Turning Adversity Into Opportunity (Part 1)
There is honey in the carcass.
Paul the Apostle wrote with great enthusiasm that the spiritual community would be empowered by the new administration of the Holy Spirit, dwelling in those who believed in Jesus.
These believers would live with a renewed mindset and would live as empowered over-comers in this world.
His bold declaration was that they would be more than conquerors in Christ Jesus. Such a bold declaration seems something of a removed reality to so many people in the world, including some believers.
If clinical psychologist Professor Jordan Peterson is correct in his appraisal of the western world’s social pathology, it would seem the current line of intellectual thought and its corresponding political activism has so intellectually dismantled the foundations of the social reality we live in, there is at least some clinical evidence people are confused about many things and living fundamentally disempowered.
Many foundational ideas about identity, values and self worth have Peterson and others concerned, and sense a genuine need for people to re-establish some of the core social values we have previously held to as a society. One such set of values is returning to Biblical wisdom.
When people lose vision and hope in their life, based on poor understanding of identity, self worth and core life values, a sense of hopelessness drifts into our society in ways we perhaps do not fully appreciate. It sits under the surface. Professor Peterson argues that the true underlying condition of many people is a lack of self-love, self worth and self-care.
It would seem at least as a general observation, and from my own experience, people want to be empowered with a wisdom and hope of how to live in this intellectually de-constructed, politically-activated and socially-disadvantaged world.
People long for relationship, identity and purpose in their lives. We are hardwired to satisfy these core longings. People are genuinely searching for meaning.
To do that, in my view, we really do need to understand who we are, the creativity and resolve we actually carry deep down, our inspiration in the quest to find our purpose, our niche, that sweet spot of our being in this world that makes us come alive to light that fire of enthusiasm and emotional and spiritual well-being beyond the dopamine hit of a Facebook ‘like’.
Sitting along side of this post-modern social pathology is also those looking in to the church at the confusing picture of identity and faith amongst believers that puts Paul’s declaration almost beyond reach with any authentic application.
Unfortunately, some believers practice learned helplessness and step into the current socio-political activism of taking up a victim perspective in their faith-life, presenting a kind of religious entitlement. For many they have not been shown another way and are not even sure there is another way.
Yet at the same time, other believers speak of being over-comers and declaring a victorious life in Christ, praying all the while for God to rescue them from adversity, conflict and the exigencies of living in an emerging post-modern world and them fulfilling their priestly and kingly vocation. In effect, practically eroding the foundational apostolic teaching and purpose of the New Testament. Whilst there is a place for a rescuing prayer, many do so to avoid the opportunities adversity is presenting to them to live as overcomers.
This is a short glimpse of the current social and spiritual landscape that needs to be spoken into. I am convinced more than one generation is looking for an authentic and empowered life in this current intellectual and social pathology of a post-modern western world. We need to find again what the wisdom of God reveals, and the genuine identity, hope and purpose we have through a revolution that began when Jesus declared “it is finished”.
Jesus said that the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence. He spoke forward that opposition and adversity would continue until the very end when all things were made new on earth and in heaven.
Having said that, Jesus lived as, and taught about empowered people, and through the grace gift of the Holy Spirit, a people who would overcome the spirit of this world, its chaos, social mayhem and confusion, Living as an overcomer is not a future reality. I have had the privilege to be around amazing men and women who are doing just that.
Not all of them are the names of those given a high profile. Some of the most amazing people I have met living this life are the ordinary people we come across every day. They are humble, generous, gentle, secure, intentional and courageous. They don’t flinch at adversity. Instead, they become powerful in it. The point is, this overcoming life, this empowered life that Paul boldly declares is completely achievable! It is a courageous life of authenticity that the current social fabric and postmodern malaise cannot produce. And it’s found in ways we do not normally think about or consider.
A shift of perspective
By contrast to how many have approached life, and prayed, including myself, when the early apostles led by Peter faced conflict and intimidation from the Sanhedrin as the religious elite and orthodoxy of faith in God, the present thinking that shaped religious culture in society, they did not pray for God to take the problem or conflict away. Instead, they asked for more power. A greater measure of God’s grace as an anointing to be even more bold and more courageous! Even more courageous in their vocation to reveal the power of God’s wisdom and the life-transforming spiritual revolution that had now begun. This was a whole new way of seeing things and living in society.
So whether we are reading this outside of faith or within the empowerment of faith we need perhaps to shift our perspective in how we approach life’s adversity. For those outside of faith, I would like to point you to the life of Jesus. We need to see again what God was really achieving by his birth, life, ministry and assignment on earth as a person empowered by the Holy Spirit, and of course his death and resurrection. Yes - a witnessed resurrection from physical death where Jesus appeared to many witnesses and his apostles.
