Nobody wants to suffer. Truthfully, nobody really even wants to struggle. There is something of a default pattern of thinking when it comes to human beings finding themselves in circumstances that constrain, challenge or cripple us. That pattern of thought is generally the same for young and old, people of all races and nationalities, those of no faith or those within every system of faith. To what am I referring? The default mindset of preferring (presuming?) that things should almost always go our way. We are ease-addicts and compulsive creatures of comfort. We like things the way we like things, and when that stream of “having things my way” gets dammed up with opposing reality, we do not always respond well. Around three-thousand years ago, King David was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write down a golden nugget of truth that all of us who crave having things our way should ponder:
“Before I was afflicted I went astray but now I keep Your word…It is good for me that I was afflicted,
that I might learn Your statutes.” – Psalm 119:67, 71
David’s words from Psalm 119 reveal that spiritual maturity brings with it the awareness that we need some trouble in our lives. I did not say that we should merely accept trouble when it comes. I am submitting that David’s words teach us that we actually need problems in order to have a proper perspective of the truth of the Kingdom. Let me explain why this is so.
Trouble awakens within us a sense of our inadequacy. We aren’t strong enough for certain troubles. Sometimes we aren’t resourced enough to escape trouble. At other times, life’s troubles, challenges and frustrations aren’t able to be handled well via our current level of understanding. Who has not experienced deep fear when trouble arrives? Sometimes this is because we are not filled with the Word and/or the Holy Spirit prior to the season where trouble shows up to stay a while. King David’s admission was that, before his affliction found him, he had some level of superficiality in his understanding of God and His truth. David confesses that trouble was the teacher that instructed Him in the value of obedience. That same affliction, David admits, helped him to see the value in learning the word and the ways of God. David actually wrote that his trouble in the past was now perceived as having been something inherently good for his soul.
People on a perpetual easy-street have zero sense of need. God is a good idea to them…but a necessity? Not so much. Someone they are desperate to regularly encounter? Not at all, not for people who have no trouble. People who always have things their own way, or who presume that entitlement, inevitably become shallow and spoiled in their spirit. They are offended or frightened when affliction, loss, challenge or consternation arrives at their doorstep. God brings these things to them in order to awaken them more deeply to their own need for Him. He wants them to know they cannot thrive independently of Him. He moves decisively to crush their independence out of them via the pressure of their problems. God is no sadist. He is the wise Father who also happens to be a jealous King (Exodus 20:5) that will not share His glory with another (Isaiah 42:8). Easy Street rarely, if ever, brings God glory. A perpetually accommodating pathway only breeds immaturity and presumption in us. Trouble in life ensures that does not happen to Christians who allow seasons of challenge to instruct them.
In closing today, my thoughts are with Andrew Brunson, a 50-year-old Christian pastor from North Carolina, who was arrested in Turkey a year and a half ago. Unjustly held on charges of aiding an opponent of Turkish president Erdogan, Andrew has had everything stripped from him because he is an Christian American. Despite his case being raised by U.S. officials at the highest levels, including President Trump, he’s now standing trial for terrorism and espionage. A pastor incarcerated as a terrorist in a Turkish prison. Pastor Brunson faces up to 35 years in prison. Friends, this is real trouble. This is hell breaking out against a believer. This is what it means to truly struggle and suffer.
When I read his story, I blush about the things that I have found myself frustrated with lately. I am embarrassed that petty little grievances can carry their protest signs in my heart when something gets 6°out of alignment with what I wanted for myself. Andrew Brunson has been starved, lost fifty pounds in a Turkish prison notorious for its grimness and darkness. He is separated from his family and may lose his freedom for the rest of his life because he is a faithful servant of Jesus in a Muslim country. There is no telling what pain he has experienced in the last eighteen months. Undoubtedly, his affliction has taught him what is truly important, and should he get his freedom again, his capacity to complain and grumble will be far less than what it was before he was unjustly persecuted. He is learning what is essential.
And what is not.
If you are not getting your way today, thank God for it. There is profit in your problem. God is teaching you something. He is delivering you from you. He is taking aim at the pride and presumption that lives in your heart (and my heart too). He is coming after the strongman of complaining and grumbling that wants to take your attitude and mouth hostage. Remember the mysterious statement of Hebrews 5:8 that declares that even Jesus learned obedience through the things that He suffered? If Jesus endured this Kingdom process, who are we to think we should get a free pass?
So today I will be quiet. I will not complain. I will not grumble. I will not live offended.
I will be grateful – for any steps on easy-street that I might momentarily enjoy, and for the jagged pathway that everyone who wants to be like Jesus must walk. I will ask forgiveness for my periodic petulance and presumption. I will expect and receive problems as if they were sent to me by God as instructors. I will remember Andrew Brunson who is imprisoned and suffering…and I will allow his story to keep my perspective in line for the next 24 hours.
I will profit from my problems instead of protesting them.