— An Excerpt From —
The Distinguishing Mark of Leadership
By Don Meyer
Why Does God Allow Me to Go Through Adversity?
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.
Saints become saints by somehow hanging on to the stubborn conviction that things are not as they appear and that the unseen world is as solid and trustworthy as the visible world around them. God deserves trust, even when it looks like the world is caving in.
Pain is God’s megaphone. He whispers to us in our pleasure but he shouts to us in our pain.
C. S. Lewis
When Evie and I left college, we were filled with all of the optimism of young people starting out following the call of God. No challenge seemed too great. We expected to quickly climb every mountain and move easily through every valley we encountered. Pastoring a small church in a small town nestled in the Appalachian Mountains along the Allegheny River about an hour out of Erie, Pennsylvania, seemed like a place where we could grow and thrive.
We were extremely busy as we learned to love those people and grow on our leadership journey. The church started to grow, which gave us more and more to do. Our hearts and lives were full as we experienced all that God had for us.
About a year later God blessed us with Darin, a happy and healthy little boy. We loved being new parents and soon we moved from our third floor apartment into our own place. God was providing for us and we knew that we were in the center of his will.
A year and a half later Evie was pregnant again, this time with twins. We were thrilled. Her pregnancy was challenging, taxing her small frame. To our surprise, Kevin and Keith arrived six weeks early. Both of them were perfectly healthy except that their lungs were not fully developed. Since it was 1971 and we were in a small-town hospital, technology for premature births was not as advanced as it is today.
As you can imagine, our world immediately ground to a halt. All our attention was on these two little boys. The doctors did everything they could for Keith. He was the most fragile and was not as strong as Kevin. Though the lungs of both boys had not fully developed, Keith battled more than Kevin for air. Today, premature babies are given steroids, and with steroids Keith’s breathing, more than likely, would have been normal in just a few days. Over the next two days Keith stopped breathing several times but they were able to resuscitate him. But his little body just couldn’t fight hard enough and he entered heaven. He was only two days old. I couldn’t hold Evie close enough as we navigated this first major crisis in our marriage. Our hearts were broken. When your world seems to collapse like that, you don’t even want to bring yourself to ask the questions which are bouncing around your head.
Kevin was stronger but there was still no guarantee he would make it. The doctors wanted to transport him by ambulance to the neonatal intensive care unit of the Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital, about two hours away. Of course we wanted them to do everything they could to save him. So we agreed.
We will never forget the committal service for Keith in that little cemetery of our first town. We had come to the town to grow that church; we never expected something like this would happen. On a warm summer day, the first of August of 1971, and with our hearts crushed and broken, we placed his little body in a tiny wooden casket. We watched as they placed our son in his little casket in the ground. We still return and visit the cemetery and as we view the headstone, all of those emotions still return.
Shortly after the service, we followed the ambulance with our little Kevin inside to Pittsburgh. Over the next days Kevin slowly started to gain weight and his breathing got stronger and stronger. In ten days he was stable enough and strong enough to be brought home.
But how do you send out birth announcements to your friends? Our one eye was weeping and the other eye was smiling. We said it like this, “In the Providence of God He blessed us with twin sons, Kevin and Keith. In His Providence He called Keith home. In His Mercy He allowed Kevin to remain with us.”
Once Kevin started eating, he never stopped. Today he stands six feet, two inches. But even today we sometimes wonder how similar to him his identical twin brother, Keith, would have been if he had lived.
As young leaders, how do you deal with that kind of loss? We prayed and trusted God to help us and it seemed as though he had let us down. After they were born we prayed that God would bring them both through that early ordeal, but Keith didn’t make it. When you are in the middle of experiences like that you actually wonder how you can go on. Sometimes you just want to leave and go someplace else and get away from all of the pain.
Perhaps the most challenging question we have when we encounter adversity is where is God in the middle of all this? If God is good and he is also sovereign, why does he allow us to go through such challenging circumstances? Doesn’t he want me to be healthy, cared for, and happy? Or, as Philip Yancey’s bestselling book title puts it, Where Is God When It Hurts? 1
Yancey’s most recent book goes right to the heart of this matter by addressing The Question That Never Goes Away, which is “Why would God allow this to happen?” 2
We tell our students at UVF that within their first five years they will likely face a test so huge that they will be tempted to give up. The storm they face will test them to the very core of who they are. It will shake the very foundations of their faith. It will change how they view God.
