Summary: Trials are designed to teach us so that our conduct and character changes.
Rev. Brian Bill
About two weeks ago I received a phone call from someone who was in great distress. After recounting the details of what had happened, the following question was uttered in a loud, yet broken voice: “Pastor Brian, does God hate me?”
The topic we’re tackling this month is the most commonly asked question of God and it’s been referred to as the “Achilles Heel” of Christianity. George Barna conducted a national survey a few years ago in which he polled adults: “If you could ask God one question, what would you ask?” The top response was this, “Why is there pain and suffering in the world?” In our new series that we’re calling, “When Life is Hard” we’re going to take a look at what God’s Word says about how best to make sense out of suffering, whether we ask it in a philosophical or theological sense, or whether our questions are agonizingly emotional and personal, as some of ours are.
Next week we’ll focus on why trials come, the following week we’ll look at some practical ways that we can handle hardships and then we’ll conclude by learning about God’s purposes in our problems. Today we’re going to make an effort to define trials. Right at the beginning I want to acknowledge how much I’ve benefited from a new book by James MacDonald called, “When Life is Hard.” After reading it I sent him an email and asked him for permission to utilize some of his insights as the basis for our study together the next four weeks. To learn more about this resource, see www.whenlifeishard.com. I also highly recommend a new book by Randy Alcorn called, “If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil.”
In order to make sure that this series is scratching where you’re itching, I would love to hear any questions that you might have about suffering or pain or trials. I’ll do my best to answer them during the upcoming sermons. Simply send me a note on Facebook or drop me an email at: email@example.com.
The Truth About Trials
As we lay a foundation for our study, let’s settle on a definition. The word “trial” means to be “under the thumb” of pressure. Many of you know from experience what that feels like. Some of you are going through some unrelenting pressure right now that keeps you awake at night and makes you feel wiped out during the day. In the New Testament the word trial means to prove by testing. In other words, a trial demonstrates the genuineness of your faith in Christ and refines the quality of your spiritual life.
I’ve not heard a better definition than this one by James MacDonald: “A trial is a painful circumstance allowed by God to change my conduct and my character.” I like this because it shows that God is always interested in working out His glory and my ultimate good, no matter what kind of garbage I’m going through. Trials are all about God adjusting my conduct, which is what I do. And, at a deeper level, God is committed to reshaping my character, which is who I am.
The storms of life can come fast and furious or they can stretch over months, years, or even decades. Trials can be tiny and irritating or they can be titanic and impossible to endure. Trials can involve the physical, the relational, financial, emotional or circumstantial. Several biblical terms are used almost interchangeably: suffering, hardship, tribulation, chastising and discipline.
It reminds me of the guy who said that he doesn’t mind obstacles as long as they don’t get in his way but trials are the common lot of every Christian.
No one is exempt; no one gets a trouble-free ride to heaven. Jesus put it this way in Matthew 24:9: “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.” 1 Peter 4:12: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” Suffering is a mark of discipleship, something that is guaranteed for the follower of Christ.
The Christian life is not a quick fix. New Christians are sometimes confused when they think that everything should go perfectly, that there should be no more difficulties. Some believers may even wonder if they’re at fault, that maybe if they just had more faith, the hard times would go away. When you put your faith in Christ you will experience pressures and persecution.
Acts 14:22 puts it succinctly: “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” A South American saying hits it on the head: “To live without suffering is to die without glory.”