Why God Allows Us To Have Problems
This morning I want to share with you something Pastor Ray began to teach me when I came on staff. He said you know when you are preaching something in a corporate setting, it should be out of the overflow of what God is speaking in and to your own life. So with that in mind that's what we're going to be talking about today. I've entitled this message “Why God Allows Us To Have Problems.”
We went on a disaster relief deployment a few weeks ago to Leesville, Louisiana and we saw a lot of problems. We even saw problems just getting out there. In Louisiana, for whatever reason, they don't think as highly of their infrastructure as maybe Alabama does or other places. It's just bump and shake the whole time. That was a minor problem and then when we got to the church we stayed at that night, there was no electricity and therefore no air conditioning, so it was a cool eighty five degrees in the Sunday school room where we set up our air mattresses to sleep that night. Then the next day we really saw some problems. You know, you complain about having no shoes until you see a man who has no feet. We would see these enormous pine trees that had just dissected a house, but miraculously at one house we went to, the husband and I think maybe a pet or two were in one part of the house and it dissected two rooms and his wife daughter and son-in-law were in another part of the house and no one was injured but they did lose their home. We also worked on two churches that had a significant damage. Then, you know that Sally came ashore around the Alabama coast and we've had some teams locally head down there to help. There has been a lot of damage from Gulf Shores, Pensacola, Brewton, a lot of flooding lot of trees down there and there's problems there.
That just multiplies because that brings about stress. People ask, “Where are we going to live? What are we going to do for a living? What now?” Then you throw in there the virus that we've been battling now it seems like for all of 2020 and then the civil unrest. That just bleeds and multiplies down til it affects marriages, families, and churches. You know, how many more problems can we go through? Here's a simple answer: as many as God allows.
Just to get your mind going, as far as communication goes, years ago the Los Angeles Times printed a sampling of signs that they had seen around the world that people were using in attempt to communicate things from their native language into English, especially to those that were visiting. Most of them came from hotels, but maybe one of them from a newspaper. In a hotel elevator in Paris, this is what one sign said: “Please leave your values at the front desk.” Something was lost in the communication there. In a hotel in Zurich, one sign said this: “Because of the impropriety of entertaining guests of the opposite sex in the bedrooms, it is suggested that the lobby be used for this purpose.” Not quite what they probably should have tried to communicate there. On a door of a Moscow inn, one sign said this: “If this is your first visit to Russia, you're welcome to it.” Not sure that that's what they really want to say there. Years even before that, a sign in a Soviet newspaper said this : “There will be a Moscow exhibition of the Arts and Music by 15,000 Soviet Republic painters and sculptors and musicians these were executed over the past two years.” That would have been an event to go to I think. Finally in Bucharest a hotel lobby had this sign: “The lift is being fixed for the next day. During that time we regret that you will be unbearable.” You know, communication can be a tricky thing and not only when language translation is involved. We often think of communication as word exchange, but in fact it is meaning exchange.
Two or more people sharing ideas and understanding what is meant, not just what is said. Married couples, you interpret what is meant not just what it said. I befriended a man several years ago coming back from the Southern Baptist convention and we struck up a conversation. He said, “So what do you do?” I said, “I'm still finding that out” because it was not long after I had come on staff here and he looked at me, puzzled. I said, “I'm on staff at a church and I'm just returning from the Southern Baptist Convention.” He said, “Well, I am, too!” He had just retired as a colonel in the Army and he was a chaplain and pastoring a church from Maryland. His name is JD Moore. I looked on Facebook yesterday and JD Moore had this on his Facebook: “I woke my sweet wife up this morning and told her I'd like biscuits and gravy for breakfast. She said the recipe for said biscuits and gravy was in the kitchen drawer. So, I found it and woke her up again and showed it to her and asked her what else she needed, but I guess we miscommunicated.” So, It is important to grasp the communication I think the Lord has for us this morning.
Let's all stand together and read John 16:31-33.
“Jesus responded to them, “Do you now believe? Indeed, an hour is coming, and has come, when each of you will be scattered to his own home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me. I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.”
