The cold rain pelted us; the rushing river was already full and continued to rise as we huddled on the bank trying to stay warm.
All 13 of us moved together like penguins, stamping our feet and trying to generate as much warmth as we could for one another. We made constant adjustments to the black tarps we had wrapped around us to block the wind.
Making eye contact with Joel, my co-instructor, we slipped out of our slight shelter and into the elements to discuss a plan. We needed to find a good campsite away from the rising river. The high bank across the river seemed our best option. Over the next several hours, our group ferried across the river, dragged the canoes up the bank, carried them deep into the woods, set up shelter, and got a fire started with dry wood from a fallen tree. Huddled around the fire that night during a brief respite in the rain, we discussed the reality of the adversity we were facing and its effect on us. Some felt defeated, others optimistic, but overall a heightened tension permeated our beings. Could we endure eight more days like this?
In the midst of adversity, affliction, and pain, everything in us aches for relief and comfort. In moments like the one described above or like the current pandemic we are facing, we glance longingly at the clouds hoping to see blue sky, searching for anything that might give us hope that this adversity might end soon.
In our everyday lives, we seek the comfort of a warm home for safety, food to satisfy our hunger, and relationships to enable us to feel valued and loved. We do not usually choose or willingly enter into difficult situations, but let’s face it, no matter how much we seek to avoid painful and adverse circumstances, they are part of our human existence, a consequence of the fall in Eden.
In Genesis 3:14-19, we read of the enmity that exists between humans and Satan, the pain endured in childbearing, the grief and conflict that will arise in our relationships with one another, and the painful toil of work.
So, since we know that adversity, toil, and pain are inevitable, why do we spend so much time avoiding and running from them?
Part of the reason is that we are ill equipped to know how to handle such difficulty, and therefore, seek relief from things that will not satisfy. Like the author of Ecclesiastes, we discover sooner or later that this searching for pleasure and comfort to satisfy us is meaningless! Jesus tells us in John 10:10, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
Taken out of context, this looks like exactly what we want, a promised life of prosperity and ease. But, look more closely; this passage appears in the context of sheep facing the reality that thieves, robbers, and wolves constantly threaten. Their only hope of a full life is dependent on the “good shepherd laying down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).
Additionally, James commands in chapter 1:2-3 to “consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” James doesn’t say if you face trials; he declares that when we face trials, we are to consider it joy. The truth hidden in these verses does not suggest we enjoy the trial itself, but we consider it joy that we have the opportunity to encounter testing, knowing the outcome will produce perseverance and ultimately transformation.
Paul agreed and affirmed this truth as he sought to strengthen and encourage the disciples of the churches in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch saying, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). The assumption, even the command, throughout scripture is that we will encounter adversity, hardship, and struggle in our lives. More than likely we will also find ourselves questioning how much more we can endure.
Yet that question is what leads us to the end of our human resources. We admit our insufficiency, and opting for deep trust and surrender, we profoundly experience God’s love for us. As Paul says in Romans 8:35 & 37,
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
It is for these reasons that we, as believers, are called to adversity.
We need risk, discomfort, and ambiguity to disrupt our lives to truly undergo transformation.
Through adversity we receive an invitation into deeper trust and surrender. God invited the students on that trip to depend on Him fully just as He is inviting us now, in the midst of isolation from a pandemic we did not choose, to allow this adversity to transform us and lead us into a deeper, more integrated life in Christ.
The weather did not let up that night; in fact, the storm brought with it a relentless fury that pounded us as we slept. We awoke to a swollen river and the need to step into even greater adversity over the course of the following eight days. Some of our participants have summarized this call to adversity so well:
“Adversity, being any challenge which disrupts the comfort of one’s walk of life, causes a perspective shift…There probably comes a point when I can no longer rely on myself, but turn to Christ’s guidance and provision.”
“Adversity gives us opportunity to grow because the goal seems set just beyond our capability. It’s finding yourself in a set of circumstances more difficult than any you’ve encountered before. The choice is simple – stay in the same place as before or press into the adversity and develop new muscles…Adversity is an invitation into a richer, deeper life.”
The Apostle Peter confirms these truths when he says, “…though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7).
Questions for reflection:
Do you agree that you are called to adversity as a follower of Christ? Why or why not?
Based on truth from Scripture, how might God be inviting you to be transformed and to engage a deeper trust relationship with Him through the current pandemic?
Have you found yourself living a life of comfort? In what ways might God be inviting you to receive or accept adversity in order to grow?