Day 188

How to Cope with the Challenges of Life

Wisdom Psalm 81:6-7
New Testament Acts 25:1-22
Old Testament 2 Kings 13:1-23

Introduction

President John F. Kennedy said, ‘We stand today on the edge of a new frontier… but the new frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises – it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them.’

Life is a set of challenges, problems and hassles. We sometimes imagine that if we could just deal with the immediate challenge that we are facing, all our problems would be over. But life is not like that. If we resolve one problem, others are just around the corner.

The temptation is to see these challenges as preventing us from carrying out the ministry God has given us. In actual fact, dealing with the problems is the ministry. As one former Bishop of Kensington put it: ‘These are not the problems associated with the ministry, they are the ministry.’

The Bible is true to life. The psalmist faced pain and distress. Paul faced false accusation and the frustration of being kept in prison on trumped up charges. The kings in the Old Testament faced battles and a massive building project challenge.

Our world is facing major challenges with the scourge of racism, modern slavery, climate change, mass starvation, wars and terrorism.

As I read the passages for today, I am reminded that the relatively minor challenges, problems and hassles that I face are nothing compared to what the people of God have faced in the past, and still face around the world today.

Wisdom

Psalm 81:6-7

6 ‘I removed the burden from their shoulders;
   their hands were set free from the basket.
7 In your distress you called and I rescued you,
   I answered you out of a thundercloud;
   I tested you at the waters of Meribah.’

Commentary

Talk to God about the problems

Are you in a time of testing? God sometimes allows us to be tested, as he allowed his people to be tested by the waters of Meribah (v.7, see also Numbers 20). But he does not want you to face the tests and challenges of life alone. You can talk to him about your problems.

God says, ‘I removed the burden from their shoulders… In your distress you called and I rescued you’ (vv.6a–7a).

‘I took the world off your shoulders,

freed you from a life of hard labour.

You called to me in your pain;
I got you out of a bad place’ (vv.6–7a, MSG).

Whatever situations or difficulties you may face, you can bring them to God in prayer.

God removed their burdens and rescued them in their distress. The psalmist starts, therefore, with worship, celebration and joy: ‘Sing for joy to God our strength!’ (v.1).

Prayer

Lord, thank you that you are my strength and joy as I face challenges and problems in life. Lord, I call on you today to rescue me from…

New Testament

Acts 25:1-22

1 Three days after arriving in the province, Festus went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem, 2 where the chief priests and the Jewish leaders appeared before him and presented the charges against Paul. 3 They requested Festus, as a favour to them, to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem, for they were preparing an ambush to kill him along the way. 4 Festus answered, ‘Paul is being held at Caesarea, and I myself am going there soon. 5 Let some of your leaders come with me, and if the man has done anything wrong, they can press charges against him there.’

7 When Paul came in, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood round him. They brought many serious charges against him, but they could not prove them.

8 Then Paul made his defence: ‘I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar.’

13 A few days later King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus. 14 Since they were spending many days there, Festus discussed Paul’s case with the king. He said: ‘There is a man here whom Felix left as a prisoner. 15 When I went to Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him and asked that he be condemned.

16 ‘I told them that it is not the Roman custom to hand over anyone before they have faced their accusers and have had an opportunity to defend themselves against the charges. 17 When they came here with me, I did not delay the case, but convened the court the next day and ordered the man to be brought in. 18 When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. 19 Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus whom Paul claimed was alive. 20 I was at a loss how to investigate such matters; so I asked if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there on these charges. 21 But when Paul made his appeal to be held over for the Emperor’s decision, I ordered him to be held until I could send him to Caesar.’

22 Then Agrippa said to Festus, ‘I would like to hear this man myself.’ He replied, ‘Tomorrow you will hear him.’

Commentary

Trust that God is in control

Faith means trusting God. ‘Faith’, as C.S. Lewis wrote, ‘is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.’ It is hard to trust God when everything seems to be going wrong.

Luke records Paul’s trial in a very objective and unemotional way. This must have been an extraordinarily frustrating time for Paul. This great leader of the church, evangelist and teacher is locked away, apparently unable to do what he is called to do. He is in custody, enduring the physical constraints and discomfort of imprisonment.

Serious charges are brought against Paul (vv.1–7). He defends himself by pointing out that he has done ‘nothing wrong’ (vv.8,10). But Festus was more interested in what people thought (v.9) than in what was right. Our first question should always be, ‘What is the right thing to do?’ But Festus was more concerned about popularity than justice. In the end, Paul appeals to Caesar (v.11).

When King Agrippa arrives, Festus discusses Paul’s case with him. Festus says, ‘When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus whom Paul claimed was alive’ (vv.18–19).

The resurrection of Jesus should always be at the heart of the message we proclaim. The only accusation that could be made to stick was that Paul was preaching that Jesus was alive, yet numerous other accusations and false charges had been brought against him.

For Paul, in the midst of all these difficulties and frustrations, it must have been very hard to see what good might possibly come out of all the dishonesty, delays and dithering in his trials. Yet, as always, God was at work for good. As Paul himself wrote, ‘We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28).

First, in the short term, it resulted in an opportunity for Paul to speak to Agrippa. After hearing all about Paul, Agrippa said to Festus, ‘I would like to hear this man myself’ (Acts 25:22). In times of frustration and hassle you never know when opportunities may appear, but sometimes they do.

Second, in the medium term, it resulted in Paul being sent to Rome. Paul had expressed his desire to go to Rome to preach the gospel (see 19:21; Romans 1:15; 15:23), and the Lord himself had spoken to Paul saying that he would testify in Rome (Acts 23:11). It was because of what took place in Paul’s defence of himself that he was eventually sent to Rome.

