A Healthy Reaction to Trouble
Good Christians are always in trouble — not with the law, but with the devil and his loyalists. Sometimes our God, who is more interested in our character than our comfort, allows troubles of a different kind in order to make us more effective and exemplary in our Christward journey.
The early Christians were facing constant trouble. It came in the form of persecution (Acts 4), corruption (Acts 5), potential division (Acts 6:2), and pressing distractions (Acts 6:2-4). They were praying menaces to the kingdom of darkness, and the ruler of this dark kingdom was on constant counterattack.
If we are going to follow Christ with a serious dedication, we too will encounter many troubles. It is a promise (2 Timothy 3:12). The question is not IF we will go through difficult times, but how we will react to them.
The question is not IF we will go through difficult times, but how we will react to them.
I remember reading a chapter by Watchman Nee many years ago where he wrote on “The Believer’s Reaction.” He explained, “By observing how a person reacts, we can judge who he is. A Christian should not have unchristian reactions, nor can a non-Christian have true Christian reactions. If you want to know what sort of person someone is, just notice the kind of reactions he has.” [i] Actions can be calculated and manipulated. Reactions tend to come straight from the gut and expose the nature of our soul.
Actions can be calculated and manipulated. Reactions tend to come straight from the gut and expose the nature of our soul.
In studying Acts 4:23-31, I am impressed and helped by the reaction of the early Christ followers. Their leaders, Peter and John, were sequestered, questioned, and threatened with a warning to stop preaching the Gospel. In Acts 4:23 they went back to the gathered Christians and reported on the trouble they had seen. Then the text says in v. 24, “So when they heard that . . . ” Stop. Read carefully here.
But before you do, ask yourself a few questions. How do I respond to bad news? What do I feel when someone I love has been maligned or mistreated? When my safety is shaken or even when my life is threatened, what do I say? How do I respond to unanticipated and painful difficulties in my life? Think about your answers honestly and candidly before proceeding.
Now, let’s glean some inspiration from these early believers. The account goes on to say, “So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: ‘Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them . . .’” (v. 24). They did not picket, send nasty e-mails, appeal to Caesar, or grumble among themselves. They worshiped God!
Reaction One: Worshiping God for Who He Is
When in trouble, worship should not be our last resort, but our first response. In my first book, The Deeper Life, I noted that the most important question in every life is, “Who is God?” This is especially true in times of trouble.
When facing difficulties, we tend to ask questions like, “Why is this happening?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” or “Now what is going to happen with my life and my plans?” Instead – and instinctively – these believers went back to the foundational issue. They worshiped God.
In this passage, the early Christ followers proclaimed God’s character with united hearts and voices (a strong statement about the need to stay and pray in community when you face problems). They extolled Him as the Lord, the Sovereign God, the Creator and Controller of all things, the One whose Word is true and reliable. They acknowledged that these difficult experiences were clearly within the scope of God’s plan. They knew that all of human history, and their histories, centered in Jesus.
When we encounter overwhelming trouble, it is important to remember the reassurance of Scripture. Isaiah 26:3 says this: “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” Consider Daniel 11:32, which says, “ . . . but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits.” These promises were on practical display in Acts 4. They worked for these early Christians, and they will work for us as we allow them to regulate our thoughts and emotions.
Reaction Two: Seeing Ourselves for Who We Are
In a modern world where so many people react to trouble by claiming their rights in an aggressive display of ego or in coddling their fears in a fit of depression, we can be a refreshing contrast, just as the early church was. Having embraced a solid picture of God, they went on to declare the truth about themselves. Verse 29 says, “Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants . . .”
In a modern world where so many people react to trouble by claiming their rights in an aggressive display of ego or in coddling their fears in a fit of depression, we can be a refreshing contrast, just as the early church was.
Servants. The Greek here is doulos, more literally translated “slave.” That’s how they saw themselves. Slaves have no rights, only the honor of accomplishing the agenda of the one to whom they are subject. Trouble has a way of revealing our true view of our place in this world. I remember Gordon MacDonald saying, “Everyone wants to be a servant until someone treats them like one.” Problems and pain test our commitment to servanthood.
Our identity in Christ is a powerful and fundamental truth for surviving tough times. Remembering that we are beloved, accepted, righteous, and complete in Christ gives us real security. Recalling that we are members of His body, the light of the world, the salt of the earth, ambassadors and slaves, keeps our focus on something other than ourselves.
Our identity in Christ is a powerful and fundamental truth for surviving tough times. Remembering that we are beloved, accepted, righteous, and complete in Christ gives us real security.
Reaction Three: Embracing Our Purpose in His Power
As I have reviewed this story over and over, my personal summary of this account is, “When trouble comes, it’s not about us. It’s about Jesus – His name, His fame, and His claim on our lives. Trouble is a fresh call to stay on task and remain faithful to His mission.”
Acts 4:29-31 describes it this way: “‘Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.’ And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.”
It is notable to see how willing God was to take control of these yielded hearts and lives by His Spirit. Again, this picture of the central role of the Holy Spirit reminds us that we don’t endure troubled times by our own strength and resolve. In spite of how we might feel, we have to make the right choices, open our hearts to the right truth, and submit to His available power.
We don’t endure troubled times by our own strength and resolve. In spite of how we might feel, we have to make the right choices, open our hearts to the right truth, and submit to His available power.
The Three Most Important Questions
Years ago as the Lord began to inspire my heart with The Deeper Life renewal process, I concluded that the first three questions we must answer from the truth of God’s Word are these:
- Who is God?
- Who am I?
- Why am I here?
I find it fascinating that these early Christians seemed to come back to this vital focus during a very threatening moment. As we affirm our answers to these questions and rehearse them daily, we will be ready for disappointments, dilemmas, and difficulties.
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Copyright © 2019 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.
[i] Watchman Nee, Not I But Christ (New York, NY: Christian Fellowship Publishers, 1974) 65