Seeing Beyond the Circumstances

Trials are hardships and difficulties over which we have no control. We read the story of Job and wonder how we could have endured such hardship and loss. In the New Testament, we read the words of Peter in his first letter, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” and think to ourselves, “I hope he’s not talking about me!”

The truth of the matter is this: hardships will come our way. That is the reality of living in a broken and sin-filled world. The question is, “How will be deal with the inevitable trials that come our way?”

I would like to suggest to all of us that worship is the tool that helps us overcome life’s fiery trials. In the New Testament, there is the story of two men who endured on multiple levels and in the end, their focus and worship of God led to their salvation and freedom. Paul and Silas were great servants of God. In Acts 16, they encountered a demon possessed girl who was annoying them as they went about their business. In their frustration, they delivered her from the demon, but this led to more trouble. You see, her owners had used to “powers” to make money. With the demon gone, she was of no value to them. In response, the owner called on the city magistrates to have Paul and Silas arrested. They were put on public display and flogged. They ended up being unjustly thrown in prison and shackled.Now how would you have responded in this situation? It would have been easy to complain to God that He had abandoned them and they were being treated unjustly. Instead, they responded by worshiping God through prayer and song.

This story reminds me of the words Paul would later pen to the Christians in Rome. In Romans 8:18, Paul writes, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” You see, Paul’s perspective, his focus was on what was to come, not on his present circumstances. We tend to focus on what is going on around us rather than what lies ahead.

So as the story goes on, Paul and Silas prayed and sang and God showed Himself to them. There was a great earthquake and their shackles fell off and the doors to the prison were opened. The man in charge of the jail ran to check what was going on. Seeing the doors open, he was in great distress thinking all the prisoners had escaped. You see, his life was at stake.

When he went inside, he discovered all the prisoners were still there. Paul shared with the man what God had done and in the end, this man came to faith. G. Campbell Morgan described the contentment and joy of Paul and Silas in prison as, “the supreme marvel of the Christian consciousness and the Christian triumph.”

So how does worship help us when struggles come into our lives? Firstly, it helps to lift us out of what we are feeling. In Psalm 73 David describes some struggles he was facing and yet in the midst of the disparity, he finds his hope in God. He writes, “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Worship lifts us from our present troubles and gives us peace and hope.

But there is more. Worship reminds us of the mercy of God. David again writes in Psalm 119:50 and 119:43, “My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life” and “Trouble and distress have come upon me, but your commands give me delight.”

Worship focuses us upon the power of God and it leads to an opportunity for a miracle. The truth is, if you are going to be used by God, He will take you through a multitude of experiences that are not meant for you at all; rather they are meant to make you useful in his hands.

One of the most impactful stories of this is found in the story of suffering Christian businessman, Horatio G. Spafford. He endured a lifetime of tragedy and loss, losing his four daughters when the Ville de Havre sank while crossing the Atlantic. In spite of the pain, he still had the faith and focus to pen the words to the classic hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul.”

Another inspiring story of faith in the midst of crisis is that of George and Sarah Clarke. In 1880, they purchased the lease for the Pacific Beer Garden.

Promptly dropping the word Beer, the couple added the word Mission, and launched a ministry to homeless alcoholics and downtrodden men and women. Thus was born the Pacific Garden Mission of Chicago—the Old Lighthouse—the second oldest rescue mission in the United States.

Colonel and Mrs. Clarke bore the cost of the mission themselves, but as expenses grew and the ministry expanded, their funds ran low. Eventually the day came when they could not pay the rent. Attempts to secure the needed funds failed, and Colonel Clarke was told he had only 24 hours to make the payment. Otherwise, he would lose his lease, and the Pacific Garden Mission would close.

Throughout the night, Colonel and Mrs. Clarke prayed, asking God to guide and to provide in his own way and time. They reminded the Lord of the souls being saved each night, of the men and women whose lives were being salvaged. They asked him why they should find themselves in such straits while trying to do his work. But, determining to trust and not question, they remained before the throne of grace in simple faith and in earnest pleading until the breaking of dawn.

When they emerged from their Morgan Park house that morning, they gasped. What had happened to their front yard? It was covered with something white, something that instantly reminded them of the manna of the Old Testament. Looking closer, they discovered their lawn was filled with mushrooms of the very best quality, which was quite mysterious because it wasn’t the season for mushrooms.

Gathering the crop, the Clarkes carted the mushrooms down the street and sold them to the chefs at the Palmer House, the famed hotel just off of Michigan Avenue, for a large price. The receipts were enough to pay the rent, with enough left over to meet other ministry expenses. So, the Pacific Garden Mission carried on, its work undeterred.

When we find ourselves in difficult times, worship and prayer are our two greatest tools to help us see beyond the situation and place our hope and trust in God.

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