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Understanding the Power of Expectations

From the series Living Above Your Circumstances

Do you feel like quitting today - giving up, giving in, throwing in the towel? Just saying to God, "I'm done!" If you want to know how to hang tough in tough times join Chip as he reveals how you can not only survive in these tough times but thrive!

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What we’re going to learn today is, the distance between your expectations and your experience is the level of frustration and anger and disappointment you have in life.

Let me give you a quick, positive picture.  Let’s say you’re a hypothetical couple, Dan and Sally.  Dan and Sally are newly married; they have built their brand-new house.  They waited to have children.  They have an 18 month old; they are absolutely crazy about him.  They live in a nice area; everything is perfect.  They have finally made it.  She has been a little overprotective.  So, the baby is 18 months old; this is their first date since then.  They go to an exclusive restaurant.  He’s got a great job.  Life just couldn’t be more wonderful.  They get a phone call.

Scenario number one, hypothetical situation: They get a phone call from an honest friend: “Hey, there’s smoke billowing out of your house.  The babysitter just ran out.  The fire department is on the way.  There are flames leaping out. We know you put burglar bars on the back to protect your little boy.  We don’t know if he got out or not.  You need to come immediately.”

They drop their expensive meal, get in the car, rush home, and their only thought is what?  Is our little boy alive?  That’s their only thought.  Their expectations that have been framed are, this is a very serious situation: Smoke, fire, police departments – and they are crazy.  And they come; their house is engulfed in flames.  No one can find the child.  Babysitter doesn’t know what happened.  She fell asleep; when she awoke, there was smoke.  She looked; she couldn’t get there.  Terrible situation.  Their home is burning, and now, it’s ashes.  And they are absolutely distraught.  Forty-five minutes, as the ashes are beginning to cool, and the wife is uncontrollable in anguish, a big, strong fireman comes up, with an 18 month old in his arms, and says, “I think he must have crawled out through the bars.  You all are very fortunate.”  And they are ecstatic.

Scenario number two – same couple, same situation, same child – 18 month old – same job, we got the whole scene.  They are now eating.  They get another phone call.  They get a phone call from a friend who thinks, We need to protect them from this.  “Hey, it’s just a little kitchen fire.  A little smoke came out.  I saw the babysitter running out.  I’m sure the fire department is here.  It’s not a big deal, probably a little grease fire in the kitchen.  But you probably ought to come, because we don’t want them to worry.”  They come with the expectation, Boy, I hope our home is okay.  Boy, I hope it’s okay.  We just spent all that money, and we redecorated.  We did the whole nine yards!  And they come, and the house is on fire!  And they assume, obviously, it wasn’t a very big fire.  Someone must have had their child; it can’t be a big deal.  And they start looking around; they can’t find him.  And they are distraught and angry and absolutely ticked off, because all they worked for went up in flames.

Same situation, two different expectations.  They drive home, in scenario number one, thinking they may have lost their child.  And they have a home in ashes, and they are bouncing like little kids off the wall with joy.  They come, in scenario number two, assume everything is okay.  The exact same thing happens, and, instead of rejoicing that they have a child that is alive, they are devastated because their home is gone.  You get the picture?

The principle that you need to remember is very, very simple: Disappointment equals the distance between our expectations and our experience.  You might want to jot that down.  Disappointment equals the distance between our expectations and our experience.  If you push it a step farther, disillusionment occurs when unrealistic expectations meet normal, predictable reality.

I was totally disillusioned for about a three to four-hour period in my marriage, not because what happened isn’t normal, healthy, predictable, and happens in every marriage!  I was disillusioned because disillusionment is always the child of an illusion.  I had an illusion about what marriage should be like, and then, when reality set in, I was devastated.

I think there are a lot of people that go into marriage and realize, This is going to be tough.  We’ll probably have a lot of fights.  We really love each other.  People communicate – we’ll probably knock things around a lot.  And they have their first or second or third fight, and thought,  Yep, pretty normal.

I’ve got this idea that running backs that go into the NFL think they’re going to get hit.  It’s just a thought.  And so, when they come through the hole, and there’s a blitz set up, and there is some free safety about 6’2” and a half, 225, who runs the 40 in 4.5, and this guy gets set up, and he goes – Boom! – and Barry Sanders wonders where life went . . . And they give him the smelling salts.  It hurt.  But he expected it.  You go play in the NFL, you’re going to take some hits.

