Discipleship: Transformed by Trouble

Rick Warren

God has a purpose behind every problem.

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (2 Cor. 4:17 NIV)

He uses circumstance to develop our character. In fact, he depends on circumstances to mold us into Christ-likeness even more than the Bible, because we experience them 24 hours a day. Even if you read your Bible 3 hours a day, it would still leave 21 hours of circumstances for God to use.

Jesus warned us that we'd have problems in the world. James added that they are impartial, unpredictable and come in many flavors, and Peter assured us that they are normal. No one is immune to pain or insulated from suffering, and no one gets to skate through life problem-free. Life is a series of problems.

Don't be bewildered or surprised when you go through the fiery trials ahead, for this is no strange, unusual thing that is going to happen to you. (1 Peter 4:12)

templestairsYou should expect four kinds of problems in life: Trials are designed by God to draw us closer to him and build our character. Temptations are designed by the Devil to draw us away from God and destroy our character. Trespasses are hurts caused by the sins of others. Troubles are usually, but not always, the consequences our own sinful choices.

Proverbs gives us a long list of sins that get us into trouble, such as impatience, dishonesty, selfishness, a hot temper, and even talking too much. It also tells us that wisdom will keep us out of trouble. Anytime we ignore God's principles, we eventually suffer the consequences. We always reap what we sow.

God has given us the freedom to make choices, but we are not free to choose the consequences of those choices. David prayed, "I am surrounded by many troubles ... My sins have caught up with me."

People often confuse these four types of problems, blaming God for the natural consequences of their poor choices or blaming the Devil for circumstances that were actually planned by God. God never tempts us to sin, but he tests our character and faith continually.

When you face a problem, try to determine the source first. Jonah encountered a storm because he disobeyed God. Paul encountered a storm because others disobeyed God. But the disciples got into a storm because they obeyed God! The storms in your life can be a trial, a temptation, a trespass, or a troubling consequence, and each one requires a different response.

If the trouble is your own fault, you should repent of it. If it is a temptation from Satan, you should resist it. If it is a trespass against you by others you need to release it through forgiveness. But if the problem is a trial from God, you need to relax and trust God in it.

Regardless of the source, none of your problems could happen without God's permission. Everything that happens in the life of child of God is Father-filtered, and he intends to use it for good, even when Satan and others mean it for bad. The source of your problem is no problem for God; he will use it all for your good and your growth if you trust him.

Because God is sovereignly in control, accidents are just incidents in God's good plan for you. Because every day of your life was written on God's calendar before you were born (Psalm 139:16), every day is important. Everything that happens to you has spiritual significance. Everything! Romans 8:28-29 explains why:

We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son...

This is one of the most misquoted and misunderstood passages in the Bible. It doesn't say, "God causes everything to work out the way I want it to." Obviously that's not true. It also doesn't say, "God causes everything to work out to have a happy ending on earth." That is not true either. There are many unhappy endings on earth.

We live in a fallen world. Only in heaven is everything done perfectly the way God intends. That's why we are told to pray, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." God's perfect will is done there.

Unpacking Romans 8:28-29

To fully understand Romans 8:28-29 you must consider it phrase by phrase:

"We know"
This is not positive thinking, hoping, or simply wishing. It is a certainty based on the truth of God's sovereignty and love.

"that God causes"
There's a Grand Designer behind everything. Your life is not a result of random chance, fate, or luck. There is a master plan. History is His story - God is pulling the strings. We make mistakes, but God never does. God cannot make a mistake - because he is God.

"everything"
God's plan for your life involves all that happens to you - including your mistakes, your sins, and your hurts. Does that include cancer, a miscarriage, debt, disease, divorce, and death of loved ones? Yes. Everything fits into God's plan. God can bring good out of even the worst evil. He did at Calvary.

"to work together"
Not separately or independently. The events in your life work together in God's plan. They are not isolated acts, but interdependent parts of the process of making you like Christ.

