Adversity and Affliction – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, PeaceAdversity and Affliction – Introduction

One thing in life is certain – we will all face adversity and affliction. It’s not the events in and of themselves that define us, it’s how we choose to respond. Do we let the trials and tribulations of life move us away from God? Or, do we allow adversity and affliction to move us closer to God; taking comfort in His love, and in His guidance – knowing that we will come out of whatever situation we find ourselves in stronger – perhaps more loving, a little kinder, or a little more forgiving?

Spiritual Quote

“That which does not kill me makes me stronger.”
~Friedrich Nietzsche

Thoughts

Adversity:

  • Hebrew – grief, pain, sorrow, calamity
  • Greek – suffer torment

Affliction:

  • Hebrew, several words – grief, sorry, pain, bruise, destruction, hurt
  • Greek – hardship, suffering pain

On the face of it, Adversity and Affliction seem to be interchangeable. However, they do have slightly different meanings. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Adversity as, “a difficult situation or condition, misfortune or tragedy; a state or instance of serious or continued difficulty or misfortune. Affliction is defined as, “something, such as disease, that causes pain or suffering; the state of being affected by something that causes suffering.”

Think of Job and all he went through. He lost all his property and wealth, and all of his children…Adversity. He also suffered boils from the bottom of his feet to the top of his head – Affliction.

We all face affliction and adversity at some time or another. Sometimes, it seems like they just keep piling up, one on top of the other. Job loss or reduced hours, financial difficulties, car repairs, damaged or broken relationships, medical issues, the death of a loved one – the list is endless. Living a mortal, human life, we can’t escape affliction and adversity. In John 16:33, Jesus reminds us of this fact when He said, “…In this world you will have trouble…” And Ecclesiastes 3 reminds us that “to everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven…”

The question isn’t whether bad things will happen. The question is, will we allow the bad things to move us away from God, or closer to Him? How will we choose to respond?

Illustration:

I have a dear friend who is living with terminal cancer. I say living with instead of dealing with on purpose. He could sit and wallow in self pity. He could complain about how unfair it all is. Like Job, he’s led a good life; he’s an honest man who has dedicated his life to his family and to helping others. He could easily sit and ask, “why is God doing this (or allowing this)?” Instead, he thanks God for the wonderful life he has experienced. Though he’s had this horrible diagnosis and prognosis, he has chosen to live. He wakes every morning thankful that he has another day to spend with his wife, children, and grandchildren. As his health allows, he still attends meetings and events with a local service organization devoted to helping children in our community. His faith has made it possible to face what we all must eventually face – our own mortality. Rather than allowing his affliction to move him away from God, it has moved him closer – and he’s living his life fully.

Illustration:

Conversely, my former mother-in-law, my first husband’s mother, remains mired in grief. She professes to be a devout Christian; and I have no doubt that she is a believer. But her faith brings her no comfort. She cries and mourns the losses of her husband and her son every day. Rather than going through the grief process, being thankful for the time they shared, and moving on and living life, she merely exists. She finds no joy in living. It’s been over 20 years since her husband passed away, and 19 years since her son, my husband, passed, she lives her life mired in the pain and grief of loss.

There’s a passage in Romans that, when taken in the right context, can bring us comfort in times of adversity and affliction. Unfortunately, it can also be overused and can become simply a cliche. Romans 8:28 tells us, “We know that for those who love God, all things work together for good…” This doesn’t for one moment mean that tragedies are good. It simply means that with God, if we stay close to Him through whatever situation we might be facing or experiencing, something good can come as a result. If we face and overcome addiction – perhaps we’re more compassionate to, or we find ways to help, those still struggling. If we’ve experienced homelessness, perhaps we find ways to help the homeless. Maybe we’ve experienced the loss of someone dear whose life was touched by hospice, and that experience instills a desire in us to volunteer with hospice. Or, like my friend living with cancer, significant health issues create the desire to live our lives as fully and as completely as we possibly can, despite the challenges.

