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Bread of Adversity, Water of Affliction

“And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher…” (Isaiah 30:20)


Recently Anna and I watched a movie about the author of Peter Pan: J M Barrie.  The movie we watched was Finding Neverland.  The story is familiar to most of us; it involves a title character who does not want to grow up.  The implication is that Neverland is a wonderful place because you can hold on to your childhood forever. From the vantage point of a grandfather in his mid fifties I can some the wisdom and sweetness of that sentiment.


Years ago I resolved to be frankly more irascible during my second childhood and do some of those things that would have horrified me as a child.  In my mind there is something of a child’s bucket list of things I want to do.  No, I will not divulge the list; it is my own.  In the humble opinion of this writer, children have a natural inclination to be whom and what they are.  Now don’t bore me with the tedium of socialization and manners as we know that they are needed; I am not addressing that at all.  What I long for in my second childhood is that unadulterated freedom to be honest and be filled with fun and laughter.  In fact, in the 1991 film Hook, is a sequel about a mature Peter goes back to Neverland to regain his childhood after becoming a responsible adult.


As much as I want to maintain my childish sense of fun and wonder I know that I cannot be a child in all areas of life.  In some ways, growing up is healthy and desired.  We should behave responsibly to our families and those that have authority in our lives.  We can be fun, silly and goofy in our deep relationships but also show responsibility to those relationships.  We can have a large slice of child in us without being childish.


There is another imperative that cannot be denied and that is maturity in our relationship with Yahweh and His children.


It is the development of this mature spiritual relationship that many in our churches miss to the hurt of the body and the individual believers.  This is not a new issue by any means.  Paul faced this issue at his ‘problem child’ church at Corinth.


My friends, you are acting like the people of this world.  That’s why I could not speak to you as spiritual people.  You are like babies as far as your faith in Christ is concerned.  So I had to treat you like babies and feed you milk.  You could not take solid food, and you still cannot, because you are not yet spiritual.  You are jealous and argue with each other.  This proves that you are not spiritual and that you are acting like the people of this world.  (1 Corinthians 3:1-3 CEV)


The clear statement here is that being spiritually mature marks us and we are not like everyone around us.  We define our relationships and responsibilities differently because Christ has changed us and we are growing into full spiritual maturity like our elder brother Jesus.


How do we grow up? How do we mature?




Well, for one we partake in the means of grace: in the word, in prayer in the sacraments.  We also mature through difficulty.  I will be the first to admit that I wish there was some easier path to growth.  Unfortunately, there is no other path to maturity.  Trials, stresses, difficulty, pain—all of these are used to grow us up spiritually.  We do not develop spirituality lying in a hammock of spiritual ease and comfort.  Yes, we do need times in that hammock but it is not a place of growth.


We mature, if we are teachable, through the bread of adversity and the water of affliction.  Please allow me to use a different translation to better relay the concept: “The Lord has given you trouble and sorrow as your food and drink.  But now you will again see the Lord, your teacher, and he will guide you.” (Isaiah 30:20 CEB)  Think about that…trouble and sorrow as your food and drink.   Isaiah was writing to a nation facing destruction at the hands of their enemies.  The prophet tells Israel that they will be fed spiritually through trouble and sorrow.  This would not be manna for the body it would be for their souls.


Bread of adversity and water of affliction is not something that you can write some glib Jesus jingle about.  Much of our preaching and evangelism sweeps this hard truth under the rug.  However, it is critical to our maturity to grasp this concept of this different food for our souls.


Trouble and sorrow are used as spiritual food and it comes from the hands of a loving Father in heaven.  Jesus told us that the Father gives good things, not stones to his children (see Matthew 7:9-11).   Do you see this?  God does not give stones to His children.  All that comes into our lives is either allowed through God’s sovereign permission or actively willed for us.  What we often fail to see is that what appears to be a stone is, in fact used as and made into bread.  It is spiritual growth supplied for us.


Oh, this is hard because trouble and sorrow can be oh so very, very great for us in our individual circumstances.  Trouble and sorrow, even though it is ultimately used for bread to feed and mature us spiritually really deeply and truly hurts.  This suffering should never be trivialized or made light of.  Even if we maintain a proper life perspective on the grace of pain loss is still loss and suffering is still suffering.  The pain of a knife wound from an assailant or the cut of a surgeons’ scalpel still open skin and leave a scar even though the intentions are vastly different.


So where does that leave us?  I dare not gloss over or ignore that this world is fallen and terrible events occur.  God is not random; that I know.  I will admit there is much I see that in my humanness I do not understand though.  We cannot however, escape the wisdom of Paul and James:


“Moreover [let us also be full of joy now!] let us exult and triumph in our troubles and rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that pressure and affliction and hardship produce patient and unswerving endurance.  And endurance (fortitude) develops maturity of character (approved faith and tried integrity).  And character [of this sort] produces [the habit of] joyful and confident hope of eternal salvation.  Such hope never disappoints or deludes or shames us, for God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.  (Romans 5:3-5 AMP)


My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy.  After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing.  (James 1:2-4 CEB)

Left to ourselves we consider suffering as that we wish to avoid.  Paul and James tell is to be joyful as trials come.


Seriously dudes, are you kidding me?


You can look up these passages in any translation you like but the message will not change.  Trouble and suffering spiritually feed us; they fuel our spiritual beings to grow strong and healthy.  This message is for Christians now.  Our joy is not the adversity or affliction but the results brought about in our lives in the afflictions and adversity.  We don’t joy for pain for itself; we joy for the fruits produced in our lives.


What is your bread of adversity?  What is your water of affliction?  Is it health, or aged parents?  Is it a hard job or no job?  Is it financial ruin?  Is it marital strife; or the kids, teenagers or young adults driving you to distraction?  Or is it exhaustion; too much to do and not enough hours in the day?  Is it people that you interact with daily that honestly make you want to go postal?  And I know it can be a conglomeration of many things added together that make up the pile.


Frankly, beyond family and a few friends I have no idea what you are eating and drinking here.  However, you do have choices on this in how you respond.  You can tell God that it all stinks and you can’t hack it anymore and wish to be just left alone.  Satan wants you to be bitter and angry at God.


You also have the choice to follow God’s way in this and obey some of my least favorite scripture:


Be happy [in your faith] and rejoice and be glad-hearted continually (always);  Be unceasing in prayer [praying perseveringly];  Thank [God] in everything [no matter what the circumstances may be, be thankful and give thanks], for this is the will of God for you [who are] in Christ Jesus [the Revealer and Mediator of that will].                (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18AMP)


The phrase ‘least favorite scripture’ was not accidental; when you have eaten some really hard spiritual food thanking God is not a natural, human response.  Just because I struggle with the message at times does not alter its’ truthfulness however.  Honestly, when I look backward on my life I do see that every trial has borne good fruit. I can gratefully trace that hand of Yahweh in all the events where He has continued to work in the life of this recalcitrant child.  The bread of adversity and the water of affliction is not an instrument to torment us but it is food to mature us.  It is to cause us to cling all the more closely to He who is faithful and true.



Copyright © 2012 Brian Bailey, Author