How do we position ourselves for the Lord to create something new in us through our adversity?
Growing through adversity was something that I’ve been thinking about now for almost over a year. I was looking forward to this series. One of the things that we’ve been trying to do is include this daily prayer. The daily prayer is something we’ve encouraged everyone to pray at different times during the week. Hopefully daily. It’s also on the mobile app. If you haven’t downloaded it, start doing that, take it with you wherever you go. The daily prayer is designed to couple with the message so that it lingers through the week. Something else you may not be aware of is on Thursdays one of our pastors, Pastor Paul, shares a devotional that’s connected to the message that has been and preparing us for the message that’s coming. That gets posted on the CornerstoneSF Facebook. Also, you get the e-newsletter. You can sign up for that; it’s pretty easy to get.
These are designed to get us moving in the right direction together. I don’t know how your week went. I had a rough week, just to be brutally honest. It was a high-stress week. It started last weekend. Which is how I start my week typically. The first weekend, we kicked off the growing through adversity series. We prepared for it and I was excited about it. I was looking forward to sharing some things I want to lay out there. Who could have envisioned that this would have been the worst storm weekend in 10 years in San Francisco? It was not the way to launch things. In fact, we were getting calls from people that there was Intense rain and wind, which is hard for driving conditions. People were getting their garages flooded. Trees were falling down. Let’s put it this way. The live stream was never more popular for us than last weekend. I was thinking, “Oh, Lord, why did this have to happen?” I remember one of the services. We had a power surge, a slight brownout, and all of our electrical went out a couple of minutes before service. “Okay, what do we do now?” It meant a lot of things had to get reset. We were looking for candles and such. That was the backup plan. We got through that.
I do remember one of the messages, I can’t remember what service it was. I was here sharing and all of a sudden, it was so windy, the church doors blew open. Then something I’ve never seen happen before. The sanctuary doors blew open with wind. Not a lot of people could see it, but I could. I thought to myself, that’s either the greatest storm wind I’ve ever seen or God is moving in this place. By the time I was done, I was thought, that was not how I wanted it to start. I wanted to be able to start differently, more like this weekend. I went back home and was thinking about that. I also had a lot of things on my mind. I was praying. Praying about the direction of the church coming into the new year. We had a lot of different meetings that I had with different individuals. There were some unique challenges and situations that we are facing requiring me to be on my leadership game. Choices needed to be made.
There were staff issues, budget issues, and a personal issue that I had that I was dealing with too. I don’t know if you’ve ever had this happen but something comes up and you’re dealing with it. It might be a people issue or some situation you find yourself in. It could be at work, something personal, friendship, or it could be family. But by the time you get done with it, it’s been going on for a while, you’re thinking, “Man, I didn’t like how I was in that.” You get away from it for a moment. Not only did I not like how that went down. But I feel like I handled it wrong. I feel like what I’m communicating is very double-minded. The bottom line is I come in off the week and then I wasn’t happy with myself. There were certain things I wasn’t handling. I wasn’t pleased. In fact, I got bothered that it was bothering me. On top of it, as the week is going on, I have another couple of meetings with different individuals in the church and a couple of those conversations were particularly disappointing to me. I started to find myself feeling anxious.
I was feeling anxious. Then I started noticing something else. I noticed I’m getting a little cynical right now. I started noticing something else, I started saying to myself, “You really can’t trust people.” I started feeling sorry for myself and thought, “You know what? I’m never going to preach on adversity ever again. I’m not going to do it.” Because that’s what happens. You do it and then next thing you know, you’re in it. But I reminded myself, “Look, I’ve walked through way worse, I can go through this.” God’s helped me. I told myself, “I don’t know if this will help anybody. I need to find my stance.” My mental, emotional, and spiritual stance in this situation. Lord, show me what position I need to take to move through this? There is a way for you to want me to be here, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I need to position myself and figure out how I’m supposed to be here. I was wrestling with this. In my mind, I went to sleep. I remember going to sleep one night this week. I was thinking, “Lord, I know I need to get myself better positioned here.
