All that I have said over the last number of weeks about the recent terrorist attacks on our country, we have focused on some scriptures. We have also looked at some of the issues, some of the history involved, some of the theology, but tonight I want us to focus on the Word of God.
I’m going to be laying out for you a lot of Scripture. We find the Bible’s own testimony is that we have comfort in the Scripture, that the God of all comfort, as he’s called in 2 Corinthians chapter 1, comforts us in his Word by the revelation of Himself. We are comforted in knowing our God, and He is revealed in Scripture; therefore, the God of comfort provides for us in Scripture the comforting truth about himself.
These are uncomfortable times. In modern times, we have all come to know trouble in the world, and we have our own trouble. The Bible says, “Sufficient unto the day is the trouble thereof.” We all have enough trouble of our own. But in modern times, through media, we have universal trouble brought to us. We see not only the suffering and tragedy that works in our own little world, but we see the suffering and tragedy that works everywhere in the world.
We have trouble as individuals. We struggle with our jobs. We struggle with our money. We struggle with our children. We struggle with our marriages. We struggle with our physical health and wellbeing. We struggle with our neighbors. We struggle with the people around us. We struggle with our businesses. We struggle with our dreams, our aspirations, our hopes. We struggle with death.
And then outside of ourselves, everybody that lives with us or near to us (a spouse, family, extended family, close friends) compound our trouble with all of their trouble. And then in the wider neighborhood, we talk over the fence or on the phone, and we then embrace trouble beyond even our most intimate friends and family. Then we are exposed by the media to worldwide disasters and plagues and crimes of mass proportions and poverty of horrendous descriptions.
We see every troubled place on the planet dragged before our eyes every night and every morning and then on the cable networks all day and all night long. Never until this modern time with mass media have we had a better opportunity to understand that life is troublesome, that life is a grief and a sadness and suffering. In fact, the truth of the matter is what happened in New York City at the World Trade Centers, what happened in Washington at the Pentagon, what happened in the airplane that crashed into the ground in Pennsylvania, had absolutely no real effect on any of us.
Oh, there may be somebody we know who died there, and in that sense, it had an impact on us, but for most of us, it had no effect on us. And yet that event - which didn’t occur in any of our experiences or anywhere near us or, for that matter, near the vast majority of people in America - has created amazing anxiety and emotion. And now we’re all afraid to open our mail because something that happened to some people 3,000 plus miles away scares us. There was a time in the world when we wouldn’t even know that. Now we are exposed to everybody’s trouble, and everybody’s trouble becomes our trouble.
We are worried about plagues. We are worried about biological warfare, chemical warfare. We are worried about bombings. We are worried not only for ourselves but for our families. That’s the downside of all of this, we just know too much. We have enough trouble of our own without carrying the load of the world’s trouble. The upside is anybody who doesn’t believe in sin is a fool. The illusion is over. This is a seriously flawed world. This is a fallen world, and the proportions of its fallenness are brought to us vividly.
I was amazed the other night to turn on one of the educational channels and find even Robert Schuler there, and they were asking him a question, and he responded to the question by saying this: “I have never believed in a personal force of evil or a devil, but after this I’m beginning to believe there really is such a force.” I believe in the devil because it’s in the Bible, not because somebody crashed into the towers. But that’s representative of even the most positive thinkers, abandoning their positive thinking for some seriously negative thinking.
In the break between what was on the air, Larry King, the other night when I did The Larry King Show, said to me, “John, you know, you’re right. There is a terrible evil loose in the world.” I said, “And it’s killing all of us.” He must know it, He interviews people day after day after day after day. And yet life is still, to some degree, rich and enjoyable and happy and comfortable and fun and loving. The trouble is never very far away and if you’re not in the trouble, you’re afraid of it, and now your fear is beyond you. It’s a pervasive global fear.
Now, as always, the Bible tells us the truth about this. Job chapter 5, verse 7, “For man is born for trouble as sparks fly upward.” And when Eliphaz said that, he was exactly right. As sure as sparks go up off a fire, man is in trouble. In Job 14:1, Job himself said, “Man, who is born of woman, is short-lived and full of turmoil.” In Psalm 22:11, David cried out to God, “Be not far from me, for trouble is near.” In Isaiah chapter 8 and verse 22, the prophet said, “Look to the earth and behold distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish.”
