The power of the gospel in trials

August 25, 2012

Because of the sinful nature of humans and the curse of death in this present evil age, we often find ourselves in trying situations. We all know that pressure due to family, work, church life, health, or our faith in Jesus is not an uncommon experience. What we do not so quickly remember, however, is how pressures are part of the LORD's design to expose the depths of our heart. From the well-known story of Job to the life of King David and the Apostle Paul, trials have buffeted even the most devout Christians. Whether a believer or an unbeliever, our response to pressure reveals what our confidence lies in. For some that confidence might be intellect, money, or a clear advantage over our adversary. For the believer in Jesus though, the confidence of strength, wisdom, and endurance in difficulty must not come from ourselves. We know this in word, but often struggle to practice that confidence in deed.

King David is one of our premiere biblical examples of responding rightly in difficulty. The life of the sweet psalmist and warrior king of Israel had been sought by Saul and later by his own son, Absalom. David so often set his heart to respond with mercy and kindness, blessing his enemies instead of cursing them. He believed that God would vindicate him as he kept an upright, clean heart.

How did David maintain this posture of mercy towards his enemies? What sustained this belief in God's faithfulness to him, even though everything seemed to be falling apart?

In Psalms 143, a psalm written by David in all probability during his flight from Absalom, we have a small glimpse:

“For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead. Therefore my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled.
I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands. I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.”
(Psalms 143:3-6)

In the midst of extreme pressure, David said that he remembered his personal and national history with the LORD, meditated on all that He had done for them, and pondered what He had created and accomplished by His own hand. Perhaps the most important thing to notice about David's source of strength in his difficulty was that it came from taking his eyes off of himself, not from introspection, good poetry, well-meaning encouragers, or ambiguous, ethereal ideas about what God was like. It came from remembering substantial events in history where God had acted decisively and demonstrated His character. As he remembered God's faithfulness and loyal love, his heart was divinely strengthened to endure what the Apostle Paul would later call "light afflictions, which are but for a moment" (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Like King David, Paul's strength in the face of death was found in remembering. The gospel and the resurrection of Christ was the assurance of his own deliverance from death in the resurrection (2 Corinthians 4:14). As Paul remembered what God had done, his heart was strengthened to believe for the fulfillment of all of God's promises and the struggle even for his own life became momentary and light.

But what about us? How does the Lord turn remembrance into strength for our hearts during a difficult time? It all depends what we seek to remember. If the "good old times" are our source of strength during a trial, we may be setting ourselves up for discouragement. The Lord calls us to lift our vision to behold something much more monumental, much more beautiful, much more enthralling than the passing pleasures of this evil age. Though our difficulties with work, relationships, or health may seem overwhelming in the moment, we must not forget what Jesus has accomplished for us through the gospel and what that means for our future at His return. The grand story of the gospel alone has the power to lift the burdens we are unable to bear. And it is to that glorious gospel - the return of Jesus, the resurrection of our body, Christ's kingdom established in Jerusalem, and the LORD dwelling among us again - that we must turn to over and over for strength until the day that our faith becomes sight. Only in light of that Day can our trials today become "light afflictions, which are for but a moment".

So may the Lord strengthen us with fresh faith today as we wait for "the hope of righteousness" (Galatians 5:5) and anticipate with eagerness our "adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (Romans 8:23).

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