Illustration*:

Many years ago a little girl was totally blind. She was blinded as an infant as the result of an accident. She lived to be over 90 years old. She became well-known in the American church. She wrote many popular Christian songs and choruses. Her name was Fanny Crosby. When she was only eight years old, she wrote:

Oh, what a happy child I am, although I cannot see.
I am resolved that in this world, contented I will be.
How many blessings I enjoy that other people don’t.
To weep and sigh because I’m blind–I cannot and I won’t.

Illustration*:

When he was seven years old, his family was forced out of their home on a legal technicality, and he had to work to help support them. At age nine, his mother died. At 22, he lost his job as a store clerk. He wanted to go to law school, but his education wasn’t good enough. At 23, he went into debt to become a partner in a small store. At 26, his business partner died, leaving him a huge debt that took years to repay. At 28, after courting a girl for four years, he asked her to marry him. She said no. At 37, on his third try he was elected to Congress, but two years later, he failed to be reelected. At 41, his four-year-old son died. At 45, he ran for the Senate and lost. At 47, he failed as the vice-presidential candidate. At 49, he ran for the Senate again, and lost. At 51, he was elected president of the United States. His name was Abraham Lincoln, a man many consider the greatest leader the country ever had. Some people get all the breaks.

What’s the point? We will all experience adversity and affliction. Life isn’t necessarily fair. Yet, we always have a choice. We can wallow in self pity, looking back at what we’ve lost; or we can look forward, with faith, and anticipate God blessing us in new and wonderful ways.

A wonderful example of this type of faith is found in Genesis 26:12-28. In this set of passages, we read about Issac – a man of God who was promised the blessings of God. Verse 1 tells us there was a famine in the land, the land of Gerar, which is located outside of the Promised Land. Yet, despite the famine, in verses 12-14 we read that God blessed Isaac with a bountiful harvest, possessions, flocks, herds, and a great number of servants. Of course, the Philistines were extremely envious.  In their jealousy, they stopped up all the wells and filled them with dirt; and the king, Abimelech, told Isaac to go away because he was mightier than they (vs 15-16).

Now, Isaac could have gone off in any direction. He could have wallowed in the misery of having his wells destroyed and having to move. He could have allowed the situation to move him away from God. Who could blame him? They didn’t have air conditioned moving vans. They didn’t have well-drilling equipment and machinery. Isaac certainly wouldn’t look forward to having to move and having to dig new wells with nothing but primitive shovels. But, go he must – the king had commanded it.

And where does Isaac go? Verses 17-23 tell us he went a ways, settled and dug a well. But the herdsman claimed the well. Isaac went further, dug another well, and again, a quarrel ensued, and he was forced to move on once again. Finally, he settled and dug a well, and no quarrel arose. He goes from there to Beersheba which, coincidentally, is located in the Promised Land. It is here that God appears to him and promises to bless him in fulfillment of His promise to Isaac’s father, Abraham (vs. 24). Metaphorically, the Promised Land represents the place where God’s chosen would live in a close relationship with Him. So, figuratively speaking, through the adversity, Isaac into a closer relationship with God. I’m sure it wasn’t always easy, but Isaac maintained his faith, knowing that God had blessed him once, and would do so again. And his faith, and his blessings, were clearly seen by others. Verses 25-28 tell of Isaac pitching his tent (settling down) and digging another well in Beersheba. Abimelech, along with one of his friends, Ahuzzath, and the commander of his army, Phichol, came to Isaac asking for a truce because they had certainly seen that the Lord was with him.

The same hold true for us. If we hold on to our faith and persevere through adversity and affliction, we will be a living example to others of God working in and through our lives. In that process, not only will we move closer in relationship with God, we might just inspire others to deepen their own relationship with Him as well.

Closing Thoughts

In this human, mortal life we will certainly be confronted with adversity and affliction. The choice will always be ours as to how we respond. Will we respond like my former mother-in-law – wallowing in the mire of grief over what’s been lost? Or, like Isaac and my dear friend living with cancer, will we allow our faith to move us into a closer relationship with God? Will we choose to live our lives to their fullest, seeking opportunities to learn and to grow, and to experience all of the wonderful blessings God has in store for us? Will we allow the adversity and affliction to weaken us, turning us into sad, depressed, hopeless, broken people – existing but not really living? Or, like Nietzsche says, will we allow the adversity and affliction to strengthen us?