For some it might be with their family, like it was for Evie and me. For others it may be limited finances or people problems or something with health. Adversities come in all shapes and sizes. What do you do when you encounter something that doesn’t fit in the little box you imagined your life to be?
I wish my college professors had told me that the furnace was normal in the making of pottery. I wish I had been better prepared. But even if they had said it (and they probably did), my idealism and naivety probably would have hindered me from “getting it.”
It doesn’t mean that your first test will be the only test you will face; it just means that it will be the first time you will be forced to deal with your idealism smashing up against your reality.
When that happens, how important it is that we learn all that we need to learn in the adversity. Going through that first test will change everything. Others tests come. Sometimes there are several going on at the same time. Sometimes they rain on us like a cloudburst, nearly drowning us. Sometimes they come like a category-five hurricane or tornado or even like a tsunami.
But when they do, without a doubt, they will change us. That one certainly changed Evie and me.
Over the years we have faced many other personal storms with our family and those whom we love. And though the first huge adversity provided us with unforgettable lessons, each one since then has only added to those learning experiences.
But what do you do as a leader when the storm comes against the organization where you are serving? It’s one thing to face a personal adversity; it is something else to face an adversity where everyone around you is looking to you and the way you steer the rudder. Everyone looks to the leader in times like that to find assurance that the organization will navigate safely through.
Founded in 1939, UVF is now over seventy-five years old. You just don’t go through more than seventy-five years without adversity. Many of those storms took place before Evie and I arrived. We’ve heard of the times when there was not enough food to feed the students. After praying and praying, God miraculously provided in ways that only could have come from him. God was always faithful.
Former employees speak of another time when funds were tight and salaries were suspended for nearly six months. How indebted we all are to those heroes who remained faithful to God in spite of the adversities they faced. The colors from their courage and sacrifice became part of the fabric which today makes up the university tapestry.
Even after moving to the present campus in 1976, life wasn’t always easy. With a presidential change in 1982, the university almost closed. Two board of trustee members stepped up in a board meeting and passionately shared how UVF was needed in the Northeast and beyond. Those words from alumni Rev. Philip Bongiorno (class of 1955) and Rev. Samuel DiTrolio (class of 1957) galvanized the board and they made a decision to remain open.
The crisis was not over. But to navigate that season, God led Dr. J. Robert Ashcroft to come and serve as the new president. Dr. Ashcroft was a distinguished Assemblies of God educator who came out of retirement to become president of UVF. During the next years his servant-leadership style helped to keep the college open. He served over two years, and throughout his tenure he refused to take a salary.
We stand on the shoulders of these heroes. Without their leadership, UVF would, more than likely, not even exist today.
Since Evie and I joined UVF in January 1997, we have also faced many challenges. One of the most serious took place in May 2001. All across the campus exciting things were happening. Our new library had been built. Enrollment was growing. The chapel was expanded to nearly twice its original size. Twenty-seven old military buildings had come down. The momentum was palpable.
For about one year, right in the middle of that campus transformation, we were also receiving large monthly sums of money from a most gracious and generous donor. The total amount that we had deposited in our bank was $1.7 million. During the spring of that year we began to make a list of all of the facilities projects we wanted to address as soon as graduation was over. The list was long.
I’ll never forget the moment on that Wednesday night in May that I was told that there was a problem with those funds. I could take you to that very place where I was standing. As it turned out, the donor had done nothing wrong, but the funds he had been receiving were illegally acquired by the individual who made the funds available to him. As a result, the monthly funds not only stopped coming to us, but we knew the only right thing to do was to return all of the money—$1.7 million.
Why does God allow me to go through adversity? Whether the hard times come against us personally or against the organization we are leading, these experiences shape us forever. Sometimes these difficulties almost crush us under their weight. They can cause us to ask why we are where we are, and when we look over the horizon to places that do not appear as difficult, we are tempted to change our geography instead of our perspective. And where is God in the middle of it all?
I remember another one of those seasons during our pastoral years when someone had placed our name for consideration at another church that, from a distance, didn’t seem to have the problems we were facing. Even today Evie and I quote the words she said then, “If we leave to get away from the problems we now have, there will also be problems there because only the names and faces change. That place will have problems just like this place.” We knew God was not leading us away.
But the temptation to run is always there—especially when you’re young.