“I don’t like what’s in me right now after coming off of this.” I went to bed and we get up pretty early because my wife oversees the women’s ministry with a great team. Cheryl, my wife, has also started a number of small groups under the umbrella of this ministry they call High Five. The High Five Ministry is a pretty cool ministry. The group is made up of all women. What they do is they all get up and check in at 5 am in the morning. They all check in and say, “I’m getting ready to start my day and doing my devotions at the beginning of this day.” I know, not everyone even knows what devotions are. Devotions are the time that you carve out at the beginning of the day, typically, not always, but there’s a time of space you make to be able to read your scriptures, pray, think, and reflect. In my case, a lot of times I’ll do some journaling, as well. My devotional is typically a reading.
We have booklets called daily prayers, but there are a lot of different types of devotionals. Sometimes they have a reading for the day and a prayer. A little piece of scripture that you look at, and you put that together and it creates a way of approaching the day or the morning. It’s always a new thought or passage that you’re exploring. So I wake up that morning with all these things on my mind. I’m going to join Cheryl in her early morning devotional. We’re in the same room, we’re focusing on different things, but we’re together. I opened my devotional I start reading. As I’m moving through it, I noticed this entry I’m reading is talking about a figure in the Scripture named Lazarus. Lazarus is the one person that Jesus is recorded as raising from the dead. The writer quotes what Jesus says after He raises Lazarus. Jesus said, “Unbind him, right, and let him go.”
The commentator started talking about something interesting, he says, “Let me talk to you about the things that bind us.” He starts talking about things like fear and anxiety and things that bind us up. He started writing about how God wants us to unbind ourselves from tomorrow’s troubles and lose us for today. That was me coming right off of my little mental wrestling match. I was feeling sorry for myself. Anxious about what do I need to do. I’m reading this in the morning right out of the chute. You need to unbind yourself and lose yourself, get rid of tomorrow’s troubles, lose yourself for today. I want to share what he wrote next with you because I thought it was so cool. It was simple, but it helped me, “The load of tomorrow added to that of yesterday carried today, makes the strongest falter.” Think about that, the load of tomorrow added to the load of yesterday, carried today makes the strongest falter.
A lot of us can borrow stuff from yesterday. We can’t always get rid of that stuff. Talk about the Lord helping us to let go of something. Some stuff we just carry with us. When you add on top of yesterday’s stuff, the past, and then we start borrowing from tomorrow’s trouble. Now all of a sudden, we’re piling on ourselves a load that is going to affect today in a very unhelpful way. You’re going to feel heavy fast. You’re going to start to buckle under that weight. We were meant to carry that weight. It’s one thing about being smart. I am not saying, we don’t think about tomorrow, we don’t make plans. We are not to let that weight sit on us. That was what I was wrestling with. That word, lose him and let him go. Don’t carry that thing into what you don’t know is going to happen. Then I remembered what Jesus said. Matthew 6:34. “Don’t be anxious about tomorrow.” Tomorrow is going to worry about itself. Sufficient today is its own trouble.
In other words, we have enough issues to focus on today. Let’s not start envisioning tomorrow and all the things we’re going to have to do. That’s what Jesus telling us. Don’t carry tomorrow’s load today. Don’t go down that road. It is okay to think and plan, but not to be anxious and locked up over stuff we can’t control anyway. There’s a great lesson there. I found myself saying, “Okay, Lord, you helped me with my position here, help me now.” In the situation that I was walking through this week here are the words that I just wrote down. “Be diligent, stay prayerful, do the right thing as God defines it, and leave the results to God.” Be diligent, be prayerful, do the right thing. That means attitudinally position myself properly with Your Word. I’m lining myself up with Your Word, Lord, for the grace to come. I attitudinally position myself to do the right thing and correct my attitude. I can’t correct anybody else’s. But I can own my attitude. I lined my attitude up with Your words. Then I say, “Lord, I trust You with the results that I can’t control anyway. I believe You’re going to do something good.” Now that is a way of approaching something. The right thing has a lot to do with attitude and positioning. Staying grateful, and optimistic. Perhaps your year like mine did not start entirely as you were hoping.
