I recently heard Janet Parshall interview Pastor Andrew Brunson. He was the American missionary who was imprisoned in Turkey for over two years on false charges of espionage. His real crime was that he was preaching Christ in a Muslim country, which he had been doing legally for 23 years. Our then president and many other US government officials pressured the Turkish government into releasing Pastor Brunson in 2018.
But I was shocked when Janet asked Pastor Brunson what he missed from his time in a Turkish prison. Pastor Brunson readily admitted that it was a terrible place and a horrifying experience that he would not want to relive. But there was one thing he missed about being in that oppressive place: He missed how his suffering drove him to greater dependence on the Lord. Reflect on that.
Few of us have experienced anything as awful as what Pastor Brunson lived through, but we all experience hardships. No one is immune from difficulties, challenges, and suffering. Hardships are simply part of the human experience.
Our natural human tendency is to avoid hardships at all costs. We curb our activities and take special precautions. We do what we can to engineer difficulties out of our lives, so we plan and prepare and wear our personal protective equipment. We even surrender our freedoms for the sake of safety.
There’s nothing wrong with trying to avoid or prevent hardships and suffering in our lives. In fact, it’s prudent—to an extent. But I wonder if sometimes we sell ourselves short by trying to avoid or extract ourselves from all hardship.
For instance, in Mark 4:35-41 we read the account of Jesus and His disciples in a boat crossing the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had been preaching to the multitudes all day long and was tired. It was His idea to cross the lake to the other side, and as they sailed Jesus fell asleep in the stern.
But “a furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.” Gripped with fear, “the disciples woke Jesus and said to Him, ‘Teacher, don’t You care if we drown?’” Jesus got up and rebuked the wind and the waves so that all became still. Then, Jesus turned to His disciples and said, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
The fact that several of His disciples made a living fishing from boats in this lake gives us some context for how violent this storm was. But there are some other significant factors.
First, it was the Lord’s idea to cross the lake. They were following Him in doing so. They were “in His will” as we say. This is an important factor for us as we follow Jesus too. Often, we seek His will and then follow, only to confront difficulties. Then we wonder if we heard the Lord right, or we question His goodness in sending us into trials. We fail to recognize that hardships may be part of His loving plan for us.
Second, the Lord was with them in the boat. This is perhaps the crux of why He asked them why they had no faith in this situation. For if the Lord Himself was content to ride out this storm, then they should have trusted Him and rode it out too. This also applies to us, because Jesus said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” He is right here with us in our deepest, darkest trials.
Finally, we see the mercy and grace of the Lord in that He calmed the wind and waves even though it would have been better if the disciples had weathered the storm. I think the Lord often answers our pleas for deliverance even though He would rather we would simply trust Him through the hardship.
We know from Scripture (James 1:2) and from experience that hardships, trials, and suffering can be a gift and a blessing from God. As Pastor Brunson explained, hardships drive us to dependence in the Lord and that is always a good thing. Being stretched beyond our abilities to cope humbles us and exposes our neediness before God. In those tough circumstances we press into Him.
The Apostle Paul also reveals that persevering through hardships produces godly character in us (Romans 5:3). Persevering through trials also demonstrates to the world the goodness and mercy of God despite awful circumstances. When we persevere through hardships, we experience God more intimately in ways we couldn’t have if all went well. And when we endure trials trusting in the Lord, He is glorified.
But I also believe we can waste our hardships:
- When we grumble, moan, and complain through them.
- When we get angry at God and those arounds us.
- When we curse God instead of draw near to Him.
- When we make the hardship all about us and our comfort.
Our response to hardships is key. Either we let them wear us down or build us up. The question is not whether we will experience hardships in the days to come, but how we will respond to them and trust the Lord when they do come.
To this end, we need each other. We need the fellowship and encouragement other followers of Jesus can give us. We need God’s Word. King David told God, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn Your decrees [i.e., God’s Word].” (Psalm 119:71) Spend time in God’s Word daily.
We need to spend time conversing with our Lord every day, throughout the day. Pour your heart out to Him and fellowship with Him. Trust God’s Holy Spirit within you. He will never leave you or forsake you.
So, let’s not waste our hardships. Let the Lord use them in our lives to make us more like Jesus.