Tough Times Never Last!
by Jack M. Lane
One of the things I like to do is to write an article or a message about something I need to know about. When I do that, I’m not just preaching to the choir. I’m talking to me, about my own situation and circumstances. This is one of those messages.
We’re all facing some pretty tough challenges as a nation these days. I’m grateful to say that I have a job. But will I be able to say that next week, next month? I’m grateful to say that I am supposedly in good health right now. But that hasn’t always been the case, and we can all look to the certainty of health challenges in the future.
I can’t help but think that some readers have lost their jobs, lost their homes, lost their savings, lost their retirement, or at least have experienced some impact on these things because of what’s going on in the economy right now. It’s easy to say “We walk by faith, not by sight,” during the good times. Now many of us have to actually do that.
There’s no getting around it. If we lose our job, it’s scary. If we’re threatened with losing our home, it’s scary. If we have a health problem, or some other crisis in our lives, it can really bother us.
But really – God never promised us a rose garden. In fact, the experiences we have in this life are part of the training, part of the schooling, our heavenly Father is putting us through so we can learn valuable lessons, so we can develop the faith and confidence and trust we need to have toward God.
Sometimes, the things we’re going through are just to toughen us up so we won’t be weak spiritually or powerless in our faith. And sometimes, we make bad choices, and we have to live with the consequences.
A long process
Did you ever stop to wonder why Christians are not immediately taken away to heaven, or whisked away to a safe and comfortable life, the moment they accept Christ and are baptized? Wouldn’t it seem fair if all our problems would vanish the moment we become believers? What purpose does God have in leaving us in this life, in our situations, facing our trials and problems?
The answer is simple enough: God wants us to go on to live the Christian life, learning to overcome, learning to put away sin, learning to make wise choices in our lives, learning to grow and mature to be more Christ-like, more like God, as we grow up to maturity in this life. And not only that, but we also need to spend the rest of our lives learning to live for others, doing, sharing, helping, serving, loving, and not focusing on our lives and our “things.”
God knows that, when we finally come to the point of baptism, we’ve only gotten so far along the pathway to immortality. And we haven’t developed very much in a lot of areas where God wants us to be useful to Him. We have to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). And that takes time. We also have to grow in our ability to extend to other people the grace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
You see, if we repent, and are baptized, and then just sit back and wait until our shift is over and it’s time to punch out and go off to be with the Lord, we’re not growing and developing. We’re not learning how to be useful to God. That’s one reason we go through trials, temptations, life events, crises, and other growth experiences. We go through growth experiences so we’ll grow. It’s part of life.
Sometimes I wonder if that wasn’t what was happening in Acts chapter 8. It seems that God gave the new church a little time to get organized, to rehearse what they were going to tell the world, but they were a little reluctant to get going. So God gave them a little thwack on the back of the head to get things moving.
Acts chapter 8. This is taking place right after the stoning of Stephen in chapter 7.
Acts 8:1-8 (NIV):
1 And Saul was there, giving approval to his [Stephen’s] death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.
2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.
3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.
4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.
5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there.
6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said.
7 With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed.
8 So there was great joy in that city.
So the disciples got moving, the word was being preached all over the place, people responded to the preaching, and congregations were raised up. Others were cast into prison, where things might not have been very pleasant, but they understood that they were being persecuted because of the name of Christ, and it counted for something. They were living their testimony of faith by being in prison. And the word was preached in prison, too.
Now, let’s fast forward to today. Let’s put it in perspective. Christianity is legal. So there are lots of different forms of Christianity. We try to get our Christianity out of the Bible. Other people are content to get their Christianity from their denominations, or from what other people tell them. And some people just make up stuff and call it Christian.
Today, Christians in this country don’t find themselves being arrested and thrown in jail for being Christians. Unfortunately, that’s not the case around the world. There are many people today dying for their faith, being wounded and maimed for their faith, being persecuted for their faith, being burned out of their homes and churches for their faith, being chased from town to town because of their faith, being sold into slavery because of their faith.
It’s going on right now. These are the Christian heroes of today. God loves them, and He has a special crown for these martyrs and sufferers. In some countries, Christians put their lives on the line just for owning a Bible!
That’s why it’s hard for me to get all worked up about some of the picayune little details some people get all worked up over in the various denominations and groups there are today. I’m not interested in what divides me from you, or what builds walls between Christian Group A and Christian Group B. It just really doesn’t matter. None of it matters, if you have the bigger picture in your mind, that some people lose their lives over their faith.