Solomon, who was the wealthiest man in the Old Testament - he was wealthy enough for the Queen of Sheba to come to see his immense wealth. Solomon, with all that wealth, writes in Ecclesiastes 2, “I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous or painful to me because everything is futility or emptiness and striving after wind because all of a man’s days, his task is painful and grievous, and even at night his mind doesn’t rest.” The richest man of all, he had all he wanted in terms of wealth, he had literally hundreds of women to fill his bed, and he hated life because of its turmoil, its pain, its trouble, and he couldn’t even sleep. John 16:33, Jesus said, “In this world, you will have tribulation.”
Now, I want to go from there to tell you some good things about the trouble, whether it’s the trouble of a terrorist attack, whether it’s the trouble of a fatal illness, a heart attack, cancer, whether it’s the trouble of a wayward child, whether it’s the trouble of a lost job or a lost business or unfulfilled dreams, whether it’s the trouble of persecution for your faith or whatever the trouble might be.
And I, as a pastor, can tell you, over the years I’ve seen just about all the trouble one could imagine. Children dying of leukemia, children dying of brain tumors, father of a precious wife and precious little girls being imprisoned for life because he was a child molester, it was found out. A man’s daughter raped and murdered. A mother’s daughter, I remember the tears of the mother telling me the student at USC raped and murdered in the dorm. I mean there is trouble, and I have seen the range of it through the years. But there are some things to tell you that are important to know.
First of all, the Bible tells us that God is in the trouble - that God is in the trouble. Isaiah 14:24 says, “The Lord of hosts has sworn, saying, ‘Surely, just as I have intended, so it has happened.’” It’s amazing. Just as I have intended, so it has happened. Just as I have planned, so it will stand. In fact, in Isaiah 46, verses 10 and 11, God says, “My purpose will be established and I will accomplish all my good pleasure. Truly, I have spoken; truly, I will bring it to pass. I have planned it; surely, I will do it.” God is in the trouble.
In Amos chapter 3 and verse 6, we read, “If a calamity occurs in a city, has not the Lord done it?” That doesn’t mean that the Lord does what is evil, He doesn’t, but it fits within His scheme. Let me show you a very, very powerful scripture in the Old Testament. The book of Jeremiah is followed by another book, written by Jeremiah, called Lamentations, the laments of the prophet. In Lamentations chapter 3 and verse 37, we have three verses here, verse 37, 38, and 39, that are very, very pertinent and powerful. Verse 37: “Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass unless the Lord has commanded it?” Nobody plans and executes anything that God hasn’t allowed.
You say, “What about all the bad things?” Verse 38: “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and evil calamity go forth?” It’s not from the mouth of the Lord that sin goes forth, but blessings come from God and so do cursings. Goodness comes from God and so does judgment. Nobody makes a plan and executes it unless it’s within the purpose of God, and out of God’s mouth come both those things that are good and those things that are not good, as we view them circumstantially and experientially.
And then comes verse 39: “And why should any living mortal or any man” - and the NAS has the best translation of this: “Why should any living mortal or any man offer complaint in view of his sins?”
You can’t complain about calamity. You can’t complain about bad things happening because you are a sinner. What right do you have to complain? And as I was telling you this morning, the question is not, like Rabbi Kushner posed in his book: Why do bad things happen to good people? The question is: Why do good things happen to bad people? Because there are only bad people. All have sinned. There is none righteous, no not one. What right do you have to complain about a calamity in view of your sins? But God is in that calamity. He has a right to accomplish his purpose, even if his purpose is judgment.
And there was a judgment in the deaths on September 11th. There was a final termination of the life of sinners without Christ who went into an eternity without God. That was final. That was a judgment. And God had every right to judge sinners. He is the Holy God who is the judge and makes only righteous judgment. And those who reject him will so be judged. The amazing thing is that only six thousand people died and not the whole population of America, all the sinners who have rejected him. So even when God acts in judgment, He acts with mercy and there is in the judgment a warning to the rest.
So the first thing I want you to understand is that when calamity and trouble comes, God is in it, achieving his purpose. Second thing I want to tell you is this - and folks this is where you really have to come. The Bible tells us that the purpose of God is hidden in it. In other words, we don’t know the specific purpose of God in what he does. Now, in Bible times, there were times when God disclosed his purpose. There were times when God revealed, as he says in Amos 3:7, his purpose to his servants, the prophets, and they wrote down the Old Testament.
There are scriptures in the New Testament in which God discloses his purpose in an event, such as the words of Jesus predicting the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and giving the reason for that. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, I wanted you. I would have gathered you. You would not. Behold, your house has left you desolate,” desolation is coming upon you. And the judgment of 70 A.D. by the Romans was a judgment that God brought upon Jewish unbelief. That is revealed in the New Testament, and there are a number of Old Testament acts of God’s judgment that were revealed as to their purpose in the Old Testament.