It seems foolish perhaps to our current thinking that someone could love us so much they would be willing to be unjustly treated, beaten, shamed and dishonoured even to death as a criminal. To do all of this to show us that authentic God-love is greater than the most vile of evils and injustices we may ever face and to lift us out of the confusion and social mayhem of society into a new reality birthed through faith.
In his suffering, Jesus stands with and for anyone who is in minority and the subject of every social injustice hurt or harm. But the suffering is not just for the oppressed. His suffering and death stands for the whole world who has been lost to the life-effecting reality of God’s love. A love so extraordinary it ascribes immeasurable value and worth to all.
Therefore, the love of God revealed through Jesus, demonstrated in his own suffering, stands as the restoration, renewal and hope as the forgiveness of sins for every person in society from the rich to the poor and every strata in between. In his resurrection, Jesus re-establishes believers into relationship with the triune God, identity and purpose as an empowered overcoming life in this world.
Our postmodern thinking in effect denies that there is a spiritual world that engages in the seen material world and is sceptical that anyone could be raised from the dead. But the evidence, the ongoing testimonies are there to be considered. It was not that long ago, when, as a society, we thought in these terms and many outside of the Western world still do. Many people groups still think and practice a deeply spiritual life and live from a pre-modern, and enlightened world view that preserves the fundamentals of spirituality, theism and faith.
To those empowered by faith, as believers, by speaking about conflict I am not speaking against the goodness of God. Instead, we need to understand how extraordinarily good God is in the midst of conflict and adversity. This is clearly revealed in Psalm 23 that I will consider in later blogs in some detail.
The writer of Psalm 23, King David, knew adversity and victory, and if we are going to be open about it, failure. The Scriptures point to his greatest victories in the midst of daunting life situations. Both his victory against the giant of a man Goliath and him overcoming his own personal rejection and accusation at Ziklag, affected not only his own future but also the destiny of Israel as a people itself.
Seeing adversity as opportunity not only affects us. In a positive way it affects those around us as well. We all know how a courageous act in severe adversity or against the odds sparks the possibility of hope and even greatness in others.
Everyday we will be confronted with things that we need to overcome. Every day we will choose between what is convenient and what is necessary. We will choose between a wisdom in the world or God’s wisdom. Everyday we are overcoming the world in us or the social dynamics of the world around us. We simply are so used to this reality we have perhaps become desensitised or simply unaware of these dynamics. Perhaps also we are overcoming more than we realise, or perhaps we don’t want to think about it because, well, we don’t feel like it and we feel anything but powerful in this world.
In the days of Paul of Tarsus - apostle Paul, and generations before him society carried a different world view to postmodernism. According to that worldview, the worldview of Scripture and near eastern thought, the social world we live in is underpinned by a spiritual, unseen world around us.
For believers, we need to understand what the ancient texts of Scripture clearly reveal about what Jesus brought to centre stage concerning the spiritual realities that we continue to live in. We live in both a natural world and also a spiritual world. And not just that. As Greg Boyd reveals we are in a spiritual conflict more than the church has cared to take on board. The apostles’ letters that make up the New Testament clearly point to and emphasise that continuing reality.
In this spiritual and worldly conflict between wisdom from below and wisdom from above as the Book of James puts it, and spiritual powers as Paul the apostle puts it, is God good? Absolutely! To my mind, we need to know how to approach adversity as our advantage and opportunity from that undeniable Biblical truth.
In adversity in life we are brought into great opportunity. As Bill Johnson says, “God picks fights for us to win”. Perhaps that is why Paul called it the “good fight of faith”. God does not abandon us in our adversity as many believers think. In fact, the contrary is true. His presence increases if we are willing to find it. The Scriptures are filled with stories of God’s faithfulness in great adversity. Nor is God responsible or the chaos and mess. Humanity has been given free-will to embrace God and follow his wisdom revealed perfectly in Jesus Christ, or reject it and follow its own course. The world is shaped by the decisions we make and the wisdom we follow.
Our advantage in adversity is our opportunity for revelation, wisdom and increase. To find God’s wisdom and creative solutions in unusual places, and the kind of revelation that brings maturity and increase of anointing and spiritual authority in our life. I will discuss this is more detail in my next blog.
There is no advantage in wanting to hide from adversity and the conflict, although this is often our first response. Adversity will invariably come our way in this world because of the very wrestle between order and chaos and the spiritual battle we live in. But as will become clear, there is “honey in the carcass.”
Part 2 is coming soon.
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