WHEN THINGS DON’T PAN OUT: TIME FOR IMPROVEMENT

We all like to have things our way. It’s a natural and normal thing that comes with being human. It’s not necessarily the best, safest, or healthiest thing for us. God has a better way. His way. But sometimes people just can’t tell us differently or convince us otherwise: our way is the best way! It’s this stubborn, inextinguishable belief that’s a huge part of the reason why we like having our way.

As you know full well by now,  things don’t always go the way we planned. It’s a real downer and a source of frustration, disappointment, anger, and tears. But that’s life. And we find a way to go on.

But when things don’t pan out the way God said they would, then that becomes a really really difficult thing for me. I’m a believer. I take God at His Word. When He makes me a promise and I take Him up on that promise, I fully expect Him to do what He said He would do. And when He doesn’t, I go through a serious time of reflection and questioning. Is God’s Word true or not? Of course it is, silly! Then why didn’t it work?

I like to have answers. Sometimes the answers are easy. Sometimes hard to fathom or digest. Sometimes there aren’t any answers. At least, not right now. Maybe down the road. Maybe never. But whether I understand the reasons or not, I’m still a believer. God expects me to continue believing Him. Continue serving Him. Continue praising Him. And since I’m a preacher, God expects me to continue preaching the Word of truth and life.

Thanks for giving me a few moments of your time. Allow me to share with you some of the things God showed me recently  about the troubles we go through from time to time.

IT’S SOUL-IMPROVEMENT TIME

When things don’t pan out the way we thought they would, sometimes it’s a matter of chastening. Nothing’s working out right because God’s chastening us and trying to call our attention to the fact that we need to repent and get things right. Sometimes, the law of reaping and sowing is taking effect and we’re suffering the bad effects or results of the bad things that we’ve done.

Sometimes we haven’t done anything wrong and things still go wrong. You’re doing all the right things. You’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. You haven’t messed up or misbehaved. Why is this happening to me, God? What the heck is going on?

If you really want to know, grab yourself a seat and sit down because this answer is gonna blow you away. Things are falling apart on you and going wrong because you haven’t done anything wrong! A genuine trial is in progress. What is a trial? A trial is a set of troubles or sufferings that God is using to build Christian character in you. It doesn’t mean you sinned or did something wrong. It simply means God wants to make you a better Christian. There’s always room for improvement. And that’s what a trial is. It’s what I call a soul-improvement time or opportunity.

James 1:2-4 puts it this way, Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  (3)  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  (4)  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

You see, trials have this purpose in mind: to make you a mature Christian and complete, not lacking anything. Complete? What does that mean? It means God made us Christians to have a whole bunch of things. Virtues. Character traits. The fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 contain a lot of these character traits. They’re important because they’re what Christians are supposed to be. We’re not supposed to be the heathens that we were before we got saved. Being a Christian is a transformation process—a type of personality change—where we become like Jesus. In fact, that’s one goal of the Christian life: we’re supposed to grow and get better and better until we become like Jesus.  He Himself told us in Luke 6:40, Students are not greater than their teacher. But the student who is fully trained will become like the teacher. Jesus, brethren, wants us to become just like Him. This takes a lifetime of growth and learning. And trials are a crucial part of this transformation process.

When things aren’t working out the way they’re supposed to, get alone with God. Ask Him what’s going on. Did you do something wrong? Is He chastening you? What is He trying to teach you? If you haven’t done anything wrong and God hasn’t shown you anything wrong, chances are, God’s allowing these troubles in your life to improve you and make you a better Christian.

There are three things that you need to know about trials. (1) The first thing you need to know is God generally works on one thing at a time. Sometimes He picks your faith and goes to work on that: He uses your trial to teach you to trust Him and keep on trusting Him no matter what happens. Sometimes He singles out your anger and gives you a chance—not to be angry like usual, but a chance to not be angry and instead do the Christian thing and be nice, be kind, be sympathetic and understanding. Sometimes He picks on your patience. It seems to be in rather short supply lately, so He gives you lots of delays in traffic and people who move intolerably slow. You’re tempted to get frustrated and impatient. But the thing that you’ve got to remember is God put these slow-moving people and circumstances deliberately in your way so that you’ll use this opportunity to become patient. Do you see what I mean? A trial focuses on one thing at a time.

When things are going really troublesome for you, instead of blowing up right away and getting exasperated with God and people, take a deep breath, calm down, and ask God what good work He’s trying to do in you today. He’ll let you know if you don’t already know. Then cooperate with Him. Let God do that work of self-improvement in you.

