Sunday Morning Bible Study

May 11, 2003

Why is life difficult?

The shallowness of modern life.

We try hard to live a comfortable life. The questions we find ourselves asking can be things like,

“Where shall I go to lunch today?”
“Will the Lakers win the championship again?”
“Where should we go on vacation this year?”
“What shall I wear today?”

The book of Job on the other hand makes us extremely uncomfortable.  Some of us can get superstitious about the book, thinking that every time we read the book, bad things happen to us.  Others of us don’t like the book because it makes us ask some very difficult questions like, “If God loves me, why is there pain in my life?”

As I’ve been preparing to teach through Job, a notion has hit me that though the book of Job is uncomfortable, perhaps we’re supposed to be wrestling with these difficult questions.  I also have this idea that perhaps difficult times aren’t supposed to be things we try to avoid, but rather to embrace.
The book of Job is not a book for shallow people.  It’s a book about going deeper with God.

I want to start a three part series dealing with troubles or “trials”.  Next week I’ll be talking about surviving trials.  In two weeks I’ll be talking about how to help people who are going through trials.  This week I want to deal with the question of “Why”.  Why do we go through difficult times? – At this point in my life, I’ll suggest five answers…

1. Sometimes we’re being corrected

(Heb 12:5-11 KJV)  And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: {6} For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. {7} If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? {8} But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

God’s kids always get caught.  If you’ve done a stupid thing and you got caught, it’s because God loves you.

{9} Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? {10} For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. {11} Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.

Sometimes the difficult time we’re going through is a direct result of our own stupid actions.

If I’m speeding down the freeway and I get pulled over and receive a ticket, I shouldn’t get mad at the cop.

What I need to do is learn my lesson.

For some of you today, God has allowed you to go through a difficult time because He needs to get your attention.  He wants you to come home.

Jesus told a story about a young man who took his portion of the family inheritance, went off and spent it all on wild living.  It was while he was wallowing with the pigs that he finally came to his senses and realized that he needed to go home.  He needed to back to his Father.

But …

I can understand tough things happening to bad people, but why to tough things happen to good people?

Job is a prime example.  We’re told from the very beginning:

(Job 1:1 KJV)  There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed (turned from) evil.

Even though Job’s friends are going to try over and over to convince Job that his problems are really due to some secret sin, we know that from God’s perspective, Job is a good guy.  These problems aren’t happening because of some sort of judgment.  God Himself will repeat these things about Job not once, but twice (Job 1:8; 2:3).


Washing Hamsters

A young boy, about eight years old, was at the corner “Mom & Pop” grocery picking out a pretty good size box of laundry detergent. The grocer walked over, and, trying to be friendly, asked the boy if he had a lot of laundry to do.  “Oh, no laundry,” the boy said, “I’m going to wash my hamsters.” “But you shouldn’t use this to wash hamsters. It’s very powerful and if you wash your hamsters in this, they’ll get sick. In fact, it might even kill them.”  But the boy was not to be stopped and carried the detergent to the counter and paid for it, even as the grocer still tried to talk him out of washing the hamsters.  About a week later the boy was back in the store to buy some candy. The grocer asked the boy how his hamsters were doing. “Oh, they died,” the boy said.  The grocer, trying not to be an “I-told-you-so”, said he was sorry the hamsters died but added, “I tried to tell you not to use that detergent on your hamsters.”  “Well, the boy replied, “I don’t think it was the detergent that killed them.” “Oh?  What was it then?”  “Well, after I washed them, I had to dry them and I guess the dryer can get a little hot, not to mention the hurdles they had to do. But I must say they did come out without that static cling!!”

Frankly, sometimes we can identify with those hamsters.  We’ve been through one heck of a wash cycle and feel like we’re about to die on those hurdles in the dryer.  We wonder what in the world God is doing.  Can we trust God?  More answers …

2. Sometimes God is boasting on us

This is what happened to Job.

(Job 1:6-12 KJV)  Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them. {7} And the LORD said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. {8} And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? {9} Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought? {10} Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. {11} But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face. {12} And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.

