Why? – Testing Your Faith (part 3)
“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings. 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. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think that he will receive anything from the Lord. He is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business. Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” – James 1:1-12
Last week, in this new series entitled Why? we began to consider five essentials that are necessary in order for a person to turn trials into victory. Remember the first essential? You must have a joyful attitude. In addition to a joyful attitude, the second essential needed to live victoriously during periods of suffering is an understanding mind. Look at verses 2-3: Consider it pure joy, my brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. The key word is “know.” First, we are told “to consider;” now we are admonished “to know.” What are we to know? We are to know what God’s Word says in regard to life, expectations, God’s plans and purposes, and how He works to accomplish His purposes. We cannot possess the second essential, an understanding mind, unless we seek God’s wisdom by becoming devoted students of His Word. We, as God’s children, are to have an entirely different perspective than those who are not in Christ. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:16, “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.” When you begin to study and understand the Bible, your worldview changes; therefore, I would add to Paul’s observation that “we regard no one from a worldly point of view” and we regard nothing from a worldly point of view. We look at everything through the lens of Scripture, which transforms our perspective.
Below are seven truths we know from the Bible. I discovered these in a book written by Joni Eareckson Tada and Steven Estes entitled When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty. I strongly recommend this book to everyone.
1. Suffering that Christians endure is part of God’s plan. 1 Peter 4:19 states, “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” Suffering is a part of God’s will. This may be a difficult truth to understand or accept, but it is nonetheless true. The Bible tells us God will give us complete understanding of His ways when we get to heaven. 1 Corinthians 13:12 promises, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” Steven Estes explains: “God’s plan is specific. He screens the trials that come to each of us—allowing only those that accomplish his good plan, because He takes no joy in human agony. Nothing happens by accident…not even tragedy.”
2. For the believer, pain and suffering have an eternal purpose, and God can and will work them out for good. Romans 8:28 states, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” Here’s the deal—if you choose to follow Christ, He promises to work everything out for good for those who love Him—even quadriplegia, even the death of a child, even when the doctor’s diagnosis is cancer, even when…you fill in the blank. Our time on earth is brief. Christians will be on the other side of death very soon, and then we will understand how God used our trials and tribulations for eternal good, and we will thank Him for them. In John 16:20-23 Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So, with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day, you will no longer ask me anything.” In this passage, Jesus compares our trials to childbirth, which I understand is quite painful, but once the baby is born, the pain is in the past, and all that remains is joy. That is a picture of the Christian life. Now is our time to suffer. Eventually, death will usher us into the presence of God. Then He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and Heaven will last forever as the memories of earth fade into the distant past.
3. God uses suffering not only to refine, perfect, and strengthen us but also to keep us from falling. Hebrews 2:10 states, “In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.” If Jesus was made perfect through suffering, a concept that I do not fully understand, how much more do we need to be made perfect through suffering?
4. Suffering allows the life of Christ to be manifested (put on display) in our mortal flesh. Paul explained to the people of Corinth how we, as Christians, are put on display for the world, particularly when we suffer. You see, when we suffer, everyone watches to see whether or not our faith is genuine. Paul writes, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:7-11). Do you want to draw friends and family members to Christ? Then be willing to be put on display. Say to your heavenly Father just as Jesus did: “Not my will, but Thy will be done!”
5. Suffering bankrupts us, making us dependent on God. Paul knew what it was like to be dependent on God. Apparently, he had some malady from which he asked God to deliver him. Some theologians believe this “thorn in the flesh” was poor eyesight. Notice God’s response to Paul’s many requests for deliverance: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul concludes, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).Suffering makes us weak, oftentimes driving us to our knees. The most powerful person in the world is a man or woman on his or her knees. Have you been on your knees recently? Let’s be honest—without trials, would we ever kneel before God?
6. God comforts us in our suffering so that we, in turn, may comfort others who are going through similar trials. My favorite seminary professor was Dr. John Sailhamer. His son, David, was born with Down’s syndrome. David and I became very good friends during my time at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. One weekend, another of Dr. Sailhamer’s sons ran away from home, and for several years they heard nothing from him. At that time, I remember asking Dr. Sailhamer, “How are you coping?” He simply said to me, “2 Corinthians 1:3-4.” As soon as I returned home that day, I looked it up and was amazed to read these words from the apostle Paul: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” If you are willing, God will use you to comfort others with the comfort you yourself have received from Him.
7. The final reason God allows trouble and hardship is: Suffering teaches us that the greatest good of the Christian life is not absence of pain but rather Christ-likeness. The Old Testament prophet Malachi compares God to a silversmith. Malachi 3:2-3 states, “[God] will be like a refiner’s fire…He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” In order to remove the dross, or impurities, from silver, the silversmith applies heat. As the heat intensifies, the silver melts, dross floats to the top, and as dross is removed, the silver becomes purer. Do you know how the silversmith determines when the silver is perfect? The silver is deemed perfect when the Silversmith can see His own reflection in the silver. God wants to remove the dross from our lives so that He can see Himself in you and me. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
Are you still questioning God? Are you still asking Him, “Why?” Know that a day is coming when all of the why questions will be answered. In that day, we will no longer ask Him anything! Steven Estes writes, “Every sorrow we taste will one day be the best possible thing that could have happened. We will thank God endlessly in heaven for the trials he sent us here. This is not Disneyland—it is truth.”
As children of God, it is imperative that we know what the Bible says about suffering. Only with an understanding mind can we begin to rejoice in our suffering, knowing that it is part of God’s plan and that He will use our trials to conform us into His likeness. Knowledge that God actually uses trials to testthe quality of our faith should produce endurance and patience. Warren Wiersbe writes, “Endurance cannot be attained by reading a book, listening to a sermon, or even praying a prayer. We must go through the difficulties of life, trust God, and obey him. The result will be patience and character. Knowing this, we can face trials joyfully.” God is more concerned with our character than He is with our comfort. Next week, we will continue to consider the five essentials necessary to have victory over and in the midst of our trials. Stay tuned! Amen.
A Note on Suffering
Yesterday, I met with Lisa Haikal, an old friend, and her friend Jennifer Kromhout. Unfortunately, it was due to a very sad occurrence. Lisa’s oldest son, Alex, age 23, took his life this past Saturday. (Lisa gave me permission to share this.) Lisa and Alex are believers. Lisa wants those who are suffering from depression, as Alex did, to know there’s hope. And there is. Now, I did not tell Lisa, “Count it all joy!” By the way, James does not say, “Count it all happiness!” However, I observed in Lisa a woman who has a settled peace and hope in Christ. This is part of what I believe James means by the word joy—a settled peace, hope, and yes, even joy, no matter the circumstances. In my office yesterday, the three of us prayed, cried, and laughed.
Lisa has asked me to perform the memorial service which will be held next Wednesday, June 27. I ask for your prayers for Lisa, Mark, her husband, and Clark, their youngest son. This will be a very difficult time for the three of them. Mark and Clark are also believers. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep (die), or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” Alex fell asleep in Christ. Lisa is assured that he is now with the Lord. He has been set free and will live with Jesus forever as he waits to be reunited with his family. This is the hope that we have in Christ. Jesus is the only hope for this fallen world. I hope you know Him. Only those who are in Christ have this abiding hope.