And this brings me to the second thing you need to know about trials. (2) A trial doesn’t end until God finishes what He sets out to do in you. If you cooperate and make the change that God’s looking for, the trial ends quickly. Resist God’s work and the trial drags on. And on. And on. Friends, the trial will end when you’ve changed and improved. God works incrementally. He doesn’t expect 100% on the first go-round. Maturity and growth take time. It’s incremental. You don’t have to be perfect and be a complete angel before the trial gets done. If God sets out to do a 5% improvement in your compassion, that’s when the trial will end—when you’re 5% more compassionate than before. Do you see what I mean? A trial is designed to do one special thing and accomplish one special goal. And when you’ve accomplished God’s goal, that’s when the trial ends. So if the trial is still in progress, if it’s dragging on and on, it’s because God’s purposes haven’t been accomplished yet: you’ve still got some changing and improving to do.

And this brings me to the third and final thing you need to know about trials. (3) Every trial you go through will eventually come to an end. Sooner or later, you’ll fall in line with God’s plan, you’ll make the change, because you want the trial to end. God promised you your trial would end. He said, You will get it. You’ll have what you prayed for. So matter how painful or frustrating the trial may be, endure it with rejoicing just like James 1:2 tells you because you know the trial will eventually end one of these days. God gave you a promise and He will not lie. Believe and obey. And you’ll see God’s promise come true.

So what do you do when life doesn’t pan out and things just aren’t improving or getting any better? Ask God and learn what He’s wanting to do in your life—what areas of your personality, thoughts, or life He’s wanting to change or improve. Concentrate on making the change. The sooner you change, the sooner things pan out just the way God said they would. God bless you with His grace and ever-loving presence.

PRINCIPLES OF CHANGE: PROFITING FROM OUR SUFFERINGS PART 1

INTRODUCTION

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS MEANT TO BE A LIFE-CHANGING EXPERIENCE. Romans 8:29 tells us that we were predestinated—that is, long before we were even conceived or born, God chose us to be His children. And when He chose us to be His children He decided that we all should look like Christ. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.

Jesus, in essence, tells us the same thing in Matthew 10:24-25, The disciple is not above his master, neither the servant above his lord. {25} It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord.

In other words, the Christian life is all about growing and becoming more and more like Christ. THE LONGER WE LIVE THE MORE WE SHOULD BECOME LIKE CHRIST.

God, brethren, doesn’t want us to be the same ole person we’ve always been. Several months or years from now we’re not supposed to be the same person that we are today. I pray that all of us here today can honestly say that many areas of our life have been changed in the years since we first became a Christian.

Chances are, however, there are still one, two, or a handful of areas in our Christian life that have defied change. I’m talking about the nagging habits, the addictions, weaknesses, flaws, imperfections, the sin that we’ve kept hidden in the deepest, darkest recesses of our heart, that have heretofore dodged our half-hearted efforts at self-remediation or improvement. Even after all these years, there are still some aspects of our mindset, personality, emotions, behavior, lifestyle, and conduct that have remained unchanged.

So how do we change something that we don’t want to change? We love the sin too much to give it up. And we’ve got no intention of giving it up.

If we will not change, God will force change upon us. He has to—we’ve forced Him to—because we’re His children and He’s not gonna let sin destroy and damn us. If we will not help ourselves, God will help us. It won’t be pleasant or pretty. It’s gonna involve a lot of pain and suffering. But it works. Suffering has a way of changing us. It changes our mind and gives us a different, truer perspective of things.

Let’s look at how sufferings changed a guy who was remarkably very much like you and me.

THE LAW OF SOWING AND REAPING

There are different reasons for suffering. One of these is the law of sowing and reaping.

Now the law of sowing and reaping is this. WHATEVER YOU DO—WHETHER GOOD OR BAD—HAS CONSEQUENCES. AND YOU WILL EITHER SUFFER, OR ELSE ENJOY, THE CONSEQUENCES OF YOUR ACTIONS AND DECISIONS.

Galatians 6:7-8 warns us, Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. {8} For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.

When you make the wrong decisions and do things that are wrong–you may not think you’re wrong, but you are in God’s sight; God is gonna let you suffer the natural consequences of your actions and decisions.

For example, if you decide to break into your neighbor’s house and steal a humongous diamond that they’ve hidden in a tin can; and you end up getting caught; then you going to jail isn’t God’s chastisement. It’s a matter of you doing time for the crime. It’s the law of sowing and reaping.

Now there are many different ways you can respond to your sufferings. You can get mad. Get bitter. Get even. Get delusional and proclaim your innocence. But none of these responses do you any good.

The only really good thing that can come out of your sufferings is if you choose to humble yourself, admit you’re wrong, and learn from your mistake. You can use your sufferings to change you and change your mind about sin.