I know that this time of the year, a lot of times people say you have to get excited for the new year. I usually am excited about the new year because it feels like a new opportunity. But coming off the holidays, gatherings, and heading back into work, we have relational things that sometimes get hit inside of our lives. Some of us came into this year and it was not so simple or easy. It was not the way we were hoping. I know this for a fact. Some of us are facing some tough things. Some of us have issues dealing with financial issues. Not everybody does, but some of us do. We made bad choices. We’ve gotten in over our head and it feels like it’s sitting on us. We’re having a hard time honoring God with our resources and being a blesser of others because we feel hamstrung fiscally.
Someone has health issues. It’s easy to talk about being joyful, but when you feel like you’re having a hard time and people don’t understand that you’re struggling with some health issue or a relational issue that is relentlessly hitting you. Those are hard things when people have feelings and you feel like there’s such pain, tension, misunderstanding, and different emotions. We feel like things are breaking down or have broken down. There are walls that are coming up. We feel the pressure of those relational challenges where adversity is sitting on us like a weight. I’ve talked to some of you in your most private moments. I know you love the Lord but some of you feel very sad. There are times when you’re alone, you feel this dark cloud coming. It wants to sit over and define you. It is a hovering old familiar friend. Remember, the iconic Simon and Garfunkel song Sound of Silence? He opens up that song with Hello darkness, my old friend. I’ve come to talk to you again. Because a vision softly creeping, left its seeds while I was sleeping. I feel those things. Perhaps, some of us are still hurting from the choices we made.
We bear the brunt of the choice we made. Because we were affected by choices other people made, and they should have loved this better. Some of us might be wrestling because of bitterness, resentment, or low-grade anger that undermines the joyful things in life because it keeps haunting us. For others, it might have to do with some of us who are younger. I have spoken with some of you as well. You might be feeling angst about the next stage of your life. “When do I make this transition? Am I making the right choices? Should I go out? Should I take on more responsibility? How do I do it? Can I do it? Will I do it well? Am I falling behind? Is there a pattern that I’m supposed to be moving in and now what’s happening?” All that stuff starts to build up. When we’re younger, thinking about career pressures, other things start to happen. It affects us. The homeless who are older get affected in a different way. Sometimes getting older feels scary. It’s humbling, that’s for sure. But it could feel scary. You know what they always say. The downside of living long is aging. That’s the deal there.
There are others of us who we see so much on social media, television, and magazines. Honestly, we’re dealing with body image issues. We don’t like ourselves or the way we look. We constantly have to deal with that kind of garbage. I mean that in the sense of what the culture imposes upon us. As if that’s what really makes us who we are. It isn’t in God’s eyes. Some of us struggle with addiction and do fine for a long stretch. We hit something and that thing starts calling to us, taunting us. It’s always on my trail. Do you know why this stuff happens? It is because we’re all human. We’re human beings and we’re flawed. We’re broken. That’s what the Bible means when it says we’re sinful, we’re sin impacted. We hurt. We can have seasons when it’s hard. You can love Jesus a lot. I’m talking to those who are following Jesus at this moment. We can love Jesus a lot and still struggle with things in our lives. Following Him doesn’t mean exemption from troubles. It does mean we’ll probably have less than we would have had. We have a resource that is capable of helping us as we’re going to see in ways that couldn’t have happened without Him at work in our lives.
One thing we know is we will always be a better and more authentic version of who we truly were meant to be with the Lord in our lives. Always. Let’s look at the scripture that we covered last week and use it as our jumping-off platform. This passage will connect us to what we shared last week. James 1:2-4 says, “Dear brothers and sisters when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity an opportunity for great joy.” It’s not that troubles are joy, but the opportunity that is in it has the opportunity for joy. That’s the key. “For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you’re going to mature and perfect and complete, needing nothing.” In other words, you’re going to have solid integrity that comes into your life that allows you to negotiate things that are extraordinarily difficult and survive. God has His best way to be able to learn how to flourish. We’re going to explore these principles together. How to flourish, or at least grow through some of the harder things in life that hit us.
