In John 16:33, Jesus told his disciples they would have trouble in this world. I think most of us have experienced trouble at some point in life and have little difficulty believing his words. But if trouble is the common denominator in life, what are we to do during these times? What does Scripture teach us about walking faithfully with God in the midst of hardship?
To be honest, I often wish that Jesus had promised daisies and rainbows and not trouble. I think most of us would rather avoid painful situations. That’s part of the appeal of fairy tales. They all end with the “good” characters living happily ever after. And even though we might know intellectually that this line isn’t the full story, the idea of “happily ever after” messes with our expectations. We expect life to be like a romantic comedy.
Life Isn’t a Fairy Tale
But life rarely has the same happy endings that fairy tales and romantic comedies have. Marriages struggle and sometimes come to a messy end. Illnesses end in death. Wicked witches work their evil plans and cruel step-parents continue to torment their step-children. Then there are exceedingly complicated issues like poverty and civil wars.
God isn’t the fairy godmother who waves a magic wand to make everything better. In fact, thinking of God as a fairy godmother drastically undercuts his power. This is the same God who created the heavens and the earth and raised Jesus from the dead. He is so much more powerful than a fairy godmother. But he doesn’t magically remove all our troubles in this life. Instead, he is much more concerned with preserving and sanctifying us in this life to prepare us for life in the new heavens and earth where indeed there are no troubles.
A World of Trouble
The world tells us that we deserve pleasure and happiness. But if we run after these things, we will come up empty. Furthermore, we don’t like to face the fact that we are frail and our bodies will fail us. But for those who have trusted Jesus for salvation, there is a much better reality that awaits us.
Paul doesn’t hide the fact that he faced a lot of trouble and hardship (2 Cor 11:23-29). Much of his suffering was because of his faith in Jesus. But in the midst of all his troubles and weaknesses, Christ’s power was at work in him (2 Cor 12:9). Paul was able to see that trouble is temporary and formative: For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (2 Cor 4:17).
Walking through Trouble
Even though it’s temporary, how do we survive trouble? The first answer that comes to mind is prayer. Whether we are in the middle of difficult trials or at peace, Scripture teaches us to pray (Rom 12:12; Eph 6:18; Col 4:2; 1 Thess 4:17; 1 Tim 2:1). That’s what the early church did (Acts 12:5). Through prayer, we recognize our dependence on God and trust him to work things out for his glory and our good.
The body of Christ is important for our faith. We weren’t created to be lone rangers (Rom 12:3-8). While we know this intellectually, when trouble comes, we want to retreat inward and not let others see our pain and weakness. We want to be viewed as strong and competent instead of letting others help us in our time of need. But God has placed us in a church community with others who can walk through difficult times with us (Rom 12:10, 15; Gal 5:13).
We also find hope in the midst of trouble as we spend time in Scripture. The Psalms, in particular, can be a source of encouragement. There are psalms for celebration and psalms for lament. These passages can often give voice to the pain we are experiencing. Other passages like Romans 8 and Revelation 21-22 also provide encouragement for the now and paint a picture of the future hope that we await.
Even Better Than a Fairy Tale
Friends, I wish I could say that I’ve got this lesson down and never struggle in the midst of trouble, but the Lord knows I haven’t arrived. Sometimes I still feel discouraged and weary in the face of trouble. But I know trouble isn’t the end of the story. The other half of John 16:33 tells us that Jesus has overcome the world. He has defeated death and given us new life. And someday Jesus will return, and we will know the joy of perfect fellowship with God. But until then, as humans living in a fallen world, we will face trouble in this life, but we trust the one who has overcome the world and is going to prepare a place for us (John 14:2-3).