Training Session 31: The Gift of Adversity Part 2
To see adversity as a gift that can take you to new places if you choose faith in Christ
Phil. 4:12-13; 2 Cor. 12:8-10; John 16:33
Last week, we saw how adversity, when coupled with faith, offers each of us a gift, the gift of guaranteed character formation. Adversity, however, does more than simply shape our character, it shapes our journey. This week, we’ll explore how adversity takes us to new places in our journey.
Principle #2: Adversity’s Gift of New Places
The University of Virginia men’s basketball team suffered, arguably, the worst loss in sporting history in 2018. UVA entered the tournament ranked number one in the nation, boasting both a #1 seed in their bracket and the #1 overall seed for the tournament. Never, in 135 previous attempts, had Cinderella found a way around the midnight reckoning of facing a #1 seed. Never, that is, until one fateful day in March when little ‘ol UMBC danced all over UVA. As UVA’s track record of high seeds and early exits grew, the pundits pounced on Coach Bennett and the Cavaliers, confident that the defensive-minded Cavs would never climb the mountain that is the Final Four.
With a broken, hopeful heart, Bennett faced the piranha-like reporters and quietly stated the truth that would guide his team in the years to come, “If you learn to use it right, the adversity, it will buy you a ticket to a place you couldn’t have gone any other way.” If. There is that if again. It’s a big if. But if we learn to use it right, adversity will buy us a ticket to a place we otherwise couldn’t have gone. Bennett repeated this over and over again to his team, to the press, and to anyone who would listen in the months to come–adversity could punch their ticket to a new place. If.
If you are a basketball fan, then you know Coach Bennett and the Cavaliers won the national championship in 2019. Never before had UVA faced the level of adversity they faced, and never before had they been National Champions in basketball. Bennett described the loss to UMBC as a “painful gift,” for that is exactly what adversity is. A painful gift.
So painful, in fact, that it sparked in him and his team a new, competitive fire to succeed at a level they never had before, but even more important, according to Bennett, adversity taught them that if they never reached that desired place, “I’m still OK. Because we were praised at the highest level last year…and it was enjoyable. And then, after losing, we were criticized at the highest level.” That’s the place adversity can take us to if we learn to use it right, to a place that says, “I’m OK if I am more successful in the eyes of the world than I ever thought possible, and I’m OK if I fail miserably in the eyes of the world.”
Few have punched that ticket, but Paul did. He said, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every circumstance” (Phil. 4:12). Whether being praised at the highest level or being criticized at the highest level. Whether getting a job promotion or getting fired. Paul learned the secret of contentment, of what Tony Bennett called being OK. Where? Where did Paul learn it? From adversity.
Paul was no stranger to adversity. He was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, snake-bitten, arrested, imprisoned, blinded with scales, and more. Each time, he watched adversity create room for God’s power to be made perfect in his weakness. Adversity simply made more space for the presence and power of God to take him to new places, places where he got to see unreached people groups like the whole praetorian guard meet Jesus (Phil. 1). Adversity took Paul to a new place that wouldn’t have been high on his list of desired destinations, but it was in this new place that He got to see the power of God save an elite, unreachable fighting force.
Similarly, adversity struck again for Paul, this time taking him to prison once again. This new, old place would lead to the salvation of his jailors and their entire family (Acts 16:16-34). On and on we could go. Paul experienced time and again adversity’s power to take him to places he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, have otherwise gone. Simply put, adversity changes our itinerary for life!
Once we get this, we can, like Paul, begin to boast in adversity (i.e. our weaknesses) because we develop a sure and certain confidence that Christ’s power will be made perfect in our adversity, especially when the new destination is a place we never wanted to visit. Paul reached this new place in life, a place of supreme confidence in Christ, through the thorns of adversity. Using Tony Bennett’s language, God’s grace made Paul OK, whether the thorn was removed or not. Through adversity, Paul said he began to realize God’s grace was sufficient. It was enough (2 Cor. 12:9).
You’re probably thinking, “I’m not there yet. I’m not even close.” Be of good cheer, Paul’s secret of contentment is one he learned over time. He wasn’t born with it. It was a mystery to Him; it was an unknown destination, and it is to us as well. In fact, if Paul were alive today, he’d say to us, “Don’t get discouraged. I didn’t know the secret either, but I learned, through adversity, that all the stuff I used to see as valuable was really garbage compared to what I had in Christ (Phil. 3:8).”
