Choosing to Grow in Faith – Growth through circumstances
Sunday School, MBC, October 27, 2013
Family reunions can prove to be very interesting events, so I am told. It all depends on who shows up! Today, we are going to look at a family reunion that started in great adversity.
READ Genesis 45:4-11
READ Genesis 50:15-21
Successful sports teams are always aware of the score, important facts about their performance and those of their opponents and the time left in the game. How they respond to the variables in the game may determine whether they win or lose.
In the same way, what will your response to the circumstances of life determine? Whether we win or lose in life. An obvious example of someone who fought through terrible loss and pain was Job. In the midst of tremendous blessing, he lost his family and everything he owned, including his health. At the end of those terrible tragedies, he discovered more blessing and purpose in life than he had ever experienced. WHAT WAS THE KEY? It was Job’s response to his adversity.
READ Job 42:1-6
How did Job discover more blessing and purpose in his life after all that had happened to him? He began to understand God’s sovereignty and he learned to trust God’s heart. Job learned how to trust God in the midst of confusing and difficult circumstances.
The mother eagle teaches her little ones to fly by making their nest so uncomfortable that they are forced to leave it and commit themselves to the unknown world of air outside. And just so does our God to us. He stirs up our comfortable nests, and pushes us over the edge of them, and we are forced to use our wings to save ourselves from fatal falling. Read your trials in this light, and see if you cannot begin to get a glimpse of their meaning. Your wings are being developed. Hannah Whitall Smith
In the same way, God developed the wings of Joseph through his circumstances.
When faced with a difficult circumstance, we can easily lose heart concerning God’s presence and faithfulness in our lives. The way we respond to our circumstances will determine how well we fulfill God’s purposes for our lives. Chuck Swindoll has said, “I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.” Some people respond to difficulties with a negative attitude. Some take their lemons and create lemonade.
Consider this illustration: A reward was offered for each wolf captured in a park. Sam and Jed saw dollar signs so they became overnight bounty hunters. They scoured the mountains both day and night in search of their fortune. After several days of unsuccessful hunting, they fell asleep from exhaustion. In the middle of the night, Sam suddenly awoke to see that he and Jed were surrounded by wolves with flaming eyes and bared teeth. He nudged his partner and said, “Jed, wake up! We’re rich!”
God wants to use the circumstances that come our way in life in several ways. The first way is to GET OUR ATTENTION. He may do this through the words of another person, unanswered prayers, pain or sickness, blessings, tragedies, financial collapse in the economy, war, disappointment, or anything else He chooses. He will use different methods with different people at different times. In the life of King David, He used Nathan the prophet to grab his attention. When Balaam headed out in the wrong direction, God got his attention by speaking through the donkey Balaam was riding on.
The second way is to GET OUR AFFECTION. God’s faithfulness in adversity draws us to our Father’s side in love and adoration. How does this happen? As we learn to depend on God during trying times, we grow in our love for Him.
Four stages of growth in Christian maturity: Love of self for self’s sake. Love of God for self’s sake. Love of God for God’s sake. Love of self for God’s sake.
How do we grow in our love for God? It is just like starting an exercise program. Start slow, and then get slower! For the first week, the goal is “just to keep moving.” Too many people buy new shoes and a fancy running suit and sprint out the door, eagerly chugging as hard as they can for about three blocks. Then their stomachs begin to ache, their muscles cramp, and their lungs burn. They wind up hitchhiking home exhausted, and gasp, “I will never do that again.” That’s called anaerobic (without oxygen) running. It’s caused by a body using up more oxygen than it takes in. Many people try to run that way, and many people try to love that way. They love with great fervor and self-sacrifice, giving 100 percent but without the resources to continue for a lifetime. Down the road they find themselves in pain, gasping and cramped, saying, “I will never do that again.” Love, like running, must be aerobic. Our output must be matched by our intake. Running requires oxygen. An enduring love requires God’s word, his consolation, his presence. As we love aerobically, we’ll build up our capacity to do more and more. And pretty soon we won’t be huffing and puffing for half a mile; we’ll be running marathons. It is a process, not a product. Roger Thompson, Leadership, Vol. 4, no. 1.
The third way God uses circumstances is to GROW OUR CHARACTER. One author said this, “To God character is far more precious than comfort. He often uses uncomfortable circumstances to change our character. When the circumstances have fulfilled their task, then God may change the circumstances. But if He doesn’t, it will be all right because our character will have been so changed that we will be able to live with uncomfortable circumstances.”
READ 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 – Did Paul learn contentment from his circumstances?
How does God use circumstances to grow our character?
READ Romans 5:3-4 – suffering produces perseverance; then character
Imagine that I dump 10,000 plastic eggs in your back yard and I assure you that inside one of those hollow eggs is a check for $1 Million dollars with your name on it. Would you get discouraged if you opened the first 100 eggs without finding the check? How about the first 1000 eggs? Of course not! You’d just keep opening those eggs, just waiting for the moment when you’d find the check. St. Paul knew the meaning of the word “suffering.” He had been beaten, stoned, imprisoned, shipwrecked, starved, and rejected. And yet Paul said that his sufferings were nothing compared to the glory that would come. In other words, Paul had opened a lot of empty eggs, but he never gave up or got discouraged. He believed that something great was in his future – God’s glory revealed in him. Perhaps it feels to you as if your life has been nothing but empty eggs. You’ve already opened 9,900 of them and you’re not sure you’ve got the will to go on. Let me encourage you today. Don’t give up. I don’t want to trivialize the challenges you are facing, but I do want to help you put them into perspective. They are only temporary, and God has something much greater in store for you. Compared to the glory that will be revealed in us one day, our suffering doesn’t merit discouragement. Hang on. Don’t give up. Keep going. One day God will replace your discouragement with incomparable glory! Anonymous
In our passage about Joseph, we discover several principles from Joseph’s life that will help us respond to the difficult circumstances we face in life. Joseph was well acquainted with adversity. His brothers sold him into slavery because they were jealous of the attention he was receiving from their father and because they were angry with him over his dreams that depicted them bowing down to him. Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him of rape. He was thrown into prison and then forgotten by the chief cupbearer whom he had helped. Through God’s favor and Joseph’s commitment to serving the Lord, Joseph was eventually elevated to second in command over all Egypt. In our passage today, we see Joseph revealing his real identity to his brothers.
