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.” Period. And I’d wish you’d just stop there, by the way. Because isn’t that great? Like, yes and amen. We boast in the hope of the glory of God. Awesome. Thank you very much.

But he goes on to something that is so foreign for us as the Western Church, as Americans. “Not only so, but we also glory in our,” help me out, [audience: sufferings] …sufferings.” We glory in our sufferings. Why? Because we know that suffering produces something. “It produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

That there are some things in your life, listen, there are some things in your life that can only be reshaped through the crucible of pain. There’s some of the character things that God wants to help form the life of Christ, of who you were called to be. And suffering plays a part in that. Suffering produces perseverance. That’s that word hupomeno. Remaining under. Picture almost of like a weightlifter that just remains under that weight and through remaining under is strengthened. And as you endure, as you endure, then it produces the character, the Christlikeness, the godly life. That suffering has a purpose in your life. It’s not pointless.

And Jesus is going, “No, if you will surrender it to Me, I want to produce something in you through this.”

I remember when we lived in Atlanta, and it was an incredibly hard time for us, as a family. My job wasn’t going well. It just was a rough season there. And then, and then we just had our desire, like, Georgia was great, Atlanta was great, but we love California, love here, we grew up here, we wanted to be back. We want to be by the ocean.

And then my son, he was born, and from the get-go, the doctors told us he’s failing to thrive. A couple months after his birth, he was actually under his birth weight still. And we are pumping him on protein shakes and everything and praying.

You ever have one of those? I’m in my mid-twenties at this point. Just crying out to God. Never really gone through this much pain at this point in my life, so didn’t really know what to do or how to do it. I’m just, it’s just hard.

I’m going, Man, my job sucks, we don’t like where we live, my son, I can’t even do anything about it! I can’t change anything. I’ve just got to hold this little being and pray. We were driving as a family down downtown in the Buckhead area next to the mall. This was one of those days that it was just pouring down the rain, it basically felt – looked how I felt. Just like, it’s just dreary, it’s just gloomy, it’s awful.

And then I see on the scrolling marquee and literally, I don’t know if I just saw this, if God put that up there for me, or if this was really on a scrolling marquee in downtown Buckhead. But on the scrolling marquee at this mall, here’s what it said. It said, “God does not bring a man into deep waters to drown him, but to purify him.” Oh my gosh!

Because there’s a purpose and You’re going to work and this sucks. Let’s just call it what it is. But You have not left me. And He has not left you. And He’s in the middle of the difficulty with you.

When life is difficult, we’ve got to get clear on our purpose. Recognize that suffering has a purpose. Next, the apostle Paul is going to say your God-given calling is not limited by your circumstances. Your God-given calling, your purpose on this planet is not limited, it’s not hindered by your circumstances, by the problems, by the obstacles, by a pandemic. It is not limited.

Notice what he says to the church in Philippi. Now, remember the church in Philippi? The church in Philippi is where he was flogged and imprisoned. And then now he’s actually in Rome. And he’s in prison again and he’s writing back to the church. And notice what he says.
“Now, I want you to know brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me,” house arrest, imprisoned, “has actually served,” not hindered, “served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.” It served to advance the gospel. Paul got to preach to the most elite soldiers of his day, the Praetorian Guard, who had an incredible influence in Rome.

“And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord,” because of my circumstances and my boldness, God is using this to embolden other people, “and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.”

Your God-given calling is not limited by your circumstances. Difficult circumstances can actually serve to advance God’s calling in your life. The unexpected problems, the detours, the stuff that you never wished to go through when you say, Okay, God, I don’t get it, I don’t understand it. But instead of throwing a pity party, which is our natural, let’s just be honest – woe is me.

See, I like how, I think how Ortberg said it. “There’s an important line and distinction between grief and self-pity.” When you’re going through those painful circumstances to grieve, that’s, yeah, absolutely. But then when we cross that line to self-pity and woe is me and we get stuck. He says, “No, no, no. Those circumstances will not hinder your calling or your purpose.”