God led the children of Israel through tough times and during those times, he taught them lessons that changed them forever. Deuteronomy 8:1–2 declares, “Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the Lord promised on oath to your forefathers. Remember how the Lord led you all the way in the desert these forty years.”
But why did Israel have to go through the desert for those forty years? We know initially it was because they had disobeyed God. Of course, most storms we face are not the result of our disobedience. However, I’ve always cultivated the discipline of searching my heart when storms come to make sure that my heart is surrendered to God’s will in every area of my life. Because knowing how to get through a storm or even out of one will depend on how we got into it.
Jonah got into his storm because he disobeyed God. The only way out of that storm was for him to repent. The disciples got into a storm on the Sea of Galilee because Jesus told them to get in the boat. The only way out of that storm was for them, by faith, to ride it out.
But once that is settled for each of us, there is still the haunting question, Why would God allow me to go through the adversity? For Israel, God gave them a partial revelation why he led them into the desert. Even though they spent forty years in that desert because of disobedience, what was God really trying to do in them during that season?
If we can understand what God was accomplishing in them during the desert season, it will help our perspective when those times come for us.
THE DESERT WILL HUMBLE YOU
Deuteronomy 8:2 states, “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years to humble and test you.” For Israel, the desert reminded them of their lack of faith, disobedience, and ungodliness. Every funeral and every baby dedication taught them humility. Every birthday and every new year taught them humility.
According to Exodus 14:8, Israel was “marching out boldly” from Egypt. This means they were marching out arrogantly. Their pride had to be dealt with and the desert addressed it like nothing else.
Deserts humble us. It is the mark of the desert. It’s the mark of any adversity. How easy it is to become intoxicated with ourselves. We really can think we’re the center of the universe. Adversities compel us to look beyond ourselves.
Someone said that humility is such a delicate subject, the minute we think we have it we don’t. Bernard of Clairvaux said, “Learn the lesson, if you are to do the work of a prophet, what you need is not a scepter but a hoe.”
Deserts drive us to our knees. Deserts crush our self-centered tendencies. Deserts change us. There is a fragrance of spirit in the desert walker. The person who goes through the “valley of the shadow of death” comes out the other side transformed. You can smell it. You can taste it. We cannot exclude the mark of the desert from our words and actions. It will always show.
Israel was out of Egypt but Egypt wasn’t out of Israel. God wanted them to learn humility. If they were ever going to move into the Promised Land, he wanted them to learn to be totally dependent on him. He wanted them to affirm Psalms 20:7, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”
When you first graduate from college with a newly minted degree, how easy it is to assume you know all the answers. But when you are at the graveside of your baby son and your world has collapsed, or you find yourself needing to return $1.7 million, you quickly learn how dependent you are on God. And we learn new lessons about humility as we cry out to God, “Help me.” You realize not only do you not have all the answers; you aren’t even sure what the questions should be.
As Dr. J. Robert Ashcroft once said, “Nothing of lasting value ever came out of arrogance. The spirit of Jesus is the spirit of humility.”
Why does God allow you to go through adversity? As it was with Israel, so it is with you: To humble you!
THE DESERT WILL TEST YOU
Deuteronomy 8:2 says, “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.”
Israel had faced many tests. Pharaoh and the Egyptians tested them. The Philistines, the Amorites, Hittites, Hivites, and Jebusites tested them.
In Numbers 16 Moses had to deal with a full-scale mutiny when Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and On came against him with the most vicious opposition. And when Moses invited Dathan and Abiram to meet with him to resolve the matter, they refused saying, “We will not come!” and concluded with words that oozed with sarcasm, “Will you gouge out the eyes of these men? No, we will not come.” In other words, they said to Moses, “What are you going to do, Moses? Put out our eyes if we don’t cooperate?”
But in spite of all the adversities that tested them, there was no test like the desert. For 40 years they faced that test. 480 months. 175,200 sunrises and sunsets.
Leaders regularly are tested in the desert. And the desert will test you like nothing else will test you. Of course there are deserts—and then there are deserts. Some we get in and out quickly. Others go on and on and on. Sometimes leaders face desert moments. Other times, leaders face desert seasons.
Any plant can grow in a greenhouse. The temperature is controlled to fit perfectly with the plant. The water and fertilizer are calibrated to maximum advantage. The conditions are ideal.
