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Trials In the Life of a Christian
Trials are an inescapable reality in the life of a Christian. Persecution, suffering, disappointment, loss, and sacrifice are all part of the Christian walk, “ You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (II Timothy 2:3). Some will experience more in the area of trials than others. However, one must understand that trials are not an indicator of one's faith, or lack thereof, but are tools used by God for various reasons, all of which for our benefit and His glory, “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter” (NKJ: I Peter 4:16). Take for example persecution of Christians. In the book of II Timothy we are told, "Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution." (NKJ, II Tim 3:12) Their are no exceptions or qualifications in suffering persecution for those who are truly following Christ. Jesus tells us in the eighth beatitude in Matthew, "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (NKJ, Matthew 5:10-12) A godly life brings with it animosity from the world. The mere fact that one is visibly following the Lord in their life will cause others to hate and despise them. Scripture is very clear on the issue of trials in the life of a Christian. If you are truly following Christ it will happen in your life to no small degree.
In scripture we have different types of trials. To begin with we have the physical trials which were shared by all the apostles. These trials came in various forms: stoned (e.g .Thomas in Acts 7 and Paul in Acts 14), flogged (Paul and Silas in Acts 16), crucified (historical), and various other forms of physical trials. There are also trials based on the situation one is placed in such as Paul being shipwrecked (Acts 27) or being placed in prison (Acts 16). Finally there are the emotional trials which occur primarily in the form of persecution due to the preaching of the Gospel. We are told by Jesus that, "And you will be hated by all for My name's sake." (NKJ, Matthew 10:22) For no other reason than the name of Jesus will the world hate and persecute the Christian. I believe of all the trials, physical, situational and emotional, that emotional trials are the hardest to endure. Physical and situational trials try our external fortitude; however, emotional trials cut through to our heart.
It is interesting to note the different purposes for trials that we find in the Word of God. In this discussion, we will take a look at six different purposes that God has for trials in our lives:
1. To build up and strengthen our faith
2. God's discipline
3. To provide for ministering oppertunities
4. To bring us into a closer relationship with our Lord and strengthen our trust in Him
5. As a witness to others (in how we handle our trials)
6. To keep us humble
There are definitely many more purposes for trials in a Christian’s life than the six noted above; however, the purpose of this discussion is not to exhaust all the possible reasons for trials, but to scripturally prove that trials are a part of every Christians life, and that trials are tools used by God in molding our lives for His glory. Also note that only one of the six examples above results from improper Christian behavior; whereas, the other five are trials which will occur in the lives of all Christians, including those Christians possessing a strong Christian faith and walk.
The first in our list of purposes for trials in our Christian walk is to build us up and strengthen us in our faith. James tells us, "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing." (NKJ, James 1:2-4) Trials strengthen us and equip us for the work of the Lord. Just as we have to exercise our physical muscles on a regular basis to have them grow stronger, so must we exercise our spiritual muscle of faith. I remember back in grade school when my friends and I would journey down to the local junior high school to play ball tag (tag using a tennis ball). At this junior high was an obstacle course including some climbing walls. We would always spend some time going through the course and challenging each other on who could do the best. I remember myself having particular trouble with the climbing walls. At first, I could not even scale the smallest wall, and, of course, would not even consider attempting the larger walls. One day I finally succeeded in conquering the first wall. It was exillerating! Did I stop at this accomplishment and decide to retire upon my success. By no means. Instead, I looked to the next successively higher wall having gained confidence in my conquest over the first wall. Over time I was able to conquer all the walls. Each success gave me confidence to move on to tackle the next higher wall. A strong faith is built in the same way, by taking ever increasing steps of faith. And note, just as I did not attempt to scale the highest wall first, our first steps of faith are relatively small ones that begin to build our trust in the Lord, which, in turn, enable us to grow in our trust in the Lord and steps of faith.
The second purpose for trials in our lives is discipline. In the book of Hebrews we read, "And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives. If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?’" (NKJ, Hebrews 12:5-7) We will incur suffering and/or trials in our lives due to the Lord's discipline. When we deviate from His will, just as an earthly father will at times correct a child's disobedience with discipline, so will our Father in Heaven discipline us when we turn from His purpose for our lives. This discipline is not ministered to us in anger by the Lord, but in His infinite love for us. Most of us can remember when we were little children and our parents sternly instructed us to always look both ways before crossing the street. We can probably also remember the time, or times, when our parents caught us disobeying this rule. In my case, the outcome was punishment. This punishment was given based on my parents’ love for me, and the primary goal of the punishment was not to bring pain in to my live, but rather to train me in the correct and safe way to cross the street. They were concerned for my safety. It is the same with the Lord’s discipline. When we deviate from the way of righteousness, He lovingly disciplines us with the goal of turning us back onto the proper path. A path that He knows will bring ultimate joy in our lives.
A third purpose for trials is to provide us with oppertunities for ministering to others. In II Corinthians we read, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ." (NKJ, II Corinthians 1:3-5) The Lord will allow certain suffering in our lives in order that we may be able to comfort others by coming beside them and empathizing with their situation. Our trials create ministry opportunities. Loss of a loved one is a terrible trial. It can be a time of emptiness, and can even have us questioning God. Friends and family may try to comfort us, but it is the person who comes beside us, who has gone through the same ordeal, that can bring us comfort. Others can attempt to share scriptures or try to sympathize with our situation, but the one who has gone through this same trial is the one who’s words bring comfort. When they read scripture and share how the Lord brought them through their trial, we hang on every word because they can truly empathize with our trial. What an opportunity our trials bring to us in sharing the Lord with the unsaved. At a time in one’s life when they may be searching for answers, the Holy Spirit can use us to open the door to their heart using our past trials as the key.