But God is no longer writing Scripture. God is no longer audible. God is no longer speaking to us. He doesn’t explain Himself, and so as we look at the events that fall, as we look at the trouble that is all around the world, as we look at starving children and wars and conflicts and all of the disasters (natural and those that are manmade), as we see all of that (both in the microcosm of our own lives and in the macrocosm of the globe), we may not know the purpose of God, but it’s very likely that we will not know it. That’s why Isaiah 45:15 says, “Truly, you are a God who hides yourself.”
So when people say to me, “What do you think God was doing?” my answer is, “I have no idea.” There are some general conclusions I can draw from it, and I’ve tried to draw them, death is inevitable, death is sudden, death is a surprise, you don’t know when you’re going to die, be ready, be thankful that you’re still alive and you have some time to repent and believe. Those are general lessons, but I don’t know the specifics of what God does because he is a God who hides Himself.
Nowhere is that better illustrated than in the story of Job. Read the book of Job - not now. I needed to make a disclaimer there. Read it sometime tonight before you go to bed or tomorrow. It’s an incredible story. Job is the most righteous man in the world, by God’s own reckoning, and Job is living his life. He is the proverbial good man - really good man, a righteous man, not just humanly good, but godly, righteous, having been redeemed by God himself, worshiping the true and living God, the best of men.
And all of a sudden into his life comes trouble, big time trouble. All his animals die, and he has a huge estate with all kinds of animals. All his cattle die, all his sheep die. All his crops fail. All his children die, and he has a large family. And only his wife survives, and she tells him to curse God and die. Unbelievable trouble. Then on top of that, he gets these sores all over his body, and he’s got oozing sores all over his body that are so ugly and painful that he sits in a pile of dirt. He, who once washed his patio with butter - that’s how wealthy he was - he sits in a pile of dirt, scraping scabs off the boils all over his body. He is clueless about why this happened.
So his buddies come over. You remember the story. They are the local theological experts. So they come over and they do nothing for seven days. They just sit there. They sit there. That was an appropriate thing to do. They just grieve. They just sit there and shake their heads and suffer along with him. Just a lot of empathy and sympathy. They don’t say anything. After seven days, they open their mouth. For seven days, they had wisdom - as soon as they opened their mouth, it all left.
Everything they said was ridiculous. They said, “God is doing this to you because you have a secret sin life.” They didn’t know that. They didn’t know why God was doing what he was doing because he is hidden in the suffering. They had no idea, but they thought they could figure it out, and so they pounded on this poor guy for a prolonged period of time, and he kept saying, “Look, I’ve looked at my life, I’ve examined my life, there’s nothing there. I don’t have any unconfessed sin, there’s nothing I can figure out. I’m not perfect, but I’m telling you I trust the Lord, I’m just trying to be a faithful man, I don’t know what’s going on,” and they’re wrong about everything they say. Because they were trying to find the divine purpose and it’s not revealed to them.
Well, finally, after the suffering reaches a certain point, Job just says, “Look, God, I mean how about it? Why is this happening? Why is this going on?” And God’s answer is this: “Close your mouth, Job. You don’t have any right to ask that question. Who do you think you are? Were you around when I created the world? Do I - am I obligated to give you information? Where were you when I made Leviathan, the great sea dinosaur? Who do you think you are? You don’t have any claim on my information.” And Job’s response was, “Okay, I repent. I repent for my insolence. I repent for my lack of trust. I repent for needing information. I repent. I repent in dust and ashes.”
And he did, you know, what the old traditional way to demonstrate your repentance was, you put on your clothes and heap dust and ashes all over yourself and sit there in a posture that is analogous to the way you feel about your soul, that it’s sinful and dirty. “I’m so sorry.” And says, “In fact, now I see you better than ever. I used to hear you with a hearing in mine ear.” Job 42:6. “Now I see you and I repent. Okay, God, I see. I get the picture. The picture is you don’t owe me an explanation.”
Now, the really amazing thing about Job, the book of Job is, we get the explanation that he never got. It’s in chapter 1 and 2, but he couldn’t read chapter 1 and 2 because there wasn’t any book of Job when he lived it. Chapter 1 says Satan went up into heaven, said to God, “The only reason that people serve you is because you’re good to them, because all the circumstances of life are so comfortable. Make life miserable, and they’ll curse you.”
