Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing” James 1:2-4.
Over the past decade I have experienced trials of various kinds. I have walked with children and grandchildren through sickness and suffering. A hormonal imbalance created symptoms of intense anxiety in me that took years to diagnose. Multiple allergies have forced me to completely change the way I am eating. Our aging and ailing parents have needed increased care. Personal health issues have put increased pressure on our budget during a time when our working years are growing shorter. Most recently, I have experienced months of an unrelenting, unsightly, all-consuming, itchy red rash that wrapped itself around my neck and forearm. While each of these trials have threatened to disrupt my peace, comfort, and happiness, I have learned the truth that, in Christ, we can count it all joy.
While I haven’t always been able to rejoice always, as Paul encourages in Philippians 4; by God’s grace, I increasingly understand why He often allows what He hates to accomplish what He loves in our lives. As I have been tried and tested here are a few things God has taught me.
Trials reveal what we love and put our hope in.
In school I never liked tests because they revealed what I didn’t understand very well. But I’ve learned to appreciate that God uses the testing of our faith to reveal where we’re putting our hope and what we’re functionally worshiping. Do we trust God’s sovereign purposes in the midst of our darkness or do our trials provoke a response of anger and resentment against Him? Do we love God or do we simply love what He can do for us? Trials will either make us bitter or they’ll bear good fruit that will serve God’s eternal purposes for our lives and those we influence.
The good news is that, in Christ, each test having done its work, moves us closer to experiencing all that He died to give us. The more we realize that this world has nothing that will truly satisfy us, the more it will lose its hold on our hearts.
Mark Dever says: “All your frustrations in life are put there in part by God to show you that this world is not your hope.” If our hope is in this world, we will continually be crushed by life’s disappointments and sorrows. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” Hebrews 11:1.
Trials that test our faith are designed to produce endurance that will strengthen us to run and finish the race of life well. Trials train us to tenaciously withstand adversity until God removes them at His appointed time. When we believe that our good and loving God sovereignly rules and ordains everything that touches our lives, we can stand firm, knowing that He has a good reason for allowing whatever we are going through.
In a recent message given at the Gospel Coalition, Ligon Duncan said; “The Christian life is fundamentally a life of endurance. Endurance trumps zeal every time. But in order to endure, we must have our eyes on our future hope.”
Trials, and the temptations that come along with them, are opportunities for us to defeat sin by trusting in God’s resurrection power that’s at work in us.
I confess that, by nature, I’m a wimp. I enjoy being comfortable and would like to avoid suffering in any shape or form. In fact, I spent many years trying to stay clear of anything that would disrupt my little world of peace, safety, and comfort. While no one willingly invites suffering into their lives, I have learned that, besides the fruitlessness of trying to control our own lives, it cultivates a spirit of fear and anxiety that is quite exhausting. But even more than that, it’s evidence of both unbelief and trying to be our own god.
Do your trials tempt you to accuse God of being unkind or uncaring? The gospel settles that question when we remember that He sent His very own Son to suffer and take the punishment we deserve for sins we have committed against God’s holiness. The Cross reminds us that the darkest moment in history opened the way to resurrection life, assuring all who put their hope in Christ that one day we will be at home with Him. In the presence of God, there will no longer be any trace of sin to defeat or destroy us. The gospel empowers us to run the race as Jesus did, “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” Hebrews 12:2.
I love that Jesus ran the exact race we are called to run, only He ran it perfectly! Because He overcame sin, we can set aside every weight and sin that clings so closely and run our earthly race empowered by God’s Spirit. (Hebrews 12:1). And Jesus is praying us home! (Romans 8:26).
Trials allow us to showcase God’s faithfulness when our own resources have failed us.
In 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, Paul pleaded with the Lord, praying that the thing that was causing him great distress would leave him. In God’s wisdom, rather than answering Paul through healing or by removing whatever the thorn in his life was, He declared, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul’s astounding and counter cultural response challenges me; “Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Being content with weakness, insult, hardship, persecution, and calamity is simply not the way we are naturally inclined to think. Admitting weaknesses, possibly, but boasting about them? Not unless we are far more caught up with being a display of God’s amazing work of mercy and kindness than about being popular, successful, happy, and pain-free.
God wants the world to see the hope of Christ shine through our lives like the sun breaking through dark and stormy clouds. He wants the angels to look down from heaven and gasp when they see our faith in the midst of confusing and dark circumstances. He wants to give us the privilege of partnering with Him to bring many souls to glory, people who have seen our joy in the midst of suffering and yearn to know the hope to which we have been called in Christ Jesus.
Until the day when God wipes all our tears away, may we say with Paul; “Rejoice in the Lord always. . . Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. Do not be anxious about anything but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” Phillipians 4:4-7.
Thanks for letting me share my thoughts with you,
picture by mariotfrancis.com