But out in the desert, the temperature can be high and low on the same day. There can be water and drought on the same day. You can eat and starve on the same day. And for Israel, their desert season lasted year after year after year. Forty years.
In the classroom, the lessons come first and the tests come later. In life, the tests come first and the lessons come later. The adversity exposes us to ourselves. The quality of my faith is exposed in the adversity. The quality of my courage is exposed in the desert.
Joni Eareckson Tada never would have predicted the way her life turned out. As a teenager she enjoyed riding horses, hiking, tennis, and swimming. Her future was bright. But all of that changed on July 30, 1967. She was only seventeen years old when she dove into the Chesapeake Bay, misjudging the shallowness of the water. She suffered a fracture between the fourth and fifth cervical levels and became a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the shoulders down without the use of her hands.
Joni wrote of her experiences in her 1976 international bestselling autobiography, Joni. There she described her two years of rehabilitation where she experienced anger, depression, suicidal thoughts, and serious doubts about her Christian faith.
Joni’s life is an incredible example of the human spirit to emerge against all odds. And though her life received special joy when in 1981 she married Ken Tada, she faced yet another health challenge in 2010 when she was diagnosed with, and eventually emerged successfully from, breast cancer.
In God’s Plan A Joni said, “When suffering sandblasts us to the core, the true stuff of which we are made is revealed. Suffering lobs a hand-grenade into our self-centeredness, blasting our soul bare, so we can be better bonded to the Savior.” 3
Gold proves itself in the fire and so do we. God knows we need the test to remove the impurities and all that would hinder our leadership potential.
Why does God allow you to go through adversity? As it was with Israel, so it is with you: to test you!
THE DESERT WILL TEACH YOU
Deuteronomy 8:2–3, “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years … to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.”
The desert will take you to school. You will learn more in the desert than you will ever learn in a classroom.
Israel learned that God was enough. Period! Israel learned that God provided all they needed. Israel learned that God disciplined his children because he loved them.
Following her nineteen-year-old son’s near fatal accident, Sally Jessy Raphael said, “You can learn more in ten days of agony than ten years of contentment.”
Speaking of Saint Basil’s faith as being ambidextrous, Gregory of Nicea said he had this two-handed faith “because he welcomed pleasures with the right hand and affliction with the left hand.”
Leaders are always learning.
Years ago when we lived in Minnesota I heard about a mural that was being presented to a large audience. Everyone was excited to see the artist’s handiwork. The time came for the curtains to be opened and as they opened, the people in the audience were horrified at what they saw. There, in the middle of the picture were two adults hovered over a little boy, appearing to strike him—engaged in behavior that appeared to be child abuse.
As the curtains opened further, however, the wider angle revealed the little family was in the middle of a Minnesota blizzard. And what first appeared as child abuse was actually the fervent effort of those loving parents trying to get circulation back in the limbs of their child.
When we face adversity, how easy it is to accuse God of child abuse. It’s like the cartoon with Ziggy standing on the top of a mountain looking up to heaven declaring, “In case you haven’t noticed, the good guys are getting creamed down here.”
I love the words of the old hymn, “O love that will not let me go.” Hosea 13:5 says, “I cared for you in the wilderness, in the land of the burning heat.”
Perhaps the darkest period of Israel’s history was after the fall of Jerusalem. The book of Jeremiah is God’s final attempt to save Jerusalem. But though Jeremiah preached to them for over forty years, he was rejected and persecuted by his own people. Stocks, humiliations, prisons, and cisterns were his constant companions. As the weeping prophet, he gave everything he had, crying out to ears that wouldn’t listen and to hands that wouldn’t perform and to feet that wouldn’t turn.
In spite of his noble effort, Jerusalem was crushed. In 605 BC and then again in 597 BC the mighty Babylonians nibbled at them. Finally in 586 BC they gobbled them up. Lamentations is the funeral dirge over the city. It is the book of Jerusalem’s epitaph. In those five hymns of mourning over the fall of Jerusalem, you can hear the death wail of Zion.
Jerusalem, the crown jewel of Israel, the religious and political capital of the people of God, was destroyed. In those 154 verses of parallelism, antithesis, repetition, and plays on words and phrases we encounter, literally, the wailing wall of the Bible.
But in the middle of smoldering Jerusalem, we see the real character of Jeremiah. Erupting out of that horrible context comes this incredible perspective of God. Lamentations 3:21–25 declares that God is love; God is faithful; God is good; and though all was gone, God’s presence was still with them.