In these verses in John 16, this was Jesus’ last occasion for teaching His disciples and His ministry was drawing to a close. What I want to do today is to talk about three promises and how the Lord communicates those and then we'll get into what I think are some takeaways of what the Lord has spoken to me and what I think He can speak to each of us this morning.
These final moments of tranquility among friends would soon give away to anguish in Gethsemane. Injustice during prosecution, cruel ridicule, brutal scourging, were all followed by suffering and death through crucifixion. But listen, here is a great take away before we even get into the meat of what I believe the Lord has on my heart: despite the Lord's own desire for comfort and encouragement, Jesus chose to comfort and encourage his followers. In spite of our great need for wanting to be encouraged, Jesus communicated three promises to His followers. These three promises were meant to keep his disciples going. You have heard these things before, but all need to be reminded of these three promises: joy, love, and peace.
So as we quickly examine the promises of Jesus, I want us to make a mental note of this. Look at verse sixteen here quickly. It says, “In a little while you will no longer see Me, and again in a little while you will see Me.” Now is this a riddle? Is this something that's meant to confuse? Jesus is offering His disciples a negative prediction followed by a positive promise. “You will no longer see Me” predicts His imminent death on the cross while "You will see Me” promises His appearance through the resurrection. The phrase “a little while” is Him talking about His second Advent at the end days. This prediction plus promise formula is established and is a definable pattern for the balance of this discussion in chapter sixteen with the remaining eleven disciples. Their dialogue follows this pattern, if you would.
Verse 16: a prediction and a promise. That’s the resurrection. Verses 17-18: the disciples react. Have you ever reacted to a promise the lord has given you? Hopefully so, that’s the definition of being a disciple. You hear something from the Lord and you accompany that with an endeavor. Then a prediction in a promise: joy, in verses 19-24. A prediction and promise of love, verses 25-28. The disciples react again in verse 29-30, and a prediction and promise of peace in verses 31-33. Now look at verses 17-18. “Then some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this he’s telling us: ‘In a little while, you will not see me; again in a little while, you will see me,’ and, ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” They said, “What is this he is saying, ‘In a little while’? We don’t know what he’s talking about.”
Listen, that should be somewhat encouraging to us! Has there ever been a time when you looked in God’s word and you had a moment where you said “I just don’t know what that means…” Now, we may not really confess that in Church because we are supposed to know what everything in the word of God really means. But can I just be transparent with you? There are many times when I look in the word of God, and because it is so infinite, my finite, cookie on the bottom shelf kind of mind, is challenged. I just don’t get it sometimes. The Lord just says “well, read it again. Look at it again. Mull over it. Meditate on it.” So I do.
But there are times that even the disciples say “we don’t know what he is saying!” The disciples are not unlike a 6 year old child asking questions at a funeral. They could only handle so much detail. Can I get an amen? We can only handle so much! Therefore, Jesus, in His infinite wisdom, is preparing them for the difficult hours ahead. Do you think there are some difficult hours ahead for us as a people that God has placed in the United States? November 3 comes to mind real quickly, but even before that, whether or not there will be a Supreme Court nominee before the election. Yes, there are difficult times ahead. How do we navigate those? Can I just suggest to you, first of all, to keep the main thing the main thing? Now we should be praying for the election and those that will be elected. We should be praying for the family of someone who just lost someone they loved. Let us not celebrate while someone else is grieving! That is antithetical to scripture. I don’t care where we are politically. If the church ever gets to a point where we are celebrating someone going into eternity without knowing whether or not they are spending it in heaven or hell, if we are celebrating that, Lord help us! We should grieve with those who grieve and cry with those who cry. We should rejoice with those who rejoice. If we have lost compassion, Church, we have lost it all. Jesus Christ loved that woman who just passed away so much so that He gave His own life for her. We need to be reminded of that truth, no matter where we stand politically in today’s climate.
