It’s not unusual for people to experience feelings of heartfelt sorrow when hearing of another person’s loss and adversity. However, there is a difference between empathizing with someone and wishing that their trial never happened. God orchestrates circumstances. He wants us to learn from them, even if our poor decisions and the consequences of sin are the cause of our discomfort.
In the book of Ephesians, we find Paul in prison. He was arrested for preaching the gospel in local synagogues. Before arriving in Ephesus, believers prophesied Paul’s coming imprisonment. The Holy Spirit was preparing him for his coming hardship and compelled him toward this imprisonment.
“Except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me.” Acts 20:23 (NKJV)
Why run toward adversity? Paul understood that there was a reason for his future imprisonment. It was God’s grace that forewarned him (through prophecy) so that he would not question or fear the trial when it occurred.
“And as we stayed many days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. When he had come to us, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, ‘Thus says the Holy Spirit, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’ Now when we heard these things, both we and those from that place pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, ‘What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’ So when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, ‘The will of the Lord be done.’” Acts 21:10-14 (NKJV)
Paul did not know the reason for his future captivity but He trusted God that it would be for his benefit and God’s glory. In Ephesians 3:1, Paul describes himself as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, not a prisoner of Caesar. He knew his time in prison was of God’s design. During his captivity, Paul wrote Spirit-filled letters to several churches. Through Paul, God educated the church. American Baptist theologian, W. O. Carver described the Book of Ephesians as the greatest piece of writing in all history.
“For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles.”
Ephesians 3:1 (NKJV)
“That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel, of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power.
Ephesians 3:6-7 (NKJV)
As we experience our own trials or witness the adversity of others, we should consider how we pray over the circumstance. It’s too easy to ask God to remove the hardship. We must ask the Holy Spirit if eliminating the troublesome situation is God’s will.
Maybe it would be better to ask God to strengthen, advise, and bring encouragement to our hearts and those struggling. God may have designed the events to save lost souls, bring prodigals back to the fold, reignite wavering faith, or reveal a mystery.
When we meet others who have survived similar trials, we find comfort and encouragement. Our personal story of faith will spur others on in their spiritual race. The death of a loved one, the poor health of a friend, innocent children who are abused, and financial ruin are all awful circumstances. But God is good. He is love. We may not understand the reason why God allowed such painful occurrences, but there is a purpose. God’s thoughts and reasons are higher than our own understanding, so we must trust and have faith in Jeremiah 29:11 and Jeremiah 31:3…
“For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
“The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.’”
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NIV)