Scripture tells us in John 16:33 that “in this world you will have trouble.” That’s a promise of God that we may find increasingly difficult to embrace. Even though we’re promised trouble in John 16, there’s still solace to be found in that verse. It ends by saying, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” But, even with the great ending, there’s still trouble.
For the realist, and the Bible literalist, a thorough examination of Scripture does not reveal the life of the follower of Christ to be a casual walk through a beautiful park. Instead, it directly points to difficulty. These are the things that we don’t like to discuss; these are the things that dive deeper than the flimsy superficiality that defines where most people exist in their walk with God. It's unfortunate, but it's true. Consequently, these are truths that must be reckoned, as we count the cost of genuine and life-transforming faith in God. Are you ready for trouble? Be ready; trouble will come, and it will come with conviction. Let it arrive and find us all focused on the magnificent relationship that God desires with us all...firmly focused on victory and not living a life of distracted and defeated faith.
If we peruse history, we will often find a perplexed and unstable world that has developed a solid tolerance for trouble. In fact, I believe our world has an appetite for trouble. It’s a reflection of sin, and it fulfills the the promise of John 16:33. Specifically, we see the troubled world targeting the often distracted children of God. Whether it’s the petty controversy of saying “Merry Christmas” or the holocaust of tortured and beheaded Christians across the globe, trouble arrives in earnest at the doorstep of those who claim the lordship of Christ. And, again, it’s a promised trouble…a prophecy of spiritual and physical battle that is being played out with conviction in our current era. Sadly, it’s a battle that is being lost by many Christians…and those defeats are increasingly slipping under their radar.
On a more intimate level, we all experience personal battles daily. The same trouble that has inundated our world, and saturates the evening news reports, also penetrates into our own lives. Why? Because that trouble is authored by the eternal adversary of God, a fallen angel intent on damaging that which God holds most precious…His children. We are all at risk, and we are all unwilling contenders in a battle between opposing forces that we often cannot even see.
It is Satan which causes us grief, and it is Satan who manipulates the sin nature in us all, a sin nature that, unfortunately, is not lying in a state of dormancy. It is Satan’s daily intention to separate us from the only power that will sustain us…the power of our personal walk with Almighty God. He uses world events, people, finances, pride, prejudice, and a myriad of other devices to accomplish his destructive will upon our life. Mainly, he uses our diminishing ability to stay focused on our relationship with God.
Decoupling us from a close relationship with our Creator is his goal, and he’s very good at it. Let’s be clear; it’s not just a battle; it’s an all out war, and it’s being successfully waged around us on a moment by moment basis. Often, we don’t even have a recognition that it’s taking place, and that fact alone is evidence that Satan has already managed to create the disconnect. He’s already distracted us from a sovereign and eternal God. We should be more aware. As the world descends into complacency and apostasy regarding Godliness, let’s understand that things are not out of hand. As our own personal spiritual battles rage within, know that we are not abandoned.
Isaiah 43:1-3, says, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…”
We may often lose the personal battles that Satan wages against our spirit. Those defeats do not reflect upon an inability of God to fulfill the promises of Isaiah 43; instead, those defeats are evidence of a disconnect in the continuity of our daily walk with God, a distracted and disoriented faith. And, let’s be sure to understand that it is not God who became distracted and haphazardly ventured away from us. The gap in relationship is always created by our own distraction, and that distraction always leads to a defeat…for many, a lifetime of unnecessary trouble and defeat, marked by superficial interaction with an Almighty God who is pleading with them for real relationship.
When trouble arrives, don’t cling loosely to the promises of God simply because you read them in your Bible or you heard them verbalized in your church. Don't experience difficulty and share posters of great Biblical truth on Facebook thinking that will make a difference, because it won't. Claiming the promises of God in the absence of a relevant and growing relationship with Him makes the promises nothing more than a narrative of “feel good” phrases that we really don’t understand. We have too much of that bland and nominal Christianity taking place now. Instead, we should understand that our walk with God is more than a religious affiliation. Our call is to absorb into our life a daily and intimate walk with God that is relevant. The cry of Scripture is for us to lead a life that exists under the shadow of the Almighty, and in complete and lasting dependance on His power and authority over us and our situations. Our greatest need is God, and our relationship with Him should be intimate; it should be focused; it should be relevant, and it should be growing.
It is only in that intimacy where we will begin to understand what the promises of God really mean to us in the real world. Happy posters on Facebook and verses quoted out of context (and out of relationship) are not manifestation of the fulfilled promises of an eternal God. Frankly, those promises don’t always translate into our own greedy ideas of happiness. God doesn’t always resolve our troubles in a manner that satiates our self-absorbed will. Sometimes, God allows the problems to persist, and we’re seeing that more and more in our modern culture. But, it is through those problems where the real power of God is often revealed. Instead of distraction, the difficulties of life should serve to refine our focus on God, for it is though these “promised troubles” that His sovereignty is proven as the genuine Overcomer of the World (John 16:33).
There’s a saying, “Life is hard, but God is good.” I agree with that statement. Consequently, if we are living out our relationship with God in a state of haphazardly sinful distraction, then, to us, “life may just be hard.”
Distracted faith is dangerous, because it enables us to undertake life on our own terms and feel good about it. We believe in God, and we claim His promises, but there’s a subtle disconnect in our walk with God that encourages an independence from Him that was never intentioned. That independence leads us headlong into a world of promised trouble, empowered by the promises of God, but devoid of a relevant relationship that will help us understand how those promises fit into the context of God's perfect will for our life. We spend more time contemplating the distractions than we do the victory found in a deep and meaningful walk with God. This is dangerous, and Satan knows better than anyone how to us a distracted faith against the precious child of God.
The goodness of God can be found within the difficulties of life, if we pay attention, because the goodness of God is everywhere. He created us, not to lose, but to win; however, a victorious life is only found in Him. And, that victory is only realized when our relationship with Him is strong, because often our victory comes through trouble…
2 Corinthians 4:7-12;16-18 says: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 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 also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. ...Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Reflect on this:
Romans 8: 35-38 (NIV)
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Live in the fullness of meaningful relationship with God. Trouble will come, and Satan is always at work among us. God has created us to be victorious. The Christian life is not one of evasion and skittish superficial faith, but it is a life of conquest, grounded in Christ, and focused on the power of our Creator. Scripture tell us in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me."
One of our greatest weaknesses is our ability to become distracted by trouble. Stay focused, for the battle is not ours, but God's.
Keith Beatty is a Worship, Missions and Media Pastor living in North Alabama. He's excited and very humbled to be a follower of Jesus Christ!