We live in parallel worlds. There is THE world and there is our world. I think we all can acknowledge from events occurring all over the globe that our world is in trouble. Mass shootings, bomb threats, wars, senseless murders, hurricanes and floods, political upheaval, corruption, and I could go on and on. Sometimes the old adage, the world is going to hell in a handbasket, seems an apt description. The headlines are despairing; the stories heartbreaking, enraging, and often very tragic. There seems to be very little good news to be had.
Then there are our individual worlds, those spaces in which we live our daily lives. Often, we try the best we can to wall them off from the other world. We get focused on what is happening immediately around us—work, family, friends, school, church, community, our favorite sports and games—as a way to distract us from what is happening beyond our space. Life is hard enough in our worlds to also take on concern for the problems of the other world.
Yet, it is foolish and unrealistic to think we can somehow escape the troubles “out there” by withdrawing further “in here.” Jesus said something profound on this matter: “ In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)
The very fact we live in a world full of trouble means it will somehow, someway inflict itself on us no matter what we do or how we live. To put it succinctly, its trouble will result in our troubles. Always has, always will, at least in this life. To add to this is, we all are troubled. So there is trouble on the outside and inside—inflicted and self-inflicted. Even as followers of Jesus, we will not escape unscathed. Disease, disappointment, grief, betrayal, injustice, shattered dreams, persecution, and a myriad of other problems are on the menu of life in this world. Some we unintendedly choose and others are chosen for us. No wonder we are tempted to try to escape. The choices are very unappealing.
Yet, in today’s parlance, it is what it is. So what do we do?
We do what believers have done over two millennia—we fix our eyes on Jesus. The world into which Jesus came was not a lot different from our own. Yes, technologically and educationally, today’s world is far more advanced, but the human condition and the problems that flow from it are exactly the same. Jesus came into a troubled world and he overcame it by his perfect life, his sacrificial death, and his victory over the grave. Thus, he is not the way out of our troubles, but the way through them. He leads us through the troubles he has already overcome.
To put some flesh on this, my life has been full of troubles—both of the inflicted and self-inflicted kinds. My parents had a lousy marriage. My father died when I was 21 and my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer two years later, dying four years after my dad. The love of my 23-year-old life broke up with me, but she had become an idol. My first wife left me after seven years of marriage, and then I was asked to resign from a long-term ministry position a year later. Those are the majors, but there have been many minors as well. Yours are different, but I know you have had many.
What I learned in the midst of mine is that the Lord is present and can be trusted to bring good out of our troubles, whatever they may be. This is why I wrote in an earlier blog post a defense of Romans 8:28 in light of so many who say it shouldn’t ever be quoted to those who are experiencing trouble. It literally has been a lifegiving verse because it reveals to me no bad experience will be wasted if I fix my eyes on Jesus. The early believers understood this well as the Hebrew writer reveals in Hebrews 11.
This is how Jesus overcomes the world. His death was meant by Satan to put an end to our hope, but what was meant for the greatest evil was turned into the most transformative moment ever witnessed—Jesus walking out of the tomb! The greatest trouble he pushed aside. He is more than ready to help us deal with the others.
The challenge is to allow him to do so. Pride is our biggest obstacle. We don’t want to admit to weakness. I deal with students regularly who have many troubles, but would rather try to deal with them on their own. It never works out well and they merely prolong their suffering. After my father died, I was cognizant of my witness as a leader in my campus ministry. I knew I needed to be strong for the sake of the Kingdom. In other words, I was full of pride. I believed the Lord needed little ol’ me to be his witness in what strong faith looked like. And much like the students with whom I work with now, it didn’t turn out well. My “strength” was fake, a show really. Deep down inside I was grieving terribly, but I mistakenly thought I couldn’t show it. I became depressed and angry, and none of my peers really understood because I had initially appeared to be so strong.
In the interim between my father’s passing and my mother’s devastating diagnosis, I had read II Corinthians. Late in the letter (Chapter 12), Paul shares a story that changed my life, literally. He had reached a point of exasperation with his “thorn of the flesh,” and prayed to God three times to have it removed from his life. That’s what we all want, right? Life would be so much easier and we would be so much more effective if our trouble was taken away. But the Lord’s response was neither what Paul nor I expected: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (II Corinthians 12:9 NIV) Talk about counterintuitive!
Our natural mode is to be strong and to think weakness displays a lack of faith. The choice we see for ourselves is either to push through whatever troubles we face or to let them overrun us. This is what I had thought as a young Christian. So the Lord’s words to Paul were shocking and liberating at the same time. Before my mom’s metastatic cancer was revealed, I already knew I had inflicted unnecessary trouble on myself by trying to push through my grief caused by the loss of my dad. After her diagnosis, I was able to apply what Paul learned to my own life. No more brave persona. No more stuffing my feelings of fear and dread. I was personally weak and God became my strength.
While I haven’t implemented this perfectly in my life, I have from that point attempted to approach the troubles in my life in the same manner and encouraged others to do likewise. And the older I get and the more troubles I encounter, Paul’s words mean all the more: “When I am weak, then I am strong.” (II Corinthians 12:10 NIV)
It’s a troubled world out there and in here. The only way to endure the troubles we face is step aside, to be weak, and let him lead us through them. Then we will be strong enough to overcome them.
© Jim Musser 2018