Lessons We Learn
A Prayer to Open Our Study
Dear Heavenly Father, You have shown Your faithfulness to Your people throughout the generations. We thank You that, although our hearts feel heavy right now, You have not abandoned us. Your supply of grace to all of us is vast, we can never exhaust Your love. May we come to You and find rest from the burdens that are weighing us down. In that rest, we pray our hearts would feel lighter. May we experience the power of Your love to transform our lives. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with us.
We ask this In Jesus' name, Amen.
Lesson Seven: Lessons Paul Learned From Adversity
Once again Mr. Stanley starts us off with two questions:
Learning: Isn’t my suffering unique?
Growing: How can I handle adversity when I am feeling so alone?
Mr. Stanley wants us to consider what we can learn from looking at how Paul faced adversity. We talked in previous lessons about how Paul had what he called a “thorn of the flesh,” something unknown to us, but it caused him intense pain and suffering. Paul said that his thorn was a “messenger of Satan to buffet him.” This word buffet was not used the way we might think, like how a wind may buffet at a boat, but a more appropriate term to help our understanding would be the word “beat.” And as Mr. Stanley reminded us, they used the same word buffet to describe the ordeal Jesus went through on His way to the cross. I would definitely call what the Romans did to Jesus as a beating, not a buffet! So, in this context, Paul’s thorn was no small thing. Yet we know he said in Philippians 4:11-13 “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” I would like to be comfortable in all situations. How about you? Where did Paul’s comfort come from? Mr. Stanley wants us to look at four principles we can apply to our lives, that can help comfort us in all situations.
1. Pray for deliverance.
2. Recognize we are not alone.
3. Trust in the Lord.
4. Rely on God’s Power.
5. God Fills Our Weaknesses
Pray For Deliverance
Paul knew God had permitted him to experience his thorn, but it never stopped him from praying for the Lord to remove it from his life. When we face our own thorn, we are invited to pray to the Lord for release. 1 Thessalonians 5:16 tells us to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” These were Paul’s instructions to the church in Thessalonica, you could call them marching orders. They are orders for us too. It’s easy to be content in times of plenty, but it’s harder when we’re in deep pain or suffering. That is why Paul wants us to pray without ceasing. Even Jesus prayed to His Father for freedom from the agonizing pain of the cross. If Christ can pray to the Father for help, why not us?
Our first question in this lesson Mr. Stanley asks us, “Have you ever asked God for release from adversity and pain?” The second part he asked, “How did He answer that prayer?” As we look at these questions it makes me wonder if for some of you, maybe the real question isn’t have you ever asked God for help, but why haven’t you asked him for help?
Many of us have either heard or have said in times of crisis, “Now, there is nothing left to do but pray.” Sometimes we think we can solve our own problems. Or that we can depend on doctors, and politicians to make things right, but nothing is further from the truth. We can never forget that prayer to our heavenly Father should be our first go to, not our last. When adversity comes, we forget where to take our concerns, where to go when it looks like our world is falling apart. We forget to ask the Lord for His help. We forget to as Paul has instructed us, to pray without ceasing.
To pray without ceasing sounds like a lot of work. But if we get to where we pray in times of success, to praying in times of trial, to praying in times of doubt, and before we are at our absolute breaking point. Praying will become an intimate, up close and person experience for us and our Lord. We will learn to put our eternal hope in God and not ourselves or others. When we look to God in all things our perspective will change. The question is no longer why am I going through this? But rather how is God going to display His might in my circumstance? Adopting this mindset means making prayer our number one go to in times of difficulty. Trumping friends, spouses, books, our limited ability, and the ever-popular opinion of the public.
To make prayer a daily activity to pray without ceasing, we need to take advantage of the invitation to engage in a never-ending conversation with God. This dialogue doesn’t need to be formal or regulated to our knees, it can take place wherever we are. In the carpool line, in front of the kitchen sink, yes even in the bathroom. You don’t even need words, because scripture tells us in Romans 8:26 “The Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” The Bible reminds us that “He knows our thoughts” Psalm 139:2
Ok maybe you did ask God many times to help you or a loved with a situation. So, asking is not your problem. I know I prayed without ceasing for Him to save my business and if not the business, how about my house? You all know how those prayers turned out. When we pray for things and they go the way we would like, it’s easy to feel connected to God, to think we somehow were able by our wonderful petitions to change God’s mind and make Him see things our way. But when things don’t go the way we have been praying for, it can feel like God wasn’t listening or worse, He didn’t care. Neither of those thoughts are true. It’s time we stop trying to have all our problems resolved. Life is not an hour-long TV drama, that needs every situation under control by the last scene. Because whether it feels like it or not everything that happens in our lives is the will of God. We need to exchange the responsibility for fixing our dilemmas for the privilege of endless prayer with our Heavenly Father. God wants us to come humbly to Him as His children. God longs for us to make our requests known to Him. When we do this we honor God’s Power and Glory, by letting go we allow Him full reign over our lives accomplishing His purposes for us.