And what the apostle Paul basically is going to tell us, “You want to play in the NFL, you want to be a man or a woman of God, you want your life to make a difference, you want to draw close to the Savior in a fallen world? Fasten your chinstrap.  Fasten your chinstrap.  Because you’re going to take some hits, and that’s normal.”  But if you naïvely believe that it’s not, you are going to be frustrated, disappointed, disillusioned, giving, “Why, God?  Why me?  What’s the deal?  I don’t understand.  I thought You were good.  I thought You loved me.”  That’s all the things I was asking about my wife.

Where we have been, by way of review, is a divine formula, for four weeks – C + P = E, right?  Circumstance plus your perspective equals your experience.  How much control do we have of our circumstances?  Very little.  How much control of our perspective?  A hundred percent.  It’s how you choose to look, empowered by the Holy Spirit, on what you go through.

We learned, in week one, that the key is “focus.” Is it upward and outward, or is it inward?  In week number two, we learned “purpose,” that God use my adversity, leverage it.  In week number three, we talked about “hope,” learning it’s from where you look, through a divine or eternal perspective.

And, with that, if you’ll open your study guide, I have put the passage within, or if you’d like to open your Bibles to Philippians chapter 1.  We’re now going to look at the final lesson from the apostle Paul’s life.  End of chapter 1, he is basically going to say the fourth key is “expectation.”  And you and I need to ask this question, when life really gets up and down, and relationships get frazzled, we need to ask, “Well, what did you expect?  What did you expect?  What did you think, you were going to go through a marriage and tiptoe through the tulips for 35 years, and life be perfect?”  I did.

Boy, when I look back on that, that sure was dumb, wasn’t it? And so, we need to ask the question, “What are our expectations?”

And what the apostle Paul is going to do for us, in verses 27 through 30, is, he is going to lay out clear expectations.  You want to know?  He’s going to say, “Look,” in verse 27 and 28, “do you want to know what God expects from you, as a son or a daughter of Jesus Christ?”  He’s going to just make it as clear as he can.

And then, he is going to stop, and he is going to flip the coin, and he says, “Now, do you know what you can expect from God?”  See, life is hard.  And unlike the commercial, therefore, get all the gusto, or play hard – no.  Life is hard, therefore, know what God expects, and know what you can expect from Him, because when your expectations and your experience are closely aligned, you don’t get disappointed.  You have grace and strength.

See, I think when one of those NFL running backs shoots through a hole, knowing that he is going to get his head knocked in, I think he learns to position his body, and he learns there are certain cuts you take, and certain cuts you don’t take, and I think when he can sense and feel that, I think there’s a linebacker coming, I think you kind of tuck your head, and you take a shot, without getting hurt.  But if you don’t think you’re ever going to get hit, boy, you can really get nailed.

And I meet Christians all the time that have really been nailed: “Well, I thought when I asked Jesus to come into my life that my marriage would get all better in a couple months.”  “It was through our business that failed, and I asked Christ to come into my life, and I knew I was desperate for the first time, and you know what?  We went bankrupt.  He didn’t send a check in the mail.”  “Well, I thought when I asked Christ to come into my life, and I made a decision to really follow Him with all my heart that everything would get better, and now, my parents think I’m nuts.  My kids are saying, ‘Hey, what happened to you, Dad?’  And the people at work are giving me a hard time.  This isn’t exactly what I was expecting.”

So, what can we expect?  Let’s look at what the apostle Paul says.  Verse 27 – what does God expect?  First and foremost, a consistent conduct.  He says, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”  In essence, this new little phrase: “Whatever happens,” it says, “only,” or, “now, getting to the final issue.”  It says, “Walk in a manner worthy of the Gospel.” Live in such a way that your life reflects, by what you say and what you think and what you do, this Good News, this brand new life that you have in Christ.

And Paul, he’s a shrewd guy.  This phrase, “conduct yourselves,” there are a couple of different words in the New Testament Greek he could have used, and one means “to walk in a circumspect way so that there’s consistency.”  But he doesn’t use that word, like in Ephesians.  He uses the word that we get our word for politics. The Philippians were a Roman colony, and they were proud of it. If you were a Roman citizen, in that day, everywhere you went, membership has its privileges, trust me, if you were a Roman citizen, you could walk in any town, any colony.  You could demand things as a Roman citizen.

