Originally published February 9, 2018
For more in the Basic Training series, click here.
Your car breaks down and you don’t have the money to get it fixed.
Your child develops a behavior problem, and you have no idea how to help her.
Somebody royally messed something up at work and now you have to figure out how to fix it.
You’re smack dab in the middle of a tenuous situation at church instigated and exacerbated by THAT lady.
Anybody who tells you, “Come to Jesus and all of your problems will be over,” is selling something. The Christian life is not a stroll through a flowery meadow with never a bump in the road. In fact, sometimes it’s just one big pile of poo after another.
The truth is, if you come to faith in Christ, you’re going to continue to have some of the same kinds of general “that’s life” poo that you had before. People at work will keep messing up. Your child will still pour nail polish on your new white rug (Why do you have a white rug if you have children?). Your neighbor will back into your fence (again) and drag her feet about fixing it (again).
So what’s the point of coming to Christ if you’re just going to keep having problems?
Because the point of coming to Christ is not for Him to make all your problems disappear, it’s for Him to redeem you from your sin and propitiate God’s wrath against you. That’s why the symbol of Christianity is a cross, not a magic wand. So how does God want us to face those tests and trials of life in a biblical, Christian way?
Recognize God’s Purpose in Testing You
There are scads of blessings and benefits that come along with repentance and faith in Christ, and one of them is that poo now has a purpose. (I sense some of you have had enough of the word poo. OK, moving on…)
What is the purpose of all these aggravations, sorrows, and worrisome circumstances that keep coming your way?
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.
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Those difficult situations we face in life – whether they come as a consequence of our sin, a consequence of our Christlikeness, or simply a consequence of living in a post-Fall world – are the tools God uses to make us more like Jesus. Obediently bearing up during hard times develops steadfastness and maturity, endurance, character, and hope, holiness, peace, and righteousness.
You want those Christlike characteristics, don’t you?
I do too. But I’ll be honest – my flesh is not crazy about the fact that God often pulls a chisel out of His toolbag instead of a feather duster. And once again, we’re back to the cross versus the magic wand. We want God to “abracadabra” us into Christlike character. God points us to the cross.
Look at Tests and Trials Through Jesus’ Eyes
…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, 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.
Jesus was not some crazy masochist who enjoyed being beaten, mocked, nailed to a cross, and having the wrath of God poured out on Him for our sin. That was not fun. It was not pleasant. It was such a unique kind of awfulness that a whole new word had to be invented to describe it: excruciating. It was such a horrifying specter that it caused Jesus to sweat blood as He prayed in Gethsemane, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.”
God does not require you to enjoy pain, suffering, inconvenience, stress, or aggravation any more than He required Jesus to enjoy it. What Jesus did was to focus on “the joy set before Him” – the results of His suffering and the great and glorious things it would accomplish – to help Him endure the suffering. That’s what God wants us to pattern our approach to suffering after – Jesus. We don’t look at the circumstance itself. We look past the circumstance to how God is going to be glorified, how He’s going to grow us in Christlikeness, what we’re going to see Him do in answer to prayer, and whom He might save as a result of the circumstance. We look at the finish line. The winner’s circle. We focus on those things to help us get through the pain and exhaustion.
Remember the Nature and Character of God
Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
God is not some nasty bully sitting up there in Heaven arbitrarily messing your life up for His own personal entertainment like a kid setting ants on fire with a magnifying glass on a sunny day. He’s your Father. He loves and cares for you. Like any good parent, He wants what He knows is good for you more than He wants you to be fat and happy. He’s in complete control of what happens or doesn’t happen to you.
If something unpleasant comes into your life, go back to what you know to be true of God. God is not trying to harm or punish you. He has sovereignly allowed or caused this thing to happen because He is your Father who loves you and wants to do something good for you. He wants to work in your heart and life for your benefit, the benefit of others, and to glorify Himself through this circumstance.
Yeah, right. If you’re anything like me, your first thought when faced with a problem is “Oh no. I’ll never get through this one. What if this happens? What if that happens?” Suddenly, in your mind, you’re ten miles down the road in Armageddon-land.
God does not sovereignly put circumstances into your life to give you a platform for worrying. It is never God’s will for you to worry. It is always God’s will for you to trust Him. If you’re worrying about your circumstances, you are not doing God’s will. God puts difficult circumstances into our lives to give us the opportunity to exercise our “trust muscles”. Worrying is just another way of saying, “God, I don’t trust you in this. I don’t believe you’re in control in this situation. I’ve got to be the one to figure this out and handle it.” If God is big enough and powerful enough to save you, He is big enough and powerful enough to carry you, protect you, provide for you, comfort you, and reassure you through whatever He places in your path. Trust Him.
(And a special note to my fellow Reformed brothers and sisters – as I preach this to myself – if anybody shouldn’t worry, it’s us. We are the “God is sovereign over everything” people! It is utterly ridiculous to believe that God is sovereignly in control of every aspect of salvation, that He providentially foreordains the activity of every atom of the universe, and then turn around and worry that He can’t or won’t handle something as measly as a repair bill or a surly co-worker.)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
An Opportunity for Obedience
In the same way that God doesn’t place situations in your life as an opportunity to worry but as an opportunity to exercise trust in Him, He does not place situations in your life in which you have no choice but to disobey Him, but rather, as opportunities to stretch, trust Him, and obey His Word in spite of how difficult it might be. Anybody can be obedient when things are awesome. Obedience during the hard times is what grows you.
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
1 Corinthians 10:13
In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.
Can’t find a doctrinally sound church nearby? Yes, that’s difficult, but God is not OK with you sitting down and resigning yourself to disobeying Him by giving up the search just because it’s hard. No man will step up and lead at church? They might be disobeying God, but we ladies don’t have God’s permission to violate His Word by teaching or exercising authority over the men of the church just because it would be a lot more convenient to do so.
Convenience, comfort, and smooth sailing are not the be all end all of life. The character that God wants to build in you, the glory He wants to bring Himself, the good He wants to do to others through your obedience during hard times is far more important. But you’ll never experience those amazing things if you take the easy way out by sinning. Have you stood against sin to the point of bloodshed? Have you prayed that God would provide you a way to resist temptation and obey Him? Are you committing your way to the Lord and trusting Him to work everything out? If you want God to accomplish His purposes through the sticky situations of your life, you’ve got to stand firm and obey Him no matter how great the challenge.
We may not like difficult situations very much, but for those of us who know Christ, we can rejoice in knowing that God has a purpose for them. The highest purpose – to make us more like Jesus. He does that for us because He loves us. And while we might still wish for Him to bop us with a magic wand and instantly make us patient or steadfast or peaceful, God created us, and He knows that suffering and difficulties are the best way to accomplish those things. So just as Christ endured the cross for the joy set before Him, we can endure any difficult situation God blesses us with, knowing that He’s doing it for our good and His glory. And that’s definitely something to rejoice about.