My Musings – Trials and suffering are an inevitable fact of life for the Christian. Just like a newborn baby, it seems like no sooner are we born again than we are being slapped around just to make us to cry. Or so it seems. Certainly, our new adversary the devil will do everything he can to discourage us, keep us from growing and just make us cry. But Satan is not the source of all the “slapping.”
Sometimes God will also permit difficulties in our lives. These may involve some crying too, but that is not their real purpose. God wants us to take that first breath of spiritual air. He wants us to learn to live the new life we have begun in Him. He wants to instruct us, train us, develop us, and yes, sometimes discipline us. To learn to walk in faith, He knows that we will have to take a few spills along the way. Just like our physical parents, He is there to make sure we do not hurt ourselves, to pick us up and to help us along our way. But that is not all.
Just like our physical parents are there to protect us from actual harm from bullies, our heavenly Father is also there to protect us from any real or lasting harm from that ultimate bully, Satan. While God wants us to learn how to stand up for ourselves, He is always there to make sure things do not get out of hand. With the insights that we gain by fixing on eyes on the unseen, perhaps, we can better understand and appreciate why we must encounter so much trials and suffering in our earthly lives. In so doing we will be in a better position to endure “the fellowship of sharing in His suffering,” which are “light and momentary,” by focusing on the “eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” Maybe we will even stop seeing the cloud in every silver-lining.
Trials and suffering should not catch us off guard. Nor should we consider it strange when we do encounter them. For Jesus very clearly told us we would encounter persecution in this world, simply because we were His followers. In fact, He said if we are unwilling to “carry our own crosses” and follow Jesus (“a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief“) we could not be His disciple. These are hard sayings, but we must understand that Jesus not only willingly carried Hs own cross; He was nailed to it and died on it for us in order to give us eternal life. It is the promise (His promise, sealed by His blood) of that eternal life that makes the suffering and trials here on earth bearable. In fact James tells us it should be more than just bearable, we should “consider it pure joy,” while Peter said we should rejoice that we “participate in the sufferings of Christ.” These were not idle words or casual observations by mere spectators of the Christian life. Both men encountered their own persecutions because they were followers of Christ that eventually led them to give their own lives as martyrs rather than abandon their faith in Jesus.
But there is more to suffering than “it’s going to happen so get over it” que sera, sera attitude. Much more. For even when “bad” things happen to Godly people, God (in His own way and in His own time) cause them to work out for good. And in the process we are being made over into the likeness of His Son, “an eternal glory that far outweighs” all our temporal pain and suffering. As stated before, Jesus said that in this world we would have persecution. In His very next breath He added, “but take heart, I have overcome the world.” Because His Spirit lives in us, we can overcome too.
Trials and suffering are not merely something that we must endure as we look with hope to the “eternal glory” awaiting us in Heaven. For God does not waste any experience that He, in His infinite wisdom, permits in our lives. Some things He will allow, knowing they are necessary for us to become more like His Son, others He will not, knowing that they would be more than we can bear.
So, what should we do as we endure the crosses that we are called to bear for His Kingdom and His glory? We can try to understand why we are experiencing painful trials, although there will be many times when the why is not for us to know at the present time. But even if we cannot fully understand why, there are other things that we just might be able to understand and learn from. For example:
- How does this experience identify me with Christ?
“If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear the name.” (1 Peter 4:16, NIV 1978).
Of course we know that Jesus was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” When we suffer because we are a Christian, it not only helps others to identify us as a true believer, it helps us identify with Him all the more.
- How might my response to this experience prove the genuineness of my faith?
“These [trials] have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes though refined by fire-may be proved genuine.” (1 Peter 1:7, NIV 1978).
Jesus assured us that in this world His followers would have troubles. So if we never suffer for our faith, then we need to question the authenticity of our faith. How we respond to trials also prove the quality of our convictions.
- In what ways might this experience be training me for future service?
“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11, NIV 1978).
Whether we care to admit it or not, we learn from our difficulties. In fact, the lessons learned in adversity reach down deeper into our souls and are more lasting than the lessons we learn from our good experiences.
- Can this experience teach me to be more patient with God?
“Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.” (James 5:10, NIV 1978).
Patience is learned best during the times of our lives that try our patience the most. In contrast, our lack of patience sometimes causes us to undergo difficulties that we might have avoided had we been more patient.
- How might my perspective need adjustment as I face this experience?
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18, NIV 1978).
Ten thousand years from now, none of the pain or sorrow will be left, or even remembered. But the character that it develops will last on into eternity. This is why an eternal perspective is so important.
- Has the experience of God’s faithfulness through past trials helping me to persevere through the current trial?
“You know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1:3, NIV 1978).
We need not be joyful about the suffering itself, but we can be joyful about what the suffering is producing in our lives and in our character. Knowing the certainty of this helps us to push on through the difficulties and persevere.
- What do others see in how I deal with this experience that might be a witness (good or bad) for the Kingdom?
“For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that His life may be revealed in our mortal body.” (2 Corinthians 4:11, NIV 1978).
People are watching us. They see how we respond to trying times. They take note of how our reactions differ from the rest of the world and to what (or to whom) they can attribute it. What we do is often more important than what we say as a testimony.
- How can this experience make me more spiritually fruitful?
“He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He trims clean so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:2, NIV 1978).
The pain of pruning is not without a reason. For it is by cutting away the “dead growth” from our lives that real growth occurs. Growth that nurtures us and develops into spiritual fruit.
- Is this experience causing me to dive down into despair or soar higher in my faith?
“Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10, NIV 1978).
We are called to be faithful even in the face of suffering so extreme that death threatens. But it is under these conditions that we learn to be faithful.
- Through this experience am I relying on God’s faithfulness or worldly “wisdom?
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV 1978).
It is hard for us to conceive of strength coming from suffering. But it is during adversity, when we are too weak and helpless to help ourselves that we learn to rely on God and the strength that He provides and that is sufficient for the circumstances.
- Is there something in my life God is correcting and for which I need to repent?
“Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord disciplines you.” (Deuteronomy 8:5, NIV 1978).
In addition to the discipline used to train us, the Lord also disciplines us to bring correction. A parent who really loves a child will not let habitual misbehaving go uncorrected. It really is true that discipline is for our own good.
- How can I use my experience to help others in similar circumstances?
“Carry each others burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2, NIV 1978).
We are better able to help others with their burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ (do to others what you would have them do for you) when we have borne our own burdens.
As we consider these questions, perhaps we can move from a why me attitude to a why not use it attitude. In any event, we must learn to trust Him and take Him at His word – what we are enduring is necessary and will somehow work out for the good.
My Advice – I do not know how many times I have read the story of Peter’s attempt to walk on water. But for many years I missed a subtle point. When Peter cried out for Jesus to save him from sinking, Jesus immediately reached out His hand and caught him. But it was not until they were safe in the boat that the wind died down. So it is with our walk here on earth. There will always be wind and waves. God is teaching us to walk on and through them. There may be times of calm, but they will never cease forever until we reach Heaven, until we are “in the boat.”
Until that time, Jesus is right there (“nothing can separate us from the love of Christ”) to catch us if we are in danger of sinking. He would prefer that we learn to walk in faith, so He continues to allow the wind and waves as each time we are able to take a few more steps before sinking. And as each tribulation subsides we are learning more and more to be conquerors of fear rather than being conquered by fear. You see, trials and suffering are inevitable, but how we respond to them is up to us. How are you responding?