We find it with Paul.  Remember when they beat him up one time, and they were ready to sentence him?  And he says, “Oh, is this how you always treat the Roman citizens?”  And the guy goes, “Oh, I was just kidding, man.”  You know, “Can we get you a drink of water?”  You know?  But a Roman citizen had a set of privileges, but there was also a set of responsibilities.  And Philippi was an official Roman colony, and there was a sense of prestige.

And the apostle Paul uses that word, and basically, what he says is, “You know, the sense of privilege and responsibility you feel at being a Roman citizen?”  He says, “I want you to act like citizens of heaven.  I want you to understand that there is even a higher calling.  That’s great.  But when you walk around town, and when you travel, you have certain privileges.  You have access to the eternal God of the universe.  His Son died for you.  He raised from the dead.  His Spirit lives within you.  You have privileges like no people on this planet.

But you also have some responsibilities.  And everywhere you go, what comes out of your mouth, and how you treat people, and what you do with your stuff and why you do it – it needs to reflect a consistent conduct.  Live according to your calling.  That’s God’s expectation.  Be the man, be the woman, that God saved you, forgave you, and empowered you to be.”  That’s what he’s saying.  That’s what God expects.  Not of super Christians, not of missionaries, not of pastors – us, regular people.

And then, the apostle almost thinks, in his mind, I wonder if they’re wondering, there in Philippi, what exactly does it look like to live a consistent life? How would you know for sure whether you’re living up to God’s expectations or not?  And so, in the second half of verse 27, and here in verse 28, he lays out, precisely, when he says, “live a consistent life,” or, “in a manner worthy of Christ” – he lays out, in the next little section, exactly, exactly what living a consistent life looks like.

Let’s look at it – verse 27 – the second half – and 28.  He says, “Then, whether I come and see you” – meaning, he feels like he might get out of prison, and he’ll get to visit them – “or only hear about you in my absence” – he remains in prison – “I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This [response] is a sign to them that they will be destroyed” – “a sign to your opponents,” he says.  And the word for opponents, here, and a sign to them, is the same word used for “people who are against Christ.”  It’s used other places in the New Testament for the Antichrist.  And then, he goes on to say, “But that you will be saved – and that [too] by God.”

As you read through, Paul says, “Look, when I come – if I hear about you, if I get to come, I want to know that you’re living a consistent life.  I want you to know, as a Kingdom citizen of being related to Christ, I want to know, or I want to hear, that you are really living up to the privileges and the responsibilities of your calling.  That’s what God expects.”

And if you want to know, specifically, what that looks like, let me give you three action words.  In fact, if you got a pencil, you might pull it out.  We do Bible study here together, so if you don’t bring a pencil or pen, you might bring it in the future.  Circle the words stand firm, and then, in parenthesis, “in one spirit.”  Then, circle the word contending, and then, you might put in parentheses “as one man for the faith of the gospel.”  And then, circle the word without being frightened.  Paul focuses on three terms to explain the evidence of a consistent conduct.  And you know why?  Because I think the apostle Paul – here’s a man in chains.  Here’s a guy that’s been left for dead.  He’s been beaten up.  You talk about a guy who has been through a hard life because of his relationship with Christ.  He knows there are three temptations, when life gets hard, for Christians.

The first temptation is to give up, isn’t it?  “I quit.  I just give up.  I didn’t know it was going to be this hard.  I thought things would be better.  I thought they would be easier.  I’m getting flak at work; I’m getting flak at home.  I’m getting financial flak, flak, flak, flak, flak, flak – forget it!  I quit, God!”

The second temptation is to give in.  Just compromise.  Just don’t stand as strong.  When a topic comes up at the office, and you know God gives you an opportunity, and you need to step through it, just shut up.  Just don’t be a leader in your house.  Just kind of back off.  Don’t take that kind of stand in school.  Then, people won’t get on you.  Just melt into the woodwork.