Fourthly, trials brings us closer to God and strengthens our trust in Him. Again in II Corinthians we read, "For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us..." (NKJ, II Corinthians 1:8-10) Trials help us take our eyes off of ourselves, who are utterly weak, and on to the One who gives us our strength. Through trials we learn to turn to the Lord and rely on Him and not ourselves. In I Peter we read, "Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings..." (NKJ, I Peter 4:12-13) Our trials bring us into a closer relationship with our Lord. They put us in a position of realizing our own weaknesses, and enable us to rest in the infinite strength of our heavenly Father. In growing up, I was blessed with what I consider to be--and I know I am biased—the world’s greatest earthly father. He stands about 6’2” with a husky frame and deep voice, but a gentler man you will never know. How I remember, as a child, the security and confidence I felt holding my father’s hand. I felt I could do anything as long as my hand was nestled in my father’s large, strong, and gentle hand. And no matter what was happening around me, as long as I had my father’s hand, I felt secure. When I was with my Dad, I knew that I could depend on Him to get us through anything that came our way for I was not relying on my strength but on his. And so it is with our heavenly Father. When we are walking with Him, we no longer have to depend on our own feeble strength, but on His infinite strength. Trials push us to reach out and take hold of the Father’s hand. However, to reach out to him, we must let go of our trials. We must rely on His strength and not our own. What security we can find in holding our Father’s hand. We can do anything. Trials are nothing as long as we keep our hand nestled in the strong and loving hand of our heavenly Father.
Trials Used As A Witness To Others (In How We Handle Our Trials)
Fifth, our trials, that is how we handle our trials, acts as an awesome witness to nonbelievers. Anybody can walk around with a smile on their face when things are going well, but the world sees it as unnatural for one to be joyful in times of hardship. The church’s witness is never stronger than in times of suffering and persecution. We have an awesome example of this in the sixteenth chapter of Acts where Paul and Silas are chained in jail, after being flogged, for healing a demoned possessed girl and preaching the Word. We read that, "And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them." (NKJ, Acts 16:23-25) What an awesome witness this was to the rest of the men in that jail. Here we have two men who have been severely beaten, chained, and placed in a dark smelly jail (they did not have the amenities that our current jails have today). At a time when, by the world’s standards, they should be in the pits of despair, we have our two men singing praises to their God. I have no doubt that some, if not all, of the other prisoners were extremely anxious to learn about this God of whom Paul and Silas were singing. What an awesome ministering opportunity, and we know that our two disciples would have taken full advantage of the situation. How do we publicly handle our trials? Does our faith shine through, or do we appear to abandon our faith and wallow in despair and complaining? Our trials should represent an opportunity for us to demonstrate our faith, and to show those around us something that is contrary to the way of the world. What type of ministry opportunity would it be for us if we were to have one of our coworkers come up to us and ask us how we maintain such a positive attitude even in times when we are facing trials in our life?
The sixth and final purpose of trials in our discussion is to keep us humble. Paul tells us in II Corinthians, "And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (NKJ, II Corinthians 12:7-10) Paul had been given tremendous power, through the Holy Spirit, in his ministry. However, the Lord, knowing that with power can come pride and self will, gave Paul some sort of physical ailment (cf Galatians 4:13-14) to enable him to realize his own weaknesses and to look to the Lord, and not himself, for strength. The Lord would have us to be humble servants, therefore, at times He will allow trials in our lives to remind us that He alone is our strength, and that we should not glory in our own flesh.
Now here is the kicker, not only are we promised trials in our lives, but we are to joyfully receive them, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (NIV, James 1:2-4) Scripture tells us that persecution and suffering will ultimately not tear us down, but will build up and strengthen us. Without persecution and suffering, our faith muscles would atrophy for lack of spirtual exercise. We are to look upon times of suffering and persecution with joy and enthusiasm in much the same way as we look on pain during physical exercise—“No pain, no gain.” Yes, there will be pain and soreness, but we endure and enjoy the pain knowing that we will be stronger and healthier for it.
Scripture encourages us in our suffering and persecution in that we are said to be partakers with Christ. We are sharing in His suffering, glorifying Him to the world. In Hebrews 12:2 we are told that Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him. That joy being the giving of salvation to all men who would come to Him. In the same way, we are to endure because of the joy of salvation set before us, "Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified." (NKJ, I Peter 4:12-14) We are not to be surprised when we encounter trials in our lives. Trials are a tool in our lives used by God for His purposes.
The apostle Paul faithfully preached the gospel for over 30 years enduring tremendous persecution and suffering. In his last epistle, II Timothy, he is sitting in chains in a dark and cold dungeon knowing that he is about to be executed because of his preaching of the gospel. Throughout the whole epistle Paul has nothing but joy and exhortation for Timothy, the young pastor, concerning serving the Lord and enduring suffering and persecution. In this epistle to Timothy Paul writes, "So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life--not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace." (NIV, II Timothy 1:8) Paul is exemplifying the fact that suffering and persecution are things not to be feared when they are incurred because of the gospel. He is not telling Timothy to avoid these things at all cost, but exhorting him to join with him in suffering for the gospel. And Paul is also stating an all important point, that we will endure the persecution and suffering not by our own power but, "by the power of God." We are not alone in our trials. Our Lord is always with us, never forsaking us. Everything always goes back to the Lord. Our strength, our wisdom, our endurance, our love, all find their foundation in Jesus Christ, "the author and perfecter of our faith." (NIV, Hebrews 12:2)