If Jeremiah could look beyond the indescribable loss of Jerusalem and see the unchanging character of God, you and I as leaders can do the same. When we are in the middle of the desert, we learn God is still there with us.
Often when the problems are complex and the adversity is the greatest, God is faithful to whisper into my heart these words, “This is what I have called you to do. Trust me. I will see you through.” Sometimes those words come during a challenging meeting or when I’m preaching or wrestling with the university budget. There is nothing like the assurance that he is there by our side guiding us through.
Only after Abraham demonstrated his incredible obedience and faith did God say to him in Genesis 22:12, “Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” We lose the drama of that moment because we know the end of the story. Abraham didn’t. Nor do we know the end of our leadership stories.
How well I remember the next two days at UVF after I learned about the $1.7 million problem. The first day I went through the motions. I called the people who needed to be called. With our administrative team we aborted the projects we needed to abort. With God’s help, we just did what needed to be done.
By the second day, however, I knew I had to settle matters in my heart. It was then that I reviewed what we did know. Did God lead us to UVF? Yes! Is he the one ultimately in charge of the university? Yes! Did this take him by surprise? No! Was God still on the throne? Yes! Were we going to make it? Yes!
The most important thing we can learn in times of adversity is that God is right there with us in the middle of it.
During these adversities it feels at times as though God is taking his foot and kicking away the crutches I am prone to lean on. And I want to say how unfair it is. Sometimes I can even feel that I don’t need to take it anymore. But as the crutches fall away and all I have to lean upon is God, he whispers to me, “Yes, this is right where I want you. Trust me and I will never let you down. I am enough.”
Years ago a Peace Corps volunteer traveled to a South American country where she served for many months out in the bush. Because she was going to be far from modern conveniences, she expected the worst. To her surprise, her hosts had rigged up a makeshift private shower with a water hose which ran cold water into an old can with holes punched in the bottom. She reported how that wonderful gesture made her entire trip.
At the end of her service, she decided to spend her final weekend in that country in a fancy hotel where she would treat herself to some of the modern conveniences she had been without. On the night before she arrived, the hot water heater for the entire hotel broke down and they could not repair it until Monday, the day she was to leave. She said it ruined her entire weekend.
Why does God allow you to go through adversity? As it was with Israel so it is with you: to teach you!
THE DESERT WILL BLESS YOU
Deuteronomy 8:16, “He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you.”
For Israel, God led them through the desert to humble them, to test them, and to teach them. But ultimately, in the end, he wanted everything to go well with them. In spite of all they faced, God had their best interest in mind. He wanted things to go well with them.
Arden Adamson said, “God loves us too much to needlessly allow pain in our lives.” His ultimate purpose is to help us become all that he wants us to become and, in the end, to bless us.
When Evie and I were raising our children and we needed to place boundaries in their lives and expectations upon them to hold them accountable, how often we wanted to just scoop them up and make life easier for them.
One of the great privileges I had as a professor was to have my two sons in my classes. I loved it. But the greatest challenge I had was when it was time to give the test. How I wanted to call them up the night before and give them the answers. Of course I couldn’t, but their pain caused me pain. I still recall the look on Kevin’s face as he took the Historical Books exam and I could see him struggling for an answer.
God in his wisdom allows adversity in order to bless us in the end. And if we are not yet blessed, then it merely means we are not yet at the end. Steve Estes said, “God permits what he hates to accomplish what he loves.”
The story of Joseph cannot be understood without including Genesis 50:20, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” The apostle Paul’s word helps every leader in the middle of adversity, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Rom. 8:28). Frederick Buechner said, “Even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey that still lies ahead.”
My love for gardening must have had its origins in my early life growing up on a farm where we grew petunias and marigolds. Some years ago I moved from those annuals to perennials. I learned that you plant tulip and allium and daffodil bulbs in the fall before the ground is frozen. The cold of the winter contributes to their growth so when spring comes and the temperature warms up, those bulbs come to life. In the dead of winter I often looked out our kitchen window on the tundra where temperatures would dip to minus twenty and minus thirty degrees with wind chills at times down to minus seventy-five and minus one hundred degrees and think, “Only a gardener knows that there is life under that frozen tundra.”