And God said, “Okay. See if you can prove your point. Take Job. You can do anything to him except kill him, and we’ll find out whether he curses me. We’ll find out whether salvation transforms a heart and produces a permanent faith. We’ll find out whether you can break saving faith. We’ll find out whether a person genuinely redeemed would ever turn and curse God.” And you know what? Satan lost that battle. Job was faithful to the very end. Job even said, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.” Job didn’t know why it was happening. God never told Job. I hope somebody delivered the book of Job to Job once he got to heaven so he could find out why.
God is not obligated to explain himself. Believe this: God is in the trouble, but He’s hidden in it. Don’t ask me to explain it.
Let me take another step in this thought process. God is in the trouble, He’s hidden in the trouble, and He, thirdly, tells us only what we need to know. He tells us only what we need to know. And you know what? We don’t need to know why He does what he does. We don’t need to know that. I know we’re all caught up in why things happen. Every time an airplane crashes, everybody goes into these long, drawn-out functions of trying to find out why everything happened. It’s that sort of bred-and-fed curiosity that the media generates in order to perpetuate their existence.
We may think we need to know, but God says you only need to know what I think you need to know. And you’re not going to know what God was doing when planes crashed into the towers, and you’re not going to know what He was doing when it crashed into the Pentagon, and you’re not going to know when an anthrax envelope is broken open, and you’re not going to know when people are starving in Africa what God is doing in that. You’re not going to know in your family when your wife gets cancer. You’re not going to get a word from God telling you what He’s doing. You’re not going to get that. Well, you say, “Doesn’t God owe us that?” He does not.
Two weeks ago, two weeks after the disaster, when I was on the panel on the Larry King weekend, ostensibly I was told that this panel was going to be on the subject of where was God on September 11th. The implication of that is: Why did God let that happen? I mean that’s what they basically said to me. We want to talk about why God allowed that to happen. And my answer to that is, “I haven’t got a clue.” The bigger question to me is, “Why are we still here to discuss this?” Because it should have happened to us except for the grace of God.
Panel consisted of an interesting array of viewpoints, a New Age mystic, a Jewish rabbi, and a Muslim. And it was not a surprise, really, to me that the panelists didn’t agree themselves on the answers. The rabbi, Rabbi Kushner, said he believed God could not have prevented the terrorist attacks because he has given (quote) “human beings the freedom to choose between being good people and being bad people.” So Rabbi said that God couldn’t do anything about it if He wanted to. Where did he get that idea? Not from the Bible. He’s not really a rabbi in the traditional sense, one who believes the Scripture, he’s just a self-inventing philosopher.
Another panelist sort of seemed to agree that God Himself was victimized by the attack. And then there was that pantheistic New Age guru who said, “God is everything and everything is God, yet somehow,” he said, “the atrocity was the result of something else.” Figure that one out. He said the atrocity was the result of (quote) “our ignorance about our inseparability with each other and our tribal instinct.”
Nobody had an answer. Truthfully, they didn’t know - but I didn’t know, either. I had nothing to offer as to why God let that happen or didn’t prevent it. But at least I had an authority, the Bible, outside myself. I really don’t care about the opinion of somebody who says, “I don’t think God could do anything about it” or “I think God is everything and everything is God.” I - really, I said with due respect, “You are not the authority.
So we turn to the Bible, and what we find out in the Bible is all we need to know is this: Ephesians 1:11, “God works all things according to the counsel of His will.” You need to know that. Okay? He works all things to the counsel of his will. You also need to know this: “All things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to his purpose,” Romans 8:28. That’s good to know, isn’t it? God works all things.
John Piper expanded on that in an article he wrote. “This ‘all things’ includes the fall of sparrows, the rolling of dice,” - this is all in Scripture - “the rolling of dice, the slaughter of his people, the decisions of kings, the failing of sight, the sickness of children (2 Samuel 12:15), the loss and gain of money, the suffering of saints, the completion of travel plans (James 4)” - don’t say you’re going here or going there, say the Lord wills - “the persecution of Christians, the repentance of souls, the gift of faith, the pursuit of holiness, the growth of believers, the giving of life, the taking of life, and the crucifixion of his Son.”
All those things, the Bible says, are within the will of God. God is absolutely sovereign over everything that happens, and nothing happens apart from His will. That’s all I need to know, and I can leave the rest of the details to Him to work out. But if you tell me that God couldn’t stop it, then God’s not God. The terrorists are God or cancer’s God or whatever else. It’s enough for me to know that it’s in His will, it’s for His ultimate purpose, which is toward us good and toward Himself glorifying.