The third temptation is to shrink back, to lose courage, to lose confidence, to just go through the motions and be paralyzed, not to live a consistent life.  And the apostle Paul knows that, just like his pressure, when we get under pressure, we want to give up, we want to give in, or we want to shrink back.

And so, look at the key words.  The first thing he says is that we should hang tough in tough times.  That’s what it means to “stand firm,” here.  He says, “Stand firm.”  It’s, “Be steadfast in the storm.  When it gets really hard, hang tough in tough times.”  He said, “That’s how you live and demonstrate a consistent manner of life.” Don’t give up.

And then, he tells us how to do it.  Notice the little phrase, “in one spirit.”  Now, the scholars have a little debate on this little phrase.  They don’t know whether “in one spirit” is, you stand strong, empowered by the Holy Spirit because there are no capital letters in the text. Or is this the idea that you stand strong in the storms of life “in one spirit” drawing on the strength and the encouragement of other brothers and sisters in Christ?  And I think this is one of those times where, grammatically, either could be true, and theologically, both are true.  God wants you and me to stand strong.  Don’t quit.  Don’t give up.  Where are you going to get the strength?  Depend on the Spirit: “Oh, God, fill me with Your Spirit.  Give me the strength to go on.”  And just admit, “I don’t feel like it.”
If you’re going through something hard, welcome to the spiritual NFL.  Everybody takes hits.  But when you think you’re the only one, and instead of getting in a huddle and sharing what’s going on in your life, you get on the end of the bench, the helmet in your hand, your chin strap’s off, you’re leaning over, I’m not worth anything, what happens?  It’s not long before you walk off the field.

I sat next to a guy, and within 15 or 20 minutes, man, he shared some of the most sensitive material I have ever heard another man share with another man.  Stuff about his marriage.  Sensitive, sensitive stuff.  And I was so amazed, because he shared – and he’s a very mature guy – he shared it with a sense of, “These are very, very difficult things to go through, and it has been a very long journey, and this is normative for Christians.  This is my story.  This is what I’m going through.”  And then, we had the opportunity just to talk about it together.

And you know what? I’ve got the same ups and downs and struggles in my marriage, and just being with him, I was strengthened in one spirit to realize, there are fellow men, going through fellow things, and here is one that has perspective.  He’s older, wiser, more mature.

And you need that. We talk about small groups – if you’re not in some kind of a small group – a ministry team, an impact group, a Bible study, an informal group that meets in the morning with a group of men, a group of ladies, at least some sort of an elective class – it won’t be long before you find yourself sitting on the end of the bench, alone and discouraged, not living up to your conduct, because you’re not taking advantage of the resources in the body that God has to give you.

We’re going to form 50, 60 groups for guys to go on.  And we’re praying that another two or three hundred men will say, “Hey, guys, thanks for leading the way.  I wanted to go, and I couldn’t.  But next Friday night when you guys get together and have the big rally here, and you share what happened in your life, I’m coming!  I’m coming!  I couldn’t go – businesswise, otherwise.  I couldn’t go.  But I’ll be there next Friday night.  You guys give me a taste of what you had, and let me get connected with some other men.”

Look at the word contending: “contending as one man.”  He says, “Hang together in troubled times.  Hang tough – hang tough in tough times.”  And the second thing is, hang together in troubled, or testing, times.  This word, contending, is really interesting.  It has a prefix that means “together,” and the second half of the word means “to fight.”  It’s used of Roman soldiers fighting arm-to-arm, shield-to-shield, back-to-back, face-to-face. There is a huge adversary.  And what are they contending for?  They’re contending for the faith in the Gospel.  They want to move God’s agenda through their community, through their world.  And you take a lot of flak, and you take a lot of hits.  And so, he says, “As you do battle,” he says, “stand together.  Be unified.  Be arm to arm.  Cover each other, back to back.  Hold each other up.” We saw that real strong call to putting aside differences and standing unified in the midst of the battle to take the work of Christ on.

A young black man shared, on Saturday night, about racial reconciliation, not as some social obligation, but as from Scripture, not looking at people on the outside and looking at them on the inside, and actually living that out as obedience to God.  And, boy, he got fired up.  Then, about 50,000 guys got fired up. “Yeah!  Yeah!” And then we sang.  And we did lots of things that were uncomfortable for men, but only because we’re men.  But with 50,000 men doing it, it just seemed, kind of, okay.  You know what I’m saying?  I don’t hold hands with guys. I just don’t come from that kind of background.  When 49,999 guys decided we’d all hold hands, it’s okay.  I can handle it.  My insecurities are okay.  I think I can make it through this deal all right, you know?