To illustrate how those bulbs need the freezing environment to break open their hard shells, I often bring some along to show as a demonstration. Once, I did that and placed them in a small plastic bag, and when I got home, I put them on a shelf in my closet. Somehow, they got nudged back out of sight and I didn’t find them until several months later. To my surprise and dismay, they were soft and mushy like a spoiled onion. They needed the cold and frost and ice and snow to help them.
Now, if I were growing flowers the way I thought they should be grown, I wouldn’t do that to them. But when the winter seasons come, we can take great hope that there is life where there does not appear to be life, and that there will be a process which God uses to produce beauty and, though the process is mysterious, he knows what he is doing.
In 1991 Jerry Sittser was traveling with his family on a lonely stretch of highway in rural Idaho. With him were his wife (Lynda), his four children (eight-year-old Catherine, seven-year-old David, four-year-old Diana Jane, two-year-old John) and his mother. Ahead of them a car came swerving into their lane and hit them head on. In his words, “Three generations—gone in an instant”—Lynda, Diana Jane, and his mother.
Once I started reading his compelling book A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss, I could hardly put it down. 4 How could anyone go through such a horrible experience?
Listen to his words, “Catastrophic loss wreaks destruction like a massive flood. It is unrelenting, unforgiving, and uncontrollable, brutally erosive to body, mind and spirit. Sometimes loss does its damage instantly—sometimes loss does its damage gradually. In either case, catastrophic loss leaves the landscape of one’s life forever changed.”
In the initial shock, Sittser spoke of “unspeakable agony” and being “dizzy with grief’s vertigo,” pacing the floor “like a caged animal only recently captured.” He says, “In one moment my family as I had known and cherished was obliterated.”
I had to keep reading, “That initial deluge of loss slowly gave way over the next months to the steady seepage of pain that comes when grief, like floodwaters refusing to subside, finds every crack and crevice of the human spirit to enter and erode. I thought I was going to lose my mind. I was overwhelmed.”
With raw transparency Sittser wrote, “The foundation of my life was close to closing in—the loss brought about by the accident had changed my life, setting me on a course down which I had to journey whether I wanted to or not. I was assigned both a tremendous burden and terrible challenge. I faced the test of my life.”
We all know, of course, there are many types of loss. Sometimes death is not the most challenging. When my father died and left my mother as a single parent of four children at sixteen, fifteen, twelve, and nine years of age, she later said that her loss was less painful than going through a divorce. At least she had good memories.
Two final comments capture Sittser’s thoughts about the accident and his life. “Life will end up being far worse than it would have otherwise been; it will also end up being far better. I will have to endure the bad I do not deserve; I will also get the good I do not deserve.”
And finally, “The accident remains now, as it always has been, a horrible experience that did great damage to us and to so many others. It was and will remain a very bad chapter. But the whole of my life is becoming what appears to be a very good book.” His final chapter is titled “Life Has the Final Word.” And I would add that it is God who has the ultimate word.
Why does God allow you to go through adversity? As it was with Israel, so it is with you: To do you good in the end.
The son of a friend of mine smashed his finger, broke the bone in the tip and tore off the whole nail. His father hated to see him in such pain but had to laugh when his son said, “I’m only six—why, God, why?”
When you live as long as I have, you encounter many adversities. Some of them I’ve mentioned in this chapter. I couldn’t begin to list them all here. I’ve heard it said that if the right subject is brought up, any one of us could be brought to tears in a matter of a few minutes. And sooner or later we wonder why God has allowed that in our lives.
But how we respond to those adversities changes everything. The same sun that melts butter hardens clay. If we face them and we get angry and hard and bitter, we will allow the desert experiences to ruin us. But if we allow them to crush the self part of us, the part that is not like God, those things will transform us into the image of God. But it is our choice.
Viktor Frankl was a Holocaust survivor who wrote a book about his experience titled Man’s Search for Meaning. He made a strong case for personal responsibility when we face any adversity, even something as horrific as the Holocaust. He said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” 5 We all have a choice how we respond in that space.
And it is in that space that life rises and falls when we are in the desert.
Tsang Tsz-Kwan is an amazing twenty-year-old young woman from Hong Kong, China. If you were to pass her on the sidewalk, she would look like an average student in Hong Kong with her standard-issue blue shift dress with a Chinese collar and practical black shoes.
Tsang’s determination helped her in a recent test to score within the top 5 percent in nearly all her subjects in the city’s college entrance examinations. You may wonder what could be so amazing about her and her accomplishments.