Let’s make a few applications of this second principle that adversity takes you to new places. First, let me begin with one example from my life. My wife and I had five miscarriages. They all hurt, but none quite like the first. When the doctor told us there was no heartbeat, it hit us like a ton of bricks, and the bricks kept falling over the years. Our hurt grew as our longings grew. Over the years, we adopted and ended up having three healthy pregnancies. Along the way, we realized the scenery and the landscape had changed. Unintentionally, we had arrived in a new place, a place of mentoring couples who were struggling with miscarriages and struggles with pregnancy.
Honestly, the new place of ministry to couples with pregnancy-related challenges was not a place we would have chosen, but it’s one we cherish (now). As my good friend once said to me, “Stephen, God doesn’t waste suffering.” He’s right, you know. Our Father comforts us as we face adversity “so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” Thankfully, God doesn’t waste suffering, but He uses it to take us to new places of service to others and to him (2 Cor. 1:4).
One more example, this one from the world of business. Movement Mortgage exists because of adversity. The only reason Casey Crawford, the founder and CEO of Movement Mortgage, had the money to invest in launching a mortgage company was because he was pushed out of real estate, forcing him to sell (for a profit) just before the housing bubble of 2007 popped. He laughs about it (now), “I was pretty sure I’d been taken advantage of and been pushed out of those projects. Yet, had I remained I certainly would’ve been bankrupted,” which would have made starting Movement impossible. So the adversity of being pushed out of a deal took him to a new place in business.
Meanwhile, subprime loans began to fail, lenders began to file for bankruptcy, and corporate greed led the world to a new place. In light of this adversity, the gracious hand of God led Casey to start a company that would help make lending about loving God and loving neighbors. So, Casey and now 4,000 teammates are in a new place, a place that exists to love and value people by leading a movement of change in our industry, in other corporate cultures, and in local communities.
How did we get here? The gracious hand of God led us to new places, through adversity. On and on we could go with examples of the new places we’ve arrived at individually and collectively through the adversity we faced as a nation with George Floyd, COVID-19, and other challenges.
Admittedly, many of the new places will be undesirable destinations (from a worldly perspective). Adversity carried Jonah to the very place he didn’t want to be (Nineveh). Often, we land in what feels like a wilderness, like Moses, for a long, long time, but we’re moving to a new place, a place of promise. A place of being OK, come what may. A place of contentment, and that’s a place that is mysteriously hard to find in life. But it’s there. If. If we choose faith in Jesus Christ in the face of adversity.
Once again, we are parked at if. If we mix faith with adversity, new places, like contentment, become visible on the map. It’s like a map in Harry Potter that is completely empty to those who don’t know the spell, but to those who know how to unlock the secrets of the map with the wand of faith, all sorts of hidden destinations appear. The Bible’s version of the wand and spell in Harry Potter (the if of faith) centers around if we choose to actively put our faith in Jesus, who promises to carry us through adversity and use it for His purposes.
If you are in the middle of adversity right now, remember that Jesus will make good on His promise to take you to a new place through adversity. When you doubt, remember that the devil threw everything he had at Jesus, but Jesus trusted His Father to take him through the adversity of the cross and into a new place of Resurrection promise and power. Today, in light of His resurrection, Jesus looks at us and says, “In this world you will have trouble (i.e. adversity). But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Because he overcame adversity, we will too. If. If we take his heart by faith, and trust in His Resurrection power to take us to new places!
- What impacted you the most from the training session? Why?
- Read Phil. 4:12-13. How did the training session impact how this verse applies to handling adversity?
- Have you experienced adversity taking you to new places in life? If so, share an example.
- Read 2 Cor. 12:8-10. What new place did adversity take Paul to? Have you experienced something similar?
- Read John 16:33. Discuss how the adversity Jesus overcame is your hope for overcoming adversity.
GOING DEEPER (SUGGESTIONS BY AUTHOR & PASTOR TIM KELLER)
It’s hard to pick five so here are six.
Gerald Sittser’s A Grace Disguised.
Tim Keller’s Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering
Peter Kreeft’s Making Sense Out of Suffering
Philip Yancey’s Where is God When it Hurts
C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed
Kate Bowler’s Everything Happens for a Reason (and other lies I’ve loved)
If you feel like you’ve read everything on this topic and still aren’t satisfied, then wade through Eleonore Stump’s Wandering in Darkness.