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About this series
Keep Pressing Ahead
How to Make it Through Anything
There are times in our lives when we simply get to the point that we say, "I can't take it anymore!" This depression is just too dark. This marriage is just too hard. The job I lost, the family member I buried, the junk I'm going through. And deep, down inside your heart you say, "I quit. I'm done." And though you may go through the motions on the outside, you've just had it. Your mind says, "I've got to trust God," but your heart says, "I've heard it all before and it's not working for me." You begin to drift - from people and from God. This series, drawn from Nehemiah, will help you overcome adversity and keep you pressing ahead no matter what.More from this series
I remember reading a book, recently, by a fellow named Os Hillman who was an executive in the Dallas area, I think, at the time, or Atlanta. And had an advertising business, and was making millions of dollars, and living in a big estate, and had everything that you’d think, and was a very public Christian businessman. And within about six months, everything in his life went upside down: business, home, marriage, one of his kids – everything. And he wrote in his book, “Adversity changes us. Adversity is the crucible that melts down the old us. Adversity is the hammer that shapes the new us.”
See, if you unconsciously, or consciously, are just trying to figure out, How do I get through it? I’ve just got to get through it. Or, How do I avoid it? Or, How do I arrange my life, so I never have to face it? How do I stay comfortable?
I read a quote in my research by someone who said, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” That’s where life begins. And yet, most of us spend all of our energy, Okay, how do I create this world where – security here, security here, this here, this here, every relationship, control this, do that.
See, adversity is normal, it’s expected, it’s purposeful, and it’s powerful. Peter would write, after being persecuted, in chapter 5 verse 10, “After you have suffered for a little, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself confirm, perfect, strengthen, and establish you.”
See, it’s not only purposeful. God wants to transform your life through adversity. But it’s powerful. You meet someone that has confidence, and character. You meet people that have been married for a long time, and there’s a richness to their relationship. You meet people that have been through hard times, and love deeply. I will tell you what, they’ve suffered much. But they didn’t opt out. They didn’t give up.
An awful lot of marriages that stopped at five, or seven, or eleven, or, often, at twenty, twenty-five years, when the empty nest hits – God had this awesome golden years and great plan for them. They opted out. It got hard. “Well, she just cares about the kids.” “All he cared about was his career.” “I don’t feel loved anymore.” “I went on Facebook, and I found a friend from high school.”
Good luck, sweetie. Good luck hunkaroo. It ain’t what it was, and you aren’t what you were, and what you’re looking for is identity, an escape clause. There are difficult, painful things that you must overcome in every season: in seasons of singleness, of early marriage, of with kids, or without kids, with infertility, or in jobs. And God wants to use every single one of them – as you don’t bail out – to confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
And the kinds of people that you rub up against that you think, Someday I’d like to be like him. Someday I’d like to be like her – I will tell you what, they just hung tough. They trusted God.
Finally, it’s temporary. This is good news. This is a man who was beaten three times, within an inch of his life. This is a man that took the thirty-nine lashes. This is a guy that writes all these letters about joy, from prison. Right? This is the apostle Paul.
And you say, “Paul, what kind of perspective did you have? How did you get your arms around this?” He says, “Therefore, we do not lose heart, though our outward man is decaying.” Or we lose our house, or lose our job, or someone walks out on us, or you’re not married.
“Yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison. While we look at the things which are seen, but not at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
Do you get it? See what he’s saying? See, at some point in time, you either believe that the “now” is all there is, and you’ll manipulate, and maneuver, and try to do life inside just the “now.” And it doesn’t work out for anyone.
Or you’ll understand there is a far, far bigger, eternal picture, and you’ll live in the “now” in light of the “forever.” And that’s why people can have joy. Not always happy with happy circumstances, but joy in the midst of very difficult things.
Sometimes when I’m preparing, and working through things and by the way, I’ve learned so much. The last few weeks of studying, I’ve just learned a bunch. And I don’t know about you, but there’s a lot of verses here and if you look at the next page there’s even more verses. So, lighten up. I’m not going to try and cover it all. I’m tempted. I mean, I want to, but I won’t. But sometimes I just stop, and I say, God, there are so many verses. Would You help me take everything that I’m learning, and maybe put it in one sentence? Just one sentence, so I could get my arms around it.
Because what I’ve given you all so far – some of you, I’m watching your eyes, and, the Spirit of God is – “Oh, yeah. You know what I need?” A little tipping point of inspiration that says, “I need to look at adversity differently.” It’s going to last a few hours through this afternoon, and I will tell you, it will not compete with your emails tomorrow morning.
The only way that you’ll think biblically, and not have all those lies, is if some of you say, “You know something? Okay, I don’t think of adversity as being normal, expected, purposeful, powerful, or temporary. I’m going to write, ‘Adversity is normal.’ And then, I’m going to open my Bible, and then I’m going to write on a card, a 3x5 card, that verse out. And then, I’m going to read that at night – I’m not even going to try and memorize it – and I’m going to pray it back to God.
And I’m going to do that for all five of those, and I’ll have five cards. And I’ll tell you, you do that for two or three weeks, and you come back and talk to me.