Third, in the long term, 2,000 years later, vast numbers of people have read Paul’s story and been encouraged to know that he too faced false imprisonment, accusations and criticism. I suspect that Paul would have been astonished in the midst of all these difficulties to know how much good was going to come of them. You may never know, in this life, how God uses your faithfulness in the face of challenges.

Prayer

Lord, thank you that you are with us whenever we face accusation and criticism. Thank you that through all of these frustrations of life you work together for the good of those who love you and are called according to your purpose (Romans 8:28).

Old Testament

2 Kings 13:1-23

1 In the twenty-third year of Joash son of Ahaziah king of Judah, Jehoahaz son of Jehu became king of Israel in Samaria, and he reigned for seventeen years. 2 He did evil in the eyes of the Lord by following the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit, and he did not turn away from them. 3 So the Lord’s anger burned against Israel, and for a long time he kept them under the power of Hazael king of Aram and Ben-Hadad his son. 4 Then Jehoahaz sought the Lord’s favour, and the Lord listened to him, for he saw how severely the king of Aram was oppressing Israel. 5 The Lord provided a deliverer for Israel, and they escaped from the power of Aram.

14 Now Elisha had been suffering from the illness from which he died. Jehoash king of Israel went down to see him and wept over him. ‘My father! My father!’ he cried. ‘The chariots and horsemen of Israel!’

15 Elisha said, ‘Get a bow and some arrows,’ and he did so. 16 ‘Take the bow in your hands,’ he said to the king of Israel. When he had taken it, Elisha put his hands on the king’s hands.

17 ‘Open the east window,’ he said, and he opened it. ‘Shoot!’ Elisha said, and he shot. ‘The Lord’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Aram!’ Elisha declared. ‘You will completely destroy the Arameans at Aphek.’

18 Then he said, ‘Take the arrows,’ and the king took them. Elisha told him, ‘Strike the ground.’ He struck it three times and stopped. 19 The man of God was angry with him and said, ‘You should have struck the ground five or six times; then you would have defeated Aram and completely destroyed it. But now you will defeat it only three times.’

22 Hazael king of Aram oppressed Israel throughout the reign of Jehoahaz. 23 But the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion and showed concern for them because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. To this day he has been unwilling to destroy them or banish them from his presence.

Commentary

Take every opportunity that God gives you

In the middle of this rather depressing history of the kings of Israel and Judah, there is an incident in the life of Elisha that encourages you to take every opportunity that God gives you, to be persistent and never give up.

Leaders are a mixed bag. Some do ‘evil in the eyes of the Lord’ (13:2,11). Some do ‘right in the eyes of the Lord’ (14:3).

God is extraordinarily gracious and when Jehoahaz, who did evil in the eyes of the Lord, ‘sought the Lord’s favour… the Lord listened to him’ (13:4). Whenever you seek the Lord’s favour he listens to you.

In this list of leaders, Joash was probably the best example. He ‘did what was right in the eyes of the Lord’ (12:2), even if it was only for part of his reign.

Joash took on a building project. Like many projects, it took far longer than he expected: ‘But by the twenty-third year of King Joash the priests still had not repaired the temple’ (v.6). The king calls a meeting and asks, ‘Why aren’t you repairing the damage done to the temple?’ (v.7).

They do eventually get on with the work. They collect the money they need (v.11). They all acted with complete honesty (v.15) and progress was made.

Of course, today, God’s temple is no longer primarily a physical building but the people of God. Our money and effort should go into building up the people of God – in number (evangelism), in maturity (discipleship) and in care for the community (social transformation). However, sometimes we need buildings for this and it is not wrong to spend money on the infrastructure of church when necessary.

As well as the challenge of buildings, the people of God faced the challenge of battles. In particular, in this passage we see how they had to face Aram. Elisha says to the king of Israel, ‘Get a bow and some arrows… Take the arrows… Strike the ground’ (13:15–18). The king ‘struck it three times and stopped’ (v.18c). Elisha said, ‘You should have struck the ground five or six times; then you would have defeated Aram and completely destroyed it. But now you will defeat it only three times’ (v.19).

I remember reading these verses in 1998 after we had done the first Alpha initiative, inviting the nation to Alpha to hear the good news about Jesus. We were wondering whether to do a second initiative or wait another year or so. I sensed as I read these verses that we should keep on striking the ground again and again.

Whatever challenges you’re facing today, keep praying, keep trusting, keep looking for opportunities to serve God and never, ever give up!

Prayer

Lord, as we face challenges ahead, give us a determination not to give up but to persevere and carry through to the end.

Pippa adds

In 2 Kings 12:18, it tells us that Joash bought off king Hazael of Aram just as he was about to attack him – giving him all the treasures of the temple.

Sometimes, sending a present to someone who is angry with you works rather well!

Thought for the Day

‘Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.’
– C.S. Lewis

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References

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (William Collins, 2012), pp.140–141

John F. Kennedy, Address of Senator John F. Kennedy Accepting the Democratic Party Nomination for the Presidency of the United States – Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles,July 15, 1960

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

The Bible with Nicky and Pippa Gumbel

  • HOST'S INTRO
  • INTRODUCTION
  • WISDOM BIBLE
  • WISDOM COMMENTARY
  • NEW TESTAMENT BIBLE
  • NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY
  • OLD TESTAMENT BIBLE
  • OLD TESTAMENT COMMENTARY
  • PIPPA ADDS
  • HOST'S OUTRO

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