To bake a cake you must use flour, salt, raw eggs, sugar, and oil. Eaten individually, each is pretty distasteful, or even bitter. But bake them together and they become delicious. If you'll give God all your distasteful, unpleasant experiences, he can weave them together for good.

"for the good."
It does not say that everything in life is good. Much of what happens in our world is evil and bad. It is easy to bring good out of good, but God specializes in bring good out of bad.

In the official family tree of Jesus Christ , four women are listed: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba. Tamar seduced her father in law to get pregnant. Rahab was a prostitute. Ruth was not even Jewish, and broke the law by marrying a Jewish man. Bathsheba committed adultery with David, which resulted in her husband's murder. These women did not exactly have sterling reputations, but God brought good out of bad, and Jesus came through their lineage

God's purpose is greater than your problems, your pain, and even your sin. He can use it all for good if you'll give it to Him. This allows us to be both realistic and optimistic.

"of those who love God and are called"
This promise is only for God's children. It is not for everyone. All things work for bad for those living in opposition to God, and insist on their own way.

"according to his purpose"
What is God's good purpose in pain? What does God want to accomplish through working all thing together? It is that we may "become like his Son..." This is God's third purpose for your life!

Everything that God allows to happen in your life is permitted for one great, eternal purpose: to conform your character to the image of Christ. It is for your growth and God's glory, and it is a plan guaranteed to succeed. It will be completed when you get to heaven.

Since God intends to make you like Jesus, he is going to take you through the same experiences Jesus went through - including loneliness, temptation, stress, criticism, rejection, and many other kinds of problems. Why would God exempt us from what he allowed his own Son to experience? The Bible says Jesus "learned obedience through suffering" and "was made perfect through suffering." We grow the same way, and Jesus is our model.

We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we're certainly going to go through the good times with him. (Romans 8:17)

Some mistakenly believe that God never wants Christians to suffer. But becoming like Jesus means serving, sacrificing, and suffering just as he did. The Bible repeatedly states that suffering is often the will of God for our lives. In fact, we sometimes suffer more because we are Christians. God tells us to consider this a privilege.

Anyone who wants to live all out for Christ is in for a lot of trouble; there's no getting around it. (2 Timothy 3:12)

God's goodness and grace doesn't mean you'll never be hurt, sad, or unhappy. God allows pain because he is more interested in your character than your comfort. He wants to perfect you, not pamper you, and his goal for your life is holiness, not happiness. He always values the spiritual over the material, because that is what will last forever.

Sometimes God allows Satan to take away temporary comfort, as in the case of Job, to produce eternal character. Don't be surprised, or complain of "unfairness" or become bitter by this. Realize it's all a part of the maturing process.

The potential of problems and pain
Pain plays an indispensable role in your growth to spiritual maturity. In fact, you cannot become like Christ without some suffering. We are like jewels, shaped with the hammer and chisel of adversity. If a jeweler's hammer isn't strong enough to chip off our rough edges, God uses a sledgehammer. If we're really stubborn, he uses a jackhammer. He will use whatever it takes.

Potential Benefits of Problems

Problems have many potential benefits in the lives of believers:

Problems can get our attention
Elihu said, God teaches people through suffering and uses distress to open their eyes. (Job 36:15) This is the only possible benefit for unbelievers; problems can be a spiritual wake-up call from God. C.S. Lewis said "God whispers to us in our pleasures but shouts to us in our pain." We rarely change until our pain becomes greater than our fear of changing. It's not "seeing the light" but "feeling the heat" that captures our attention.

Problems can teach us to depend on God
Paul testified to this benefit: We felt we were doomed to die and saw how powerless we were to help ourselves; but that was good, for then we put everything into the hands of God, who alone could save us ... (2 Corinthians 1:9)You'll never know that God is all you need until God is all you've got.