One more thought on this introduction. The Bible tells us God’s purposes in general for believers. The Bible tells us God’s purposes in general for believers, all things work together for good - what does that mean? Let’s kind of unpack that a little bit. We don’t need to know any more than we need to know. I mean if God were to say, “Well, the reason I did this - I just want to give you a little information, you keep asking, asking, ‘Why, God? Why, why, why?” You know, we do that in Habakkuk, “Why? How long? Why?” You know. “Okay, okay, here’s why I did that.”
The information He gave us as to why He did that would only make sense if we were God. And the contingencies attached to that information would make it so complex that there would never be any end to the necessary explanation because the explanation of any one single event is inextricably linked to the whole saga of redemption and divine purpose. It’s enough to know what He wants us to know, and what He wants us to know is that in it, He is at work, His will is being fulfilled for our good and His glory.
So let’s back up and ask the question: What, then, is to our good in a trial, in trouble? Well, let’s give you a little list here. Number one: Trouble tests the strength of our faith. Trouble tests the strength of our faith and that’s good. When trouble comes, you find out how strong your faith is. When you find out that your child has leukemia, when you find out that your husband has terminal cancer, when you find out that you’ve lost your job, when you find out that you’re going to lose your house, when you find out that you’ve gone bankrupt, when you find out any of these things, it’s an immediate test for your faith, to find out how strong it is.
What do you do when you find that out? Do you collapse? Do you go into paroxysms of fear and dread and terror? In Deuteronomy 8:2, “You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness,” talking about Israel for 40 years, “that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.” And so he humbled you and he let you be hungry and he also fed you with manna, which you didn’t know, and he did it all for 40 years, and he was testing you to find out whether you trusted him.
In 2 Chronicles 32:31, it says regarding King Hezekiah, God left him to test him that he might know all that was in his heart. And it’s not just some revelation that God needs, it’s really a revelation to us. God is testing us, not so that He can find out what’s in our heart, He knows what’s in our heart. As Peter said, “You know what’s in my heart” the end of John’s gospel. It’s not about God getting the information; it’s about us getting the information.
Habakkuk, a prophet who had a huge problem, I mean really a massive problem, he was the one that was told by God that Judah, the southern kingdom, was going to be judged. But he didn’t get it, so he cries out in chapter 1, “How long, O Lord, will I call for help and you will not hear?” I’m asking you God, please explain this. I need information. Why? Why are you going to send the Chaldeans, who are worse than the Jews, who are pagan, idolatrous, to judge your people? Why are you going to do that? Please, God, answer. And the Lord never answers. He never says anything except “I’m going to send them and they’re going to judge you.”
That’s all God ever says, there’s never any explanation of the reason. And in the end, Habakkuk gets the message like Job did, chapter 3, verse 17. Well, he said the message was so fearful - verse 16 - his inward parts trembled, his lips quivered, decay entered his bones, he started to tremble and shake, waiting quietly for the day of distress, for the people to arise who will invade us, the Chaldeans. So he’s just shaking, trembling. But in verse 17, he says, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, though there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail.”
Those are things you can always count on. Every year, the fig tree blooms; every year, the fruit appears on the vines; every year, the olive tree produces olives and, therefore, oil. Those things, you can count on, those are consistent, but if that goes wrong, if the things you can count on disappear and you can’t count on them, and if the fields stop producing food and the flock is cut off from the fold, and there’s no cattle in the stalls, still I will rejoice in the Lord. I will joy in the God of my salvation. What he decided was that God didn’t give him an answer and didn’t need to, he needed to trust God if everything went contrary to normal.
And then in the last verse of this book, he says, “The Lord God is my strength, and he has made my feet like hinds’ feet” - a hind was a mountain goat - “and He makes me walk on my high places.” There were mountain goats who could walk on a precipice a few inches wide on a high cliff. They could walk along in safety because of the solid footing they were capable of having, and so he says, “I never got an answer from God except to ‘trust me,’ and if everything goes contrary to what is right and normal in my judgment, I will find my footing on the God of my salvation.”
Now, what happens when you have trouble is that faith gets tested. And it’s not a test for God to figure it out, He knows by omniscience everything, it’s so you can find out where your faith is. Is that good? Of course that’s good. Because if you find out your faith is weak, then you need to call on God to give you strength. And usually the way your faith is strengthened is in greater and greater trouble, but never (1 Corinthians 10:13) will He give you more than you can handle.
