Poised to enter the Promised Land, the people of Israel could see its lush green hills and flowing rivers. They had seen its fruit: clusters of grapes so large that two men had to carry them. They had heard the report: a land flowing with milk and honey. But before their sandals touched down on Canaan’s soil, God gave them this warning: “When you have eaten your fill, be sure to praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. … Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 8:10 NLT).
Up to this point, they had been wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. They were completely dependent on God for everything. Every day, they would walk outside their tents, and there would be manna waiting for them like the morning paper. They would eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, sort of like the Thanksgiving turkey you keep bringing out meal after meal.
They would eat manna all day, every day. It was their meal from heaven, and they were completely dependent on God to provide it.
But once they entered the Promised Land, the manna would no longer be needed. And God knew that with the prosperity would come the temptation to forget him.
Prosperity has a tendency to make us proud and self-sufficient. We don’t think we need God when we have our salary, investments, career, homes, health and family.
But when an economy goes south or a stock market crashes, hopefully we turn to God and are reminded of what really matters.
We should not always be afraid of pain, because it is often during times of prosperity that we forget God; but when pain comes, when tragedy strikes, we pray – and we pray a lot.
As C. S. Lewis wisely observed, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Adversity teaches us eternal truths we would not otherwise learn, because our basic objective in life is to avoid pain at all costs. We want to be comfortable. For example, we want to get in better shape, but we don’t want to sweat. As the saying goes, “No pain, no gain.” And what is true of the gym is also true of life. Pain reminds us of a deeper need.
When we go through pain, it reminds us of the need for God in our lives. And God will teach us lessons in the valleys that we never would have learned on the mountaintops. In those valleys, he teaches us things that we need to know and things that we need to share with others. He gives us reminders that we are all passing through this life rapidly, and that another life is coming in eternity.
Adversity levels us and keeps us humble, so God will not always remove suffering, because it can make us stronger and bring us closer to him.
The problem is that our definition of good is what benefits us in the here and now not in the by and by. We are interested in what will benefit us temporarily. But God is interested in what will benefit us eternally. We are interested in what will make us happy, while God is far more interested in what will make us holy.
Some believe that to be Christian is to be exempt from human suffering. I hate to break the news to them, but inexplicably bad things happen to godly people. Christians get cancer. Christians die in auto accidents. Christians have all the problems that other people generally have. And it sometimes comes as a shock to us. We are surprised when we have problems in life. Since my son’s death, I have had people come up to me and say, “I can’t believe that this happened to you of all people.” The idea being, I assume, that because I am a pastor and evangelist, I should somehow get a free pass on the suffering that afflicts the rest of the human race.
But the Bible teaches that we all will experience hardship. We all will go through storms in life. Rain falls on both the just and the unjust. Good, bad and inexplicable things will happen to us all. We can’t live a trouble-free life. We can’t take a vacation from human suffering and tragedy.
The good news is there is a God who, despite the worst tragedy, can bring good out of bad. Romans 8:28 says, “And 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” (NLT). That is not to say that God will make bad good, because bad is bad. But it is to say that good can come out of bad. It is a process.
So right now, you may look at some tragedy that has befallen you and think, “Well I don’t see any good.” But maybe a month from now, you might see a little good. Then later, you might see a little more good. And it may not be until you enter into eternity that you will see the big picture and the complete good. But until that day, God promises that he can bring good out of bad.
So press on, even if it doesn’t make sense. Press on, knowing that God is with you, walking you through all of it. Press on, even if your health is not what it once was. Press on, even if your loved ones have gone before you. Press on, because you will see them again. Press on when the skies are blue and also when they are filled are with clouds. Because in that final day, you will realize it was worth it all.