FAITH: 4 Facts to Help Us Handle the Hard Times
During this 60 Days of Spiritual Growth series, we’ve been looking at the life of Joseph in Genesis and assessing our own lives, asking God to help ELEVATE us to who He’s called us to be.
In Week 1 we looked at VISION and how we can live out God’s dream for our lives, faith, marriages, finances, families, etc. God’s Word makes it clear that we are to live to fulfill His purposes.
In Week 2 we looked at INTEGRITY. In what ways can we better emulate Joseph (and of course Jesus) and lift the level of our character? What are our blind spots? Where are we most vulnerable? What do we need to most give to God?
This week we’ll look at FAITH and how living life with determination, grit, and passion is vital. We’ll look at how being able to trust God regardless of the circumstances — and especially when times are tough — is what it means to be a person of great faith.
Have you ever faced adversity? How about hardship, trials, setbacks, personal pain? Of course you have, we all have. Adversity is an inevitable part of this life. When (not if) we face the inevitable, we can either advance through our adversities or we can be crushed by them. Joseph, as much as anyone in the Bible, helps me understand what it looks like to live out James 1:2-4, where it says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” The point of this scripture, and the point of Joseph’s life example, is this: God will lift the level of our faith, He will mature and elevate our faith, He will strengthen our belief and ability to weather the ups and downs of life, if we trust Him – regardless of life’s circumstances.
That last part’s the clincher, isn’t it?
I recently read the story of John O’Leary, author of the book “On Fire” (www.johnolearyinspires.com). At age nine his life was forever changed when he was in a fire that left 100% of his body covered in burns. Given a one percent chance to live, he fought extraordinary odds, spending months in the hospital and undergoing dozens of surgeries. As he was going through the grueling recovery efforts, he faced a time where he couldn’t shake the agonizing question “Why Me?” If we’re honest, this is a question many of us have asked in one way or another. And when tragedy or tough times come, it is often the question that comes first, cuts deepest, and lasts longest.
In his book, John writes: “Between physical therapy, occupational therapy and bandage changes, a question would creep in my mind. Dealing with never-ending stares from strangers and never ceasing pain physically… the question was loudly echoing in my head, ‘Why me?’ Each night I’d ask my dad why this happened. ‘Why was I the one burned? Why did I have to go through all the pain? Why did I live? Why do others die? Why me?’ Eventually my dad, an incredibly loving and supportive man, but tired of fielding the same question nightly for months responded with words I’ll never forget. ‘John, why not you? This terrible thing happened. Your life will never be the same and neither will any of ours. But you are still here, you still have your life. What matters now is not what happened, but what you choose to do with it.”
It’s reasonable to assume that Joseph may have also asked “Why Me?” He sure would have had reason to. But since the Bible doesn’t record it, we can deduce that if he did ask it, he certainly didn’t dwell on it. Rather, scripture talks about a Joseph who simply said, “I will trust God.” He knew that to grow in his faith in God and relationship with God, he would need to keep moving forward in faith – one step at a time – knowing that God had his back. For Joseph, it’s as if the guiding principle of his life was: “The odds are against me, but God is for me.”
Genesis 40:1-22 tells the story of Joseph being in prison and being used by God to interpret a couple of his fellow prisoners’ dreams. One of the prisoners is released from prison just days after this encounter and promises to remember Joseph, which he didn’t, as he leaves to work in Pharaoh’s court. It wasn’t until about 2 years later that he remembered Joseph when Pharaoh had a dream that also needed interpreting. Joseph is called upon and is again used by God to interpret the dream, which subsequently leads to him being elevated to a position of high esteem within Pharaoh’s court. But what about that in-between time? Faith is “trusting God regardless of the circumstances.” Perseverance is “a steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.” In the course of this story, we see that Joseph demonstrated incredible faith and incredible perseverance.
Someone once said, “fall down seven times and get up eight.” That’s kind of Joseph’s story. Notice the nine emotional and cataclysmic life swings Joseph experienced where he could have bailed on God. He could have cried out, “God has forgotten me” or, “Why me?” but he persevered. Through the good times and the bad times he kept his eyes on God.
Every Christian experiences similar ups and downs. That’s what faith is all about. Faith means trusting God – no matter what. You cannot go from promise to purpose without pain and perseverance. And it’s not just because you’re a Christian, it’s because you are a person. Life happens – to everyone.
