Life and hope through adversity and affliction–let’s look at this tough yet life transforming concept as it applies to those who have become followers of Christ.
The idea of hope from affliction can stop us and cause us to think. No one wants adversity. Often when we face adversity, we simply wish for a way out of it or possibly put our heads in the sand. But simply wishing that the adversity will pass is a feeble hope. Life-bringing hope is the type that actually believes that God is in the affliction with us. It believes that God can work in us through any affliction. He can soften our hearts in the midst of suffering. As our hearts become more tender, we begin to see and care for others the way God does.
Affliction makes it easier for us to see the adversities others are going through. It tends to move us toward mercy and empathy for others. If we only look for our own benefit in getting past adversity, we miss the point. If we trust God and accept His work in us, in the midst of affliction, we will find ourselves growing into the body of Christ. Face it, we have adversity and affliction on a regular basis. This means God can bring hope and life on a regular basis.
Sometimes the affliction does not pass. The Apostle Paul speaks of having a σκόλοψ (stake, sharp affliction, or thorn) in his flesh. He further refers to this thorn as a messenger from Satan to κολαφίζῃ; (strike with the fist, buffet; hence mistreat violently) him. In response, God tells Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” For Paul, a major effect of this thorn was to keep him from exalting himself. Any time God works through us there is an opportunity for pride and conceit to raise their heads. The more God uses us, the more events there are that can lead to spiritual pride. A thorn in the flesh may be a temporary or persistent condition. Either way, affliction can act to humble us. Affliction causes us to cry out to God. God uses affliction as a vehicle to take us to the place were we can see and treat others more the way He does, that we have mercy.
As an example. My condition limits me from doing all I would like to do. Sometimes when I see someone teaching, I miss it and long to do it again. After a little pity party, hopefully before I begin to covet, I accept that God’s grace is sufficient. Then, as I more easily see similar pain in others, I can pray for them, encourage them, or just be present with them. The point is, when we let God work in our weakness, He brings us hope and the faith that He will work through our weakness.
“When God works through us, we are blessed.” Proverbs says, “The generous man will be prosperous, And he who waters will himself be watered.” When we love others, it is not with our love, but with the love of God working through us. This love is for the healing of the nations/peoples. This love touches those whom He is drawing to Himself. It is this love that God uses to start a new work in one of His children. This is the love that God uses to touch those who are ill, persecuted, afflicted, and in the grips of despair. When God works through His children to accomplish His purposes, the vessel is blessed along with the recipient.
Below are a couple of related verses.
10 And if you give yourself to the hungry And satisfy the desire of the afflicted, Then your light will rise in darkness And your gloom will become like midday. 11 “And the LORD will continually guide you, And satisfy your desire in scorched places, And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.
1 How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. 3 He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers.
1 Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, 2 in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations
5 On behalf of such a man I will boast; but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses. 6 For if I do wish to boast I will not be foolish, for I will be speaking the truth; but I refrain from this, so that no one will credit me with more than he sees mine or hears from me.7 Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! 8 Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. 9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.