You’ll start filtering everything that goes through your world completely differently, because instead of, Oh, this is unfair, and What a bummer, and I guess I’m a failure, and Am I being punished? You know what you’ll start thinking? This is normal. It’s hard, but it’s normal. It’s purposeful.
Then, you’ll start thinking, So, I wonder what God wants to do? I guess if I’m to endure it, it proves His proven character. In other words, as I endure, instead of God changing out there, He changes me. I’m actually becoming more patient. I’m becoming more loving. I’m becoming more kind. Wow! That gives me hope. And as that gives me hope, Oh, the Spirit of God is really real. I’m not playing this game of trying hard to be a good Christian. This is supernatural. Wow! Thank You, God.”
Here’s how I want to think about adversity the rest of my life: Adversity is the uninvited, unwanted friend in the hands of an all-knowing God. See, don’t get me wrong. He’s uninvited and he’s unwanted. So I don’t like him. I’m going to be honest about that. But he’s a friend. Adversity is not your enemy, in the hands of an all-knowing God, whose purpose is to wean us of our self-dependency and pride, usher us into deeper intimacy with Jesus, and redirect our paths to ensure our greatest good, and His greatest glory.
And He does that as we learn to trust Him. All of this ends up being about faith, as we learn to trust God’s character, and God’s Word, in all things, for all things, and through all things.
And so, I’m either going to look at it, and filter it this way, or This is an unwanted friend entering my life right now. And it doesn’t mean other people haven’t sinned, doesn’t mean other people haven’t messed up, doesn’t mean that – sometimes I bring it on myself.
But when I’m in the midst of it, I can either, Oh, what did I do? What did I do? What did I do? Or I can say, “Okay this is where I’m at. I’ve asked God to forgive me; He’s forgiven me. But here’s my situation: An all-knowing God, in the midst of my pain, is going to wean me from my pride, and I’m going to own this, and my self-dependency.” And as I, like Jesus, with loud cries and tears, cry out to Him, He’s going to develop an intimacy with Him, probably deeper than I’ve ever had before.
And here’s the amazing thing. You think adversity is so bad? If you would look in the rearview mirror of your life, often it was adversity that was, “Oh! I broke up with that girl! Wow, I’m married to this other one for thirty-two years. It’s been really good. I’m sure glad I had a little adversity there.”
Or, “I was going to go this way, and I was going to do this job, and I was going to major in this. And then, adversity: Oh, I didn’t get accepted! Oh it was terrible! And, oh, so I took this job, and oh, my, I would have never chosen it for myself.”
Right? Couldn’t we tell stories like that? Couldn’t adversity be one of the kindest, best things? You know why? Because God wants what’s best for you, not what you want. If you got everything you want, you’d have a miserable life, because you don’t know what’s best for you. You just know what everyone says is best for you.
Well, let’s talk, now, about the journey that we’re going to go on, and I’ll just give you a little overview of our friend Nehemiah. And he is one of my heroes. He’s one of my heroes, one, because I didn’t grow up as a Christian. And second, because he’s not a religious guy.
What I mean by that – every time someone shows up, and they’re a prophet, or they’re a priest, or they’re a preacher, I don’t know about you, but I feel like, Well, they must get extra grace. I’m sure they do. We do.
But whenever I find a regular guy making a big difference – like a business guy, or just a regular lady, or a servant girl – and God changes the world through them, it gives me just a lot of hope, like, Maybe this is for all of us regular people.
And so, what I did was, I took Nehemiah and I said, “We need to learn to handle adversity the way Nehemiah does.” And what I’ve laid out is a chart that I’ve been studying. And what I want you to observe is that the adversity in his life comes for five different reasons.
In chapter 4, terrible things happen because he obeys. In chapter 5, terrible things happen because other people disobey. In chapter 6, terrible, difficult things happen because he has the courage to lead, and he gets attacked; there’s spiritual warfare.
In chapter 7, there are just negative circumstances. No one did anything wrong, they just don’t have any people, don’t have any money, and they can’t do it. Then what are we going to do?
And then in chapter 8 the big problem is you know what? Because the nation disobeyed God’s discipline came in, and they found themselves in a situation. And then you notice that I said, “Here’s Nehemiah’s response to each one of those. I put that in your chart. And then just for fun, I put our typical response so that you could compare them.
And then you’ll notice that I put a New Testament parallel. Each one of these things, they’re at an adversity in his life. There’s a New Testament, very specific parallel of what will happen in our lives.
But the theme, the theme of all of them if you go down through the chart is the timeless truth: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” That’s the timeless truth. That’s true of your adversity. I don’t know what you’re going through. God does. I don’t know what you’re feeling, but I’ve had those feelings. Jesus had those feelings. He wanted to give up. He wanted to opt out. He wanted to quit.
In fact, He even asked the Father if He could quit, remember? His very last prayer? And this is a loose translation, but it went something like this: “If there’s a plan B up there that we didn’t think about, let’s go with that right now. Because I don’t want to be separated from You, and I don’t want to go through that suffering. Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours.”
