Psalm 1:3 mentions a tree that is planted by the waterside, that is not easily moved even when hard times come. Actually, there’s an old song based on the strength and standing of this tree. It says, “I shall not, I shall not be moved. I shall not, I shall not be moved. Just like a tree planted by the water side, I shall not be moved.”
Yes, the seashore tree is often buffeted by winds and waves from the sea, but it is able, as the Psalmist says, to withstand them and bear fruit each season without fail. The secret lies in the fact that the tree has developed resistance and strength to face the next sea wave or strong wind that may assail it. These seasonal trials cause its root system to mature and become firm as they go deeper and deeper into the ground. In my quest to understand how the roots of such a tree work, I came across this explanation:
Tree roots anchor the tree in the soil, keeping it straight and stable, and absorb water from the soil. Tree roots also take nutrients and chemicals out of the soil and use them to produce what they need for the tree’s growth, development, and repair” (Retrieved on 8/27/07 from http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/nvswcd/newsletter/treeroots.htm)
The tree that the Psalmist makes reference to is one that has matured to deal with the process of adversity. It exemplifies the life of a Christian who has learned to “delight in doing everything the Lord wants” (v. 2) and has disciplined himself/herself in the meditation of God’s Word. The strength and support that a believer draws from the Lord and from the fellowship of other believers enables him/her to navigate through their adversities.
Recently, I taught a Sunday school class on the topic, Growing through Adversity. This was part of a series of lessons from Jerry Bridges’ book, Trusting God when Life Hurts. I began my preparation by looking up the meaning of adversity. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines adversity as a state, condition, or instance of serious or continued difficulty.
Are you going through adversity in your life right now? Have you or someone you know encountered some seemingly catastrophic event? Are you enduring a season of pain that has no apparent conclusion? The words of the book of James, which I memorized when I was in Bible College, always bring consolation and perspective to me in the midst of adversity. I would encourage you to memorize them if you are going through a trying time right now, or in preparation for difficulties that Scripture says are inevitable. James offers these words of encouragement in Chapter 1 verses 1 through 4:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
One of our human failings is to seek to explain tragedy and difficulty in easily packaged, and sometimes not biblically thought-through, terms. Consequently, we expect, even demand, that God direct events in a manner that suits our definition of blessing without praying for His will to be done. Yet Scripture assures us that our senses may not grasp the reason or understand the season of our suffering.
God speaking through Isaiah 55:8-9 reminds us that our minds are finite and cannot comprehend the ways and workings of our infinite, holy and loving Heavenly Father. We should be watchful and alert during our prolonged periods of adversity. It is particularly at such times that Satan will tempt us to doubt God’s love. We must, as Jerry Bridges advises in his book, resist him and his attempt to cause us to lapse into hard feelings towards God. Here’s the full rendering of Mr. Bridges thought:
When we are in the midst of adversity and, as it frequently seems to happen, calamity after calamity seems to be surging in upon us, we will be tempted to doubt God’s love. Not only do we struggle with our own doubts, but Satan seizes these occasions to whisper accusations against God, such as, “If He loved you, He wouldn’t have allowed this to happen.” My own experience suggests that Satan attacks us far more in the area of God’s love than either His sovereignty or His wisdom.
There are a number of things we can do in order to learn from adversity and receive the benefits that God has in store for us. Jerry Bridges highlights three. First, we must submit to it voluntarily i.e. as a patient on the operating table submits to the skilled hand of the surgeon as he wields his scalpel. We must always remember that God is the Master Surgeon, who wants us to be conformed into the image of His Son Jesus Christ. He does this by cutting away anything that is not in line with His will. Jerry Bridges continues:
God uses adversities to develop the spiritual “muscle system” of our lives. We can be sure that the development of a beautiful Christ-like character will not occur in our lives without adversities.
Second, to enhance our learning experience during adversity we must bring the Word of God to bear upon the situation. It was Martin Luther, the Father of Protestant Reformation, who once said, “Were it not for tribulation I should not understand the Scriptures.” The revealed Word of God makes it possible for us to interpret our adversity rightly.
Third, in order to profit from our adversities we must remember them and the lessons we learned from them. For instance, I waited 15 months for my visa to be issued by the US government. Of course I had times of doubt and wondered about the delay and at the same time asked myself, “What lesson is the Lord trying to teach me?” But never once did I doubt God’s love and His will for my life. In retrospect, I learned to trust God and realized He is never late, His timing is perfect. I also pondered anew on God’s Word, refreshing and encouraging myself with it, while seeking my Father’s face.
In a previous study, Jerry Bridges wrote about God’s ways and man’s inability to comprehend them. At the same time, he stressed the importance of surrendering ourselves to God’s will. He said “God’s ways, being the ways of infinite wisdom, simply cannot be comprehended by finite minds. Our response should therefore be: ‘God I do not have to understand. I will just TRUST you.’” [Emphasis added]
So if, indeed, we grow in our moments of adversity, in what areas does that manifest? Jerry Bridges provides a list of seven areas where we experience spiritual growth. I will simply list them and let you read some more on them in Jerry’s book. When God allows adversity in our lives, He has the following in mind:
- The Fellowship of Suffering
- Relationship with God