Read Ephesians 6:18, Jeremiah 33:3
Recognize We Are Never Alone
In this modern world we live in with it’s 24-hour news, social media that never sleeps, endless TV and radio channels, we have trouble finding a quiet moment. But despite all this as a society we are more lonely now than ever. The apostle Paul spent many hours alone in prison, but he had the comfort of knowing that the Lord was with him. Paul had a first-hand experience with the Lord on the road to Damascus, and Jesus was very present in Paul’s daily prayer life. So, all of those experiences gave him the confidence to know that although his body was alone, God was always there. Jesus made a promise to the disciples in Mathew 28:20, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” And that promise is for us as well.
Our next question Mr. Stanley asks us is “When have you felt God has abandoned you?”
Bad news can turn our world upside down and push us into irrational conclusions, like “God has abandoned us,” or “He doesn’t care.” Human nature reaches for a reason, any reason—and for someone to blame. In our confusion, we often target God. Everyday our loved ones, and friends let us down. They make promises that they know they will not be able to keep. In Numbers 23:19 scripture tells us that, “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind.”
More importantly we need to remember that God loves us. He really, really loves you. He loved you and me before we were even born. Worts and all, when we remember to praise Him, even when we forget to give Him credit for the great things in our life. He loves us. He pursues us in our worst shape and accept us just as we are—loving us so much that He would send His Son to die for us. Knowing this makes it doubly hard for us when adversity hits our life. Sometimes what we interpret as God’s “abandonment” may simply be God’s placing us “back in the oven,” where we may feel the heat of testing for a while. Like a potter, He plans to keep shaping you to make you more like Him.
So, If God seems far away from you, it could be that you are far from Him. Which brings us back to why we need to have an active prayer life. God’s character doesn’t change. And He’s not finished with any of us. He wants to bring good out of everything that happens to us. We live in a fallen world. We can read the newspaper, listen to the news, and even experience life trauma ourselves, and at times feel like God has gone AWOL. But world hunger, violence, and destruction were not included in God’s original design. One day He will restore everything to a new heaven and new earth, we will be whole, and all our unanswered questions will either be answered or unnecessary. But until then, one truth we can cling to without a doubt: His plans—and His character—don't include abandonment. God will never forsake those He loves!
Read Philippians 1:6, 1 Chronicles 16:11, Luke 18:1
Trust In The Lord
Paul had complete trust in the Lord, even when God was not going to remove his thorn of the flesh, he continued to teach others about God’s love and faithfulness. We live in a world where trust must be earned and seems to be in short supply. But Solomon, the famous king who wrote Proverbs, knew that trust is exactly where we must start. In Proverbs 3:5 he said, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” How do you trust in the Lord when life throws you a curveball? Someone you know gets sick. You lose your job. A friend or family member betrays you. The things you felt secure in suddenly feel shaky and uncertain. How do you trust God when you don’t understand why these things are happening? When you cannot see a resolution? These are valid questions, and God wants to help you navigate them.
When it comes to trusting God, we need to believe in His reliability, His Word, His ability, and His strength. The Bible says that God cannot lie. That He always keeps His promises. That He loves you and has good in store for you. Trusting in Him means believing what He says about Himself, about the world and about you is true. The hard part for each of us is to have faith in what He says even when our feelings or circumstances would have us believe something different. Trusting God is more than a feeling; it’s a choice to have faith in what He says. Trusting God is not about ignoring your feelings or reality. It is not pretending that everything is OK when it isn’t. Trusting God is living a life of belief in and obedience to God even when it’s difficult.
Back to 1 Thessalonians 5:16 where it tells us first to rejoice always, before we pray without ceasing. We need to be thankful for all things, even the bad things that happen in our lives. Because God loves you, you can show your trust in Him by talking about all your feelings and circumstances with Him — the good and hard — through prayer. Don’t let your emotions rule your life; bring them to God so He can help you address them. He is not disappointed or frustrated by your struggles, doubts or pain. He cares about you, and you can trust Him with those things. We need to find a way to turn this head knowledge into heart knowledge, so our we can grow our trust in the Lord.
1. Turn to your Bible: The Bible records ways God has responded in difficult times in the past. It reminds you that He is trustworthy whatever your circumstances. Many people in Scripture even reference other parts of Scripture to encourage themselves and those around them. We need a strong foundation of Scripture to stand on, especially when life feels uncertain. The Bible is God’s unfailing, unchanging Word. You can cling to its truth when life throws you a curveball.
