God blesses. It is His promise. This truth is stated repeatedly in the Word. He watches over us, protects us, sustains us, and hears our prayers. These are truths. There have been some who have taken these truths out of context and have turned them into something that is incredibly destructive. The culture in which we have grown up in has effected some people’s very theology.
The gospel has been presented as a shield against harm, hardships, trials, and even death. Scriptures, however, need to be looked at as a whole. An extreme prosperity centered gospel is a false gospel. We do not just become Christians to avoid the problems of the world or for Jesus to make our lives better. There are many benefits to living for Jesus, but a focus on our lives and our own betterment is the wrong starting point.
The reason that this is so destructive is because it doesn’t work. Reality will prove it to be false. Sickness, death, suffering, pain, or loss will come. However, if we were promised only blessing, health, and goodness without any problems, we would have questions.These things were definitely not on the menu. If your relationship with God is based on the prosperity and comfort of your circumstances, it will change. When trouble comes you will question, “Why? Why won’t God listen. Doesn’t God care. Isn’t He able?” There will be a group who will even come to the conclusion that the Gospel was all fake.
While this may seem like a great way to present the gospel it is shallow and wrong. The Biblical text proves otherwise. Jesus told his disciples upfront there will be trouble. ‘I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.’ (John 16:33)
If you study the lives of the disciples and early Church leaders you will discover their lives were far from being free of pain and sorrow. All the disciples except one were killed for their faith. Many were tortured and persecuted. Paul, who wrote many of the books of the New Testament, was beaten, flogged, shipwrecked, stoned, left for dead, and eventually killed. There seemed to be a huge price to pay for being a follower of Jesus. Do I believe they were blessed? Yes. Were their lives free of trouble? Definitely not.
In Hebrews 12 we receive some great instruction on how to endure and not fall away. ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.’ (1-3) We actually become stronger, building endurance, by keeping our eyes on Jesus: The one who suffered for us.
When people believe in a gospel which is about freedom from problems they end up running from God when it comes. However, when we read scriptures like these we begin to understand that Jesus becomes our hope in suffering. When we have our eyes fixed on Him we don’t give up.
This scripture starts off talking about a huge crowd of witnesses that surround us. I have heard many messages about the great exploits mentioned in Hebrews eleven which has been coined ‘The Hall of Faith’ by many. The faith and exploits of mighty men of God like Enoch, Noah, and Abraham are mentioned. However, there is also another group of people written about. Scripture speaks very highly of them. It says, ‘They were too good for this world.’ (39a) Who were these amazing people? They were people who had trials and hardships of many kinds.
Just listen to their stories. ‘But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated.’ (35b – 37) Trials, torture, chains, prisons, and even death were not signs of sin, that God had forsaken them, or that God never heard their cries. Instead through His Word He lifts them up as examples. They are the great crowd of witnesses. We are in fact surrounded by those who have suffered. They are cheering us on.
We cannot reduce the gospel to a blessing only gospel. Trouble will come and unless there is a proper foundation it can destroy your faith. The stories of the men and women in the Bible must be told. The good, the difficult, the real. We don’t have to go looking for for trials and hardships, they will find us sooner or later all on their own. It is through these times we need to lean on God more as it creates perseverance and maturity in us.
Here is a video link from the ‘Before You Say Goodbye Project’ to a story of a family and their faith journey after they lost their brother. https://youtu.be/H0WWfD8zaWk
So what can you do with the youth you work with to prepare them for when trouble comes? (1) Tell then to expect it. They do not need to go looking for it, it will come all on it’s own. (2) The testimony of someone who has walked through trouble is a powerful tool. (3) Read through the section in Hebrews mentioned above and have a discussion on how you, and your group, deal with hardship.