Jumping down into the chapter, verses 12-18. I want to move to this fairly rapidly, “Blessed is the man, blessed is the one who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him.” That’s verse 12. There’s a unique blessing attached to enduring. Watch what James does next. He says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,'” Because God cannot be tempted with evil.” With evil, no. He’s never tempted to do wrong. That’s what James is saying. “He himself tempts no one.” That’s not what He does. He’s not trying to get people to do things that are destructive. “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by their own desire. That desire when it’s conceived gives birth to sin and sin when it is fully grown brings death.” It always does. Whenever it’s allowed to have a place in our lives, it will bring with it death of some kind.
Not only is James tracing the downward cycle of sin’s impact, but he’s underscoring God’s essential goodness. What he’s saying is that God never works against us. He’s for us. There are times when I’m going through the wringer and I remind myself, “I know, Lord, even though I’m not happy about the situation, and I know that theoretically, You could work a miracle here, but the odds are, this is what I have to deal with. And you know what, Lord, I am not pushing You away. I want You as close to me as I can possibly get You. The last thing I want to do is shake my fist at You and say, ‘Why God?’ Because I know You are for me and I know You are good. I know You love me and You gave your only son as living proof.” Let me start right there. A lot of times we are capable of doing this. We can work against ourselves, but God, He’s not going to work against us. He is for us. That’s what James is saying. Look where he says, “Do not be deceived, misled, my beloved brothers and sisters. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Let us never be mistaken. He is unshakable, unalterable, good. He is the giver of light in life, His purpose is clean, consistent, true. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be firstfruits of His creatures.”
I know what James is getting at. He’s saying, “Look, no matter what is happening or how hard things get in your life, whether of our own, this world, or somebody else’s doing had an effect on our situation.” He says, “Never forget God’s goodness, remember His goodness.” What he’s saying is remember His grace at work in your life. Remember, for those who have received Him, how grateful we should be for the privileged place we have been given. That’s what he means by firstfruits. It’s like he’s saying, “Don’t ever forget.” At a foundational level, he starts by saying find the opportunity in the adversity. Basically, he says, let’s lay the foundation. The foundation is God is good, and He is for you and me. I want to draw near to Him, not push Him away. He wants to help us. We have to let Him and intentionally welcome the Lord into our situations. The great Augustine, the theologian, the thinker, father in church history, wrote these words. “He Who created us without our help will not save us without our consent. He Who created us without our help will not save us without our consent.” He’s talking directly about salvation. That is what it means to be made right with God in Christ. The one who created us, without our help, waits for our consent to save us. We must choose. He won’t force His will upon us. Love can’t do that and still be love. Love requires free will.
Therefore, God says, “I will invite you, but I will not make you have Me.” He wanted to talk about magnanimity and divine humility. How about the Creator God who allows Himself to be rejectable? That is what God allows Himself to do. Not only in Christ, but also in relation to ourselves. We can go down that road and go a long way. But that same statement that Augustine makes can be applied to how we go through adversity. He who made us, He who created us, He who starts this without our help, will not save us without our consent. There are situations where God wants to help us. We have to consent to let Him help. We have to welcome Him in. This is huge to me. We need to make God our ally. I always say, “You know what? Don’t be mad at God. Don’t start there.” Now I get it. There are times when we’re wrong. You read the Psalms and they’re honest, greedy. “Why are You doing this? Why aren’t you protecting me from my enemies? Well, where are you?” There’s a lot of that going on. God does not oppose us from being honest, authentic, and real. What He does not want us to do is start blaming Him for stuff. Instead, I’m going to say, Lord, I know You, and I know who You are. I’m never going to make a judgment on You, even if I don’t understand You. The only issue around Your goodness is I don’t understand. That’s where I start. I had enough problems. The last one I want to have is pushing You away from me. I want You with me. Be with me, Lord. Help me.