One of the comforts we find through the Christian faith, and having a deep relationship with Jesus, is the fact that we don’t have to face our adversity and affliction alone. In Matthew 28:20, Jesus assures us, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” When adversity and affliction occur, instead of cursing God, as Job’s wife advised, we should turn to Him in prayer. Not simply asking for whatever the situation is to magically disappear. Rather, asking Jesus and the Holy Spirit to show us the way – to guide us in our thoughts, words, and actions. Let Jesus and the Holy Spirit open our eyes to the possibilites and the opportunities that lay before us, and give us the strength to persevere.

Acknowledgements

Pastor Larry Sarver Sermon

Scripture

  • John 16:33
  • Ecclesiastes 3
  • Romans 8:28
  • Genesis 26:12-28
  • Matthew 28:20
  • Philippians 4:13

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Key to Peace – Teaching

Innocence, Gentleness, PeaceKey to Peace – Introduction

We speak a lot about Peace – especially Inner Peace. But, what does it really mean? With all that’s going on in our lives, and in our world, how can we possibly find peace? And, what is the Key to Peace?

Spiritual Quote

“What lies behind us, and what lies before us,
are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson, Criminal Minds Episode

Thoughts

Promises of Scripture

Let’s take a look at a few promises and assurances made in Scripture:

  • Psalm 29:11 – The Lord gives strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace.
  • John 14:27 – Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
  • John 16:33 – I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:16 – Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times and in every way.
  • Philippians 4:7 – And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Notice all of these passages refer to an inner peace. They speak about “the world” – tangible, material, physical – and how we will definitely have troubles in this world. But, Jesus overcame the things of the physical world and lived life completely and fully spiritual. The peace referred to is something that can only be found deep within ourselves, within our very spirit. It is a peace so deep and so profound our words can’t come close to describing or explaining it – it literally “transcends all understanding.”

Barriers to Peace

Unwittingly, we tend to create our own barriers to peace. One such barrier is not letting go of the past. We tend to hold onto past hurts, past events, past “wrongs”; and, in so doing, we give them power over our present. We hold onto these things of the past and they create a barrier to enjoying peace now, today, in this present moment.

Let me share a couple of stories by Eckhart Tolle from his book, “A New Earth, Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose”:

The Duck With a Human Mind

“In The Power of Now, I mentioned my observation that after two ducks get into a fight, which never lasts long, they will separate and float off in opposite directions.

Then each duck will flap its wings vigorously a few times, thus releasing the surplus energy that built up during the fight. After they flap their wings, they float on peacefully, as if nothing ever happened.

If the duck had a human mind, it would keep the fight alive by thinking, by story-making. This would probably be the duck’s story: “I don’t believe what he just did. He came to within five inches of me. He thinks he owns this pond. He has no consideration for my private space. I’ll never trust him again. Next time he’ll try something else just to annoy me. I’m sure he’s plotting something already. But I’m not going to stand for this. I’ll teach him a lesson he won’t forget.” And on and on the mind spins its tales, still thinking and talking about it days, months, or years later. As far as the body is concerned, the fight is still continuing, and the energy it generates in response to all those thoughts is emotion, which in turn generates more thinking. This becomes the emotional thinking of the ego. You can see how problematic the duck’s life would become if it had a human mind. But this is how most humans live all the time. No situation or event is ever really finished. The mind and the mind-made “me and my story” keep it going.”

Carrying the Past

“The inability or rather unwillingness of the human mind to let go of the past is beautifully illustrated in the story of two Zen monks, Tanzan and Ekido, who were walking along a country road that had become extremely muddy after heavy rains. Near a village, they came upon a young woman who was trying to cross the road, but the mud was so deep it would have ruined the silk kimono she was wearing. Tanzan at once picked her up and carried her to the other side.

The monks walked on in silence. Five hours later, as they were approaching the lodging temple, Ekido couldn’t restrain himself any longer. “Why did you carry that girl across the road?” he asked. “We monks are not supposed to do things like that.”

