Singing in Adversity
Charles Naylor, 1930
Life has its adversities. It must needs have them. Adversity, pain, sorrow, and disappointment — are the lathe upon which God shapes us. They are the grinding-wheel which grinds and smoothes us. They are the polishing-wheel which makes us shine. If we can never be happy until we are so situated that nothing which exists may tend to render us unhappy — then we shall have little happiness in life. Happiness does not come from a life of ease and indolence. It is not the result of the absence of obstacles and difficulties. Happiness comes from triumphing over them. Therefore the song of true happiness often arises from the soul which undergoes many adversities.
Paul understood what life must be. He went through the cities of Asia after he had been stoned and left for dead, "Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through many hardships and tribulations, enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). He enumerated the things he suffered in his work for Christ. Doubtless you have read that list again and again. Notwithstanding all this, no one has more to say about rejoicing, being filled with joy, and singing the songs of victory — than does this same sufferer of tribulations.
The Psalmist also knew about tribulations. He said, "I will be glad and rejoice in your mercy — for you have considered my trouble; you have known my soul in adversities" (Psalm 31:7). God did not leave him to himself in his tribulations. Being conscious of this, he could rejoice.
Jesus said to his disciples, "Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows." Did he say, "Mourn and weep because of this"? Did he intimate that they should shrink from them? Did he indicate there was something wrong in them which brought these tribulations? Not so. He had already told them that the world would hate them. Now he showed them that as a result of that hatred of the world, and also as the result of natural conditions in life — they would have tribulations. Did he say to them, "This will take away much from your happiness; you will be sad and disconsolate much of the time; you will sorrow on account of these tribulations; it is too bad you are to have them"? No — he said nothing of this kind. He told them plainly what was to come; then added, "But be of good cheer — I have overcome the world."
Think of the boldness of Jesus in saying this. Just before him lay Gethsemane. Just beyond that, the trials before the high priest and Pilate, and Calvary awaited him. He knew this very well. He knew he must pass through the bitterest of tribulations. Nevertheless he said, "Be of good cheer — I have overcome the world."
What a wonderful example for us this is. He has overcome the world not merely for himself — but for us as well. As the Psalmist pointed out, he knows our adversities. He knows that lying ahead of us there are adversities and difficulties, perhaps dangers, sorrows, and many things to try the soul. He also knows when we are in those things, when they are pressing hard upon us, when we are tempted to bow down our heads and give up. He knows exactly how we feel, how things seem, how the future looks, how the present troubles us. In spite of it all he is saying to us, "Be of good cheer — I have overcome."
Dear soul, Jesus knows all about your troubles. He knows every heartache, every difficulty, everything you must overcome, everything you must bear. Trusting in his grace, relying upon his help — you shall soon find your heart filling again with melody, for the clouds will pass away.
Paul asks, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?" Then he adds, "Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us!" (Romans 8:35, 37).
Speaking of our acceptance with God and our justification by faith through grace, Paul says we "rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Romans 5:2). But are the good things of God all in which we can rejoice? No, for he continues, "And not only so but we glory in tribulations also."
Paul could rejoice in the bad things, as well as in the good things. Why could he do this? Was he a mere enthusiast? Was he a man who shut his eyes to the facts? No, he was sober-minded, consistent, and sane. He looked behind the frowning face of circumstances. He saw the results that follow tribulations. He set them down for us that we might consider them and rejoice with him. "Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us!" Romans 5:3-5. That was the secret of Paul's rejoicing.
Again Paul tells his experience in 2 Corinthians 7:4, "I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles, my joy knows no bounds." He tells why this is: "God, who comforts those who are cast down, comforts us" (verse 6). "Who comforts us in all our tribulation" (2 Corinthians 1:4). The comfort of God is wonderful. The satisfying, soul-delighting blessedness of it, can be known only by those who have gone deeply into the waters of tribulation. So many in times of trouble, are prone to feel that God does not care for them or to feel that they have offended him. Just when they need him most, and just when he would be most ready to help — they cease to seek that help and feel they must meet their difficulties in their own strength without the help they so much crave.