What’s He saying? “I’m going to press ahead.” What He says to the Father is, in the power of the Holy Spirit, “I can make it through anything with Your help and strength.”
I came across a little motto, if you will, that has really helped me. In fact, I injured something, and so I haven’t been able to work out. And my history has been, I like to work out, and so I’ve never had much problem being motivated.
But I got injured, and so I’ve not done it for a while, like I want to. And now – maybe some of you can identify – I’m trying to get back with it. And my motivation is gone.
You know? I’m going to, I’m going to, and then I don’t do it. I’m going to, I’m going to, and I don’t do it. Do any of you have these issues, like, with food? Okay. I’m going to.
And so, finally, I decided, I’ll do it first thing. I’m going to roll out of bed, and whether it’s 5:00 or 5:30, or a little before, I’m going to do it first. The other morning, you know how, when you start, it’s like, Okay, I have four days in a row. Way to go, and… And then – so, this is the second week, and I’ve missed a couple days, for really good reasons, that I made excuses about.
And so this was like you know how you feel like, I’m either going to stay on track, or I’m going to just plummet again?
And I’m lying in bed, and it’s even earlier than normal, and I’m thinking, Lord, I don’t want to do that. And then – I still remember it, because I’m studying all this, right? I always get a little advance – because I study this before I give it to you. And I remember lying in bed, thinking, I just can’t get up. And this came to my mind, “I can’t, but You can.” And I just, as I was lying in bed, I just prayed, “Father, Father –”
Because some specific disciplines, there’s a domino effect in other areas of your life. When I’m disciplined here, my prayer life’s more disciplined. When I’m disciplined here, my eating is more disciplined. When I’m disciplined here, my tongue is more disciplined. So, this wasn’t just trying to get in shape. I realized my will was getting weak, in terms of obedience.
And so, I laid in bed, I said, Okay, Lord Jesus, I can’t, but You can, through me. Will You give me the grace? I’m going to put my foot on the ground, and I’m going to go put on my shoes. And I did, and it worked out, and it was just – whoo.
For many of you that’s, “I can’t stay in this marriage another day. I can’t, but You can.” “I can’t handle this depression one more day. I can’t, but You can.” “I can’t stand being single one more day! I can’t, but You can. “I can’t go on without the job, or with the…” “I can’t…”
And so, here’s what I like – it’s a little motto I came across. It says, “I can’t, He never said I could. He can, He always said He would.” If you don’t get anything, that takes all the truth, and it bundles it for you in a way that I think is a to-go package. It’ll really help you. If you apply that, and remember that, it’ll really help you. He said, “I can’t, He” – Jesus – “never said I could. He can, He always said He would.”
The last portion is an assignment. I’m not going to go through the passages. But here’s what I need you – you’ve got to understand. If you do not discern the source, or sources – because, often, there are more than one. If you do not biblically, clearly, Holy Spirit-led discern the source of your adversity, the chances are, you will respond in a way that will hinder your growth and endurance, instead of grow through it.
And so, what I’ve done at the very bottom of the page as I have given you, there may be more, but these are at least the five major causes of adversity in believers’ lives. And then I’m going to fill in the response. And, again,
There are some of you that, if you’re going through a hard time, I will tell you, you’ll run to hear. You don’t get strength from God by hearing other people talk. You get strength from God when your nose gets in God’s Word, with a heart that’s hurting, and says, Oh God, help me. And He’ll speak to you.
David would say, “If Your Word had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.” You don’t get strength listening to people. You get strength when the Word of God, fresh off the page of the Holy Spirit, does something in your heart, and it gives you the strength to persevere.
Physical exhaustion is one reason for adversity. The story is of Elijah. The response is rest. When I get physically exhausted, I often assume I’ve sinned. I ask God to explore my heart: “What have I done wrong?” And usually, a good friend, or my wife, says, “Chip,
you did eleven messages in four days, you did two videos, and wrote a chapter of a book, and met with four people. What part of being tired don’t you understand? Just go to bed. Eat a good meal. Don’t evaluate.”
The second reason is consequences of sin. You repent. You blow it, I blow it, you got a problem. You got a problem because God won’t be mocked. When I sin, and you sin, it reaps corruption. Problems in my life – I need to repent.
The third cause is spiritual warfare. There are times where there’s actual demonic influence, that often comes in these other times, but it’s trying to thwart God’s purpose in your life. You have to fight. You don’t rest. And you don’t run.
The fourth opportunity – I guess I would call it that – is God’s discipline. There are times where He’s preparing you for the next big season of fruit. It’s much like Jesus talked about, where He does pruning. And what you need to do there is, you need to submit.
There are times He’ll come into your life and say, “Everyone else, it’s okay for them to do. I don’t want you to do this thing anymore.” Or, “I want you to do this thing.” “Now, why doesn’t – I…” And He’ll say, “Because I said so, and I’m your Father.” He’s preparing you. He’s pruning you. You need to hear His voice and submit.
And finally, the last is negative circumstances. And you endure. Actually, you joyfully endure.