Ghosts of Adversity
In the well-known story by Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Ebeneezer Scrooge is visited by three spirits: the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. From each, he observes key lessons that, in turn, transform the crotchety old man into a generous patron of all things Christmas.
In today’s passages, we can see in each the presence of difficulties. Some past from which to learn, and some future, for which to prepare. Both can, and should, help us as we deal with difficulties present.
In Genesis 26, we find the patriarch, Isaac, dealing with a famine in the land. Verse 1 tells us that this wasn’t the first famine, and we know that Isaac’s son Jacob and his family dealt with a major famine, from which they were saved through God’s providence. Nevertheless, this famine was a major difficulty. In our society, we don’t feel the effects of drought like these farmers and herders did. Water was their very existence, and without it, they could lose everything! Isaac is diligent though and has his servants dig wells looking for water. They do eventually find some, which looks like a happy ending. But then the shepherds of Gerar fight with him over the land rights. The same thing happens the second time, and finally, with the third well, they don’t fight over it. Isaac called the place “Rehoboth” meaning, “The Lord has made a place for us.”
Sometimes in difficulties, it feels like every success is met with adversity. That every open door is slammed in your face. God will open the correct door at the correct time, even if it seems that all else has failed.
Esther seems to have the opposite problem in Esther 2. She literally has the door to the kingdom opened to her! Imagine, the most powerful man in the world is looking for a wife and he chooses you. Sounds pretty amazing right? Well, look at her predecessor. That didn’t turn out so great, did it? Esther’s problem wasn’t that the door was closed, but rather that an unwanted door was opened. Sometimes, God leads us through difficult and unwanted situations so that we can be where he needs us later (as we will see in Esther 5-7).
Paul’s adversity in Acts 25 is somewhat self-inflicted. His bold stand for the Gospel had actually caused the Jews to appeal to the Roman government to kill Paul for insurrection. Paul stands trial before Felix, Festus, and finally Agrippa. At the trial with Agrippa, the governor declares that Paul has not done anything worthy of death. Sounds like a great “told ya” moment for Paul. Not so fast though. Paul as a Roman citizen had invoked his right to appeal to Caesar. Had he not done so, he likely would be a free man at the end of Acts 25, but instead, he is still imprisoned in Acts 28 in Rome, where he later dies. Some of us might look at that and say, “Paul messed up there.” But Paul disagrees! Look at what he said to the church at Philippi in Philippians 1:12-14: “But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” Paul said that his current trials were helping to expand the reach of the Gospel, not by him only, but as it encouraged others to be bold for Christ as well. You never know how your trials may encourage someone else.
Finally, Matthew 25 tells us of events yet to come. The unprepared virgins and the lazy servant both face adversity because they were not invested in the Master’s cause. You can save yourself from future difficulty by preparing now for the Bridegroom’s soon return!
So whether you face doors slamming in your face, an undesirable current situation, or maybe even a situation brought on by your own choices, remember that God doesn’t leave your life up to chance. Each success, each difficulty, each joy, and each pain are part of his perfect plan. Dedicate yourself to His plan and He will reward that dedication in the end.