Editorial: October 2010
Fruit does not appear in any tree randomly. A difficult process needs to be followed in order to produce fruit that remains. In an orchard, the gardener must initially plough the soil, plant the sapling, fertilise the soil, groom the plant and eventually prune the branches in order to secure the objective of bearing bountiful crops. It involves hard work and faithful diligence. It requires time, effort, planning and vision. "The roots grow deep when the winds are strong." Adversities sometimes ruin the crop and the faithful gardener starts all over again.
"A gem is not polished without rubbing, nor a man made perfect without trials," says a Chinese proverb. Beethoven composed his deepest music after becoming totally deaf. Pascal set down his most searching observations about God, man, life and death in brief intervals of release from a prostrating illness.
As Christians, we should not expect our task to be easy just because God has called us. We must expect to encounter difficulties when we are carrying out the command of Jesus to go and bring forth fruit. Any spiritual ministry is a warfare with spiritual powers that do not wish for any fruit to remain. "Jehovah takes His ministers oftentimes away into darkness and loneliness and trouble, that He may sharpen and prepare them for harder work in His service."
2000 years ago, Jesus' arrest and subsequent crucifixion caused His followers to despair. The disciples themselves had lost hope. But their despondency evaporated on that first Easter morning when they found that the stone sealing the tomb had been moved aside (Jn.20:1). Jesus' resurrection proved that He is greater than the worst obstacles.
"The humble Carpenter from Nazareth attracted the opposition of the religious and political powers. On the eve of being betrayed, handed over, misunderstood, captured, tortured, condemned, abused, stripped, beaten and crucified, He warned, 'In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world'" (Jn.16:33). He seems to say that persecution is victory, to die is to be victorious. For their protection, He provided His peace, which they would need as they faced the tribulation in store for them in the world. This is not only peace in the midst of conflict, but peace which rests in the assurance of victory won by their Champion over the world. Christ's victory is the objective reality which makes valid the inward gift of His peace.
Some people become forlorn and discouraged as they face adversities. They lose heart as adverse circumstances come against them and their efforts. The present generation breaks down easily in the face of adverse situations. This is the reason for the all-time high rate of suicide and divorce we witness all around us, the aftermath of living in nuclear families. The older generation has more physical prowess and emotional stability to face adversities.
The Bible speaks of the cross as a fact in Christian life. It is a reality, a logical presence for those who seek to transform the world. Remember, a saint's life is in the hands of God as a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer. We are here for God's designs, not for our own. "Adversity is the diamond dust heaven polishes its jewels with. Ask not that all troubles end, for when troubles end, life ends too."
Hebrews 11 gives examples of men who faced adversity. The author of Hebrews confronts his readers with the inspiration and challenge of the examples. He encourages us to face reproach and persecution.
Noah faced adversity while working hard for more than a hundred years, through ridicule and silence, without encouragement. Abraham faced adversity of the unknown regarding where he should go, how he should live, and worrying about heirs, through years of hard times. But he faithfully obeyed. No one encouraged Abraham even as adversity was all around.
Moses chose to face adversity obediently, giving up the pleasures of Egypt for affliction with the people of God. He lived in adversity, but produced great fruit. He discounted both the riches of the land of his birth and the power and privileges of its Pharaoh. No man is fit to comprehend heavenly things who has not resigned himself to suffer adversities for Christ.
In the middle of trouble, acknowledging God's role in our lives can redirect our thinking from the hurts of our hearts and force us to dwell instead on the greatness of God. David knew trouble. He faced the threat of enemies, the consequences of his own sin, and the challenges of sorrow. He also recognised the healing power of praise.
David cried to the Lord in his distress (Psa.18:6), and found that He was a stabiliser, One who could always be trusted to be with him. He said, "The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust... my stronghold" (Psa.18:2). The story of Joseph is centred around adversity. He was betrayed by his brothers into bondage, to the loneliness and desperation of imprisonment. He had to face baseless allegations against his character. He experienced adversity for several years. But the Lord was with him. He was enabled to enjoy comfort and strength. God allowed adversity to work wonders. Joseph became a great blessing to many through his thoughtfulness and kindness.
God could have kept Daniel out of the lions' den. He could have kept the three Hebrew boys out of the fiery furnace. He could have kept Paul and Silas out of jail. But God has never promised to keep us out of adversities. What He has promised is to go with us through every hard place, and to bring us through victoriously. Remember, the Lord was with the Hebrew boys in the furnace.
In the midst of her complaints, Naomi never lost sight of the fact that her God was capable and faithful. People like Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and many prophets lived with and through adversities, but bringing glory to God. "They subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens" (Heb.11:33). These are the kinds of experiences that those who live by faith are called upon to endure. Tough times never last, but tough people do.
Even when our journey in life is marked by confinement and limitations, we can be sure that the Lord will encourage others through us as we speak His Word and trust in Him.
The Early Church experienced severe atrocities. They were cruelly mocked, scourged, imprisoned, stoned, sawn asunder, tempted, slain by the sword, made destitute, afflicted and tormented (Heb.11:36). They, in responsive and persistent faith, were prepared to submit to the unseen God. They actively cooperated in letting the discipline do its work in the hope of worthwhile benefit. "God often puts us in situations that are too much for us so that we will learn that no situation is too much for Him. God promises a safe landing, but not a calm passage."
In his service for Christ, Paul had been flogged, stoned, imprisoned, shipwrecked and was often hungry, thirsty, cold, weary and in danger from false brothers (2 Cor.11:22-28). In spite of all these, Paul encouraged the believers. He reminded the believers in Corinth that afflictions were inevitable for the followers of Jesus. Many were being persecuted, imprisoned and oppressed-all because of their relationship with Jesus. Paul wanted the Corinthians to know that, in the midst of their trouble, God was their source of help. He would come to their side and help them to have godly responses. One of the reasons for God allowing suffering and bringing divine comfort was for Corinthians to have empathy to enter into other peoples' sorrows and comfort them (2Cor.1:4). God does not comfort us not only for us to be comfortable, but also that we might be comforters.
"It is trials that prove one thing weak and another strong. A house built on the sand is in fair weather just as good as if built on a rock. A cobweb is as good as the mightiest cable when there is no strain upon it." God's aim is to bring out the message of the Gospel, and if that can only be done by His 'bruising' me, why shouldn't He?," asked Oswald Chambers.
As we turn our eyes on the Lord and put our hope in Him, we have God's reassuring promise that we need nothing more. When we are up against the wall, God is there with open arms.
Experiences of adversity are unpleasant. It is therefore important to recognise the unseen hand that controls them and to submit in reverence to our heavenly Father's pleasure. It is important to recognise God's purpose in the trials and the consequent profit that we will unquestionably gain from them. Such results ensue in the lives of those who have been trained by it (Heb.12:11). For God to explain a trial would be to destroy its purpose. It calls for simple faith and implicit obedience. God's purpose in the cloud is to simplify our belief until our relationship to Him is exactly that of a child.
Many believers live in circumstances where it seems as if God, for some reason, has removed His hedge of protection. Some others believe in relative calm, seemingly unaware of their fragile existence. Like Job's friends, they assume that nothing bad will happen unless they do something to deserve it.
Problems are the cutting edge that distinguishes between success and failure. Problems create courage and wisdom. It is only because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually. The greater the difficulty, the more glory in surmounting it. Skilful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests. John Newton said, "Trials are medicines which our gracious and wise Physician prescribes because we need them; and He proportions the frequency and weight of them to what the case requires. Let us trust in His skill and thank Him for His prescription."