We come together this morning from as many different upbringings and backgrounds as there are people here. For some of us, life is going well overall. For most of us, though, we’re facing overwhelming challenges, trials, and frustrations in life. The two things that we have in common for sure, though, are the God that we’ve come to seek after and the fact that He chose to create us as men.
From the moment that Adam chose to screw things up for us all by sinning and doubting God’s word to be true, we live in a fallen and broken world. Things just aren’t what they ought to be. Although God created men to work, after Adam’s bad choice, that work would be opposed and produce thorns and thistles. We have the scars to prove this truth, too!
Wrenches slip, blades take off digits, motorcycles roll, bolts strip, ladders tip, engines seize, thumbs get between hammers and nails, the list goes on and on. If you didn’t make at least three trips to the local hardware store, you probably didn’t get that project done right.
Jesus explained a lot of things to the twelve men that He chose to be His disciples and His closest friends about His pending death and resurrection so that they wouldn’t fall away from Him through it all. After they fully affirmed their belief in Him, Jesus said:
“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.”
If Jesus has overcome the world, if He has truly been given the name above every name, if everything has been placed under His authority, then why does He allow trouble to continue? Why does He promise us His peace in the midst of trouble instead of just fixing everything for us?
I won’t claim to fully know and understand the answer to this, but God has passed along to us historical records of what He has done in the past to use the troubles of this world for our ultimate good. God reveals things not just by His written word, but also by the natural world around us.
Think about it. I’ve seen more things radically transformed by fire than by being gently handled with white gloves. I’ve been far more amazed by things that are fabricated by grinders, lathes, and welders than by blocks of metal carefully stored away and well preserved, untouched by tooling. Tourists flock from around the world to see rock formations ground away by wind and water erosion, but could care less about the same type of rock hidden away underground well preserved for centuries.
Jesus has a divine plan and purpose even for the troubles of life. It’s in the fires and pain and pressure of life that He radically transforms us from little more than dirt into priceless diamonds. God is often far more concerned about who we are and what happens in us than merely what happens to us.
This morning, I felt that God wanted to remind us that He calls us all to be not only mere men, but men of Godly character. Character is the stuff that we’re made of. It is the attributes that define who we are.
Are we lazy or hard-working? Are we dependable or unreliable? Are we honest or untrustworthy?
The greatest and most beneficial character that we could possess is that which mirrors our Heavenly Father’s character. He is faithful and honest. He is good and just. He extends mercy and administers justice perfectly. He walks in the purest of integrity. He always trusts, always perseveres, always hopes. He is unfailing; He will never let you down! He knows when to go ahead of us and to fight our battles for us and when to stand beside us giving us the strength to fight and overcome ourselves.
God cares deeply enough for us to pursue us and to settle for nothing less than our full potential. He sees us both as we are as well as who we were created to be. The fact that we all draw another breath here this morning is evidence that God isn’t finished with us yet and still has a great work to do in us and through us.
God uses the pressures and troubles of this life to do two things simultaneously. He reveals our character and He shapes our character. At the same time, God reveals our character and shapes our character.
He brought Israel out of the frying pan and into the fire when He brought them out of Egyptian slavery and directly between the Egyptian army, the Red Sea, and the mountainous terrain of Migdol. Through that intense pressure and the imminent expectation of death, God revealed Israel’s lack of trust in God as they began to grumble and complain about being delivered from Egypt just to die in the desert. God then also simultaneously forged within them a steadfast trust in Him as He parted the Red Sea and had His angel hold off the Egyptian army swiftly approaching them. God allowed them to pass through the sea on dry ground and used the same sea to drown and destroy the Egyptian army.
He literally brought Daniel’s friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into the fire as they refused to bow down and worship anyone but the one, true God. They confessed “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Do we possess the faithfulness and steadfastness that these men do? If our lives were on the line, would we stand firmly on God’s side, or do we give Him up for things far less valuable? I love their confession of faith, “Our God is able to delivery us, but even if He does not…” Do we trust God this much? We have fullness of faith that He is able, but even if He does not, we will still worship Him? Their character was revealed and shaped through the fiery furnace and, of course, God did personally walk with them and deliver them in the middle of the flames. What is our response when we consider, “Even if God does not…”?
Job was put to this same test by Satan, himself. He went from being the greatest man in the eastern world to having everything stripped away from him, but his life, itself. Most of us would have questioned and maybe even cursed or rejected God and yet Job’s character was revealed and shaped through his chosen response.
20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.”
22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
David is anointed as the next king of Israel by Samuel, but spends decades running away for his life from Saul, the current king of Israel. Most of us would have agreed with their friends and chose to end Saul’s life and take our God-given right to the throne. David’s character, however, was revealed and shaped as he refused time and time again to speak or act against the Lord’s chosen authority and spared the life of the man set to take his.
Joseph was given two dreams that revealed that his brothers and parents would bow down to him as he reigned over them. His brothers threw him in a cistern. God ensured that it was empty of water to spare his life. His brothers left him for dead, however, God sent along a caravan of Ishmaelite’s while they were eating to whom they sold their brother to for twenty shekels.
