When I came back to the Lord in my late twenties, one of the biggest surprises I encountered was that following God is not easy. We get sick and even go through financial, relational, emotional and mental challenges.
My life actually became more difficult but a hundred times more rewarding. As I poured over the Word of God, I was constantly reminded that God is for us, therefore, who can be against us (Romans 8:31)?
In short, nothing can prevent God from working in and through you. Even though demons are against you, the world hates you, carnal believers mock you and friends and family may ridicule you, God is with you!
What Is Causing the Storm?
A storm may be a time to build strength and endurance, or it could be a test. Although God's sovereignty is my sanity, following His plans often brings challenges.
We should have peace in the center of God's will but not freedom from difficult circumstances. At times, we may fight bouts of anxiety, depression and fear. Many biblical heroes fought hardship and anxiety while being in the center of God's will.
How can we determine if a challenge is the result of being in God's will or because of disobedience? First, check your motives. Why are you doing what you're doing? Second, focus on obeying God's Word. This is the only way to truly stay on course. Third, is there a besetting sin that God wants to deal with? Like Jonah, sometimes storms are the result of disobedience.
Fourth, seek biblical counsel from those who will shoot it to you straight. Fifth, try to see challenges as opportunities for growth. Being in the center of God's will does not prevent challenges; it often creates them.
Forewarned Is Forearmed
In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus tells the story of a wise man who built his house on solid rock (God's Word) rather than on shifting sand (man's philosophy). As a result, his house withstood the storm, but the foolish man who built his house on sand lost everything. Remember, both men encountered the storm; one was prepared, the other was not. Adversity comes to all of us. We should expect storms, but we can only weather them successfully when we look to God for strength.
Genesis 25:21-24 gives a good example of this. Isaac pleaded with the Lord for his wife "because she was barren; and the Lord granted his plea, and Rebekah his wife conceived." But it appears that Rebekah had a difficult pregnancy, as the children struggled within her. She said, "If all is well, why am I like this?" In other words, if I'm in God's will, why is this happening to me?
Challenges Change Us
Rebekah's story is a great reminder that God's will is not about our comfort. He often gives us a crisis to conform us and a challenge to change us. The Lord told her that two nations were in her womb, and the fulfillment of that promise would not be easy.
Submitting to God's will can be challenging for most people. But Rebekah and Isaac submitted to God's plan. Submitting is yielding, and it's a crucial piece of God's will. What happens if you don't yield at an intersection? You wreck your car, and you may wreck your life, too.
What's Inside Spills Out
I remember watching a news story about an enormous oil tanker that sprung a leak off in the ocean. Because the tanker was full of oil, millions of gallons gushed into the sea; it was a horrific sight and an environmental disaster. In the same way, when we're hit by a storm, what's inside spills out. When you're jostled or shaken, is anger, pride, unforgiveness, or selfishness exposed, or does adversity reveal patience, humility, forgiveness, and self-control?
Natural storms bring nourishing rainfall, and spiritual storms also nourish our souls when they deepen our walk with God. Natural storms break up toxic bacteria in water, and spiritual storms can break sin out of our lives and clean the landscape of our souls through repentance. This is why endurance is so important – it helps us keep the course during spiritual hurricanes.
Building Spiritual Muscle
From time to time, you may feel like giving up and returning to your familiar comfort zone. Don't! Instead, press through. You are exercising a very important spiritual muscle called perseverance. There is a saying that ships are safest in the harbor, but they are not made for the harbor. Remember, you were designed to weather storms successfully. When life becomes difficult and challenging, set your sights on the goal, not on the challenge. You were not created to fail; you were created to succeed—make sure that you remember the true meaning of success.
Romans 5:3-4 tells us to "rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope." And Galatians 6:9 adds, "And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up."
One thing is certain, God will hold your vessel together even in the darkest and deepest storm as you cling to Him: "He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6).
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The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
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Shane Idleman is the founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship in Southern California and the WCF Radio Network. More can be found at ShaneIdleman.com, including free downloads of his eBooks. Visit him on Facebook and Twitter. Subscribe to his new podcast, Idleman Unplugged. You can also follow Pastor Shane on the new free speech platform Parler.