“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons” (Hebrews 12:7)
Like the residents of any major city, residents of Cape Town can expect not only to enjoy the beauty and blessings of our city but also to face trials and hardships of many kinds. Sometimes these hardships and trials are self-inflicted. At other times they are the result of events which are totally out of our control. Most often however, both factors are in play and the hardship we are facing comes to us as a combination of circumstance and folly.
The present water crisis facing the Cape seems to me to be an example of the latter. On the one hand we have had inadequate rain for three years running. On the other hand, there has been a failure by the authorities (both national and provincial) to make adequate and timeous provision for growing demand. Thirdly, we as residents have been wasteful in our attitude to water. Whatever the reasons though, we find ourselves facing hardship. The question is: how do we as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ respond to this hardship and indeed to any hardship that we may face? Hebrews 12:7-11 gives us one important answer to this question.
As we look at this passage in its context, it is clear the particular hardship that the writer had in mind was persecution because of the gospel. This is the opposition that Jesus Himself faced (Hebrews 12:3) and it was certainly the opposition that the readers were experiencing. The principle that these verses sets out remains true however, whatever the particular hardship that we are facing as believers. So, what are some of the lessons worth bearing in mind when we face hardship?
Lesson number 1: Remember that God is absolutely in control, no matter what situation we may be facing. This point is implicit rather than explicit in our passage, but it remains valid. In these verses the writer makes it clear that God uses the hardships we face for a good purpose. But this must surely mean that He is in control of the situation, because to use a situation for a specific and intentional purpose one must be able to control the situation.
Lesson number 2: Hardship does not negate God’s love for us, rather it is part of the way that God loves us. This is not to say that God causes hardship or is the author of things that are evil. But the writer is quite clear that in permitting hardship in our lives God has not ceased to love us or to treat us as His children. Note the statement in verse 7: “God is treating you as sons!” We know this even at a human level of course – sometimes we permit our children to face tough times because we love them and are working to see them grow and flourish. We should therefore never listen to the lies of the devil when he suggests that we are facing hardship because God does not love us or because God is punishing us in some malicious way. God views His people through the righteousness of His Son Jesus and we are always loved in Christ.
Lesson number 3: God always uses hardship for our good, never to harm or destroy us. God is referred to as the ‘father of our spirits’ in verse 9. This description is deliberate and is meant to invoke the idea of a loving, caring Heavenly Father. The same verse says that God through hardship is acting to train us (discipline here is training not punishment) for our good, that is our spiritual good which is described here as “a harvest of righteousness and peace” (verse 11).
Lesson number 4: Because God loves us He is much more concerned about our holiness than our happiness! The American dream may include the pursuit of happiness as self-evident, but the Bible does not. The Bible is far more realistic than that because it knows that even though we are saints (i.e. God’s people) we remain fallen people and sometimes we find happiness in things that are not ultimately for our good. Wealth may make us happy, but it makes very few holy. Poverty is not a virtue however, so we should not make the opposite mistake. Rather, recognizing that everything comes from God as a gift, we should work hard, be wise and remain thankful and generous, knowing that godliness with contentment is great gain. This leads to lesson number 5.
Lesson number 5: In the midst of hardship we should pray. We are free to pray for the Lord to act and to remove the difficulty and in His time, He may well do that. Certainly, to return to the present water crisis we should pray for rain and for wisdom for those who manage our precious resources. We should also act with care as befits good citizens. But as long as the hardship remains, we should pray that God our loving Father will help us to discern His good and wise hand in the trial and hardship and produce in us that harvest of righteousness and peace which is both for our good and for His glory!
Written by Mervyn Eloff