"Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory." (Ephesians 3:13)When things are going well, everyone wants to be a part of what is going on, but when trials and difficulties come, it is only natural for people to begin to wonder what they've gotten themselves into. I've seen this at work. When the company is growing and thriving, everyone is excited to be there, but when difficult times come and people start to leave, it is easy to question if you've hitched your wagon to the wrong horse. We all want to be part of a winning team, but even winning teams go through hard times every now and again. The same is true of the church. When revival is raging, people flock to the church to be a part of what is going on, but when persecution and trials arise, many leave discouraged and confused because of the change of fortunes.
The believers in Ephesus came to the Lord in joy but they were rattled by the reports of persecutions that we breaking out among the believers. Paul was in prison and others were dying for their faith. Their joy was turned into concern and questioning. Was all this really worth it? Was Christianity real or was it just a passing fad that would be extinguished by the fires of persecution. Paul wrote to them to encourage them to remain strong and to not lose heart. Paul understood that trials and persecutions were part of living a righteous life in this world, but they were in no way a true reflection of the value and worth of the kingdom which we've chosen to align ourselves with.
When difficult times come, there are two things that are important to remember. First, is that we must always see our lives in light of the bigger picture and not become consumed by the passing difficulties of life. Paul writes, "For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:17-18) Afflictions, in their time, never seem momentary and light, but in view of eternity and the reward that awaits us in heaven, they are just a passing blip in an eternal life filled with the blessings and joys of Christ. Sure Paul was in prison, but the Gospel was still progressing, still concurring, and still bearing fruit in the world. Paul wrote, "for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned. For this reason I endure all things." (2 Timothy 2:9-10) Things may be tough, but God is still at work. It is like Jonah in the belly of the great fish; though things were bad, the fish was still on course to deliver Jonah to the very center of God's will for his life. We must never let the monetary difficulties of this life distract us from our confidence, boldness, and hope in power of the eternal Kingdom of God.
Secondly, we must remember, when we are going through difficult times, not to let our difficulties negatively impact others. Paul was in prison, but he was not whining and complaining about it. Rather, he was encouraging other to remain strong even as he was remaining strong in his imprisonment. There was a time when I realized that my standard response to the question, "How are you?" was "I'm really tired." I began to realize that my constant negative response was a burden to others and did nothing to encourage them in their daily life. Positivism is contagious, but so is complaining. People want to know that this Kingdom "stuff" is real and that there is real hope during times of difficulty. Our confession can encourage them or confirm their worst fears that things will never really change. So I began to believe and confess, when asked how I am, that I am well. This is not hypocrisy of fakeness, but it is a confession of what is really true. I am blessed in Christ. I am an over comer in Christ. I am a winner in life through Christ. Solomon said, "The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered." (Proverbs 11:25) When we confess the truth of the Kingdom to others, even in disregard to the difficulty and trouble we are facing, not only will they be blessed, but our lives will also be watered with the truth; a truth that cannot help but bring forth fruit in our lives.