Basic Training

Throwback Thursday ~ Basic Training: 5 Ways to Face Tests and Trials Biblically

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?

1.
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.
James 1:2-4

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
Romans 5:3-4

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.
Hebrews 12:9-11

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.

2.
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.
Hebrews 12:1c-2

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.

3.
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!
Matthew 7:9-11

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.

4.
Don’t Worry

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.
Proverbs 3:5

Fear Not: 9 Biblical Ways to Trade Worry for Trust

5.
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.
Hebrews 12:4

In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.
Proverbs 3:6

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.
Psalm 37:5

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.

Basic Training: Obedience: 8 Ways To Stop Making Excuses and Start Obeying Scripture

 

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.

Basic Training

Basic Training: 5 Ways to Face Tests and Trials Biblically

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?

1.
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.
James 1:2-4

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
Romans 5:3-4

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.
Hebrews 12:9-11

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.

2.
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.
Hebrews 12:1c-2

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.

3.
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!
Matthew 7:9-11

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.

4.
Don’t Worry

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.
Proverbs 3:5

Fear Not: 9 Biblical Ways to Trade Worry for Trust

5.
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.
Hebrews 12:4

In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.
Proverbs 3:6

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.
Psalm 37:5

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.

Basic Training: Obedience: 8 Ways To Stop Making Excuses and Start Obeying Scripture

 

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.

Faith, Old Testament, Suffering, Sunday School, Trust

But Even If He Does Not… ~ Sunday School Lesson ~ 9-21-14

Shadrach

These are my notes from my ladies’ Sunday School class this morning. I’ll be posting the notes from my class here each week. Click here for last week’s lesson.

Through the Bible in 2014 ~ Week 38 ~ Sep. 14-20
Daniel, Ezra 1-6, Psalm 137, Haggai
But Even If He Does Not…

Exile. God has been warning Israel of the consequences of idolatry for centuries and has finally brought it to fruition. Last week we saw Ezekiel comfort the people with the good news that God’s anger and their punishment would not last forever, but today we find them smack dab in the middle of their time as Babylonian expatriates. How could they live as God’s people while being punished in a pagan nation? How could they please Him apart from temple sacrifices and offerings? Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are going to show us.

Daniel 3

The Problem- 1-7 (Exodus 20:1-6)
Here, the stage is set for the drama that is about to unfold. Nebuchadnezzar set up a 90 foot tall (probably much of that was a large base), 9 foot wide statue of himself, and commanded everyone under his rule to worship it. Emperor/king worship was not uncommon at any time during the Old or New Testament periods. While the emperor’s ego certainly must have played into this, it was mainly about loyalty and obedience to that leader and his rule. He was trying to preclude any hint of sedition while reinforcing to the people that he had control over every aspect of their lives. This was an especially important message to drive home to all of the governmental officials (2), because they were the ones most likely to slaughter the emperor and stage a coup.

From the emperor’s perspective, emperor worship also had less to do with actual religion and worship than submission to his absolute rule. Nebuchadnezzar and nearly everyone else in Babylon worshiped a panoply of gods, which was fine with Nebuchadnezzar as long as none of those gods superseded him and his rule in the eyes of his subjects. He was to be esteemed and obeyed above all others. That’s where our young Hebrew friends found themselves butting heads with Nebuchadnezzar’s new law. God is not OK with his people worshiping any other god before, besides, instead of, or in addition to Him. He is the only God, and He alone is to be worshiped, even if your life is on the line.

The Persecution- 8-12 (2 Timothy 3:12, John 15:18)
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were three of the Judean exiles. We saw in chapter 1 that they, along with Daniel, were godly young men who risked their lives to be obedient to God’s commands. By the end of chapter two, Nebuchadnezzar had promoted them to prominent positions in his government. This is probably why the Chaldeans accused them– they were jealous. As with Daniel’s accusers in 6:4-5, they likely could not find any other grounds on which to discredit Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego because they were upstanding, ethical, loyal citizens.

Satan hates God and anyone who loves and serves Him. John 15:18 says,

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me [Jesus] before it hated you.