We mentioned last week that the goal of the series, growing through adversity, is not just learning how to endure. We all could benefit from having that virtue enhanced in our life, there’s not one of us here who could not benefit from being able to have a better capacity to get through things. There’s not one of us here who couldn’t benefit from learning how to endure. What I mean by that is how do we get through a bad situation and not fall apart? Or not drop back into the destructive habits? How do we do it? There’s a legitimate thing to be said about learning how to get past things that are bad, I get that. One of the things we’ll explore is, “How do I become a stronger person in Christ to be able to move through things?” But that is not the goal of this series. The goal is not just learning how to endure, that’s a worthy goal. The real goal or win is learning how to find not just a capacity to get past something, but how to allow the Lord to work in our lives in such a way that He can take what is bad, and turn it into a growing mechanism in our life. So that we become a better person by the time we’re done in a way that would have never been possible without the adversity. It becomes simultaneously the thing we can’t stand and at the same time, the thing that God can use if we welcome Him into it to become a growth mechanism that develops us in a way that looks far different. Hopefully, a much better and different person that looks a whole lot more like Jesus. It might have to do with empathy, compassion, or courage. The bottom line is connecting to something that God wants to do. He can’t usually do it without brokenness.
There are some things that require brokenness to get through to us. I remember a couple of months back I was thinking about, “Lord, I know You want to shape something in me right now, I know that.” Actually, it was almost over a year ago when I was thinking about this series. Even months before that, when I was writing my thoughts down. I was saying, “Lord, what is it You’re trying to formulate? What are You trying to create in me? What are You trying to write in me?” I remember, during a patch, where it was incredibly difficult. I remember where I was sitting. I was sitting in a coffee house somewhere. I was in a corner writing down my thoughts. I was preparing material that would ultimately become this series. I recall that my wife texted me. She said, “See you when you get home. Are you still planning on getting home at around 5:00?” I was in pain at the time. I mentioned it was an incredibly difficult season for me.
I wrote back to her and said, “You know, yes, unless I get on a roll.” Then the words began to flow. Then who knows? I might ride this wave into the early evening. I wrote these words that I want to share with you. “Right now, His words are life to me. It seems that this is not just a message I am writing. But in some strange, mysterious way He’s writing me. I felt the Lord was writing things into me that the words were also part of my story. I think there are times where God will do that. Well, God will say, “Look, I’m writing something new into you. I’m writing something new. I know it’s hard. I know it’s painful.” It’s not like God brought it on. But God is using that situation to create an openness in us that out of the brokenness flows the possibility. I’ll tell you one thing, I’ll be utterly honest with you. When I texted my wife that I had a tear coming down one of my eyes because I was hurting so much, but I could sense God was working. Now He’ll do that in your life, too.
I came upon this image of a crucible. Some of you know what that is, you’ve seen one. A crucible is a metal container. This container could be metal or clay. It’s a great analogy because I was thinking about how the Lord is constantly trying to take the adversity and create an opportunity out of it. The crucible is this container where metals or substances are melted and subjected to extraordinarily high temperatures. I thought, okay, that feels sometimes like what we’re in. We’re in the crucible. When I looked at the sub definitions of a crucible, check out what shows up. A crucible is a place or occasion of severe test or trial. That means it’s a tough time in our lives. But look at that second definition; a place or a situation in which different elements interact to produce something new or different. It’s as if what we’re seeing is out of the heat of that adversity. The test, trial, or goal isn’t to get a more purified thing. It’s beyond that.