Satan was then allowed to take Job through a horrible time, where he lost all his livestock and even worse, all his children were killed.

Yet God was correct.  Job didn’t curse God, instead he worshipped God.

Satan then challenged God once more and Satan was allowed to afflict Job’s body with disease, yet even then, God was still correct.

When Job’s wife was frustrated and told Job that he ought to just curse God, die, and get it all over with, Job refused:

(Job 2:10 KJV)  But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips.

Could it be that God is bragging on you?  Could it be that He thinks you’re up to it?


As the Union Pacific Railroad was being constructed, an elaborate trestle bridge was built across a large canyon in the West.  Wanting to test the bridge, the builder loaded a train with enough extra cars and equipment to double its normal payload.  The train was then driven to the middle of the bridge, where it stayed an entire day. One worker asked, “Are you trying to see if we can break this bridge?”

“No,” the builder replied, “I’m trying to prove that the bridge won’t break.”


Robert Chesebrough believed in his product.  He’s the fellow who invented Vaseline, a petroleum jelly refined from rod wax, the ooze that forms on shafts of oil rigs.  He so believed in the healing properties of his product that he became his own guinea pig.  He burned himself with acid and flame; he cut and scratched himself so often and so deeply that he bore the scars of his tests the rest of his life.  But he proved his product worked.  People had only to look at his wounds, now healed, to see the value of his work—and the extent of his belief.

-- Ralph Walker, Concord, North Carolina.  Leadership, Vol. 12, no. 1.

In a way, we are God’s hands.  He’s proving to the world that His product works.  He can show the world the scars on His hands.

Sometimes we have this idea that God must be angry with us, and that is why we’re going through tough times.  But what if we have it all wrong.  What if instead of being angry with us, God is actually very proud of us.

3. Sometimes we’re being refined

It’s not that we’re bad, it’s not that God’s boasting, but perhaps God wants to make us better.

(1 Pet 1:6-7 KJV)  Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: {7} That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:

God refines our faith like a goldsmith refines gold.  It’s my understanding that a goldsmith will heat the gold ore until it’s in a molten state.  As he keeps the heat on, the impurities all come to the surface.  The goldsmith will keep skimming off the impurities until the gold is pure.  He knows it’s pure when He can see His own reflection in the gold.


Charles Spurgeon said: I bear willing witness that I owe more to the fire, and the hammer, and the file, than to anything else in my Lord's workshop.  I sometimes question whether I have ever learned anything except through the rod.  When my schoolroom is darkened, I see most.


A ship, like a human being, moves best when it is slightly athwart the wind, when it has to keep its sails tight and attend to its course. Ships, like men, do poorly when the wind is directly behind, pushing them sloppily on their way so that no care is required in steering or in the management of sails; the wind seems favorable, for it blows in the direction one is heading, but actually it is destructive, because it induces a relaxation in tension and skill. What is needed is a wind slightly opposed to the ship, for then tension can be maintained, and juices can flow and ideas can germinate; for ships, like men, respond to challenge.

-- James Michener, Chesapeake


A young man had worked for years to establish himself as a peach grower and had invested his all in a small peach orchard which bloomed bounteously. Then came the frost. He didn’t go to church the next Sunday, nor the next, nor the next. His minister went to hunt him up and inquired the reason. The discouraged young fellow exclaimed: “No, and what is more, I’m not coming any more. Do you think I can worship a God who loves me so little that he will let a frost kill all my peaches?”

The old minister looked at him a moment in silence, and then replied kindly: “Young man, God loves you better than he does your peaches. He knows that while peaches do better without frosts, it is impossible to grow the best men without frosts. His object is to grow the best men, not peaches.”

Jeremiah was complaining to the Lord about how unfair life seemed.  All he could see was that wicked people were doing just fine, while those who tried to follow the Lord like Jeremiah had such tough lives.  God responded to Jeremiah by saying:

(Jer 12:5 KJV)  If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?

God was saying that Jeremiah needed to grow stronger.  Muscles are built by hard work and increasing difficulty.  There would be even tougher times ahead for Jeremiah and God needed him to be strong. Trials are a little like “God’s Gym”, they build strong spiritual muscles.

