When we encounter various circumstances that will test our honesty and character, such situations can actually be priceless blessings. As James notes, these are things that we need to count as “all joy” (James 1:2-4).
A command contrary to our ideas
The Bible records a number of occasions when good men were confronted with commands from God that did not please them initially:
The command to Naaman to be dipped in the River Jordan seven times (2 Kings 5:10-11).
The command given to Abraham that required him to offer up his only son (Hebrews 11:17-19).
The command that confronted Jewish Christians, to baptize and accept uncircumcised Gentiles as fellow heirs (Acts 10:28; 11:17-18).
The command to the rich young ruler to sell all and follow Christ (Mark 10:21-22).
One might say, “Well, there are no commands in the Bible that I can’t accept”, and while this may be presently true, there may come a time in our lives that various commands are far more difficult to either observe or accept.
As our culture changes Christians will be more and more in the minority on various moral issues (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
As we grow older and see more and more of our relatives or friends die who are not Christians, it may be more difficult to accept Jesus’ direct teaching on the subject of hell (Mark 9:43-48).
We may experience some challenges in our marriages where we are not enthralled with certain passages that command unselfishness, service, and subjection, even during difficult times (Ephesians 5:22ff; Titus 2:3-5).
Most Christians in their life time will experience problems in the congregation they attend, and during such a time the commands to remain in subjection to the elders (Hebrews 13:17), and love one another (John 13:34-35), may be very challenging.
Yet, seeing that we are not omniscient (even in the realm of purely earthly things), we should not be insulted or shocked when we discover that God’s view of things differs from our limited view on various subjects.
God’s people have often been faced with criticism:
Jesus was criticized for being too friendly with sinners (Matthew 11:19).
John the Baptist was criticized for not being friendly enough (11:18).
Nehemiah faced criticism when he was rebuilding the walls around Jerusalem (Nehemiah 4:1-6).
Christians were often viewed as being trouble-makers (Acts 17:6; 1 Peter 2:12).
One reason that criticism is difficult to handle is because we often believe that if one is a nice guy and doing good then there should be no criticism, or that everyone should naturally like us; if I am not a critic then I should not be subjected to criticism.
Yet I need to remind myself that although God send His Son to die for the world (John 3:16), and He is the Creator and giver of all good gifts (Acts 14:17), even God is often the subject of criticism. If even God is the subject of criticism, it is unreasonable to demand or expect that we will be exempt (John 15:18-19).
God came to this earth and He was criticized (Matthew 11:19), He was often criticized for not measuring up to human expectations (Mark 6:3).
And do we unintentionally add our own two-cents worth of criticism? Do we think or say, “God if you had only done this or that a little differently, things might have turned out better”. “If you have only removed this verse or chapter from the Bible, or said more on this or that subject and clarified a couple of things, our job as Christians would be easier, and there would not be so much division among your professed people”?
There are a number of blessings available when one is criticized:
It gives one the chance to once again examine one’s life, and to ask yourself, “Maybe there is an element of truth in what they are saying”.
When we are being criticized it means that the world is not ignoring us, rather it is preoccupied with us, and that is a good thing (Acts 17:6).
It gives us a chance to prove our critics wrong by maintaining excellent behavior (1 Peter 2:12). Thus, criticism can be used to bring us closer to God because it reminds us what is at stake, that is, the reputation of the gospel message.
Remember, unjust criticism is often the world’s answer against Christianity; it is what a person does when there isn’t a valid argument (Acts 17:18). The longer that we live above the criticism and prove it wrong by our example the less credible the critic becomes in the eyes of others.
It gives me a chance to draw closer to God: “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
Finally, it is strange that often we are bothered by one piece of criticism more than we are comforted by one or more compliments. Or, we are more concerned about the couple of people who do not like us, instead of being encouraged by the people who do like us.
When you don’t get your way
As one reads the Bible one quickly learns that just because one is faithful and godly such is not a guarantee that things will always go our way. There are many examples of godly people not getting “their way”. Moses was not allowed into the Promised Land, Jonathan and Josiah, both in the prime of life, died in battle, and Paul’s thorn in the flesh was not removed (2 Corinthians 12). When attempted to sulk because something did not go my way, I need to remember:
God does not even get His own way. Yes, I know that God can bring about His purposes (Isaiah 44:26), but on a daily basis, God is the one who does not get “His own way” most of the time. God desires that all men repent and serve Him (2 Peter 3:9). He is their Creator, Sustainer and Savior, and such an expectation is therefore completely reasonable, yet most men will not repent or serve Him (Matthew 7:13-14).
The next time we are tempted to pout because something in my life or in the lives of those around me did not go “our way”, seriously consider, “Did God get His way today”?
Ultimately, everything important has gone our way, the fact that Jesus died for me while I was yet a sinner (Romans 5:8-9), should be correctly interpreted as, “Everything important has gone my way”. Thus, I have found in my life that when I complain about something not going my way, I am complaining about something that is a matter of judgment or opinion that did not go my way. And what did not go my way does not prevent me from presently serving God effectively.
It is so easy to forget that when decisions are made by our spouses, the men in a business meeting, brethren in general, or the elders that do not fit with our way of doing something, that such a decision typically will not get in the way of our effectively serving God or doing His work.
It is actually often a blessing when things do not go our way because often we find that our way was not the most efficient way of doing something, or of finding happiness.
When things do not go our way it is an opportunity to stick our heads out of the rut of “our way” and see what other ways are available.
The attitude that says, “Well, they did not choose my way, therefore I will quit”, is not only sad, but betrays our talents and resourcefulness. Certainly, as a Christian and with the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16-17), I am talented enough and resourceful enough to get things done, even if it is not done in the way I would have chosen.
In the face of failure
When I am tempted to give up because something I tried did not seem to work, I need to remind myself who failed. God sent many prophets to peoples who never changed and yet God was not the one who failed (2 Chronicles 36:15-16). So when we share the gospel with someone and they do not believe, we are not the ones who failed.
I also need to remember that I often judge a situation too quickly. What might look like failure may actually turn out to be a success in the years to come.
It is equally important that I keep track of what is happening in my heart. If various successes are making me feel more self-sufficient and proud, then I am actually failing (Luke 18:9ff). If various setbacks are bringing me closer to God, motivating me to rely more upon Him and be grateful for my blessings, then I am succeeding. So what is happening inside me is far more important than what is happening to me.
· I also need to readjust my perception of success. Often our world thinks of the successful person as the type of individual that is naturally good at everything they do, or everything they touch turns to gold or turns a profit. Yet this is an inaccurate picture of reality. One can “have it all” and yet fail in the most important aspect of life (Luke 12:15ff). I need to remember, if I have Christ, then I am succeeding!