And he began to talk about racial unity, and there were a couple of guys to my left – if they don’t make it in the NFL, they should.  One guy, about 260, 275 – big, strong black guy, arms about this big, a tattoo about like that, you know? And then, up here was a silver-haired – I could tell by his dress, and he’s an executive someplace.  I mean, he’s just well off and affluent and articulate. And as we sang, they said, “You know, if you’ve ever struggled with this issue, maybe you need to go to someone.  Maybe you need to face this thing, and believe and honor that you’re really a body.”

And I have never been so moved.  The tears just flowed down my face.  I watched this silver-haired executive, I could tell from the labels on his clothes that he shopped at the right places, and there is nothing wrong with that, that was just his lifestyle.  And I watched him look around, and he had one of his sons with him, and he stepped back, and he put their hands together, and then, he walked out the aisle.

And then, he walked down to three rows, and two of the largest, strongest, tattooed, earring-toting black brothers that I’ve ever seen in my life, and he walks in between them, and he steps in like this.  And with the biggest grins, they both turn, like that. And he stepped in there, and then, they joined hands, and they sang and they prayed.  And then, I watched, afterwards, we prayed together.  And I had one eye open.  Probably illegal, but God was speaking to me just a little.  And I watched these three guys, with their arms around one another.

That is what Paul is saying.  What God expects of you, and what He expects of me, is to live a life worthy of the Gospel.  Live consistent with your privileges and also with your responsibility.  Hang tough in tough times! And then, hang together.  Hang together in times of testing.

The third word is a word for “without being frightened.”  It literally has the idea of, “be courageous in the face of the future.”  It’s a word that was used when a horse would be spooked or scared.  You know how they buck, and then, stampede?  It says, “Don’t live like a horse that could be spooked.  Be courageous because of your relationships.  Face the tough things.  Don’t quit.  Don’t give up.  Don’t give in.  Hang together.  And when you see what seems to be overwhelming odds in your life, stand together, face it together, and trust God.”

We had an elders’ meeting.  The length of the elders’ meeting was not an awesome experience.  It always goes like that.  We started about 6:30, and, close to midnight, we were wrapping it up, which really wasn’t bad for us.  But one of the biggest issues that we had to face – we have a three-year commitment, two million dollars.  We’ve only got about four to six months left, and there’s $500,000 dollars or so, a little more.  And, as leaders, the elders have to get before God and say, “What do You want us to do?  Should we just pray as a church?  Should we make the need be known?  Want to put a thermometer in the front – no, no, that’s not – I mean, what do You want us to do?  We’re absolutely convinced it’s Your will to provide space.  But $500,000 dollars in 90 to 120 days or so . . .” And it was like, What do you do?  And we hem-hawed around, you know, “Gosh, I don’t know.”

It was interesting, because two or three of the guys that have been through the hardest and most difficult times in the life of this church, for unusual reasons, they couldn’t be there.  And we have 98 percent attendance in every elders’ meeting.  And we waited and we prayed, and so we decided, God always leads by leaders leading first.  And we had a long, long season of prayer, and then, we offered every possibility, and then, we said, “Well, we can’t deal with anybody else.  Let’s ask what God would want us to do.”

And we went around the table, and each guy said, “This is just in this room, but this is what I’ve done on the building.”  And I heard, to the man, every single person, “This is what I pledged.  I’ve already paid it off.”  And then, remember last year, when we needed $300,000?  You’d hear one guy say, “Well, I gave half again as much back then.”  And another guy said, “Well, I gave a third again as much.”  Another guy, “I gave again what I had already originally planned.”  Every man had already paid his off, and then, last year, six months ago, every man stepped up and had given another major portion.  And here we are again.

And then, I watched every single guy flat out step up to the plate. You say, “Well, have a lot of people moved away?  Maybe a lot of people have had financial reversal, and they can’t keep their commitment to God.”  And we don’t know all the reasons.  You know what?  It’s not our role to figure out the reasons.  It’s our role to lead, sacrificially, and do it for Christ.  And each guy said, “This is what I got in the bank.  I could take this out of retirement.  I could . . .”  And this is over/above their general giving.  This is over/above their missions giving.  This is over/above what they have pledged already.