God used this caravan to take Joseph to Egypt. In Egypt, a wealthy man named Potiphar bought Joseph and eventually entrusted everything in his household, aside from his wife, to Joseph. Potiphar’s wife tried and failed several times to seduce Joseph. She gave a false testimony that Joseph tried to take advantage of her and so Joseph was thrown in jail. In jail, the warden eventually put the entire prison under Joseph’s care.
God gave Joseph the interpretation of dreams that the cupbearer and baker of Egypt’s king had while spending time in jail. The cupbearer was restored to his position to the king and forgot about Joseph. Sometime later, the king of Egypt had a dream which reminded the cupbearer of Joseph. Joseph interpreted the dream and was promoted as second in command of all of Egypt. Through famine and lack, God brought Joseph’s family to Egypt and eventually reunited his family.
Joseph’s character was revealed and shaped through many, many hardships all through his life. However, the climax of tests came when their father passed away and Joseph was in a position to pay back his brothers for all of the pain that they put him through. Joseph’s response?
19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.
God used trouble to bring Joseph and His family into incredible abundance and blessing and to spare them from the coming famine. Over and over again, God blessed Joseph because of his chosen responses to hardship and trials. Joseph turned a jail into a palace, a pit into a launching pad, a nation of people rebellious to God as a conduit to richly bless God’s people and move them one step closer to their promised land.
I could go on and on and on quoting the history of how God uses the troubles of life to reveal and to shape the character of men seeking after Him. Sometimes those troubles lasted a moment, other times they lasted for decades. God, however, always has been, is, and forever will be faithful to fulfill His word and His promises. He will always be with us and for us. He will always love us enough not to leave us as we are, but to push us toward our full potential. Paul reminded us of this same truth that Joseph came to understand about our God:
Romans 8:28 (NKJV)
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
He is the potter and we are the clay. The question becomes, “What kind of clay are we?” When put to the test, do we look into God’s mirror to see who we truly are now and then allow God to shape us into a better man? Do we go running to God in times of trouble and trial and tribulation?
Unfortunately, we have far too may “Gingers” in the church today. No, I’m not referring to redheads. “Gingers”, you know, gingerbread men. When things get tough, when the pressure is on, when the troubles of life are hitting hard, they run away. They run, run as fast as they can to:
– Entertainment (TV, video games, movies, books, etc.)
– Other relationships
– To any short-term relief from the troubles of life, but not to God!
The old fable rings true:
Run, run as fast as you can
But your problems will catch up with you, Gingerbread Man
When we’re tempted to run away from our problems, our enemy will be sure to give us something to run to that will keep us away from God. It might not be something immoral in and of itself, but if we’re running to it instead of to God, it becomes an idol for us. Sin is crouching and desires to have us and in these very moments when we’re tempted to run away from our troubles in when it pounces on us and devours us! Cain experienced exactly this, he had disappointed God and the pressure was on.
6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
When the pressures and troubles of life come our way, we should run. However, we should run to God and away from sin. After all, He alone knows why He is permitting them in our lives. He alone knows the good that He is going to work these things together to form. He alone sees the changes that He is trying to make in our lives. He alone, the potter, knows who He is forming us, the clay to be; men of Godly character.
Through the pressures and troubles of life, God is shaping and forming us to be better, stronger men. God lead Jeremiah to send a letter to all of the people who had been forcibly exiled from their homes into the hands of their enemies; understandably a troubled season of life!
In closing, I want us to imagine that God is writing this letter to us as well, those who sometimes feel alone, abandoned, and confused about why God is allowing these troubles in our lives. I’ll paraphrase some parts for time’s and application’s sake.
4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those in times of trouble: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of wherever you find yourself. Pray to the Lord for that place, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” 8 Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let others deceive you. Do not listen to the people who say what you want to hear. 9 They are lying to you. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.
10 This is what the Lord says: “When your season of trouble is over, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to where you are supposed to be. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you out of your troubles. I will gather you from all the places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place where you are supposed to be.”
Basically, God is reminding us this morning that His purpose in seasons of pressure and troubles is to reveal and shape our character until we are the men of Godly character that He sees us to be capable of. He calls us to make the most of whatever circumstances we find ourselves in; to keep pushing forward. He calls us to blossom where we’re planted.
He calls us to be bless others, even our own enemies causing our troubles. He reminds us that His plans are to prosper and not to harm us, to give us a hope and a future. The key to all of this? To seek Him with all our heart; to trust Him fully and rely not on our own understanding; to allow Him to form and mold us and not to harden ourselves against Him.
This morning, if you find yourself questioning what God is doing, if you can’t make sense of the troubles that you’re facing in life, there are plenty of men here to remind you that you’re not alone in your battles!
I’d like to invite everyone to come forward and to form a few small groups. This is a time for healing and a time to meet with God. We’re here for to pray for each other and to encourage each other to become the men of Godly character that He is shaping us to be in the midst of these troubles. Share with your group what you might be going through and let’s pray for one another and encourage one another in the Lord.