Problems can test and purify our faith
The Bible often compares trials to a metal refiner's fire, which burns away the impurities. Peter said, These troubles come to prove that your faith is pure. This purity of faith is worth more than gold ... (1 Peter 1:7) A goldsmith was asked, "How do you know when the gold is pure?" He replied, "When I see my reflection in it." When your faith is pure, people can see Jesus' reflection in you.

Someone has compared people to teabags; you don't know what's inside them until they're put in hot water. James said, Under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. (James 1:2)

Problems can develop our character
You don't develop character in a classroom but in the circumstances of life. Every situation is a character-building opportunity, but the circumstances that we resent the most are the ones with the greatest potential for building spiritual muscle and moral fiber. Paul said, We know that these troubles produce patience. And patience produces character ... (Romans 5:3-4)

The circumstances that happen around you are not nearly as important as what happens inside you. The circumstances are temporary but the character you develop will last forever.

Problems can prepare us for eternity
This is God's long-range goal. Romans 8:17 says, If we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. (NLT)

And Peter reminds us, Be glad for the chance to suffer as Christ suffered. It will prepare you for even greater happiness when he makes his glorious return.

I'm sure you noticed that these are potential benefits, not guaranteed. Troubles don't automatically mature you. Many people become bitter, rather than better, and never grow up. These benefits only occur when you choose the right response to your problems. There are some truths to remember and some actions to take if you want to grow from your problems

What to remember when trials come

Remember God's intentions are always good
He knows what's best for you and has your good interest at heart. God told Jeremiah, The plans I have for you are plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Joseph understood this when he told his brothers (who sold him into slavery), You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good. (Genesis 50:20) Hezekiah echoed the same sentiment about his life-threatening illness: It was for my own good that I had such hard times. But your love protected me from doom in the deep pit .... (Isaiah 38:17) Note that God protected him in the deep pit, not from it! God doesn't want to take you out of all your trials. If he did, you'd never grow up. That's why God says "no" to many of your prayers for relief.

God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God's holy best. (Hebrews 12:17)

Remember the pain is temporary but the reward will be eternal
Moses was able to endure 40 years of the constant pressure and problems of leadership "because he was looking ahead to his reward." (Hebrews 11:26) This was Paul's secret of handling pain too: Our present troubles are quite small and won't last very long. Yet they produce for us an immeasurably great glory that will last forever!

What we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory
he will give us later. (Romans 8:18)

What to do when trials come

Rejoice and give thanks to God. The Bible tells us, Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18) How is this possible? Notice that God tells us to give thanks "in all circumstances" not "for all circumstances." God doesn't expect you to be thankful for evil, for sin, for suffering, or for its painful consequences in the world. Instead, God wants you to thank Him that he will bring good out of evil (Gen. 50:20) and use your pain and problems to fulfill his five eternal purposes for your life:Rejoice and give thanks to God

  • God wants to use it to bring you closer to Himself. (Ps. 119:71)
  • God wants to use it to help you grow more like Jesus. (Romans 5:3-4)
  • God wants to use it give you a ministry to others who go through the same thing. (2 Cor. 1:3-6)
  • God wants to use it to deepen your fellowship with other believers. (Phil 4:14)
  • God wants to use it as a testimony to unbelievers. (Phil. 1:12)

The Bible says, Rejoice in the Lord always. (Philippians 4:4) It doesn't say, "Be happy about your pain." That's masochism. It says rejoice "in the Lord!" His plan for your life is greater than any problem you'll face.

During difficulties, you can rejoice in the truth that God loves you deeply, that He knows what's best for you, that He cares about what you're going through, that He is in control of the situation, that He has the power to help you through your difficult time, and that He will reward you for your endurance. Jesus said, Be full of joy at that time, because you have a great reward waiting for you in heaven. (Matthew 5:12)

Even more comforting is this fact: Because Christ is inside you; he is going through the pain with you! We do not serve a distant and detached God who spouts encouraging clich

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