Jesus was preparing them for those difficult hours as best as He could without revealing too much information. Unfortunately the disciples had become so agitated by the prospect of his going away that nothing would console them. Have you ever been around someone that is just unconsolable? They are just chaotic. They’re irrational. They won’t take a breath. Listen Church, it’s time for us to just take a deep breath. Allow the Lord to console us in these problems. He has said that He has conquered the world and overcome it. Not even the promise of an indwelling God could console them. So Jesus is trying to keep the matter as bottom line as possible. He says, “In a little while I am going away and after a little while you see Me again.” Yet even this stirred anxiety within the disciples.
So in verses 19-24, we see joy being talked about.
“Jesus knew they wanted to ask him, and so he said to them, “Are you asking one another about what I said, ‘In a little while, you will not see me; again in a little while, you will see me’? Truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice. You will become sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy. When a woman is in labor, she has pain because her time has come. But when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the suffering because of the joy that a person has been born into the world. So you also have sorrow now. But I will see you again. Your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy from you. “In that day you will not ask me anything. Truly I tell you, anything you ask the Father in my name, he will give you. Until now you have asked for nothing in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.”
How would you like to audibly hear the Lord say “I assure you”? Listen, we should be praying and anticipating the Lord to tell us that very thing. Ask Him! Furthermore, no one will rob you of your joy. What is the joy of the Lord? Joy of the Lord is strength.
So, Jesus followed His prediction with a promise. The world’s victory celebration… The demons and Hell itself are celebrating because of what is happening in the United States but also what is happening around the world. People are anxious and scared and keeping their eyes on something that is tiny in a virus and they are losing sight of the hope that is in Christ Jesus. Now is the time for the Church to stand up and say “Don’t do it! Don’t hope for better circumstances even. Sometimes we battle negative circumstances by just praying that it gets better… I am not so sure that’s what the Lord really wants. Sometimes we need to really take inventory of our lives and say “Lord, would you keep this problem here? Because it’s in the middle of this that I am the most close to you and I am learning more about myself that I need to get rid of. Now I can see clearly my impurities and the desperate, dark state of my heart. Lord, don’t let the problem go away.” Sometimes we get caught up in wanting better circumstances and we lose hope in Christ. I’m not sure that’s what the Lord wants.
The Lord illustrated His promise with a poignant image of this woman in childbirth showing immense pain. Which, not coincidentally was predicted in the Fall of Genesis 3:15-16. As pain grows, the transition from sorrow to joy nears. That’s why the Church says “Come, Lord Jesus, even now.” Not to escape but to embrace the joy. Not to escape the pain, but to embrace the joy. So then in an instant the greatest of human suffering becomes our greatest joy. The affliction of the accursed yields new life. The result of this intimacy of prayer is joy to the fullest measure.
Now in verses 25-28, the Lord goes on and says “I have spoken these things to you in figures of speech. A time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but I will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in My name; I am now telling you I will make a request to the Father on your behalf. For the father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I am leaving the world and going to the father.” Jesus is predicting that the need for His teaching in this figurative language would disappear. The greek term John uses here to describe this obscure manner of speech Jesus is using literally means “by word.” A by word is any word that has a complex or technical meaning. For instance, if I were to say “the annuity of your lifestyle is about to mature,” a financial planner who is familiar with the concept of an annuity would instantly understand the metaphor and the point I am trying to make, that the results of a person’s choices were about to come to fruition. So Jesus is here, I think in same ways, regretting to have to circumspect with the disciples, but it was for their good. Don’t miss that! If He does not paint the picture clearly, that is what’s best for me! Have you ever been left wondering what the whole truth was? It is those times that we need to stop trying to figure it all out and say “Lord, I trust you and the fact that you are allowing me to see exactly what you want me to see. Even if I am not seeing, I will trust you in that matter.” That’s not called blind faith, that is called factual faith. It is based on the promises of God that He has already written down. He’s not asking us to drop off a cliff and He’ll catch us; He’s saying “Go back into my word and read what I have said before! It is based on fact. Have faith in the fact that the facts of my Truth are never changing.” You shouldn’t have to know all the details; you should just want to know the truth.
