When Life is Difficult
When Life is Difficult
He was arrested for preaching the gospel. His wife died leaving him with four children, one of whom was blind. Yet he refused to give up telling people the good news about Jesus.
John Bunyan wrote his greatest work in a prison cell. It has been a source of spiritual inspiration and help to countless readers. Translated into over 200 languages, it has never been out of print since the day it was first published in 1678.
Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory which tells the story of a person called ‘Christian’ on a journey from his hometown to the Celestial City. On the way he faces many difficulties, challenges and obstacles, yet he perseveres faithfully to the end.
A Christian life is not easy. You will face many difficulties along the way. But these need not derail you. In fact, as you go through difficult times staying close to Jesus, you will emerge stronger, wiser and more Christ-like.
Distress: How should you respond?Psalm 77:1-9
I have a friend who is a Benedictine monk. He told me that he often begins his prayers with ‘a time of complaining’! This psalm also begins with the psalmist pouring out his complaints to God.
Having a relationship with God does not protect us from ‘distress’ (v.2). The psalmist was ‘awake all night – not a wink of sleep’ (v.4a, MSG). He feels as if God has rejected him and that he will never experience God’s favour again (vv.7–9).
In this, the first half of Psalm 77, we begin to see how to respond to distress. You can be assured that:
- God listens to your cry
Tell God exactly what you’re feeling: ‘I yell out to my God, I yell with all my might, I yell at the top of my lungs. He listens. I found myself in trouble and went looking for my Lord’ (vv.1–2a, MSG).
- God likes your honesty
There is a therapeutic effect in asking honest questions. God’s people bring their doubts, difficulties and distress to God and question him. Even Jesus, on the cross, asked a question, quoting Psalm 22:1: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Matthew 27:46).
God wants you to be real with him. He does not want you to pretend that all is well. He wants to hear the cry of your heart. This draws you close to him, even in times of great distress.
Thank you, Lord, that you hear the cry of my heart. Thank you that you do not reject me, that your promises do not fail.
Disputes: How should you resolve them?Acts 15:1-21
There is nothing surprising about ‘arguments’, ‘disputes’ and ‘debates’ in the church today. We read here of a ‘sharp dispute and debate’ (v.2) about what was required in order to be fully accepted as a Christian – a member of the church – and to be ‘saved’ (v.1). Was circumcision a requirement? (v.1).
We see here a four-step process for decision-making. This is a great model for dealing with disputes in the local, national and even global church today.
- Call a meeting
Some were insisting that everyone be circumcised. Paul and Barnabas fiercely protested. They called a special meeting to bring the two sides of the debate together.
Do not be afraid of conflict. When people come together to talk about issues that matter, it is both natural and productive for disagreement to occur. In fact, that is what makes meetings interesting!
- Consider and discuss
‘The arguments went on and on, back and forth, getting more and more heated’ (v.7, MSG). In the end, two factors swayed the debate.
First, their reasoning was based on the experience of the Spirit. Peter’s first argument was based on what he had seen the Holy Spirit doing at Cornelius’ house: ‘God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them [the Gentiles] by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them’ (vv.8–9). To make a distinction would have been to oppose God. This led him to the conclusion: ‘We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are’ (v.11).
Second, their reasoning was based on the evidence of the Scriptures. James points out that the word of God and the Spirit of God are in alignment: ‘The words of the prophets are in agreement with this’ (v.15). He shows that the Scriptures foretold the inclusion of ‘all the Gentiles’ (v.17) and suggests a way forward consistent with following the experience of the Holy Spirit and the evidence of Scripture (vv.19–21). We can be sure that the word of God and the Spirit of God will always be in agreement. What we cannot be sure of is that our understanding of either is correct. Those arguing that everyone should be circumcised did so on the basis of Scripture. Peter and James did not set aside the Scriptures, but they did argue that they had been misunderstood.
- Come to a decision
In the end, they decided (v.22). This was an extraordinary moment in the life of the early church. ‘The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them’ (v.12). It was a spine-tingling moment, which reduced them to silence.
At the end of the day decisions require judgment. The apostle James says, ‘It is my judgment’ (v.19). The deciding factor was that they did not want to ‘make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God’ (v.19). All people were to be invited into the church, regardless of their background, although not all practices were allowed (v.20).
The lesson here is that we need to be very careful about putting unnecessary obstacles in front of people who are exploring faith in Jesus and we need to be careful about defining the church too narrowly.
- Communicate the decision
They wrote it down (v.20). Minutes of a meeting are not just a formality. It is important to record decisions. Then, as we will see tomorrow, they need to be communicated (vv.23–29).
Lord, give us wisdom as we deal with disputes within the church. Thank you that you are pouring out your Holy Spirit again on all parts of the church today. Help us to have the same attitude as you, who ‘made no distinction between us and them’ (v.9).
Decoys: How should you resist them?1 Kings 9:10-11:13
Solomon’s life presents us with a challenge and a warning: success can be more dangerous for us than failure.
Solomon did much that was right. He was highly successful – the richest and wisest king of his day (10:23). Everyone wanted to meet him and ‘hear the wisdom God had put in his heart’ (v.24).
Solomon had everything. In twenty years, he had built two great buildings: the temple and his palace (9:10). The Queen of Sheba was astonished by what she saw (v.7). She recognises it could only be God: ‘making you king to keep a just order and nurture a God-pleasing people’ (v.9, MSG).
Yet, the tragedy is that Solomon did not finish well. He was led astray. His ‘heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been… his heart had turned away from the Lord’ (11:4,9).
What went wrong? It started with promiscuity. King Solomon was obsessed with sex: ‘He had seven hundred royal wives and three hundred concubines – a thousand women in all!’ (v.3, MSG).
It ended with following detestable gods: ‘As Solomon grew older, his wives beguiled him with their alien gods’ (4a, MSG). He ‘did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done’ (v.6). He acted contrary to the Lord’s explicit command that the king ‘must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold’ (Deuteronomy 17:17). These decoys led Solomon astray.
David messed up from time to time. When he did, he repented and turned back to the Lord and followed him wholeheartedly. Solomon shows us something different. Seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines do not happen overnight. There must have been compromise in Solomon’s heart. In spite of all God’s blessings, Solomon allowed sin to breed and, in the end, it ruined him.
To avoid ending up like Solomon you need to stay close to Jesus and listen to him. For as Jesus said, the Queen of Sheba ‘came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here’ (Matthew 12:42).
Lord, thank you for this warning. Guard my heart. Help me to be fully devoted to the Lord, to follow you completely to the end of my life.
1 Kings 11:1–13
How come such a wise man can be so foolish over women? He was also disobedient. God had said don’t marry women from those places. But Solomon did. God said that they would lead him astray. They did.
Verse of the Day
‘The Lord your God… has delighted in you…’ (1 Kings 10:9).
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.