A second point: This is something that we need to know, and this is one of those general things about the goodness of God in trouble that He has told us. Trouble comes to strengthen our faith or test the strength of it. Secondly, trouble comes to humble us lest we think more confidently of our spiritual strength than we should. We’ve already read about people being humbled. And being humbled is a good thing, I read it to you in Deuteronomy 8:2. You remember in 2 Corinthians 12 - I’ll just refer to it - Paul had a thorn in the flesh, remember that?
It really was more than a thorn, it was a spear, it was a stake that was rammed through his body, a very painful thing. I believe that that was - well, he describes who it is. It’s a spear through his flesh, just literally impaling him, extremely painful, excruciating, and he says it’s a messenger from Satan, an angelos from Satan, an angel from Satan, which is another way to talk about a demon. There was a demon that was just tearing Paul up.
It wasn’t a demon necessarily in his own person because, of course, he was devout, committed to Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, but it was the demon leading the assault on the Corinthian church and ripping and shredding the Corinthian church that Paul loved and to which he had given so much of his life. And it just crushed him to see this demon loose in the Corinthian church with all the false teachers who were there possessed by this satanic angel teaching lies, a false gospel, undermining Paul. This was terrible because Paul loved his church.
And he had poured his life into that church, nearly two years of ministry there and then years after, writing letter after letter after letter, two in the New Testament and two additional letters he wrote them. And here, after all this labor and all this effort and all this work to a beloved congregation, in come demonic, false teachers and just decimate that church. For Paul, that is like taking a spear and ramming it through his flesh, and so he says, “I prayed to the Lord three times, and I said, ‘Lord, please stop that. Take that demon-possessed influence out of that church. I can’t stand this. I’m afraid that all my labor is going to be for nothing. Remove that.’” It’s like praying an imprecatory Psalm, “Kill those false teachers.”
You remember, though, he prayed three times and the Lord answered by saying, “No. No, Paul I’m not going to do that,” and the reason the Lord did give him in the day of revelation, he said, “My grace is sufficient for you,” because power is perfected in what? In weakness. If this doesn’t happen, Paul, you’re going to be proud about your accomplishments, proud about your church, proud about your success, so I’m humbling you so that you know your true power is in me. Paul said, I get it. “I will then boast in my weakness, I will be content with weakness, insults, distresses, persecutions, difficulties for Christ’s sake for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
You know what trials do? They knock us flat. They destroy our self-confidence, our control, our ability to manage everything. They strip us bare and that’s good because humility is the purest of spiritual virtues because it submits totally to God. Why does trouble come? To test the strength of our faith, to humble us also lest we be more confident about our strength than we ought to be.
Thirdly, these troublesome things come into our lives to wean us from the world - to wean us from the world. I mean that’s just a simple truth. You’re concerned about your new car. You’re concerned about waxing it and polishing it and doing all of those kinds of things and driving it around where people can see it and enjoying the comfort and showing your friends. It’s a big deal. You’re concerned about your new house and your new decoration and your new furniture. You’re concerned about your wardrobe until your child is stricken with a fatal disease.
And then your car doesn’t matter and your wardrobe doesn’t matter, and you begin to look in a different direction to focus your life and your energies. And now you’re more concerned that people intercede and pray, and you plead with people to uphold the child or who - whatever it is, to help you through this time of trouble with their prayers and their intercession and their love.
See, trials just turn our priorities upside down. It’s just basic. When you face a trial, all of a sudden everything is reoriented. I mean we’re living that out today. Our country’s focus is on survival. That’s as it should be.
There’s a fourth very important goal in trouble, part of the good that happens to us. Trouble calls us to heavenly hope - trouble calls us to heavenly hope. Another way to say that is all of a sudden heaven becomes more inviting. Heaven becomes more precious. Anticipation of heaven becomes more real. Listen to Romans 5 for this little sequence, verses 3 and 4. “We rejoice in tribulation.” Why? Why would we ever rejoice in trouble? Why? Because trouble brings about endurance. Trouble brings about endurance.
If you’re in trouble, you have to learn how to hang in there during the trouble to endure this. And endurance, or perseverance, brings about proven character. Somebody who has trouble for a long time develops proven character. And proven character, says Paul, produces hope.
