No one likes adversity. I certainly don’t. And I’ve faced my fair share of it.
I helplessly watched my son struggle through epilepsy and asthma, sat outside a recovery room while my husband had heart surgery and lost everything I owned in a storm. My husband has had more than one season of unemployment, we’ve struggled to love one another as husband and wife, we’ve been uprooted to new cities multiple times and we’ve lacked direction. I’ve buckled under the pressure of parenting, suffered the consequences of poor decisions and have often been on the latter end of John Owen’s reminder to “be killing sin or it will be killing you.”
So adversity is everywhere. Some of it was out of my control. Some of it was a consequence of a mistake. All of it was painful.
You’ve probably faced adversity, too. Believers are no strangers to adversity. Adversity has many faces: affliction, distress, suffering, disaster, sorrow and hardship. It is a constant companion on our pilgrimage towards Christlikeness. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all” (Psalm 34:19).
We know adversity is hard. But might it also be a gift?
The world values comfort and ease, and our flesh naturally seeks to avoid that which threatens this ideal. But God has not left us alone in our flesh; he has given us his Spirit to teach us the truth (John 14:26). And the truth is that God sometimes allows adversity for our good and his glory. The Spirit-filled believer will see times of hardship as a gift from our good Father. Here are a few key reasons why.
God Is Sovereign Over Adversity
Abraham Kuyper once said,
There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!
By implication, adversity does not exist outside the sovereignty of God. The enemy will tempt us to believe that God has forsaken us in our trials and that we are alone in them. But our enemy is a liar. We fight him by believing the truth. We know that God reigns over the universe and over our moments (Psalm 47:8).
Nothing, not even our afflictions, escape his sovereignty. Lamentations 3:38 reminds us, “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?” God is not absent in our adversity; he’s often the giver of it. See how he gives adversity to the Israelites:
And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. (Isaiah 30:20)
The verses preceding this radical proclamation show God’s longing to be gracious to them and show them mercy. The verses that follow tell how they will be led to repentance. He gifts them with adversity to accomplish his redemptive work in them.
Christ Is Our Example in Adversity
We take comfort in Jesus Christ, our High Priest, who experienced immense adversity during his earthly mission. As image bearers (Genesis 1:27), we should mirror his example in suffering. Jesus trusted his father while he suffered. “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). He knew God had not left him alone. He trusted God with his suffering.
When Jesus experienced the pains of hunger, the enemy was there to taunt him and offer him a way out of his suffering. He fought the devil with the sword of truth (Matthew 4:1-4). We, too, should arm ourselves with the truth. God’s word is a powerful ally in battle against our enemy who loves to attack when we’re at our weakest.
God’s Glory in our Adversity
God gives us adversity to display his glory in our dependency on him and his sufficiency in us.
‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
In Radical, David Platt elaborates on how God can use our adversity to display his glory. He writes, “God actually delights in exalting our inability. He intentionally puts his people in situations where they come face to face with their need for him.” Our need for God brings him glory, and we are most needy in adversity.
The Benefits of Adversity
We often believe that adversity yields no benefits at all. Scripture tells a different story.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)
In other words, God can use adversity as a tool to make us more steadfast, perfect and complete. Likewise, God is conforming his children to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). He gives us the gift of adversity to produce Christlikeness in us.
Another benefit of adversity is that God can use it to show us comfort and equip us to comfort others.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)
God gives gifts to his children to equip them to help others.
Desire God’s Gift of Adversity
God is transforming us to be presented one day in splendor, holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:27). Adversity may be hard, but it is an important tool that God uses in that transformation process. John Stott explains,
Suffering is part of God’s process of making us like Christ. Whether we suffer from a disappointment, a frustration, or some other painful tragedy, we need to try to see this in the light of Romans 8:28-29. According to Romans 8:28, God is always working for the good of His people, and according to Romans 8:29, this good purpose is to make us like Christ.
Adversity has brought me closer to the Lord than anything else. As I explained earlier, I’ve faced hurricanes and heartbreak, surgeries and sufferings, aimlessness and adversity. Yet in all these things, my Savior has been tender and faithful. He’s proved himself capable of handling my neediness, and he’s pleased by it. I’ve witnessed his glory and been changed by it and to it. Adversity has been the gift that brought the glory.
Does this mean that adversity is easy? No. Adversity is often painful. Some of it even comes because of the presence of sin in the world. But let’s choose to see adversity as a gift from our Father. Don’t fear the gift of adversity; desire it, for your good and God’s glory.