It was the happiest moment of our lives. After an eight-year struggle with infertility, my wife, Nancy, and I welcomed our son, Colton, into the world. Finally, life seemed perfect.
But that perfection lasted only two hours. When I went to the hospital nursery to check on Colton, I discovered he was not there. Our baby had been rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit.
It would be the first of many dire health crises our family experienced. During the years that followed, Colton underwent a number of coronary procedures, including six open-heart surgeries. Nancy battled an autoimmune disease that nearly took her life. Our newly adopted infant daughter, Anna Grace, was diagnosed with brain cancer just weeks after we brought her home from China. I suffered a heart attack and two brain aneurysms.
We navigated these ordeals while pastoring a growing church, with all the typical challenges of ministry.
Everyone faces seasons of adversity. Some problems arise because of our own bad choices. But when we experience intense storms while following God in obedience, it can push faith to the breaking point — or refine and strengthen it.
As a family, we have made intentional efforts to focus on God’s goodness instead of life’s trials. Despite the adversity, we have certainly had much to celebrate. Among other things, we survived and recovered. Each of us is healthy today.
Of course, I still struggled with unanswered questions at times. It was hard to comprehend why God was allowing so much pain even as I pursued His calling. Then, a few years ago, the Lord brought me to a pivotal moment that changed everything.
One morning, as I was sitting outside having my devotions, I started pouring out my heart to the Lord. I brought Him my pain and unanswered questions.
My Bible was still open to 2 Corinthians 1. I had just read verses 3–4:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
Suddenly, the Holy Spirit drew my attention to the words “so that” in the text. I became aware of God’s desire to use my testimony for His glory. Just as He comforts and sustains me, the Lord wants me to help others who are struggling — so they too can come out on the other side better, not bitter.
That word from the Lord changed my perspective on all the hardships we had endured. I realized my new assignment was to reach as many people as possible with the comfort, encouragement, and hope God had given my family and me.
Scripture is full of examples of God using adversity to strengthen and prepare His people to fulfill their divine destiny. One obvious example in the Old Testament is the story of Joseph.
After receiving his God-given dream, Joseph experienced a long season of intense tribulation that began as his jealous brothers cast him into a cistern and sold him into slavery.
But as Joseph soon discovered, God was working to redeem his story. In Genesis 50, Joseph told his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (verse 20).
In the gym, physical strength grows as we overcome the resistance of weights. In life, spiritual and emotional strength grow as we overcome the resistance of adversity. But in both cases, we need to overcome resistance the right way to avoid injury.
The example of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane shows we should acknowledge our emotions and bring them to God, but we can’t let those emotions control us or overtake us.
We will be targets of the enemy. However, we can be sure God is with us and working on our behalf. In fact, I believe the intensity of the attacks that come against us can indicate the immensity of the impact God has planned for our future.
No matter what you are facing, keep moving forward in faith. God has great things in store for you and your ministry on the other side of hardship. And the only way you lose is by giving up.
Paul said, “Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3–4). Similarly, James wrote, “The testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:3–4).
Stand strong then, persevering in faith. God, who is forming His character in you, will surely lead you to the victory He has planned.
This article appears in the Fall 2022 issue of Influence magazine. Used with permission.