I told you this some years ago when I went to Kazakhstan (one of those “-stans” that you’re all learning about in Central Asia), and I was in the city of Almaty. And I was teaching sixteen hundred Central Asian former Soviet Union pastors, the first pastors’ conference in history in Central Asia after Periostraca and Glasnost broke up the Union. Sixteen hundred of them came and they said, “Would you come for seven days and six days, will you teach everything about the church?” In six days. I flew 35 hours from here. I flew from here to Germany, I flew from Germany to Moscow, I got on a plane in Moscow and flew another eight or nine hours to Almaty.
I’d flown 35 hours straight. I got off the plane. It was 6 o’clock in the morning, in a desolate, makeshift kind of an airport. I was met by a couple of Russian men who escorted me to the meeting where I was to speak immediately and to end six days later. Got into about the third or fourth day and we were eating this soup, we had soup all week because so many people came, they didn’t have enough food, so they had these big pots outside. Fortunately, it rained all day, so there was always plenty of soup. So they had these huge pots and they just kept throwing in whatever they got. It was like my mother used to make. She called it “Enthusiasm” because she put everything she had into it. They had to feed all these people.
Well, it was the third or fourth day and the leaders came to me and they said, you know, “We thank you, Pastor Macarthur, for your teaching, but when will you get to the good part?” That’s hard to hear after you’ve taught for three or four days. You’re thinking something must have been good. And I said, “The good part, the good part, well, I’m trying to teach you the whole doctrine of the church, the theology of the church,” and they said, “We want the good part. Could you please teach us the good part?” I said, “Well, okay, what’s the good part?” They said, “Tell us what it’s going to be like for the church in heaven.”
They were ready to go then. They had nothing. They have nothing. They had been weaned from the world because there was nothing for them. I stayed with a widow whose husband had been dead about three weeks, myself and another man, she wanted to make a home for us. She gave me, which was a delicacy, a little tiny piece of horse meat and a little egg every day that she stood in line for who knows how long and paid her money for. They have nothing. The hope of heaven is blazing in their minds. Well, trouble has a way of doing that. It has a way of calling us to eternal heavenly hope.
Number five: Trouble reveals what we really love - or better, who we really love. And I guess the greatest illustration of this would be Abraham and Isaac, wouldn’t it? Did Abraham love Isaac? Sure, his own son. Did he love God more? Yes, so much so that when God said, “Go sacrifice Isaac,” he said, “Okay, I will.” He went to Mount Moriah to offer his son as a sacrifice. He passed the test. He showed that he loved God to the point that he would obey God and take the life of his son, whom he also loved, but not as dearly as he loved God. If there’s anything dearer to you than God, it needs to be removed - and sometimes God does that.
Number six: Trouble teaches us to value the favor of God - to value the favor of God. Let me tell you what I mean by that. Your senses tell you to value pleasure. And it has a value. I mean the fact that you have five senses is so that you can enjoy. You enjoy beautiful sounds, beautiful sights, delicious food, amazing - touch, what joy there is in touch of all the various textures and things in the world. All of those senses teach us to value pleasure and that’s a gift from God. But trials teach us to value God’s favor because you get to the point where all you have is God and his blessing.
Trials teach you to say, “God, in the midst of this, if you don’t bless me, I have nothing.” Sometimes trials can be so consuming and so overwhelming that there is no earthly salve. Even Jesus in Hebrews 5:7, “In the days of his flesh offered up prayer and supplication with loud crying and tears to the One able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his devotion” or piety. I mean Jesus came to an extremity in his trouble where he had nowhere to go but God, and all he wanted was God’s blessing and God’s favor and God’s lovingkindness like Psalm 63:3, “Your lovingkindness is better than life.”
There’s a seventh element of goodness in trials. All of these things are good. To have your faith tested is good. To be humbled is good. To be weaned from worldly things is good. To be called to heavenly hope is good. To find out what you really love is good. To value the favor of God above everything is, of course, good. And number seven: Trials enable us to help others in their trials.
I always think about Peter in Luke 22:31, the Lord said, “Look, you’re going to go through a trial, Peter, and Satan is going to have you and he’s going to sift you like wheat, and I’m going to let him do that because when it’s over with, you’re going to be able to strengthen the brothers.” Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1 he was comforted by God, and now he could comfort others with the comfort with which he was comforted.
It’s a wonderful thing about going through pain and suffering and trials and tribulations, you’ve been there, you’ve endured, you’ve seen the hand of God, you’ve seen the joy of the humbling process, you’ve seen the grace dispensed. And I think that’s the key to this. What happens in a trial is you do receive the blessing of God as His child. You do receive the grace of God as His child, and so when you come out of that trial, you can say, “The grace was there when I needed it,” and that becomes an encouragement to others as they enter into trials. You do find out that His grace is absolutely and completely sufficient for every trial.
