I love the opportunity that exists in adversity to grow and to become stronger! I really didn’t begin this blog with T Swift* in mind, but I guess it is fitting. Maybe this is the scripture she used to write her song (: [although it is more of a shallow depiction of how to conquer and defeat frustration and hardship (or “haters” as Swift puts it)]. The real focus here is Paul’s story on the island of Malta; it paints a great metaphor for overcoming adversity by the power of God:
“The people of the island were very kind to us. It was cold and rainy, so they built a fire on the shore to welcome us. 3 As Paul gathered an armful of sticks and was laying them on the fire, a poisonous snake, driven out by the heat, bit him on the hand. 4 The people of the island saw it hanging from his hand and said to each other, “A murderer, no doubt! Though he escaped the sea, justice will not permit him to live.” 5 But Paul shook off the snake into the fire and was unharmed. 6 The people waited for him to swell up or suddenly drop dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw that he wasn’t harmed, they changed their minds…” Acts 28: 2-6
Sometimes we get bitten. Temptations, adversity, sin, and hardship can sneak up on us unannounced. We feel a range of confusing and complex emotion that can cause us to get “clouded” in our judgement and thinking. We can become “paralyzed” by the venom that penetrates us if we are not proactive!
Paul handles his situation like a champ:
1. He doesn’t freak out: Despite the naysayers and lack of concern from the people around him, Paul is calm. He is not swayed by the opinion of man. Paul almost seems unfazed by the event. He chooses not to “magnify” the problem (which would cause the problem to become exaggerated); he instead chooses to magnify God… to cause God to become more exaggerated and amplified in His circumstances. We can learn a lot from this. How often do we “magnify” the wrong thing? God must remain bigger than the problems in our lives, or we can grow hopeless and freak out.
2. He remembers God’s promises: Paul undoubtably recalled God’s promise recorded in Luke 10:19 that says “Look, I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy, and you can walk among snakes and scorpions and crush them. Nothing will injure you.” Or maybe he was remembering Mark 16:18 when the venomous serpent latched onto his hand: “They will be able to handle snakes with safety, and if they drink anything poisonous, it won’t hurt them.” (This verse is often used out of context in churches around the world to condone the intentional handling of snakes… this is not only stupid, but is a twisting of God’s promise. This is like jumping off a cliff and expecting that God will save you; He is not to be tested like that. There is no command in scripture to pick up serpents or to drink deadly poison). These verses are about having access to and using the authority and power that comes from God to overcome misery, suffering, and adversity! Remembering the promises of God in the face of difficulty is such a powerful weapon.
3. He destroys the adversary: Paul shakes the serpent off his hand into the fire to be burned and destroyed. What is the adversary in your life? Depression? Anxiety? Fear? What can you be doing everyday to take steps towards the defeat of these things in your life? Do not succumb to the poison that attempts to latch onto you and drain you of power! Command that the enemy submits to the authority that has been given to you by Christ!
Whether we choose sin or we are sinned against, we can feel defeated and powerless… but if we call on God, and position our hearts for authentic relationship and demonstrate humility in our pain… He gives us grace (James 4:6). This grace empowers and strengthens us: 2 Timothy 2:1 “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”
This time of year, especially, can bring with it intense emotional difficulty. As the holidays approach, we can find ourselves living in joyful expectancy of food, fun, fellowship, and family time or living in dread of the negative emotion, grief, feelings of isolation, and difficulty that accompany the holiday season. Remember that God promises protection and empowering grace. Use Paul’s demonstration of overcoming to not only survive, but to thrive this holiday season. Don’t be afraid to seek the help of a professional counselor to help empower you and walk with you through difficult emotion and grieving, that’s what we are here for.
* Reference: Taylor Swift’s hit song “Shake it Off” recently released by Big Machine records.