During Jesus’ ministry, He became the physical means of a human-divine relations. People approached Jesus for miracles. We see that throughout the New Testament. They approached him for divine teaching, revelation from God, and for the forgiveness of sin. Jesus promised that after His resurrection, He would be the permanent bridge between humanity and God. Through Him and in His name. We pray in Jesus’ name not because it is in Baptist doctrine, but because we are stepping on that permanent bridge that connects man and God. He is characterized as a welcoming response, as love. Through prayer believers enjoy a love relationship with the Father that is no longer hindered by unpunished sin.
Now we get to the takeaways from verses 31-33. This was almost like an enlightening moment for the disciples, because Jesus was speaking more plainly. He says “Do you now believe?” What does this now remind you of? It automatically reminded me of Peter. The Lord is wanting to make sure you really believe all that you’re saying. They did not know nearly as much as all they had assumed. He responded with another prediction and promise. He predicted the disciples would abandon Him, undoubtedly thinking of this as the fulfillment of Zechariah 13:7. He said “The hour is coming and indeed has already come” because at that moment the mob was already gathered by Judas and they had already begun to light the torches. Soon, they would surround Gethsemane. He followed this gloomy prediction with a promise. Am I the only one who doesn’t think this sounds right? Jesus followed a gloomy prediction with a promise. That should encourage us! This gloomy prediction has this promise with it. While all of humanity would soon abandon Jesus, including His disciples, the Father would remain faithful. While Jesus did later cry out from the cross “God, why have you forsaken Me?” This was not to blame the Father for abandoning Him. Jesus uttered this to call everyone’s attention to David’s prophetic statements in Psalm 22. While the emotional anguish of the cross was accurately reflected in the Lord’s lament, He, like David, knew that the Father had not in fact forsaken Him. The Father and the Son are one; nothing can possibly divide the triune God.
In light of Laura in Louisiana, in light of Sally on the Gulf Coast, in light of COVID19, in light of civil unrest, in light of “We’ll burn everything down”, in light of this country being split in half, in light of a loved one being in the hospital, in light of a senior pastor not feeling well, in light of neighbors in the hospital, in light of marriages falling apart. In light of children that are going a wayward way, in light of all these things, God has never stopped being faithful and He will never stop being faithful. He is always true, always righteous, always just, always on time and never early or late, right on time every time. We serve an on time God. In light of all these things, we should know that when problems come about, He is trying to communicate to those he calls His own, for those who are redeemed and call themselves Christians and disciples of Jesus Christ, for those who have followed Him, and for those that believe that He lived, died, and rose again.
Everybody has problems! Our problems may vary by type or severity. There are financial problems, health problems, relationship problems, guilt, depression, temptation, failure, and stress. We as believers in Christ are not exempt from painful problems and often have even more problems than those that don’t even follow Christ. Why? The evil one. The devil. Our adversary. He wants to derail our spiritual lives. He wants to see us affected by anxiety. How does Jesus express this? He tells us that although we will have tribulation in this world, we have to be courages because He has overcome the world.
Tribulation in verse 33 means pressure that burdens our spirits. It refers to severe affliction or anguish. In other words, God says that we will have some big time problems. In Romans 8, Paul writes about all kinds of problems: tribulation, distress, persecution, nakedness, peril, sword, and death. But then he writes in verse 37 of chapter 8, “You are more than conquerors.” Have you ever thought about that? Wouldn’t it be just good enough to be a conqueror? What does it mean to be more than a conqueror? Conquerors defeat their enemies. If we are more than that, we will make our enemies our friends. Therefore, God can cause even our worst problem to be our best friend if we let Him make good come from them. Monica and I have said for this past year what if the worst time in our lives becomes the best time of our lives? That’s not us trying to be cliche, that is us standing on the promises of God.
