“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
Paul writes in Philippians 3:10-11, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” I have read these words many, many times as I’m sure many of you have. And every time I read them I think, “Yes, I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, but do I really want to know the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings?” Moreover, what do these sufferings really entail? Did Paul have in mind persecution that comes with following Jesus? Absolutely! What about physical suffering? I think Paul had this in mind as well. I believe that suffering is the primary tool God uses to draw His children into a deeper and more intimate fellowship with Himself. It is my hope that by the time you finish reading and meditating on the truths found in this devotional series, you will be able to truly say in your heart, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”
Joni Eareckson Tada is one of my heroes. I was a teenager when I read her first and most famous book, Joni. Joni was involved in a diving accident that paralyzed her from the neck down when she was only eighteen years old. Earlier in her teenage years, she had become acquainted with Young Life, and it was through Young Life that she came to understand the gospel and subsequently surrendered her life to Christ. Just before the accident, Joni recalls praying, “Lord, if you’re really there do something in my life to change me around. I’m begging you!”
I guess you could say that God answered her prayer. After weeks of being confined to a special metal frame, she began rehab and physical therapy at a nursing home; it was also during this period that she battled depression and self-pity. Friends came to visit and read the Bible to her but, as you can imagine, her faith was sorely tested.
In reflection, here’s what Joni has to say about her life (she is now 68):
“In the Psalms we’re told that God does not deal with us according to our sins and iniquities. My accident was not a punishment for my wrongdoing, whether or not I deserved it. Only God really knows why I was paralyzed. Maybe He knew I’d be ultimately happier serving Him. If I were still on my feet, it’s hard to say how things might have gone. I probably would have drifted through life – marriage, maybe even divorce – dissatisfied and disillusioned. When I was in high school, I reacted to life selfishly and never built on any long-lasting values…and almost always at the expense of others. ‘But now you’re happy?’ a teen-age girl asked. I really am. I wouldn’t change my life for anything. I feel privileged. God doesn’t give such special attention to everyone and intervene that way in their lives. He allows most people to go right on in their own ways. He doesn’t interfere even though He knows they are ultimately destroying their own lives…and it must grieve Him terribly. I’m really thankful He did something to get my attention and change me. You know, you don’t have to get a broken neck to be drawn to God. But the truth is, people don’t always listen to the experiences of others and learn from them. I hope you’ll learn from my experience, though, and not have to go through the bitter lessons of suffering which I had to face in order to learn.”
Through this devotional series, I want to try to answer a question that believers have asked for centuries—why? Why does God allow His children to suffer? Why is it that when you become a child of God, the problems don’t seem to go away? As a matter of fact, they seem to increase.
As you read this, I know many of you are going through great difficulties. Some face severe financial problems; others battle depression, fear, anxiety and deep despair. Some have children who struggle daily—your children are rebellious, lost and seemingly unable to find their way. Others have children who are battling drug addictions or other sickness, and they are breaking your hearts. Some struggle in difficult marriages, while others battle physical maladies. Life just has not turned out the way you thought it would, and you wonder, “Where is God in all of this?” Many of you are asking God, “Why?” Using this passage of Scripture, I will first give you a biblical answer to the “why” question and then to try to answer the “how” question. That is, once we come to understand whyGod allows trials into our lives, how can we have victory over them? Ultimately, how can we turn our trials into triumphs?