It makes me think of someone that maybe some of you don’t know. I’d encourage you to look this person up, do a little bit of research. Some of you know a gal named Joni Eareckson Tada. I was first introduced to her at college in Chicago where she came and spoke.

Her story is an incredible story of circumstance that none of us would choose. That for most people you’d say, “Well, that’s it.” Quit, give up, eke through life. Joni, when she was a young woman was having some fun with some friends and dove into a lake head first and broke her neck.

From that day forward, she was a quadriplegic, only able to move her head and her mouth. She didn’t say, “Well, that’s the end.” Certainly struggled; certainly had challenging days. She decided to use her gift of art and painting and started to paint using her mouth. She would hold a brush in her mouth and begin to paint these paintings. And realized that even though she doesn’t have use of her limbs, she still has use by God.

It’s amazing. In 1974, she actually wrote the story of her life and it released and became an international, number one bestseller. Later a movie of her life was made. She started a ministry – Joni and Friends – for the ministry to the disabled. It has been an incredible ministry that has served thousands upon thousands of families all across the globe.

She started a radio ministry called Joni and Friends for radio. President Reagan appointed her to the National Council on Disability in 1988. She spoke at the Billy Graham Crusade, over a hundred thousand. And has continued to this day.

See, friends, if we would just expand our eyes and our scope, your God-given calling is not limited by your circumstances. In fact, this is how Paul saw suffering. This is not how I see it, so let’s be clear. I want to see it this way. Paul saw suffering and difficulty, not as a problem to be solved, but an opportunity to be stewarded. Let me say it again.

He saw suffering and difficulty, not as a problem to be solved. And here’s what I’m not saying. Don’t pray that you can’t, God, would You heal this? God, would You take this away? Absolutely. He had a thorn in his flesh; he prayed three times, “God, take it away.” But he said, “It’s an opportunity to be stewarded. You, heavenly Father, are going to use this. I don’t know how, but when it’s surrendered to You, You will work through me even in this.”

When life is difficult, get clear on your purpose. Recognize suffering has a purpose. Your calling is not limited by your circumstances. And finally, what is awaiting you. What is awaiting you in Jesus is worth whatever you are going through. When he writes back to the church in Corinth, if you have your Bible open, flip back a couple pages to

2nd Corinthians chapter 4, verse 7. He says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not us.” That we are just on display. Like, that our lives get to display, not anything about us, but the glory and the brilliance and the beauty of our Savior.

And so, he goes on. He says, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be also revealed in our body. Therefore,” later on he says, “do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles,” like when we understand what is awaiting you and Jesus is worth whatever you’re going through, like, we get an internal perspective. That life is way more than just about now.

The troubles. They are light. You’re like, “No, it has been heavy, Ryan.” They are momentary. “It feels like it’s forever.” “…are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

See, I think moms understand this better than most of us. You moms, you understand that what is awaiting you through the process of childbirth is worth whatever you’re going through.

I remember when our first was born and Jenny is giving birth and I thought that was a good time to make jokes.

The worst time. The worst time. I remember, she was, like, in terrible, terrible pain. I’m like, “Yeah, you know, my back is really hurting too.” I about lost my head, and rightfully so.

See, there’s something about that, though. The pain of childbirth and how hard and how difficult and, yet, it is eclipsed in a moment when you see a mom hold their child for the very first time. That’s the picture here that Paul is painting for us. That what is awaiting you in Jesus Christ, what’s ahead of you is worth whatever you are going through.

And so, this is what he says, “Fix our eyes, not on what is seen, but what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Fix your eyes on what is ahead so that you can endure what is now. Fight for an eternal perspective in the midst of trials and hardships. What is awaiting you in Jesus is worth whatever you are going through.

That line I wrote down in 2019 through a season where I just felt like that was God’s word to me. So, I had that eighteen-month depression, I had actually, many of you remember I had three concussions, broken nose, broken toe, and then the family stuff.

I was tired. And honestly, anybody remember being excited for 2020? Yeah, that was sweet. And, yet, the Word of God remains the same. What is awaiting you, friends, it’s not in this moment. In Christ Jesus, you are an eternal being with a grand destiny in God’s great universe.