Years ago there used to be a joke among Christians about trials and patience.  James tells us that trials produce patience and because of that, some guys used to joke, “Never pray for patience!”  But God wants us to have not only patience, but so many, many more things.  And one of the surest ways to grow as a Christian is to go through trials.

4. Sometimes God wants others to see Jesus in you

And the only way they’ll see Jesus in you is if you’re broken.

(1 Pet 4:12-14 KJV)  Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:

Don’t think it strange you’re going through a trial.  You’re not the first person to go through a difficult time.

{13} But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. {14} If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.

I’ve usually understood the phrase “when his glory shall be revealed” to refer to the Second Coming of Christ.  But as I’ve thought about the context of this passage, perhaps its talking about the glory of Jesus being revealed in your brokenness.  Verse 14 says that we can be “happy” because the “spirit of glory” is resting on us, not in the future, but during our trial.

Our sufferings reveal His glory


Gideon finally had his army down to the size that God wanted.  Three hundred Israelites would be facing 150,000 Midianites.  They had a very unique strategy.  They took clay pots and put torches inside them.  At the sound of the trumpet, they would break the clay pots and let the lights shine.
The light would shine when the clay pots were broken.  We too are clay pots.

(2 Cor 4:7-12 KJV)  But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. {8} We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; {9} Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; {10} Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. {11} For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. {12} So then death worketh in us, but life in you.

I think God wants to break the clay pots so the light inside can be seen.
Paul talks of being broken but it all works for the sake of others, that Jesus’ life might be shown.
When I’m in a state of being broken, all I usually can think about is myself and how much pain I’ve got.  But perhaps God would want us to think a little past ourselves to realize that He can be using and even wants to be using our brokenness.


Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote,
When the green leaves decorate the trees and the season is fair, one cannot readily find the birds’ nests, but when the winter strips the trees, anyone with half an eye may see them. In the same way the Christian may scarcely be discerned amid the press of business and prosperity; his hidden life is concealed amid the thick and throng of the things of earth. But let affliction come, a general sickness, or severe losses in the family, and you shall see the Christian man plainly enough in the gracious patience by which he rises superior to trial. The sick bed reveals the man; the burning house, the sinking ship, the panic on the exchange—all these make manifest the hidden ones. In many a true believer, true piety is like a drum which nobody hears of unless it be beaten.

It’s possible that what you’re going through may be bigger than you.  It may be that God has others in mind, others who are watching you.  They need to see Jesus.

5. Sometimes we won’t know why

This is the hardest answer.

God does have purposes for our lives – but He doesn’t always tell us what it’s all about.

As Job went through his difficulty, he didn’t know why.

We have to trust in God’s love, power, wisdom.  He’s not some silly boy washing his hamsters.

He’s proven His love at the cross.

(Rom 5:8 NASB)  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

You may think that no one has suffered like you.

But there is one person who has suffered more than all others, even more than Job.
Jesus suffered on the cross, taking the weight of all the world’s sins as He died in our place.
He knows what you’re going through and if He has allowed for you to go through a difficult time, He knows exactly what He’s doing.

Job didn’t get answers.  He got more of God. At the end of his difficult time, he said,

(Job 42:5 KJV)  I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee.


A generation of Christians reared among push buttons and automatic machines is impatient of slower and less direct methods of reaching their goals.  We have been trying to apply machine-age methods to our relations with God.  We read our chapter, have our short devotions, and rush away, hoping to make up for our deep inward bankruptcy by attending another gospel meeting or listening to another thrilling story told by a religious adventurer lately returned from afar.  The tragic results of this spirit are all about us.  Shallow lives, hollow religious philosophies, the preponderance of the element of fun in gospel meetings, the glorification of men, trust in religious externalities, quasi-religious fellowships, salesmanship methods, the mistaking of dynamic personality for the power of the Spirit; these and such as these are the symptoms of an evil disease, a deep and serious malady of the soul.

... A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God [1948]

God isn’t beating you up.  He’s taking you deeper.

(Pray for those going through tough times.)