FOUR FACTS OF FAITH: Here are four facts to help us handle the hard times.
1: Bad things happen to good people.
Joseph was a good person. Look at the image above again. He didn’t just experience promise, the palace, preference, prominence and purpose. He also had to walk through the pit, prison, punishment and a great deal of personal pain. I’d love to tell you differently, but you can’t get the top line without the bottom line. That’s just not how life works. It’s important to understand this so we don’t get disillusioned.
Oftentimes we pray, “Jesus, grow my faith; I want to be like you” – and then expect that life will be perfect. Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. If we want to be like Jesus we’ll need to go through some of the things He went through. Growing our faith “muscle” requires exercise, and exercise requires resistance training. Jesus experienced resistance in the form of pain, rejection, false accusation and ultimately crucifixion. We may not experience the severity of all that, but we will experience pain in some form. How we respond to it is what our faith is made of, and Joseph shows us that the way to elevate our faith is through perseverance and trusting God – even (or maybe especially) when life is hard.
2: We choose whether we become bitter or better.
Spiritual maturity doesn’t cave under adversity. It doesn’t abandon God’s purposes for self-interest. Self-preservation doesn’t become more important than self-surrender. When difficult times hit we must do what Joseph did and cry out, “God I believe in you and will trust you – no matter what happens! May I be faithful to you and live out your purposes!”
We have a choice: Advance or abandon. Triumph or trip up. Fight on or tap out. Overcome or be over run.
Paul said in Romans 5:3-4, “Not only so, but we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” I have lived long enough and seen enough and experienced enough to know that my God is faithful. Because He has been faithful in the past I know He will be faithful in the future and I choose to trust Him regardless of the circumstances. That’s essentially what Job said and James alludes to it in James 5:10-11, “Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.” I’m not sure that anyone had it quite as hard as Job, and yet He said “I will trust in God even though life has not been fair, life is hard, and life hurts.” My personal pain and hardship does not decrease my trust in God; I choose to trust and persevere and have great faith in my great God.
3: God wants to bring good out of evil.
Let’s try and understand the big picture. Or, better said, let’s understand that there is a big picture and even though we don’t always see it or understand it, God does and He can be trusted. In Joseph’s case, late in life, he saw the big picture. In Genesis 50:20 he tells his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” God doesn’t bring havoc on our lives. Life happens. But God can redeem circumstances and trials and adversities and turn them into building blocks to build our faith if we trust in Him and choose to persevere and grow.
This is the point Paul makes in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purposes.” God is watching you. He cares for you. He wants to strengthen you and use you and build you and bless you. God will not allow our hardships to go to waste if we’re willing to trust Him during the storm.
Notice what Paul advises us to do when, not if, we go through hard times in 2 Corinthians 1:3-11:
- Comfort others who are going through the same thing. (vs. 4)
- Learn to more completely rely on God. (vs. 9)
- Be a greater example and encouragement to others. (vs. 11)
4: Perseverance produces a great faith.
Joseph had great faith in a great God, and like Jesus, Paul and others, he learned that resistance can build your faith muscle as you push back and persevere. I oftentimes have to remind myself:
- When it’s tough, trust in a trustworthy God.
- When it’s hard, heed what He’s directed me to do.
- When it seems impossible, it’s possible with God.
- When I feel low, determine to grow.
- When I’m hurting, allow God to do a healing work in me.
- When I feel alone, remember there’s One who is always with me.
- When I’m in pain, pray.
- When I feel down, look up.
Joseph was thrown in a pit, but he did not give up. He was thrown in prison and then forgotten, but he did not give up. He was deeply emotionally wounded by his family, but he did not give up. He persevered and never blamed God. He trusted God and God elevated His faith, his life, and his level of influence.
The Bible says, “without faith it is impossible to please God.” That certainly pertains to having a saving faith, but it also pertains to having an enduring faith. We trust in God and we never stop trusting in God no matter what confronts us in this life. We trust Him. He is good and kind and worthy and compassionate and even when we don’t understand what is going on or why (“why me?”), we know that He understands and will take care of us and grow us.
Two huge verses say it well:
- Phil 3:13-14: “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
- Hebrews 12:1-3: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Like Joseph, instead of “why me?” let’s say, “God, refine me, grow me, elevate me, strengthen me, use me, mature me. I trust you regardless of my circumstances.” That’s a prayer that God will certainly honor in each of our lives.