Hardships Are Calls

What should we do when we face pain? There are lots of reasons, after all, that hardships may come into our lives. This is a hard and broken world. Sometimes we do things to mess up our own lives. Sometimes things happen to us that we did not contribute to at all. And often, these are hard things to interpret.

In Job’s experience, as an example, he faced major hardship, but he had done nothing wrong to deserve it. God had a particular plan to accomplish for his own glory, and Job was part of that. The blind man in John 9 was born blind in order that the glory of God might be revealed. Esther was pulled from obscurity into a throne room for, as she was told, “such a time as this.”

But what are we to do with hardships? Is there anything we should assume that God wants us to do with them? I think we may see something in Amos 4. The passage is a little scary. After all, God is talking to a very rebellious people. But there is still something for us there.

The people of Israel had refused to return to God. Through this chapter, God had told the people that he had sent several hardships their way. But in each of them, the nation refused to turn to him. And God has a response because of that refusal;

Amos 4:11-13

11 “I overthrew some of you,
as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah,
and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning;
yet you did not return to me,”
declares the Lord.
12 “Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel;
because I will do this to you,
prepare to meet your God, O Israel!”
13 For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind,
and declares to man what is his thought,
who makes the morning darkness,
and treads on the heights of the earth—
the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name!

Stop and see that ending. It is scary. God says that he sent them through some hard times. But they refused to let their pain cause them to return to the Lord. And then God said, because they would not repent and return, they were to prepare to meet their God. Judgment was coming.

Now, do not misunderstand me, I am not suggesting that all our hardships have the same causes or the same purposes. But I will say this, no matter what our hardships, each of them should call us to turn to the Lord. Whether our hardships are chastening for our sin or trials for our sanctification, they should still cause us to turn to the Lord. We can always repent a little more. We can always see our need for God a little more. We can always recognize that he is holy, and we need his grace a little more.

Are you facing pain? I’m sorry if you are. None of us like hardships. But can I call upon you to turn to the Lord? Whether you have been super-noble or quite dodgy, your hardship should remind you that you cannot stand on your own. You need God’s help. You need God’s mercy. You need to remember that this world in its fallen state is not your home. You need eyes on heaven, eyes on eternity, eyes on Jesus. Let a hardship, any hardship, be a reminder to return to the Lord.

Meeting God Is Terrifying

One of the effects of poor proclamation of the gospel is that people no longer fear the presence of God. Of course the gospel does much to soothe our fears as we find ourselves under the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christians have been given the freedom to approach the Lord as his children.

The problem is that, as many present what they would call the gospel, there is no element of fear in it at all. Many preachers and many who follow those preachers have bought into something far less than the gospel. These folks are genuinely concerned for the eternity of their hearers. They deeply want to see people saved, as do all faithful Christians. But their desire for the salvation of the lost has led them to a place where they focus more on the lost person than they focus on the glory and holiness of the God to whom they are supposed to be calling the lost. They paint a picture of God as a sad, desperate, weepy character who so wants those people just to give him a try. They present a God who will compromise any standard so long as the lost will give him a nod so he can save them.

But, such a picture is not a picture of the true God of the Bible. Yes, God is gloriously gracious. God is loving beyond our wildest dreams. God’s grace is overwhelming. But he is not willing to compromise his character even an ounce to bend to our will.

Consider the ending of Amos 4. In that chapter, God had been pointing out that the people of the nation of Israel were cruel, nasty to the needy, selfish, idolatrous, and faithless. Those people had been refusing to repent of their sin even though they were experiencing God’s chastening.

Amos 4:11-13

11 “I overthrew some of you,

as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah,

and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning;

yet you did not return to me,”

declares the Lord.

12 “Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel;

because I will do this to you,

prepare to meet your God, O Israel!”

13 For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind,

and declares to man what is his thought,

who makes the morning darkness,

and treads on the heights of the earth—

the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name!

Stop, go back, read that slowly, and tell me if it makes you tremble. “Prepare to meet your god, O Israel!“ God tells these people that he has pointed out their sin. He has shown them what is required for their repentance. He has commanded. They have disobeyed. And now his judgment is coming. And the most frightening thing of all that the Lord could say to a rebellious people is “Prepare to meet your God!”

This is not, by the way, God saying he is going to kill them. It is far scarier than that. God is telling them that, in times past, he has been sending judgments to call them to repentance. Now, he is coming. Now he, the Holy One, will do the work himself. Now the Lord will come, and there is no one in creation who has the power to stay his hand.

Such a scene should be a part of a faithful gospel presentation and understanding. A presentation of the gospel that only has softness and pleading is less than biblical. A true gospel presentation includes the love and grace of the Lord, but it must also include the fact that, should any person turn his or her back on the Lord and his ways, they are in danger at a level they do not understand. They are called to repent. They are called to get under the love of Jesus. They are called to mercy. But if they will not come to that call, the only remaining element is, “Prepare to meet your God!” And they must understand, a faithful presentation must help them see, that meeting their God while unprepared is utterly terrifying.

Please do not hear me deemphasizing the love of God or his mercy here. ON the contrary, we only grasp the greatness of grace when we see the infinite judgment we deserve. Salvation means something when you have something to be saved from.