Befriending Our Trials

Count it all joy, my brothers, 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

Think of a long-time friend of yours. A dear friend. Maybe a lifelong friend you’ve had. Think of how you greet that friend when you finally meet again. Do you start with a warm handshake and then move in for a full mutual hug? Or do you go straight to a full arms-wide-open advance, arms locking around them in happy reunion?

Now think of doing that to your trials.

Strange, huh? Who of us would really want to do that? We naturally think of our trials as our enemies. Cruel opposers of our good and thieves of our daily happinesses. Rather than embrace them we want them gone, never to return.

But when we think that way, are we really thinking biblically about our trials and our God? Are we letting the mind of Christ dwell in us richly (Phil 2:5)? James urges us to have a radically new and different perspective.

LOVE YOUR ENEMIES: YOUR TRIALS

James says to count it all joy when we meet with trials. We are not to hate them. We are not to run the other direction. (Though we should certainly be careful not to create our trials, if possible.) To fully understand how strange this is to our natural mindset, let’s think of examples:

  • What if you praised God for your migraine while you are on your bed with the curtains drawn and your head is pounding?
  • What if you acknowledge that you’d rather not have that constant, never ending high-pitched ringing in your ears (as I have for three years now), but tell the Lord that you love him no less?
  • What if you turned your unemployment and job search from a prayer request to praise, acknowledging that God has not once allowed it to cause you to go without a meal or miss a mortgage payment? Giving him praise for the trial because it has built your faith to see how he has constantly provided somehow every day, week, and month?

TRIALS ARE ORDAINED BY GOD

The fact is, nothing in this world happens apart from God’s decrees. That’s part of God’s sovereignty. Either he causes things to happen, or he allowsthem to happen and then uses them to fulfill his greater, overarching purposes.

Nothing in this world happens apart from God’s decrees.

Think of Joseph’s brothers’ mistreatment and selling him into slavery, and all that followed after in his life, and how God used it. Pharaoh’s hardness of heart and refusal to allow the Israelites to go free, and how God used that. Think back on previous trials in your own life, and how you would not be the person you are today if it wasn’t for how they forged qualities or helped remove sin in your life.

TRIALS ARE THE PURPOSEFUL WISDOM OF GOD

James is not preaching an empty grin-and-bear-it, mind-over-matter attitude towards our trials and afflictions. We should embrace them joyfully, like reuniting with long-awaited friends. And the reason we can is because they are all there ultimately because it is in the good wisdom of our God to providentially have them there. Why? There are several other places in Scripture which answer that, but James does it right here.

…for you know that the testing of your faith

…produces steadfastness

…And let steadfastness have its full effect, [so] that…

…you may be perfect and complete,

…lacking in nothing.

Which brings us to Providence.

THE ANSWER TO EVERYTHING IS “PROVIDENCE”

Providence is another important aspect to all of this. Our trials are ordained by God (as are our blessings). Remember Job’s words in Job 2:10, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” They are the purposeful wisdom of God, as we have already seen. Everything in our lives has its direct lineage back to God’s Providence.

Everything in our lives has its direct lineage back to God’s Providence.

Somebody cut you off in line at the store or in the school pickup line? Providence.

Didn’t get that sale that would’ve gotten you a year’s salary in one commission? Providence.

Rain on your wedding day? Providence.

Migraine? Tinnitus? Stroke? Cancer? Or maybe only stubbed your toe? All of them Providence.

Personally, I have been deeply challenged by this truth for the last couple of months. The truth is, everything we grumble and complain about–even down to the weather the Lord has provided for the day–all of it is sin against God’s goodness and wisdom in his Providence.

The truth is, everything we grumble and complain about–even down to the weather the Lord has provided for the day–all of it is sin against God’s goodness and wisdom in his Providence.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

Trials are in our lives by the sovereign, good, wisdom of God in his providence to test our faith so that it forges in us a steadfastness in spirit, bringing us into further and further maturity as a believer, to the glory of God.

