Abba Poemen said of Abba John the Dwarf that he had prayed God to take his passions away from him so that he might become free from care. He went and told an old man this: ‘I find myself in peace, without an enemy,’ he said.
The old man said to him, ‘Go, beseech God to stir up warfare so that you may regain the affliction and humility that you used to have, for it is by warfare that the soul makes progress.’ So, he besought God and when warfare came,
he no longer prayed that it might be taken away, but said, ‘Lord, give me strength for the fight.
~~~ Abba Poeman of the Desert
The popular cry is deliverance, but the old man gives us a different cry -‘Lord, give me strength for the fight.’ As difficult as it is, we must acknowledge that in our trials, salvation comes to our souls. Pop preachers and politicians tell us that all adversity will be taken away, and they have the formula for removing these obstacles from our lives. None of us wants to hear the message of endurance and strength. When such a message is proclaimed, we know that the problems of life must be faced, and we must walk in the valley from time to time. That is a very loathsome thought, but the resolve and fortitude we acquire through these times will carry us to new spiritual heights. The wise old man points in the direction of inner strength, a quality that can only be learned by walking in the valley. For amid our darkest times, our relationship and knowledge of God blossoms, and a vital relationship is created. Pray to God for this strength.
This strength comes when we learn to make adversity and suffering an avenue of growth and change. We never grow unless we change. There is a sad old pop culture myth that we can grow without changing. I was told long ago that the best way to market your new product was to make someone dissatisfied with their current product. That is what we are forced to do amid the adversity that we face in our churches, families and jobs. If we find ourselves praying for deliverance so that we do not have to change, we are missing the point. Perhaps this adverse situation is a wakeup call from God.
Some of the greatest and most productive changes I have made in my life have been a result of adverse times. We never change or alter our prayer life, worship pattern or close relationships until we hit a rough spot. Then we are reminded that our lives are not static, and we do not have all the answers. Isn’t that great? I do not have all the answers. That is such a freeing thought, and it causes us to look in new directions.
The first of these new directions is to look to other people with an open mind. Openness that says that someone else may have a better idea or way to accomplish what we are so desperately trying to do. Bill Gates of Microsoft fame wanted to develop a computer software that would eventually be called Basic. As he was in the early stage, he realized that it could not be done without some help from a previous computer, program and thus he reached and out and was flexible enough to admit that he did not have all the answers. As a result, his product succeeded and at age 31 he became the world’s youngest billionaire. The truth of that story is that Gates had to go through a time of trial and adversity and that looking to others was his way out.
The second of these new directions is to rethink how important God is in our everyday lives and decisions. We can go through life just giving God a nod on Sunday and perhaps here and there during the week. Sooner or later adversity comes in our lives and we can handle it two ways. The way many people handle adversity is to blame God and become bitter, This reaction makes us most miserable and quite hard to be around at times. The person who blames it all on God, and just as importantly, sees himself as the master of his own universe, lives a tormented and miserable life. We must turn to a greater belief and dependence on God in our time of adversity, and he will see us through the fight.
Remember that help in times of adversity radiates from your relationship with God and your neighbors.
LORD, Savior of every life, in following you we choose to love and never to harden our hearts. You wish us to know a Gospel joy. And when the depths of our being are covered by a dark cloud, one way forward remains open, the way of serene trust.