Difficulties and tough times are inevitable for the Christian, and with these tests, trials, and challenges come defeats and disappointment. Young and mature Christians alike can be disappointed, frustrated, and feel defeated at times. Some will go on to success in their Christian life, but others will allow a temporary defeat to side-line them forever.
Christians should never believe the myth that as they mature they will be less susceptible to defeat and failure. To an extent, this idea has validity because as a Christian matures they begin sowing more good seeds and fewer bad seeds, which results in a better harvest in light of God’s principle of sowing and reaping. A more mature Christian will also better handle God’s chastening and, presumably, do fewer things that warrant chastening.
However, as a Christian becomes stronger, so do the trials and tests that God sends their way. When a basic lesson in faith has been successfully completed, He moves the Christian on to an intermediate lesson. He tailors the challenge of each trial to the Christian’s strength and spiritual maturity.
As a Christian matures, becomes more effective for God, and becomes a more serious threat to the enemy, Satan also hurls more vicious attacks and directs more vigorous assaults against him or her. The intensity of Job’s difficulties were commensurate with his level of spiritual maturity, faith, and effectiveness for God.
Thus we find that mature Christians fail. Pastors fall. Christian marriages break up. King David pursues Bathsheeba, and King Solomon has his foreign, idolatrous women. The challenges a Christian faces grow as the Christian grows, and to disregard that fact opens the door to serious defeat.
Defeat, frustration, failure, and even despair will find their way into every Christian’s life sooner or later. When that time comes, the Christian’s future depends upon how they respond to the defeat.
For the answer as to how a Christian should respond to defeat and disappointment, we need look no further than the Bible. The Bible is all-sufficient for the Christian’s spiritual guidance and sustenance. It is a gracious and complete guide for Christians experiencing defeat and disappointment.
Let us consider the life of Joseph. Joseph’s early life is a story of one disappointment after another. The young Joseph was meeting his brothers in the field to give them a message from their father and to see how they were doing, and his jealous brethren rose up against him, tearing his coat from him and throwing him into a pit. They smeared the coat with the blood of a goat so that they could convince their father that some wild animal had killed him. If any man or woman were entitled to despair, Joseph could have been as he lay in the pit awaiting his brothers’ next move.
His brothers sold him as a slave to a caravan headed to Egypt. Once in Egypt, he was purchased by a wealthy man named Potiphar. Potiphar soon recognized Joseph’s strength of character and made him head of his household. “Finally,” maybe Joseph thought, “something good is happening to me.” But his position did not last long. Potiphar’s wife lusted after him, and when he would not yield to her desires out of respect to God and to his master, Potiphar, the woman accused him before Potiphar of attempting to rape her. Of course, Potiphar believed his wife, and cast Joseph into prison. What a disappointment! What a defeat! What an opportunity for despair!
The jailors soon appreciated Joseph’s qualities and made him essentially a steward of the jail, putting him in charge of all of the other prisoners. Things were looking up, but regardless of his position or rank, he was still in jail. There was hope one day when the Pharaoh’s butler and baker were thrown in jail. Joseph, with God’s inspiration, accurately interpreted their dreams, and the butler promised to remember him before Pharaoh when he was released. Finally, it looked like his big break was coming. But, soon his hopes were dashed again when the butler forgot all about him for years, and Joseph remained locked away in the Egyptian prison, far from his home, far from his father and mother, far from any worldly comforts.
Joseph seemed to experience one defeat and disappointment after another. Yet, through all of these great tragedies, he emerged a stronger person and, one day, was put in charge of all of Egypt. How did this happen? How does a person, like Joseph, manage to get past all of these defeats and disappointments that would send most “normal” people into a downward spiral of despair?
Joseph served faithfully.
