Testing Your Faith
“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.”
The big question is why does God allow so much suffering both in the world and in the lives of His true children? James Dobson wrote an excellent book on this subject entitled, When God Doesn’t Make Sense. In this book, Dr. Dobson brings hope to those who have almost given up. Like Joni Eareckson Tada in her book, When God Weeps, Dr. Dobson offers reasons for hope in the midst of the trials of life. Here are the last four reasons for suffering according to Joni.
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!”
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?
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.
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 test the 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.