The Blessing of Hard Times
In the day of prosperity be happy, but in the day of adversity consider— God has made the one as well as the other so that man will not discover anything that will be after him. – Ecclesiastes 7:14
I remember vividly lying in bed on the eve before my birthday. Tomorrow, at that time, I would turn 13. I would be a teenager. I couldn’t believe the day had finally arrived. It was a hot night in Arkansas, but it didn’t matter. I remember that night, unable to sleep from the excitement. It was also the night I recall one of the earliest times thinking a thought I would repeat over and over again throughout the coming years. It almost became my mantra, at least until I realized the futility of it. “No regrets! Joel, you’ve got one life to live, and this is it. No regrets!”
I recall thinking that years later, and then years later after that, again and again. By the time I arrived at college, that thought was still present, but reality had begun to set in. I had regrets. Too many to count. But, tomorrow was another day, and then, no more regrets!
Nope. I still had regrets.
Now, at age 51, I realize how silly such a thought was, going through life without regrets. I have more than I can possibly recount. I’m pretty sure you do as well.
The other night, my wife and I were reading the above passage in Ecclesiastes, and it really struck a chord with me. We’ve all had our share of disappointments in life, but we press on. This verse reminds me that God is in charge, He is sovereign, in good times and bad. Those regrets I wanted to avoid so badly were apparently all part of God’s plan.
It reminds me that we should consider why, given the revelation of His will in Scripture, God creates adversity and yes, causes regret in our lives in the first place. He does it for our sanctification and to increase our dependence on Him.
In Acts 14:22 we are reminded that it is “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” That preposition through describes the life of every Christian in every age. We must go through hardships. We must experience them. Hardships are the ballast of God’s prosperity in our lives. Without them, we would be sorely tempted to rest in our prosperity and the good times, perhaps even replacing God with them. God, being good, and in order to return us after going astray in our trust and dependence on Him, delivers us through hard times to the glory of His grace. In doing so, He removes the temptation to place our trust in anything we grow dependent upon outside of Himself.
All throughout Scripture, we read how God employs, then and now, even enemies of His Church to remove any hope we may have apart from Him alone. Consider the current gun-control debate. Behold the masses of people who continue to rush to purchase guns to protect them from evil (be it for self-defense from a tyrannical government or otherwise). I am all for the second amendment and gun ownership, but a society with even more guns will never be a better protection from evil than that same society returning to God’s law-word. In any case, is it not a valid question to ask if many are placing a hope and trust in guns which should be placed in our sovereign God? What if God in His providence takes our guns away to bring us back to trusting in Him?
Prosperity and adversity. We are told that God created them both and for a very specific reason as revealed in the passage at hand. Specifically, we are told that God created them both “so that” literally for the reason of, or for the cause that, “man will not discover anything after him.”
Simply put, it means that adversity as well as prosperity comes into our lives for the purpose of keeping us on our toes. So that we learn not to depend on anyone or anything too much. We make plans, they fall through, we start again, and through it all, over and over, we learn dependence on God, and learn not to depend on anything else, including what the future has in store for us while in this life.
What or who are you putting hope in? Are we giving thanks to God for His goodness in sending us through hard times? Do we acknowledge His sovereignty and wisdom in both good times and bad? Are we grateful? Or, are we stewing in years of regret?
I need to be reminded that whether prosperity or adversity, for those who love the Lord God, all things are a blessing and are working for our good (Romans 8:28). All things may not be good, but we must view them as working towards our good!
We are told elsewhere in Ecclesiastes that the end of a thing is better than the beginning (7:8). That is certainly true of the life of a Christian isn’t it? A life lived for God, rooted in Christ, a life that, although sporadically at times, is a life of increasing self-denial, of love, of pressing toward the upward call in Christ Jesus, surely is better at the end than at the beginning. In the beginning, we are perhaps unaware that God in His wise providence creates and has in store for us, both prosperity and hard times. However, by His grace, we learn soon enough that His wisdom in ordering all things, good and bad, are for our betterment, for our being conformed to the image of His Son.
I can live with that, and the truth itself shows me just what a blessing, in the end, that hard times and adversity, balancing out the good and prosperous times, truly is.
After all, He is making us perfect.