“I put the girl down hours ago,” said Tanzan. “Are you still carrying her?”

Now imagine what life would be like for someone who lived like Ekido all the time, unable or unwilling to let go internally of situations, accumulating more and more “stuff” inside, and you get a sense of what life is like for the majority of people on our planet. What a heavy burden of past they carry around with them in their minds.”

The Moral of the Story

Mr. Tolle goes on to say:

“The past lives in you as memories, but memories in themselves are not a problem. In fact, it is through memory that we learn from the past and from past mistakes.

It is only when memories, that is to say, thoughts about the past, take you over completely that they turn into a burden, turn problematic, and become part of your sense of self…Your story, however, consists not only of mental but also of emotional memory – old emotion that is being revived continuously. As in the case of the monk who carried the burden of his resentment for five hours by feeding it with his thoughts, most people carry a large amount of unnecessary baggage, both mental and emotional, throughout their lives. They limit themselves through grievances, regret, hostility, guilt.”

The Barrier of Ego

Another barrier to deep, inner peace is our own ego. Our ego loves to be built up. We build our ego whenever we claim someone else to be wrong in order for us to be right, or when we make ourselves “better” by making someone else “less.” This is what’s going on when a driver cuts you off and your holler and scream obscenities.

It’s also what’s going on when we attach judgmental labels to others, e.g. “he’s so _____,” or “she’s such a _____” – constantly strengthening our own sense of self at the expense of others. When we behave in this way, our words and actions are guided and influenced by our sense of self. We certainly don’t behave in a way that is guided by love, by the Spirit of God within us. In fact, I’ve seen ego used as an acronym for “Edging God Out.”

When we live life based on our ego, we are living in the ways of the world rather than in the ways of Spirit. Our own ego, and carrying the past, which also stems from ego, create some of the biggest barriers to living a live filled and fueled by peace.

Breaking Down the Barriers

So, how do we begin to break down the barriers? Mr. Tolle advises, “We can learn to break the habit of accumulating and perpetuating old emotion by flapping our wings, metaphorically speaking, and refrain from mentally dwelling on the past, regardless of whether something happened yesterday or thirty years ago. We can learn not to keep situations or events alive in our minds, but to return our attention continuously to the pristine, timeless present moment rather than be caught up in mental movie-making…Nothing ever happened in the past that can prevent you from being present now; and if the past cannot prevent you from being present now, what power does it have?”

Another way we can break down the barriers is to diminish our ego – that is to say, quit Edging God Out. Again, Mr. Tolle puts it this way:

“A powerful spiritual practice is consciously to allow the diminishment of ego when it happens without attempting to restore it. I recommend that you experiment with this from time to time. For example, when someone criticizes you, blames you, or calls you names, instead of immediately retaliating or defending yourself – do nothing. Allow the self-image to remain diminished and become alert to what that feels like deep inside you. For a few seconds, it may feel uncomfortable, as if you had shrunk in size. Then you may sense an inner spaciousness that feels intensely alive. You haven’t been diminished at all.

In fact, you have expanded. You may then come to an amazing realization: When you are seemingly diminished in some way and remain in absolute nonreaction, not just externally but also internally, you realize that nothing real has been diminished, that through becoming “less,” you become more…Through becoming less (in ego’s perception), you in fact undergo an expansion and make room for Being to come forward…This is what Jesus means when He says, “Deny yourself.” [Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, & Luke 9:23 – brackets mine.]

This does not mean, of course, that you invite abuse or turn yourself into a victim of unconscious people. Sometimes a situation may demand that you tell someone to “back off” in no uncertain terms. Without egoic defensiveness, there will be power behind your words, yet no reactive force. If necessary, you can also say no to someone firmly and clearly, and it will be what I call a “high-quality no” that is free of all negativity.

If you are content with being nobody in particular, content not to stand out, you align yourself with the power of the universe. What looks like weakness to the ego is in fact the only true strength. This spiritual truth is diametrically opposed to the values of our contemporary culture and the way it conditions people to behave…Jesus, in one of his parables, teaches that “When you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place so that when your hose comes, he may say to you, friend, move up higher. Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” [Luke 14:10 & 11, brackets mine.]