And you know, I don’t know what’s going to happen on this building, and at this point, I just know God is in control.  But you talk about standing together, with one mind, contending for the faith of the Gospel, in no way being frightened by what seems a huge mountain.  “It’s a sign” – what does he say?  “It’s a sign of destruction for them.”

I left that meeting, and I was dead and tired, and I thought, If God has put the leaders of this church, that are willing, in round three, to give over and above here, over and above here, over and above here, God, I don’t want to be any place else in the whole world.  I don’t know how You’re going to remove this mountain, but I know this: You’ll take care of it.  What an honor.  Because when leaders lead, people follow.

And leaders lead when they follow Christ, and they do what they ask others to do.  And it was exciting, an exciting opportunity.  And pray for them, will you?  They’re giving out of where they don’t know where it’s going to come from.  And it will mean lifestyle changes. So, just pray for them.

But you need to know – they’d never tell you that – you need to know that living worthy of the Gospel, standing firm, contending, not being frightened – that’s where we’re at right now.  And you know what else?  That’s what God expects.  That’s what Jesus expects of this church.  It’s what He expects of me, of the elders, of you, of everyone.

Now, let’s flip the coin and ask, “What can we expect from God?  What’s it going to be like to love Him and walk with Him?”  He wants us to stand firm.  He doesn’t want us to quit.  He doesn’t want us to give up.  He doesn’t want us to give in.  He doesn’t want us to shrink back in the face of it.  He wants to press ahead.  But what can we expect from Him?  In verses 29 and 30, he explains.  He says, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe [in] Him, but also to suffer for Him” – or, “for His sake” – “since you are [now] going through the same struggle” – or, “conflict” – “you saw I had, and now hear [to be in me].”

There are two things we can expect from God.  You notice the little phrase, “It’s been granted to you”?  Interesting phrase.  It means “it’s a privilege.”  We get our word grace.  It means, literally, “a gift.”  God has given you a gift.  If you belong to Christ, He has given you two gifts.  Here are two expectations.  You can just take it to the bank – two things He has already given you, as a privilege.

Privilege number one: “It has been granted to you a gift of faith.”  You can believe.  You’re going to go to heaven.  Your sins are forgiven.  The Spirit lives in you.  God is faithful.  He is dependable.  He is going to see you through.  He loves you.  He will never abandon you.  You are secure.  That’s one gift.

There’s a second gift.  This is one you don’t hear a lot about.  Look at the construction, grammatically.  “It has been granted to you for Christ’s sake to” – (A) – “believe in Him and” – (B) – what does it say?  Look at it.  “To suffer for His sake.”  It’s a gift!  You talk about framing your expectations – going through hard times is normative.  It’s to be expected.

I don’t want to be critical of radio and TV preachers, but I’m going to be, so . . . There are many that are good, that are great.  But there is a section of those people that talk about health and wealth and believing Jesus, your life will all work out, and your finances will be all good, and it’s a self-help heresy that violates the heart of Scripture.

I’m going to tell you something, you go in believing that trash that you hear, and that’s what it is.  It’s from the pit of hell.  God never said life is going to be easy.  What He said is, life will be great.  It will be great. It won’t be easy.  Nothing great is easy.

You find me someone with a great marriage – it wasn’t easy.  You find someone who has built a great business – it wasn’t easy.  You find a great musician, a great athlete, a great artist – it wasn’t easy.  You find someone who has really worked hard with their kids, and you see some product of it – it wasn’t easy.  It was filled with tears and pain and late nights and hard work and suffering.  You live in a fallen world; you’re going to suffer.  And he says, “We can expect suffering from God, along with faith.