Let’s look at how a young man who made a lot of terrible mistakes was able to turn his life around by profiting from his sufferings and doing the right thing. Generally speaking, YOUR LIFE AND YOUR LIFE’S CIRCUMSTANCES WON’T START TO CHANGE AND IMPROVE UNTIL YOU HEAD IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION AND START DOING THE RIGHT THING.

THE PRODIGAL SON

There once was a man who had two sons. The younger of these sons decided that he had had enough of the old homestead and farming as a way of life. He wanted to go out on his own, see the world, and get a taste of the good life that he felt he was missing by staying at home. So he went to his dad and asked for his share of the estate and inheritance (Luke 15:12).

Hebrews 11:25 tells us that the pleasures of sin are only for a season. They’re temporary and short lived. They don’t last forever.  The good times last as long as you’ve got money. And as long as you’re healthy enough to enjoy your sins. But when you run out of money, or when you get sick, you just can’t enjoy the pleasures of sin anymore—you’re too busy suffering and being miserable.

And that’s exactly what happened to the prodigal son. The bad times came and the young man was forced to live in a very different set of circumstances. He was basically worse off than he ever was, living at home.

Luke 15:13-16 chronicles the young man’s misfortunes:  A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living.  (14)  About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve.  (15)  He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs.  (16)  The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.

PAIN AND SUFFERING HAVE A WAY OF WAKING US UP. THEY GIVE US A LOT OF TIME TO STOP AND THINK THINGS THROUGH. To analyze. Reflect. Examine our self. SUFFERING HAS A WAY OF MAKING US SEE THINGS FROM A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE. THEY MAKE US SEE THINGS WE NEVER SAW BEFORE. THEY GIVE US PERFECT VISION AND ENABLE US TO THINK CLEARLY ONCE AGAIN.

And this is precisely what the young man’s misfortunes did for him. When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! (18)  I will go home to my father and say, Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you,  (19)  and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant (Luke 15:17-19).

Of course, it takes a lot of humility and courage to admit you were wrong. You’re gonna have to swallow your pride, head back home, and apologize to your dad. But when you’re hungry and hurting, with no other options left; you do whatever you have to do to get out of your mess and return to some semblance of what your life used to be. The prodigal son had not only learned from his mistakes: he swallowed his pride, humbled himself, went home, and made things right with his dad.

Do you know what it was that brought this stubborn, selfish, self-willed, sin-loving man to his knees? Do you know what it took for him to wake up and do the right thing? The sufferings that he went through. THE LAW OF SOWING AND REAPING WILL CHANGE YOU FOR THE BETTER…IF YOU LET IT.

SUFFERING DRIVES US BACK TO GOD. It causes us to admit how so much we need God back in our life. We’re lost and undone without Christ. We can’t make it in life without Him.

SIN DOESN’T PAY. IT DOESN’T GIVE US A LIFE. IN FACT, SIN TAKES OUR LIFE AWAY.

Only God can give us life. Only He can fill our life with meaning, peace, joy, and fulfillment.

Unfortunately, we don’t know that—at least, we don’t admit or accept that—when we’re too gung ho on having our own sinful, selfish way.

But, like I said, SUFFERING HAS A WAY OF GETTING US TO SEE THINGS CLEARLY, TO THINK CLEARLY. AND IT HAS A WAY OF GETTING US TO CHANGE OUR MIND ABOUT SIN. THAT’S WHAT SUFFERING IS SUPPOSED TO DO–GET US TO CHANGE  OUR MIND ABOUT SIN.

So if you’re tired of suffering and want to be done with the heartaches and sufferings of sin, come back to God, get down on your knees, tell Him you’re sorry, and ask Him to forgive you. God’s waiting for you. You might think He’s mad at you and doesn’t want any part of you. But you’re so totally wrong! God sooo loves you still and He waiting for you to come back home to Him.

I pray these verses of Scripture will lead you back to God. Psalm 103:8-18 gives us a true picture of God’s heart and love for you. The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.  (9)  He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever.  (10)  He does not punish us for all our sins; He does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.  (11)  For His unfailing love toward those who fear Him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.  (12)  He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.  (13)  The Lord is like a father to His children, tender and compassionate to those who fear Him.  (14)  For He knows how weak we are; He remembers we are only dust.  (15)  Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die.  (16)  The wind blows, and we are gone—as though we had never been here.  (17)  But the love of the Lord remains forever with those who fear Him. His salvation extends to the children’s children  (18)  of those who are faithful to His covenant, of those who obey His commandments!

God is a gracious, longsuffering God. He will hear you, forgive you, and receive you. He will bring the suffering to an end. And you will get your second chance to do things His way. Brethren, learn from your mistakes. Don’t suffer in vain! Let your sufferings do something good for you. Let them change you and make you a better Christian. God bless you mightily! See you at home.