An Easy Exercise

In the Old Testament, who does God say He is? I AM. That’s it…no qualifiers such as “I am God,” or “I am All Powerful.” Simply, I AM. One way to find inner peace is, as Mr. Tolle puts it:

“Become conscious of being conscious. Say or think “I AM” and add nothing to it. Be aware of the stillness that follows the I AM. Sense your presence, the naked, unveiled, unclothed beingness. It is untouched by young or old, rich or poor, good or bad, or any other attributes…”

I particularly like this little exercise because it can be done virtually anywhere, anytime. It only takes a moment to close our eyes, get still, and say to ourselves, “I AM.”

The Breath of Life

Scripture also refers to the Spirit of God being the Breath of Life. In Hebrew, the word “ruach” is used to convey wind, breath, mind, and spirit; and it is often combined with other words to convey the Spirit of God.  Notice how breath is used in the following scriptures:

  • Genesis 2:7 – “…breathed into his nostrils the breath of life…”
  • Genesis 7:2 – “…in whose nostrils was the breath of life…”
  • Job 33:4 – “the breath of the Almighty has given me life…”

The Spirit of God is the breath of life. All too often we ignore the deep spiritual connection the simple and automatic act of breathing can create. Mr. Tolle offers us another exercise for breaking down barriers and creating a sense of inner peace:

“Be aware of your breathing. Notice the sensation of the breath. Feel the air moving in and out of your body. Notice how the chest and abdomen expand and contract slightly with the in- and outbreath…One conscious breath (two or three would be even better), taken many times a day, is an excellent way of bringing space into your life. Even if you meditated on your breathing for two hours or more, which some people do, one breath is all you ever need to be aware of, indeed ever can be aware of. The rest is memory or anticipation, which is to say, thought. Breathing isn’t really something that you do but something that you witness as it happens. Breathing happens by itself. The intelligence within the body is doing it. All you have to do is watch it happening. There is no strain or effort involved. Also, notice the brief cessation of the breath, particularly the still point at the end of the outbreath, before you start breathing again…Being aware of your breath forces you into the present moment – the key to all inner transformation.

Whenever you are conscious of the breath, you are absolutely present. You may also notice that you cannot think and be aware of your breathing.”

What do we often hear when someone is getting themselves all worked up? “Breathe”… or “Take a few breaths before you respond.” We even begin our worship by taking a few deep breaths and focusing on God. Why? Because it’s impossible to think about anything else when you focus on your breathing. This simple act alleviates overactive thought, brings about a sense of calm and peace, and literally fills us with the Spirit of God. Give it try now, if you like. Close your eyes and focus only on your breathing – focus on your inbreath, focus on your outbreath…focus on your chest and abdomen rising and falling with each breath…focus on how each part of your body feels with each breath. Now, open your eyes. Were you able to think of anything else while you were solely focused on your breathing?

Conclusion

Remember back to our opening today. Scripture assures us of God’s peace. The peace referred to is something that can only be found deep within ourselves, within our very spirit. It is a peace so deep and so profound our words can’t come close to describing or explaining it – it literally “transcends all understanding.” Barriers to that Inner Peace include our carrying around our past like a set of Louis Vuitton luggage, worrying about our future (which we’ve talked about before), and our own ego. We have access to the Key to Peace anytime we want. All we have to do is take a few moments every day to focus on “I AM” without attaching any qualifiers, take a few minutes to focus solely on our breathing, and practice minimizing our ego, or Edging God Out.

As our quote tells us…our past and our future are tiny matters, of little importance, compared to what lies within us – right here, right now. Being present in this moment and letting the Spirit of God breathe life into us is our Key to Peace.

Scripture

  • Psalm 29:11
  • John 14:27
  • John 16:33
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:16
  • Philippians 4:7
  • Matthew 16:24
  • Luke 9:23
  • Mark 8:34
  • Genesis 2:7
  • Genesis 7:2
  • Job 33:4
  • Luke 14:10 & 11

Join the Discussion

If you’d like to share your thoughts, please feel free to comment. And, if this message resonates with you, please feel free to share it.