Looking at another angle in this discussion, there are also a lot of folks who tend to complain, and look on the negative side of things, as if they have real problems. What in the world would we have to complain about?
Poor health? There are people around the world, who look to God and to Jesus, whose health is so poor it makes us look like Superman!
Not enough money coming in? There are a lot of people around the world in the body of Christ who don’t even have a floor, let alone wall-to-wall carpeting, and heating and air conditioning.
Driving an old clunker to get from Point A to Point B? There are God-fearing people in this world who have to walk wherever they go, or take their lives in their hands in some form of overcrowded, smelly means of public transportation.
I’m sure there are people in the faith around the world who are baffled that we have anything to complain about at all.
And yet, I know that, even though we are among the richest people in the world, the cost of living here flattens us anyway. Our health concerns can still affect our disposition. And tough economic times can bring even the strongest businessman to his knees. It’s real. We do go through problems, as individuals and as a nation.
Tough Times Never Last – But Tough People Do!
In 1982, Robert Schuller, the minister at the Crystal Cathedral in Southern California, was invited to give a motivational speech to a major convention in Chicago. The year 1982 was another one of those times in our history when many companies were going under, people were being thrown out of work, unemployment was rising, and times were tough everywhere. And because of these difficult times, there was a spirit of negativity in the land.
So Robert Schuller accepted the invitation to go to Chicago and speak to this group of farmers from Iowa, Michigan, Illinois, and Minnesota. He had a nice speech all prepared, with some jokes to tell.
When he was backstage getting ready to go on, he was approached by a couple of men from the convention, the men who had invited him to speak. They had very serious looks on their faces.
They said, “Dr. Schuller? Thank you for coming.” That sounded more like what people say when you arrive at the scene of a tragedy. Schuller later said that he had heard those words before, many times, in hospitals, courtrooms, mortuaries, and cemeteries: “Thank you for coming.”
They said to him, “There are thirty-five hundred people in there, waiting to hear you speak. These people are going through tough times. They don’t want to hear your funny stories. They don’t want to see you grinning like you do on TV. They don’t want a pat on the back with a hollow promise that everything’s going to be okay. These people are losing their farms. Their businesses are going bankrupt. Terrible pressures are being placed on their marriages and families. They need help. And more than anything else they need hope. Give it to them.”
Then the sound man pinned a microphone on him, he heard himself being introduced, and he was on.
His carefully planned speech was out the window. The jokes he brought didn’t seem appropriate. He walked across the stage without any idea what he was going to say to these depressed and anxious people. He paced back and forth on the stage, looking at the audience, trying to collect his thoughts. Finally he said, “They tell me that you’re having tough times. Is that right?” Well, he had their attention. But he didn’t have a speech.
He later recalled that he didn’t know what he was going to say next. He stalled for another second by saying, “Well, let me tell you this.” He didn’t have any idea what it was he was about to tell them. But they were definitely paying attention.
Then he opened his mouth, and out came these words: “Tough times never last. But tough people do!”
He said the place exploded in loud applause and cheering. He was grateful that God had given him a key phrase, which became the main thesis of the speech that he extemporized that evening. He later rolled that into a book by the same name, and a set of audio tapes, which is where I heard this story. It’s an excellent book: Tough Times Never Last, but Tough People Do. You can buy it for one penny at Amazon.com.
We all suffer
There’s no doubt about it. As human beings, living in a fallen world, we face trials and problems. We get hungry and thirsty. We get tired. We get sick. We get old. We get fed up. We get worried. We get scared. We get sick and tired. But you know, there’s something we ought to keep in mind when we think we’re drowning in problems:
Jesus had to suffer. The apostles had to suffer. The disciples had to suffer. And we, too, have to suffer.
To give you an idea about our suffering, let’s look at Philippians 3:8-14 (NKJV). Paul is saying in verse 8:
8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ
9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;
10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death,
11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Now, there’s a phrase that grabs my attention: “the fellowship of his suffering.” It sounds like he’s saying, “Join the club.”
12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.
13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended [that is, I don’t think I already have what I have been promised]; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,
14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
That’s the point I wanted to make. Paul suffered loss. He went through a number of trials, persecutions, beatings, shipwreck, and all sorts of things we haven’t had to face. But he counts all those losses as joy because of what replaced those earlier things: “the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord,” so that he could gain Christ, and be found in Christ, through his faith in Christ.