Right here many are tempted to give up trying. They feel they are unable to overcome or to endure through to better days. They feel that God has forsaken them in their hour of need. Their feelings and their attitude shut them off from that help which God would delight to give them. It is just here that we need to face things squarely. We need to consider God as he is. We need to take a right view of our relationship with him.
In the time of the child's need, a true and loving parent yearns with sympathy and with an earnest desire to help. The heart of God is more tender than the heart of a mother. His love is stronger than any human love. In these times of tribulation and trouble, of sorrow or care, of anxiety or foreboding — we should remember that he is waiting to take us into his arms and to comfort us with that comfort which only he can give.
The clouds may seem to hide his face; he may seem far off — but he is not far off. The clouds may prevent us from seeing him — but they do not prevent his seeing us. He does see us and he desires us to turn to him for that support in trouble which we need in order that the heavy load may be borne. He desires that we confide in him, and that we pour out our soul's bitterness and longing to him. He expects us to act as men and women who trust him. He expects us to use what strength we have. But beyond and above our strength, is his abundant strength and help ready to supply whatever deficiency there may be in us. He always sees the way out of our difficulties. He always knows just how much grace we must have. He always measures out to us the needed supply we must have.
No one has ever lived, who has not had his times of discouragement, heaviness, sorrow, and disappointment. Care and anxiety come to all. Unsaved people have to bear their own burdens, meet their own adversities, suffer their own sorrows — without divine help. They get through them in some way in their own strength, and we could do the same without divine help. There would always be a way that we could get through somehow. But God knows a better way than we know, and he will help us into that better way. He will give us the strength and fortitude necessary — if we only trust and go forward courageously.
James tells us, "Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds." There is a way to do this. That way is the way Paul took. Paul looked behind the tribulations to the outcome. James exhorts us to do likewise. These tribulations all are fruitful. They are good for us. If we bear them as we should — then we shall look back upon them shortly and rejoice that God let them come.
Let us now look at Paul. It was midnight. He and Silas lay in a Philippian dungeon. Their feet were fast in the stocks. Their clothes were torn, their backs were bleeding from the many stripes that had been laid upon them. It seemed that death might be only a little ahead of them. Under these unfavorable circumstances they did not lament — they prayed (Acts 16:25). After they had prayed, they did something else; they sang praises to God. They did not do this for mere bravado. They did not do it to keep the other prisoners awake. They did it because of the joy that was welling up in their own hearts. They were suffering, so they could not sleep; so they spent the time in the very best possible manner. They spent not a moment in regretting what had happened. They did look for the needed help. Their faith reached out to God — and help came. Their souls were filled with joyful praises — and they sang from full hearts.
There were reasons why they could do this. First, they were innocent. They had a consciousness they had done nothing wrong. They had been trying to do good. Now they were suffering for it. There is "rest" — comfort in being innocent under such circumstances, or in any circumstances. A clear conscience inspires to song. So if our conscience is clear, we can rise above our circumstances if we follow the course taken by Paul and Silas.
Second, they were hopeful Christians. They did not look on the dark side. They looked beyond the present suffering and the threatening circumstances. They neither saw the dungeon nor the stocks nor the executioner's sword. They neither felt their galled ankles nor their smarting backs. They looked to God. They saw his approving smile — and they sang praises.
Third, they exercised definite faith. They believed God knew all about their circumstances. They believed they were in his care. They believed nothing could come to them, without coming through his will. So they rested in full assurance of faith in him — and in their tribulations they sang joyfully. Paul taught others to rejoice, and he set them an example. If we face our adversities as he faced his — we too may sing in adversity.
In adversity we sing a different song than we do when we are untroubled. We must join courage to trust. When we do this, we can sing songs of confidence born of our confidence in God's help. We can sing songs of trust which allay our fears. We can sing songs of anticipation as we look forward to the victories which lie before us, and at the crown at the end of the road. We can sing in joyful remembrance of God's former mercies.
The song of adversity is more difficult to learn, than the song we sing when everything is going pleasantly and prosperously — but these songs are no less joyous in the depths of the heart when they spring from faith. In fact they can often be more truly joyous than the songs of prosperity, because they go deeper into the depths of the heart and rise with fuller trust. But no matter how many tribulations we have, if we trust God, we may be "exceeding joyful" in all those tribulations.