2 Timothy 3 says that for all those who live a Godly life, or want to live a Godly life, in Christ Jesus, they will be persecuted.  Jesus, the last night, in John 16:33 – remember what He said to His disciples?  He said, “In the world you will have tribulation” – hard times – “but be of good cheer.  I’m with you.”  You’re going to suffer!  But not in vain.  See, everybody suffers.  Do you know anybody that doesn’t suffer?  Some people are just suffering for nothing!  You get to suffer for Christ.  Seriously! No, think that one through!  Everybody suffers.  Everyone has struggles.  Everyone has setbacks.  Everyone has physical limitations.  Everyone has problems in families.  Everyone goes through financial and emotional ups and downs.  We get to suffer for Christ.  It’s normative.  It’s to be expected.  You swim upstream, you’re going to take hits.

But now, you need to be really careful.  All suffering isn’t from Christ.  See, when you’re going through a really hard time, don’t take this passage and run to the corner, and say, “Oh, I now know why.  It’s just because I love God so much.”  If it’s because you love God so much, great.  But there are at least four or five different reasons why we suffer.  When I’m going through a really, really hard time, I go through this little index in my mind, and say, “God, I need to understand why I’m suffering.”  And so, I go through some of these reasons, and then, I ask.

Reason number one we suffer is my sin.  I do dumb things.  I say bad things.  I disobey God.  I walk outside of His will, and the Scripture says you reap whatever you sow.  When you do dumb, sinful things, you’re going to suffer.  But don’t run to this passage and say, “It’s for Christ.”  It’s not for Christ.  It’s because you’re like me.

Second reason you suffer, I ask God, “Is this spiritual attack?”  Job wasn’t doing anything wrong.  God wasn’t down on Job.  Did he suffer?  You bet.  There are times where the enemy comes against you.

Third reason you suffer is, it’s a fallen world.  There’s bacteria out there.  People get sick.  Cars’ brakes give out.  The world isn’t perfect.  Some of it, it’s just generic.  There’s suffering in the world.

Fourth reason we suffer is spiritual discipline – Hebrews 12.  There are times in your life God wants to get your attention, and you’re moving in a way that will be harmful to you, and He is your Dad, and He loves you so much, He will give you a spiritual spanking.  And He will unplug your finances, He will unplug some relationships, He will unplug your work, He will unplug something, until you say, “Hey, did You want to talk?”

The fifth reason that God will allow you to suffer is spiritual development.  2 Corinthians 12 – God wanted Paul to be spiritually developed, to be dependent at a new level, because he could handle much more revelation that way.  And he asked to be delivered, and God says, “Here’s My deliverance, Paul.  My grace is sufficient for you.  Your circumstances don’t change at all.  You just get more of Me in them.  That’s it, bud.  Step up to the plate.  This is normative.”

This passage is talking about the spiritual opposition.  It’s for the sake of the Gospel.  It’s when you believe in Christ, and your parents don’t understand.  It’s when you believe in Christ, and you want to take radical steps, and your mate can’t grasp it.  It’s when your friends abandon you and say, “You know, you used to be so much fun to be around, but you never want to go to the bars with us anymore.”  It’s when you get your finances in biblical order, and, before it gets better, it gets a lot worse, and you’re saying, “Giving off the top?  Am I doing this with my brain connected?”  It’s when you get criticism for standing on a principle that’s not politically correct, but it’s biblically sound.  That’s what it means to suffer for Christ.  It’s when you get rejected, and you’re viewed as narrow.  You’re persecuted by people.

I remember touching down on a plane in Cochabamba, and the mortars were going off, and the guy said, “Don’t think you guys are going to get to play here.  The rebels aren’t real excited about your team.”  And the plane went right back up, you know?  I’ve been with Tom Randall and had submachine guns faced right at my ears, and saying, “Thomas, tell them something quick.”  He said, “These are the Communists.  They don’t like Christian teams.  Let me try and handle it.”  You suffer.  And I didn’t know whether I was going to live or die.

That’s what he’s talking about. Here are your expectations.  Do they align with your experience?  Can you embrace the suffering, and realize that the models are Jesus?  He didn’t do anything wrong.  He lived in the perfect will of God.

He wasn’t healthy, wealthy, and wasn’t being interviewed for talk show hosts.  They nailed Him to a tree because He obeyed God.  But the glory and the suffering and the reward that He received, the Scripture says, is not to be compared with even the temporal suffering now.  It goes back to that eternal perspective, doesn’t it.  It goes back into where your focus is, doesn’t it?  It goes back into your purpose and why you’re here and what you want God to accomplish.