One last question: What trials do you have right now? Make a quick list in your head; I bet it won’t take you but a second to list three, four, or five of them right off the bat. Now think of them with joy. Imagine a warm Christian embrace with each one. In faith, give Jesus glory and praise for his wisdom for each specific trial in your life right now, by name, because he loves you enough to have put them there for your ongoing growth and maturity.

Lord, how often we all forget these truths. How often we sin, grumbling and complaining about what is happening in our lives right now, and forgetting that it was your good and kind providence that ordained for them to be there.

Please send the Spirit to stir our hearts again, reinvigorate us to “press on,” like Paul who himself was constantly suffering under trials and tribulations, “toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Bring these truths to mind when we least think of them, in the ordinary trials of everyday life and the sudden calamities that come our way, knowing that you are mighty enough to handle them all, and we can cast our anxieties on you, because you care for us. (1 Pe 5:7).

New Year’s Reflections

I won’t lie, 2018 was a hard year. I know everything is in the providence of my God, who himself is good and kind and sovereign. But it was still a hard year.

Death

The year began with my father-in-law finally succumbing to Parkinson’s after battle that was so long that I didn’t even know my now-wife when he was first diagnosed–and we’ve known each other since September 2005. In a way, it was a double-loss because he was the epitome of the “strong, silent type.” Even before Parkinson’s took his speech away, he didn’t talk much. It wasn’t until his services which were attended by hundreds and hundreds of people, and police and firefighters from three towns, that I had any clue what kind of towering legend in his community my father-in-law was. I was sad to lose a man I knew for 13 years and yet hardly knew at all.

Not a month later my “son” was gone. Amy and I don’t have children, but we had Cooper. Cooper was a Jack Russell/Beagle mix. Or, as I liked to say, he was my “pure-bred rescue.” I found him on the side of the road in 2014 on a day when I quit a job, of all things. I was so thankful when the day came two weeks later that we were no longer legally obligated to find his owner and were now free to keep him ourselves. Had I not left that job that day, at that time, Amy and I would never have had some of the greatest joys of our lives he was to give us. What we thought was a routine vet appointment turned out to be the worst news a pet owner wants to hear, and it required immediate action if we were to spare him a long suffering. “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21)

A few months later there was another death…our church. Unwilling to destroy its twin idols of tradition and worship music styles, or be willing to be change for the sake of Christ and his gospel, after a long membership decline, the members voted to fold. A tragic and cautionary legacy that stubbornly said to the world, “We’d rather die than change.”

Life

God has been so kind to me since he first rescued me out of my nominal Christianity in 2005. I’ve learned so much about him, me, and life.

As sad as those deaths were, is it any surprise that I am testifying to you now that the Lord brought Amy and I through them?

Besides deaths, there was testing of mine and Amy’s faith of me not earning any commission in my real estate business for six straight months. Did we miss a meal or a mortgage payment even once? Nope.

In the faithfulness of the God I serve, 2018 was also filled with blessings. Even with the mid-year late start, I sold more real estate than I did the year before. He answered our prayers and led us to a healthy new (to us) church. He breathed life into a dream of ministry I thought had died years ago. We were able to do needed remodeling/renovations in our home. It looks like a brand new home and we’re eager to use it for his glory. And Amy’s mother has spent over a month with us in summer and again now over the holidays…precious memories in the making.

Faithfulness

I don’t think it’s good practice for Christians to rate one year as better or worse than another. I don’t think it’s a good habit for us to do as the world does, and be glad to get rid of an old year and hope the next will be better.

Yes, 2018 was hard, but you know what? It was a walk in the park compared to someone else’s–maybe even yours. An there will be greater trials in the years to come. But I know this: The same Lord who saved me also promised to sanctify me, and he will do all that he says he will accomplish. I know it. Not only has he said so, I’ve walked with him long enough now that I’ve seen him do it over and over again.