Because of this hatred, Satan will do anything in his power to get God’s people to turn away from Him or sin against Him. He is the force behind all persecution, and he often uses his own servants to attack God’s servants. This was true for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and it is true for us today. Second Timothy 3:12 says,

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,

If we love God and strive towards holiness, we will find ourselves under attack at times.

The Predicament- 13-15
Being a child of God can often mean facing scary situations in which we are tempted to cut corners or sin. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were tempted to bow down to the image the first time when the music played. Here, the heat is turned up because they’re standing in front of the man who holds their lives in his hands, and they face the same temptation a second time. Why not just do it? God will understand and forgive them, right?

The Profession- 16-18 (Psalm 115:3, Romans 8:28)
Although it’s tempting to think that way, we can’t, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego prove this out beautifully. They would rather die than disobey their true King. And notice the strength of their testimony in the simple fact that they needed no time to consider Nebuchadnezzar’s offer (16). Immediately, they answered that their minds were made up. Under no circumstances would they bow to the image.

Why? Because they knew nothing was going to happen to them? No. We know that because we have the rest of the story. We have to remember that this was a real event happening to real people in real time, the same way things happen to us. They didn’t know what was going to happen next. For all they knew, they were toast. Yet they stood and boldly declared that God was able to do anything and they trusted Him no matter what.

But even if he does not…Those are probably the most important words in this story. To Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, God was still God, still worthy of worship and obedience, whether he spared their lives or not. Can we say the same?

There are a lot of false teachers out there that will tell you it is always God’s will for you to be healed, wealthy, successful. And if you’re not, it’s your fault because of your lack of faith. But the Bible clearly teaches the opposite. If God had not saved Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, could anyone say it was due to their lack of faith? Did God refuse to take away Paul’s thorn in the flesh because of his lack of faith? Were 11 of the 12 disciples martyred because they lacked faith?

The truth is, Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. (Ps.) God does what He does for His glory and our good. And, much like when we take our children to the doctor for a shot, what’s good for us can be scary and painful. What if God doesn’t heal you? What if your child dies? What if your marriage isn’t reconciled? What if you lose your job? For those that love God and are called out to His purposes, He works all things together for good (Rom.) He has not promised us an easy way, but a difficult way. But He has promised to be with us all the way. Can we stand in faith with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and say, but even if He does not…?

The Peril and the Protection- 19-30
If we were writing this story, it would probably end right after verse 18 with Nebuchadnezzar so impressed with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that he backed down and honored them for their courage and integrity. But God’s didn’t want Nebuchadnezzar to be impressed with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. God wanted Nebuchadnezzar to be impressed with Him.

If you’ll notice, God did not rescue Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego after their profession of Him. Things got worse. Nebuchadnezzar got angrier. The fire got hotter. God did not rescue them before they got tied up. Or before they got to the furnace. Or before they were thrown into the furnace. Or before they hit the bottom of the furnace. God allowed these three men who loved Him and were loyal to Him above all else to hit bottom before He rescued them. He didn’t rescue them from the furnace, He rescued them through the furnace.

God (possibly the preincarnate Christ in a theophany) was with them in the fire and, eventually, He brought them out on the other side. What do you think that did for their faith in Him? How much more intimately did they know Him, how much more thankful were they, and how much more intensely did they worship Him after God walked through the fire with them?

It’s the same for us. We grow to know and love God so much more intimately, when, instead of rescuing us from trials, He walks through them with us. I would not know and trust God as provider the way I do today had He not walked with me through some very difficult situations that only He could provide for. Others know God as healer or comforter or strength because of what He has walked through with them.

And what happened to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego wasn’t just about them, personally. God had a broader purpose for their suffering, and also for Daniel’s experience in the lions’ den. In those two incidents (and others), God got to pull back the curtain and reveal Himself to pagan people who desperately needed Him. He showed that He was superior to their gods, that they needed to repent and turn to Him, and that He loves His children. It had always been God’s plan to make Himself known to the Gentiles as well as the Jews, and here were God’s first missionaries. If these four men hadn’t gone through what they went through, Nebuchadnezzar and the rest of watching Babylon would not have seen God. What they went through showcased the great God they served.

Likewise, our trials can be an opportunity to point people to the Christ who has rescued us from the ultimate fire, and who can rescue them as well. Even if He does not…is a glorious opportunity to shine the spotlight on our great, mighty and merciful God.