Paul explains this further in Romans chapter 6, where he tells us that we join Christ in his death so that we may also join him in the resurrection of the dead.
And it might help to remember that, as dejected or oppressed as we can ever feel, we haven’t had it anywhere near as bad as the folks we read about in the scriptures. If we read Hebrews chapter 11, we are reminded of so many of the heroes of the Bible. Then, in chapter 12, it gets personalized to us.
Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV):
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Sometimes, when I read the gospels, I can hardly imagine how Jesus kept up such a good attitude, and held his course as a strong leader and teacher, knowing what he knew about his immediate future. But he did it, and he expects us to do it, too.
So we lose our job. So we don’t know how we’re going to pay for our house. So we have a health problem. We aren’t being whipped and stoned and imprisoned because we follow Jesus the Messiah. And we certainly don’t have to do what Christ did for us, and for all mankind.
Let’s look at 1 Peter chapter 4.
1 Peter 4:12-19 (NKJV):
12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you;
13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.
14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.
15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people's matters.
16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.
17 For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?
18 Now "If the righteous one is scarcely saved, Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?"
19 Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.
I often take passages like this one to mean that God’s people will suffer because they are followers of God, because they obey God, because they try to be like Christ in their daily lives, and they generally stick out like a well thumb among a lot of sore fingers.
Throughout history, and in some places even today, people have often ridiculed, rejected, chased out, and even killed other people, simply because someone didn’t fit in, or they were different somehow, and the majority weren’t comfortable having people like that around. I’m amazed that it’s still the same today, in our so-called enlightened and tolerant society. If you’re a different kind of person, with a different religion or worldview, or a different skin color, or if you dress funny, or have some kind of regional accent, or maybe worst of all, if you live a life of obedience to God, you’re asking for trouble. People are the same all over, and people are as bad today as they were millennia ago.
But what if you’re suffering through something that isn’t because of your faith? What if you’re suffering something because God just simply allows it? What if it’s something that is “according to the will of God,” as Peter mentioned in verse 19.
The NIV translates verse 19 this way: “So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”
Just “keep on keepin’ on.”
The Lord disciplines those He loves
We should realize that God hasn’t forgotten us, and that there are times when we go through experiences to strengthen us. Indeed, it is God's will that we go through life experiences that will strengthen us, not only for the really tough times ahead, but so that we will be appropriate vessels, appropriate artifacts, in the service of God forever.
Let’s look at 2 Timothy 2:20-21 (NIV). Paul writes:
20 In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble.
“Ignoble.” There’s a word you don’t often hear. It means dishonorable, shameful, immoral, base, low. So some things are made for honorable purposes, while other things might be used for some dirty work. So, in Paul’s analogy, he continues in verse 21:
21 If a man cleanses himself from the latter [if someone cleanses himself or herself from being dishonorable, shameful, immoral, base, low], he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.
Our Messiah actually learned lessons from the things He suffered as a real human being. What He learned has become a valuable part of how He and our Father deal with us, as children and as humans. We have a High Priest who understands our infirmities. We have a Savior in heaven who has suffered, feet on the ground, hands in the dirt, as we mere mortals have suffered. He knows our weaknesses, and He gives us His strength (Philippians 4:13)!
And He knows that, once we have learned the lessons we need to learn, we will be much more malleable, as softened clay in the Potter's hands.
Some of us are walking through life, suffering on-going health problems, marriage and family problems, financial problems, confusion over religion, unchristian behavior on the part of people we had known and loved, perhaps even having a sense of being cut off from God! But because of the joy set before us, we too can endure all things!
Whatever your fiery ordeal is, or your ongoing annoyance, it is God's will that you learn and grow from the experience!
Some of our suffering comes in the form of natural consequences of our own actions, so we may need to stop and re-evaluate how we live our lives, or how we do the things we’re doing. Sometimes, God is taking a direct hand in our lives and giving us a well-deserved spanking, to get us to wake up and stop making whatever mistake we’ve been making!
We were reading earlier in Hebrews chapter 12. If we continued in Hebrews 12, we would see this:
Hebrews 12:5-11 (NIV):
5 And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son."
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?
8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.
9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!
10 Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.
11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
So, we need to endure hardships as if they are discipline from our heavenly Father. If life deals us a bad hand, if life gives us lemons, well, sometimes there’s just not much we can do.