There’s a capacity to create a completely new thing. If we welcome God into our most difficult places or seasons, the pains of life, or the hurts of our life that are challenging us, then we find that God has welcomed us out of that cauldron of intensity. Out of suffering, at some level, we might call it. Out of that God produces something new. There it is. That is the goal. Something new that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. A totally new thing. If we let God work into that pain, place, or disappointment, then what God can do oftentimes bring out of that a different type of person. A completely new element is developed in our life. A virtue or a capacity that wasn’t there before. In some cases, it’s empathy or compassion. Or there’s a more courageous element to our life or an ability to understand people in a different way. Oftentimes, we can understand God and His love for us. To be able to see what real grace looks like, and what His mercy is like. All of a sudden, certain things that we’ve ever talked about, but understand in a very different way change who you become. It has an effect. That in turn ends up affecting other people who are around us.
In Psalm 1, I’ll use this as a closing analogy, the question that’s been dominating this discussion is where is the opportunity in the adversity? That’s been the way I’ve been approaching a lot of things. I talked early on about the stance. Where’s the opportunity in the adversity? Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord. In that law, he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by the rivers of living water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also is not going to wither. Whatever you do it’s going to prosper.” There’s this sense of blessing sitting over it.
They’re great seasons, good seasons when life is good and adventurous and we’re happy. The opportunity there is to stay in love with God. A lot of times I’ve noticed with people when they’re hurting, they are very open when things are hard. All of a sudden things turn around. They got a different job or found someone new. Where have you been? I don’t need God as much. They didn’t say that. We don’t say that. The opportunity is to retain a love for the Lord. Fruitfulness in the good seasons means being generous, humble, grateful, and stay close to God, and being happy. But some seasons are not good seasons. They’re just what I call neutral seasons. Neutral seasons are those times when life is calm, but it’s uneventful. In fact, as I mention the three seasons here as we close, think about which one you’re in right now. Someone said to me after service on Saturday, “I’m in all three simultaneously.” I said, “Hmm, let me think about that.” He was dead serious.
Neutral are those times in life when you’re bored, you’re stuck. Think about being stuck in neutral, going nowhere. You’re muddled in the mundane, bored with him, bored with her, bored with this, bored with work, bored with this church, not inspired, no passion to say anything over. What is the danger in the neutrals place? Because there’s no wind. I’m not getting pummeled nor am I getting pushed. I’m just stuck right in the middle. It’s hard. A lot of times in that place, we want to do something, whatever it is. Be careful because a lot of times we get reactive, we get restless, and we get foolish in the neutral seasons. The virtues that God often chimes are trying to develop patience and gratitude in us. I’ve noticed that in the neutral places, we start devaluing our blessings. We start trading things, honestly treating things that are pearls, not well. We start taking for granted the gifts of God. We can dump them quickly, but we will live to regret it. The neutral season has these opportunities. The opportunity is to learn how to prevail. Oftentimes to find safe ways that are not destructive, foolish, or reckless. To be able to address some of that and position ourselves when God can begin to create an opening somewhere else. It’s okay to struggle.
The third season that brings us full circle is the turbulent season. It’s the dark tough season. Think about turbulence on an airplane where you can get really scared. The adrenaline can shoot up and if there is too much turbulence, it gets you scared. It’s wide-knuckle time. In the turbulent place is when we start to feel like God doesn’t love us. We feel abandoned. We feel sad. We begin defined by our problems. We lose our zest. We begin to quit and our faith falters. We can give up. It’s so hard. I want to suggest that there is an opportunity in this season that is unlike any other one. This is the one where it’s found and why James used it. Here’s the place where you can get real depth. Here’s the place where real formation takes place. Here’s the place where death comes and I live again. It’s the place where God does His best work.
Let’s look at the prayer because that’s the opportunity. The prayer that we close will close this service with is right here. Father, it’s our prayer for the week. Every season of life has its challenges and opportunities, no question. Please help me, help me not to get too comfortable when everything’s going well. Also, help me in those neutral places when life is uneventful or overwhelmed. When life is hard. Protect me in the crucible so that when I emerge and I will emerge and when I do by Your grace, I will be even stronger than I was before. Settle me in the storm. Don’t let panic define me. Please show me the opportunity that is there in my adversity. Remind me that I have so much to learn about myself and You. This we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.