So, how does God work in problems? First, He uses them to direct us. CS Lewis wrote that “God whispers to us in our pleasure but shouts to us in our pain.” God uses problems to get us back on track and keep us on course. Psalm 119:67 expresses that truth. He often uses problems to direct us and keep us on track spiritually. The Apostle Paul writes of God allowing him to have a thorn in his side to keep him from becoming exalted above measure due to his abundance of revelations. Paul, much to our disappointment, doesn’t say what the thorn was. But whatever it was was chronic and severe. He prayed three times for God to take the thorn away. Many scholars believe that thorn was failing eye sight. This is likely because of what he wrote in Galatians 6:11 about using big words. Other scholars believe he was often weak and sickly because he may have contracted malaria. Still other scholars believe Paul’s thorn was severe headaches. I think God, in His infinite wisdom, didn’t want Paul to tell us what His problem was. Why? One, I think if we knew, we would endeavor to have the same problem. Two, I think it is because we would try to find a cure. It remained mysterious for a reason. It goes back to what I said earlier: don’t be so quick to ask for solutions. Instead, be quick to ask for the Savior. Don’t try to find something good while you’re ignoring something great. Good is the enemy of great, so look for the Savior.
So, the Lord is using these things to direct us. God knew Paul would be the greatest of all the apostles. Through Paul’s missionary journeys and epistles, he would do more to spread the gospel than anyone would ever do. Therefore, God used Paul’s thorn in the flesh to direct him away from pride and arrogance. Do you think Paul, moments of spiritual maturity thanked God? Be thankful for what God allows to take place in your life. It helps direct you.
Second, God uses problems to inspect us. That sounds really good, but I’m not sure we know what all that entails. Just think for a moment. Have you ever been inspected by God? When we get inspected, our faults are exposed. Being inspected is painful! But here’s the thing: problems are really just tests designed to reveal what kind of believers we really are. I have often said that as an adult, the circumstances and things in our life do not make us who we are, they only reveal who we are. When things are happening in our lives that we see as problems, we should recognize that they are really just tests. In 1 Peter, Peter writes that we will have “manifold temptations.” But he also compares this testing to the refining of gold! As gold is heated, the impurities come to the top to be seen. They can then be skimmed off, leaving only pure gold. In the same way, the heat of problems in our lives causes our impurities and defects to come to the surface. Scripture says that the heart is deceitful above all things, so we may not even recognize our own impurities when they surface. We go into defense mode. Therefore, when we have problems, we need to ask God to thoroughly search us. God is our spiritual gold smith, Who through all types of trials, brings our sin and spiritual weaknesses to the surface so that we can confess them. If you don’t recognize it, you won’t confess it! So pray that you recognize it so you can fully confess it. Ask God to search you thoroughly so you can confess thoroughly.
Third, God uses problems to correct us. We all sometimes get off course and do the total opposite of what God says, just like Jonah. Through Jonah’s story, God sent a literal storm and threatened to wreck his ship. Jonah being sound asleep during the storm is an illustration of what happens when we get off course and out of God’s will. We become so oblivious to spiritual danger and do foolish things because we are spiritually asleep. When we get off course and are content to stay there, God will send us a storm to get us back on track. As long as our sin keeps us awake at night, that is good. But if we can be disobedient to God’s word as Jonah was and still go to bed at night and sleep soundly, we better look out for the coming storm that a loving God is sending to correct our course.
Fourth, God uses problems to perfect us. James tells us that we should count it all joy when we face all kinds of trials because the trying of our faith will work patience and perfect us. Therefore, to make us perfect, our imperfections are being removed from our character. God uses our problems to get us ready to be used by Him! What did Jesus endeavor to do when He so wanted to be encouraged and spoken to? He chose instead to encourage in speak to others. So many times we say that sin is a choice, and it is. We say that love is a choice, and it is. Choose joy! But listen, peace is a choice just as well. We choose to have peace. It is already there! Scripture tells us that God comforts us in our tribulation.
What does God want us to do? He uses our problems both past and present to shape and mature us so we can serve Him by helping others. In light of all that is happening in the world today, what will we choose to do?
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