It was as if Joseph had already read the words penned over a millennium later by the Apostle Paul: “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” (I Corinthians 15:57-58)
In every situation Joseph found himself, he faithfully served as he believed God would have him do. In the face of the direst of disappointment, he remained “stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord,” and God richly rewarded that faithfulness. When he was sold as a slave to Potiphar, he remained “stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding . . .” and Potiphar quickly recognized that quality and promoted him. When he was faced with Potiphar’s wife enticing him to sin, he remained “stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding . . . .” When he was imprisoned, he continued stedfastly, and again the quality of his character was recognized and the jailors promoted him.
Joseph responded to every disappointment and defeat with a stedfast commitment to simply serving and doing what was right. He could have felt sorry for himself. He could have given up hope of ever finding freedom and happiness. He could have shaken his fist at God, blaming Him for all of the bad things in his life. Instead, he made the conscious decision to move forward in God rather than looking backward away from God. He decided with each seemingly hopeless defeat to make the best of a bad situation and be “stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.”
Every Christian should respond as Joseph did to difficult times. But, let’s be frank; this is one of those things that is “easier said than done.” It is rather easy to look at Joseph’s life and see how he responded to trials, but it is a hard thing for us respond the same way when a difficulty comes our way. In fact, outside of Christ it would be impossible for us. Praise God, “for with God all things are possible.” (Mark 10:27) We are assured, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13)
There are some practical things that we can do in order to be “stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” when we are faced with difficulties. First and foremost, do not let your spiritual life diminish when difficulties begin. Often, challenges in our life will tend to push aside some of the things that are most vital to our successful navigation of the challenges.
When the doctor says, “cancer,” and those regular trips to the hospital begin, don’t let that stop your daily Bible reading. In fact, if at all possible, read more!
When you lose your job and you have no way to pay your bills, when you are afraid to answer the phone for fear of debt collectors, when you hate collecting the mail because you know what is in it, do not let these things stop you from regularly seeking God in secret prayer. Make more time for prayer!
When disease, or bad health, or schooling, or challenges at work eat away at your time, don’t quit teaching that Sunday School class or volunteering at the Gospel mission. Try with all your might to put your whole heart into your ministry for God.
When the crippling auto accident happens, or the deaths of loved ones, strive to see how you can use your experience or condition to help other people. Do all you can to keep your eyes off yourself and on other people’s needs. Remember that your life is not about you, but about Jesus and, as a minister on His behalf, about other people.
We can name and examine the lives of many saints, past and present, who have emerged victoriously from seemingly crushing difficulties: Ruth, David, the Apostle Paul, Hudson Taylor, Adonirum Judson, Elizabeth Elliot, and many others. In every case, these Christians strove, with God’s help, to be “stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” when the trials came. When they saw failure or disappointment or fierce trials, they didn’t take their foot off the “gas pedal.” They strove to move on in the strength of the Lord.
Christians who have been through the fierce trials understand more than most of their brothers and sisters the fact that everything we do for Christ must be done in His strength alone. If we labor out of our own strength, we will never see the successes and rewards that we could if we were to rely upon Him. If we are working in our own strength, every challenge that comes our way could end our work. We may “get by” trying to do His work in our strength during the good times, but when the difficulties come it is impossible to do anything relying upon ourselves. Many times, God brings us into a position of weakness in order to teach us this fact. Paul tells us God’s response to him when he prayed that an infirmity be removed from him, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (II Corinthians 12:9) God makes himself strong in our lives by making us weak. There is no weaker moment than when we have just experienced a defeat, or failure, or grand disappointment, and we are emotionally weak, physically weak, and maybe even spiritually weak.
When the difficulties come, let us resolve to be “stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord,” relying on His strength. We can do this by remembering these things when difficulties come:
1. The only way to get past them and to see other victories in our life is to be “stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.”
2. This means that we need to strive to maintain our spiritual walk and ministry on Christ’s behalf even when faced with despair and failure. Pray more, read the Bible more, don’t neglect Church, and don’t neglect or abandon positions and opportunities that allow us to serve God.
3. Without God, this is impossible, but, with God, all things are possible.
4. All of our work , if it will survive the difficulties, must be done in God’s strength and not our own. Attempting to do things in our own strength dooms us to failure.