Wednesday, March 11, 2009
WHY DO WE EXPERIENCE TRIALS AND TESTS?
Understand, that in no way am I passing judgment—I struggle daily to defeat depression and my personal thorns of the flesh. “I am quite happy about the thorn…for when I am weak, then I am strong—the less I have, the more I depend on him.” Luke 16:11 Pastor of Dayton Vineyard Christian Fellowship Doug Roe has been known to explain it by saying, “If I don’t listen to the whispers, He’ll allow the jackhammer.” God often tries to gently whisper truth to us, but as rebellious children, we don’t always listen. In short, “God sometimes uses sorrow in our lives to help us turn away from sin and seek eternal life. We should never regret His sending it.” 2 Corinthians 7:10 Right now, I have the lyrics to Jesus, Take the Wheel sung by Carrie Underwood playing in my mind. Some of us have to crash, before we’ll hand over control. As humans it is difficult for us to see our trials from God’s perspective. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 explains what our Christian attitude should be, “That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” There are two reasons for our trials: 1) they are a natural consequence of sin and/or 2) God is using trials to shape us into the likeness of Christ.
As a teacher, I broke down big concepts into daily lesson plans, provided clear goals and guidelines, gave demonstrations with visual aids, and assigned projects. But how did I assess student knowledge? I tested them! Have you been paying attention to God? The answers come when we go through tests and trials. Metals are fired to burn off impurities, clay is fired to make vessels, and sand is molten into glass—we are no different. Hebrews 12:9 explains, “We have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respect them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live?” Only God knows the bigger purpose for the events of our lives. Furthermore, John 12:24 explains, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Smith Wigglesworth wrote, “Great faith is the product of great fights. Great testimonies are the outcome of great tests. Great triumphs can only come out of great trials.” Tests can let our patience and faith grow—but only if we let God have control. In order for God to mold us into the likeness of Christ, we have to be broken and reshaped into a “new creature.”
If God’s sinless son wasn’t immune from troubles during his time on earth, why should we arrogantly think we should be spared? Personally, “Why me?” was a dangerous question because my thoughts and actions reflected a victim mindset. Now I realize the more appropriate questions is, “Why not me?” Many televangelist and preachers focus on “feel good, prosperity” teachings; however, in John 16:32-33 Jesus explains, “These things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye may have peace. In the world ye have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” The Footprints poem has lost its impact through overexposure, but the theme has resonated with many people…we will have troubles, but we are not alone.
Jesus understands our troubles. Although the Bible doesn’t chronicle all of these trials, I would imagine that in the flesh Christ was tempted by the Seven Deadly Sins. However, we do know that the devil plotted and waited for physical weakness to attack. After forty days of fasting and isolation, the devil offers Jesus food and power. John 4:3-12 tells the story of Christ’s temptation, “Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. ‘I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,’ the devil said, ‘because they are mine to give to anyone I please. I will give it all to you if you will worship me.’ Jesus replied, ‘The Scriptures say, You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him. …When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came.” We too can defeat Satan by knowing and planting the Word of God in our hearts.
Also, we learn from this example that the devil waits and plots for opportune times. With Jesus, he waited to attack when he was at the weakest point: hungry, alone, and dreading his persecution/death. Personally, I am the most irritable with my family when I am hungry, stressed, depressed, and sleep deprived. I am always humbled when I think of his sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. Luke 22: 42-45 “’Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.’ Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood. At last he stood up again and returned to the disciples, only to find them asleep, exhausted from grief. ‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them. ‘Get up and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation.’” There is medical evidence to support that under extreme stress, humans can rupture the blood vessels of the face. Some women experience a mild case of this during labor, resulting in blood shot eyes and splotches of the face. Similarly, the labor of our trials often produces a huge blessing—how do we get to the blessing? Remember what Jesus told the disciples, PRAY for strength and discernment.
Once again, Jesus is the ultimate role-model for how we should cope with life’s trials. He asked God was there any other way…please, let this cup pass. Here Jesus fights temptation with prayer and God answers by sending an angel to comfort him. We are no different…God can answer our prayers by sending others to strengthen us. Like Christ we still may have to endure the trial, but we are not alone. Amazingly, Christ realized the gravity of what he was about to face and still accepted his persecution, trial, torture, and death because of his love for us. Hebrews 2:17-18 clearly explains, “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” His torture and death is the most powerful example of persecution producing a glorious reward, our forgiveness and reconnection with God.
Pastor Rick Warren reaffirms this belief in his best-selling The Purpose Driven Life, "It is a fatal mistake to assume that God's goal for your life is material prosperity or popular success, as the world defines it. The abundant life has nothing to do with material abundance, and faithfulness to God does not guarantee success in a career or even in ministry. Never focus on temporary crowns.
Paul was faithful, yet he ended up in prison. John the Baptist was faithful, but he was beheaded. Millions of faithful people have been martyred, have lost everything, or have come to the end of life with nothing to show for it. But the end of life is not the end!" (P.50)
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