2. Spend time with Him: Spend regular time with God. Establishing a consistent time with the Lord when times feel good will help us to continue to go to Him when things feel rough. God wants you to go to Him with your circumstances. He also wants you to come to Him simply to spend time with Him. You should not let your circumstances shape your relationship with God. God can shape your view of your circumstances.
3. Lean on the Holy Spirit: The Holy Spirit is your constant helper, pointing you to Jesus. The Spirit comforts and reminds you of the truth. The Spirit will also lead you in obedience. He will bring direction to you. The Holy Spirit will lead you to what you should do. Sometimes what you need to do is wait. Faithfully continue to seek the Lord, but wait on His timing. Wait on Him to act on your behalf. Wait on Him to do what you cannot do yourself.
God is trustworthy even when you don’t see your prayers answered or problems solved right away. Life is unpredictable and difficult at times, and that difficulty may persist for longer than you had hoped. Difficult times may feel like they last forever, but they are temporary. God is present amid the bad times as well as the good. He is always faithful. Wait, trust, and remember that God loves you. You can trust Him to sustain you, provide for you and be with you even in the midst of your hardship.
Read Psalms 28:7, Psalms 112:7, Psalm 112:7
Rely on God’s Power
Learning to rely on the power of God is part of living the Christian life. The apostle Paul gives us a glimpse of the power of God when he writes in Ephesians 1:19-21 “his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority” Paul is really telling us is that God’s power exceeds or surpasses everything—it is unimaginable power.
So, how do we tap into that power? How can we learn to rely on the enormous power of God? First of all, we choose to remember the things that God has done. The wonders he has done, his miracles. We must learn to cease trusting in our frail efforts and hand our resources over to the One who can do anything. As Jesus' promise states, what we ask must be in accordance with His will. In order to be sure that we are in accordance with His will, we must continually be in a right relationship with Him. That means that we must continually strive to do according to what we know is His will and we must confess our sins as soon as we are aware that we have committed them. Since God is the one who works all things for our good and He has the power to do anything, we can rely on His power in everything. If we meet the requirements He lays down (we love Him and are in a right relationship with Him and ask according to His will), we can rely on His power in all circumstances.
Read 1 John 1:9, Psalm 105:4–5, Psalm 56:3
God Fills Our Weaknesses
In my research for this lesson, I found a writer who could have been writing my first-grade experience. She said that she went to school full of hope and found that her greatest fear was confirmed that she was “not enough.” Like me she could not spell to save her life. Even today I am a terrible speller, thankfully my word processor comes with spell check! She continued her story, “As soon as my first-grade teacher held up that initial spelling flashcard, I knew I was in trouble. We lined up our miniature wooden chairs in a row like a choo-choo train. The teacher held up a spelling flashcard for us to identify the word. If we missed the word, we had to go to the caboose. I spent most of the first grade in the caboose.” She went on to explain that she learned a different lesson than how to spell from that teacher, she learned she wasn’t as smart as everybody else, not enough. And even though she ended up doing well in school, many times she still felt like that little girl in the caboose of the spelling train.
I have felt like that many times and bet some of you have too. She went on to say that “Moses was a man who felt he wasn’t good enough. When God spoke to him through a burning bush and called him to lead His people out of Egyptian bondage, he had a big case of the “not good enoughs.” That’s when he had a one-sided argument with God. Moses told God he was the wrong man for the job. He wasn’t brave enough, strong enough, smart enough, eloquent enough, charismatic enough, or confident enough.”
No matter how weak or ill-equipped we may at times feel, we can rely on the power of God. We have the assurance that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” Ephesians 3:20. God’s power is perfected in our weakness. Our weakness makes us depend on God and draw us close to Him. If you are not strong anymore because you cannot fight or your weakness is overwhelming you, just pray to God for his power to be manifested in your weakness. You do not have to try to be perfect because God is able to use less than perfect vessels. God simply wants us to surrender our inadequacy to him so that He can fill us with His strength.
Read 2 Corinthians 12:9, Isaiah 40:29, Jeremiah 31:25
Charles Stanley wants us to consider these thoughts:
Today and Tomorrow
Today: I am never alone, not even when my life seems the darkest.
Tomorrow: I will trust the Lord in adversity, even when He does not remove the pain.
Closing Prayer, Charles Stanley
Father, thank You for loving us and for not answering all of our requests with which we petition You because we don’t want to suffer here and we don’t want to suffer there. Thank You for listening to us and not scolding us- not making us feel guilty of being angry with us- but just lovingly reminding us of what You reminded Paul: “My grace is sufficient.” I pray for those who have not discovered Your love and indeed feel “buffeted by life, that they might receive Jesus Christ as their Savior and their Lord. I pray that You will show them how to live victoriously by coming to You in complete surrender: Thank You that when we are weak, You are strong. Amen.