“He is,” as Hebrews 2:18 says, “able to come to the aid of those who are tested.” Many of you can give that testimony. You’ve lost a spouse, you’ve lost a husband, you’ve lived through a terrible tragedy in your family, your life, and you can help others in their trials because you can give testimony to the sufficient grace of God.
Just a couple more. Number eight: There is good in our trials because by them, God chastens us - by them, God chastens us. I mean we have to admit it, folks. Trouble in life can be a form of chastening. In Hebrews chapter 12 again, “Every son whom the Lord loves, He scourges,” He chastens. He says in verse 5 of Hebrews 12, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord nor faint when you are reproved by Him for those whom the Lord loves, He disciplines. He scourges every son whom He receives.” That’s drawn out of Proverbs. So there’s discipline there, and discipline is for our edification.
Down in verse 8, he says, “We had earthly fathers to discipline us. We respected them. Shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits and live? They disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them. He disciplines us for our good that we may share His holiness. And all discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful but sorrowful, yet to those who have been trained by it afterwards, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” God is chastening to make you more righteous and that’s good.
And then one last point, maybe number nine in your list? Trouble lets God put His glory on display - trouble lets God put His glory on display. If He heals, He gets the glory, like the blind man in John 9. He was born blind. He was healed for the glory of God. When your prayers are answered, John 14:13 and 14 says, it is that the Father may be glorified. When you are given grace in the midst of a trial to triumph over that trial, that is putting God on display.
There are people who are outside the kingdom of God who go through suffering and trial and they are angry and they are bitter, and then you see a Christian who is dying of a terminal illness who’s full of joy, who’s singing hymns, who’s praising God because God’s grace is flooding the life of that person and therefore, the glory of God in the grace of God is on display. The power of God is on display.
Well, we could add some to the list perhaps, but that’s enough. So what have we said? Let me give you just a quick recap. God is in the trouble. He is in the trouble. None of it happens apart from Him. His purpose, however, may be hidden. He is not obligated to tell us what His purpose is. We only need to know what we need to know, and we don’t need to know everything.
We do need to know that everything happens within His will. Everything happens (from the believer’s standpoint) for our good, and that good is to test our faith, to humble us, to wean us from worldly things, to call us to a heavenly hope, to reveal what we really love, to teach us the value of favor from God, to enable us to help others, to chasten us, and to put God’s grace on display.
So when trouble comes, Peter says, 1 Peter 4:13, “Keep on rejoicing.” Keep on rejoicing, that’s the right attitude. Don’t be surprised at any fiery ordeal, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening. This isn’t alien to our lives. Trouble isn’t alien to a believer. Those people who preach that when you become a believer, this is some kind of a liberation from trouble are telling a lie. I hate to have to say it, but that’s the illusion of The Prayer of Jabez that makes millions of people buy it, that somehow there’s a formula with God by which you bypass trouble.
Trouble isn’t alien to us. That’s where we started. Man is born unto trouble, it’s everywhere. It’s part of a fallen world. So don’t be surprised at the fiery ordeal - 1 Peter 4:12 - as though some strange thing were happening. That’s not a strange thing, that’s just life. Keep on rejoicing. Why? Because God is in it and He’s hidden in it, but He does want you to know this: He’s working it out for your good in all the ways that we saw. That’s how you find your security, you find a place to stand in the midst of the trouble. You can be like those hinds at the end of the book of Habakkuk who find solid footing on a precipice because you know those things to be true. Let’s pray together.
Father, now we almost welcome trouble. We would almost rather pray the prayer of Job than the prayer of Jabez. Bring it on if it displays your glory and your power, if it purifies and chastens us, if it enables us to comfort others, if it puts your favor on display, if it reveals who we love, if it tests the strength of our faith, if it humbles us, if it weans us from the world. If it does all these things, Lord, these are good things. And so indeed do all things work together for good.
And all things includes all the bad things, which in most cases become the opportunities for the good ones. Oh, how we thank you that you are the sovereign God. Nothing happens apart from your will and your purpose. You don’t do evil. You don’t cause evil. You don’t cause anybody else to do evil, nor do you tempt anyone. But evil exists and you overrule it for your own purpose.
And your purpose for your people, those who love you, is good both in time and eternity, that we now could become more like Christ until that day when we actually do become like Him, when we see Him face to face. Thank you for this. In Christ’s name. Amen.
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