Tsang has been blind and severely hearing impaired from a young age. She also has weak sensitivity in her fingertips, which prevents her from being able to feel the raised dots of Braille characters. But rather than give up, she found a different way to read Braille—with her lips.
She refused to allow her adversity to define her. Between stimulus and her response there was a space and she did something incredible in that space. Next time I’m tempted to complain about the less-than-perfect circumstances that are upon me, I will remember the blind and nearly deaf Chinese young woman who reads Braille with her lips.
Often, when the tempest rages and I don’t know the answer, I think about that space. In that space between stimulus and response I also can choose how to respond. And the response I keep coming back to is asking the question, What can I learn from this adversity? What is God trying to teach me?
Charles Spurgeon answered the question like this, “Many people owe the grandeur of their lives to their tremendous difficulties. The Lord gets his best soldiers out of the highlands of affliction.” God does not throw us into deep water to drown us but to clean us up and to teach us how to swim. Sure, like the disciples we may find ourselves “straining at the oars” (Mark 6:48), but we know that God is doing deep things in us to teach us to trust him.
Of course, all we do is for the glory of God. And according to Isaiah 42:8, “I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.” No one is immune to the storms of life. The followers of Jesus should be able to take a punch better than anyone else. And when we survive the storm and are still standing after we are beaten up by the adversity, the fact that we have survived brings ultimate glory to God.
We would ask one more time, Why does God allow me to go through adversity?
This would be Thomas Merton’s reply:
Souls are like wax waiting for a seal. … The wax that has melted in God’s will can easily receive the stamp of its identity, the truth of what it was meant to be. But the wax that is hard and dry and brittle and without love will not take the seal: for the hard seal, descending upon it, grinds it to powder.
Therefore if you spend your life trying to escape from the heat of the fire that is meant to soften and prepare you to become your true self, and if you try to keep your substance from melting in the fire—as if your true identity were to be hard wax—the seal will fall upon you at last and crush you. You will not be able to take your true name and countenance, and you will be destroyed by the event which was meant to be your fulfillment. 6
When these times come, and they will, may we always be “prisoners of hope” (Zech. 9:12).
Notes - CHAPTER 9
1. Philip Yancey, Where Is God When It Hurts? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977).
2. Philip Yancey, The Question That Never Goes Away (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013).
3. Nancy Guthrie, Be Still My Soul: Embracing God’s Purpose and Provision in Suffering: 25 Classic and Contemporary Readings on the Problem of Pain (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 33.
4. Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998, 2004).
5. Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (New York: Washington Square Press, 1946, 1984).
6. Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: Penguin Books, 1962, 1972), 161.
About the Author
Don Meyer is the president of the University of Valley Forge (UVF) and has been serving in that capacity since January 1, 1997. Meyer began his academic journey at Evangel University, formerly Central Bible College, in Springfield, Missouri, where he earned a bachelor’s degree. He went on to earn a master’s degree at Wheaton Graduate School in Wheaton, Illinois, and his doctorate at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Meyer served for twenty-one years at North Central University, formerly North Central Bible College (NCBC), as a faculty member (three years) and as vice president of academic affairs (eighteen years).
Prior to accepting the position at NCBC, Meyer, an ordained Assemblies of God minister, pastored for seven years in Pennsylvania. He has spoken at camps, retreats, seminars and churches in the United States and overseas with extensive ministry in over twenty-five countries. He has contributed articles to various Christian publications and journals, and for over thirteen years has written a weekly column in the local newspaper of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. His column, “Think About It,” has been published in Huffington Post, The Phoenix Reporter and Item, and others. An archive of “Think About It” articles is available at valleyforge.edu/ThinkAboutIt.
Meyer is a native of Lebanon, Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Evie, married 48 years, live in Phoenixville. They have two sons, Darin and Kevin, and one grandson, Noah.
Meyer is a dynamic, insightful and well-known speaker and author who is available to speak at your event. If you are interested in exploring his participation in an upcoming event, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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1. Leadership—Religious aspects—Christianity.
2. Leadership—Biblical teaching.
3. Christian life.
The following numbers are for the full book, The Distinguishing Mark of Leadership by Don Meyer:
ISBN 978-1-937107-45-1 (paperback)
ISBN 978-1-937107-46-8 (ebook)
Printed in the United States of America