I wish I could give you a brighter picture. This is kind of heavy, isn’t it? But there is good news. We may not triumph in this life, but we can definitely triumph over this life. We may not win before we die, but we will definitely win after we die. All we have to do is remember that this is not the real life. This is practice. The real life is yet to come.
Let’s turn to Romans chapter 8. We need to keep in mind the end-result of this discipline and training. After we have suffered in this life, what will be the result?
Romans 8:16-25 (NIV):
16 The Spirit [it]self testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.
17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.
20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope
21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?
25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
And we can skip down to verse 28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
There’s a brighter tomorrow. There’s a new day coming. We still look forward to the time when our Savior will return, setting foot on this good green earth again (Revelation 19:11-16), with ten thousands of His saints (Jude 14-15), and put a stop to Satan and his reckless deception of human affairs and nations (Revelation 20:1-3).
We look forward to a time when all tears will be wiped away (Revelation 21:4). We look forward to the conquering of the final enemy, death (1 Corinthians 15:26). Like Abraham, we seek a city whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:8-10)!
These are the very reasons why we are allowed to suffer in our Christian life: in order to enter eternity in the kingdom of God!
Our Father, the Master Potter, has determined, in His love and wisdom, that we must suffer certain things in order to obtain the goal, and so that we may grow and mature into children in whom He will be pleased!
You know, even Abraham had to go through a monumental test with Isaac, so that God could say, “Now I know.” It was a growth experience like none other. But because of that, God made promises to Abraham that continue to enrich our lives, even today, this far away, and this many millennia later.
Looking forward to the end result
But the final step in our growth process, is the resurrection from the dead. That’s our hope. We hope to come up from the grave in all new, energetic, youthful, never get tired, never wrinkle, never need ironing, never give up, spirit bodies that will last forever!
We hope to be born into eternity, and never, ever, ever decay, wear out, give up, lose out, fall down, break, get sick, or even whimper. That’s our hope. And it’s a strong element of our faith as believers in Jesus Christ that this will happen to us.
Let’s turn to 1 Peter chapter 5.
1 Peter 5:6-11 (NIV):
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.
7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
God Himself will do this mighty work in us, and will see it through!
As it says in Philippians 1:6 (NIV): “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
God doesn’t give up. Why should we?
So, with these assurances, we should be able to keep going, no matter what trial we may be blessed with. Of course, we need to be practical in this life. We need to do what we need to do with renewed vigor and enthusiasm. Whatever we have to face, let’s face it head on – whether it’s looking for work, trying to address our health problems – whatever we need to do.
In Philippians 2:12-13 (NIV):
12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,
13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
As I said at the beginning, this information is for me, too. At the moment, I’m employed. That can change. At the moment, I have a clean bill of health. That can change.
There are so many blessings in my life I can’t even begin to “name them one by one.” But if, at some point, God says, “It’s time for you to learn something I want you to learn,” then I have to go through the experience. I have to endure hardship as if it is discipline from my loving heavenly Father.
That’s why I need this message today. If you happen to need it, too, all the better.
There will never be a life that does not go through some trials and tribulations. If we have had several years of good times, what a blessing that has been. If we survive the current crisis, that’s great. If what we see today is the beginning of the end, and the end of the age is upon us, then we must know that things will get much worse before our Savior comes from heaven and stops the carnage.
Either way, we win!
I used to attend a church that talked about a “place of safety” during the final wars on earth. Really, the only real “place of safety” is Forest Lawn, or East Hills, or whatever your favorite cemetery is. If you’re there, nobody can get to you. You get to sit out World War 3. You can’t possibly be hurt. And you get a front row seat for Christ’s return.
Well, I’m sorry if this is coming across as doom and gloom. We certainly have enough of that on the news these days. Many of us have an uncertain future. But somewhere in these scriptures, I hope you have seen the shining light of hope.
I hope you can take home the message that God loves you, and He would like nothing more than to have you dwell in His house forever, as a much-loved child of His; a much-loved younger sibling to our Savior and High Priest, Jesus the Messiah; and a much-treasured family member of all the saints who will rise from their graves to eternal life alongside us.
The One who invented thorns also invented the roses on the same stalks. The One who invented brambles also invented the sweet berries on the same bushes. The One who invented stinging bees also invented delicious honey in the same hives.
And the One who invented how this life works is the same One who invented the wonderful plan to bring us all into His family, into His kingdom, into His much higher plane of existence than we can even imagine.
I hope to see you there.