Joseph could have blamed his brothers for all the troubles in his life, but he didn’t. Instead, he employed at least three successful strategies to deal with difficulties. The first was to refuse to blame others. When things turn out bad, we often want to find a reason outside of ourselves. Joseph knew that placing blame would not improve the situation. Instead, he saw God’s sovereign fingerprints over the unfortunate circumstances that had come his way (vs. 7 – “God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant…”). Joseph could have blamed his brothers, but instead, he saw God’s hand in his circumstances.
The second strategy Joseph employed was to resist the grip of bitterness. Joseph brothers were really concerned about this in Genesis 50:15. They knew what they had done wrong and they probably knew how THEY would have responded. Bitterness can destroy us if we are not careful.
During the Revolutionary war, a pastor named John P. Miller learned one of his greatest enemies was to be hanged for his crimes. At once, Miller set out on foot sixty miles to visit General George Washington and intercede for the man’s life. The general, when he heard the request, stated he was sorry, but he could not pardon Miller’s friend.
Miller said, He’s not my friend. That man is my worst enemy.
Washington replied, Well, that puts matters in a whole new light. Seeing the pastor=s forgiveness for his enemy, General Washington signed the pardon. Miller carried the order another 15 miles to the execution site, arriving just as the condemned man was trudging toward the scaffold. Miller’s enemy was set free that day – by the pastor whom he hated the most.
Now I know you are probably asking yourself, Adid the enemy become his friend?@
I don’t know the answer to that question, but when he made that kind of effort to set his enemy free, John P. Miller proved he was the real free man. Bitterness enslaves us.
Joseph saw that God was using his circumstances for a greater good, and he refused to become bitter toward his brothers. He not only reassured them, but he even spoke kindly to them.
The third way Joseph stayed in the will of God was by recognizing that God’s timing is perfect. Our ability to interpret our circumstances is very limited. Genesis 50:20 shows that Joseph knew the context of Romans 8:28 before it was written.
READ Romans 8:28
Throughout his trials, Joseph remained in the center of God’s will, making right decisions in the critical moments of his life. Joseph submitted to God in every area of his life. He was honorable and faithful to God during his years of slavery and imprisonment. Through it all, he never lost hope in God. He learned that God is always at work, even in the darkness.
READ Matthew 5:45
What does this tell us about adversity? Christians are certainly not exempt from experiencing difficulties. It is our response to them that reflects the level of trust and the quality of our relationship with Him.
What are some steps you can take to respond to difficult circumstances?
1. Spend time with those who have grown in their faith through adversity. Life’s best lessons are those that are experienced.
Michelangelo was found by the Cardinal Farnese walking in solitude amid the ruins of the Coliseum, and when he expressed his surprise, the great artist answered, “I go yet to school that I may continue to learn.” We need to learn from everything around us. Every person we encounter is able to teach us something, and we would be very foolish not to be able to learn from him. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Quotable Spurgeon, (Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, Inc, 1990)
2. Study the Biblical stories of those who experienced great adversity, yet saw the will of God accomplished in their lives – Moses, David, Paul, Job, Joseph, Jesus.
READ Romans 15:4
From time to time, lobsters have to leave their shells in order to grow. They need the shell to protect them from being torn apart, yet when they grow, the old shell must be abandoned. If they did not abandon it, the old shell would soon become their prison–and finally their casket. The tricky part for the lobster is the brief period of time between when the old shell is discarded and the new one is formed. During that terribly vulnerable period, the transition must be scary to the lobster. Currents gleefully cartwheel them from coral to kelp. Hungry schools of fish are ready to make them a part of their food chain. For awhile at least, that old shell must look pretty good. We are not so different from lobsters. To change and grow, we must sometimes shed our shells–a structure, a framework–we’ve depended on. Discipleship means being so committed to Christ that when he bids us to follow, we will change, risk, grow, and leave our “shells” behind. Brent Mitchell in Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching (Baker), from the editors of Leadership.
3. Confess to God any bitterness you have allowed to creep into your life because of the trials you have been through. The trials you face are not meant to build a wall between God and you or other Christians. They are meant to build your character, get your attention, or gain your affection. Bitterness comes from turning your questions and anger inward. It destroys your love and trust in God.
READ Ephesians 4:31 – We can either get bitter or get better!
When we trust God during difficult times, He is faithful to work good from it. That is why Joseph could say about his difficulties, “God intended it for the good”.
Consider this illustration from Joni Erickson Tada:
While lunching at a friend’s house, I had to borrow a spoon and have her bend it so it could be inserted in my hand splint and I could feed myself. Throughout lunch, she glanced at the spoon. Embarrassed, I offered to have my husband straighten it out.
Later I thought, Isn’t that the way God works in our lives? He knows he can accomplish his unique plan when he bends us to suit his will. The metal of our souls may be difficult to bend, but when we allow God the privilege of shaping our lives, we discover new depths of purpose and meaning. We become perfectly suited for his use.
Joni Eareckson Tada, Today’s Christian Woman, “Heart to Heart.”