Summary: When you put your faith in Christ, you will experience pressure and you will be tried but you will also have God who will not only give you the strength to persevere but us them tomold you, to make you more righteous.
For the next couple of weeks, I thought we would take a close look at what has been called the “Achilles’ Heel” of Christianity. What is our “Achilles’ Heel,” you might ask? It is the question of pain and suffering. The Barna Group, founded in 1984, is a marketing research firm focused on the intersection of faith and culture. They conduct surveys designed to monitor religious trends and take the spiritual pulse of the country. In various ways, they … as well as many, many other individuals, intellectuals, and organizations or institutions over the ages … have explored and attempted to explain and make sense of the issue of pain and suffering … of trials and tribulations. In a 2010 survey, the Barna Group asked the question: “If you could ask God one question, what would you ask?” By far the number one response was … [pause] … no surprise … “Why is there pain and suffering in the world?” If I were to take a survey now, how many of you would want to ask God that same question?
Today we are going to be taking a look at “what” suffering and trials are from a Biblical perspective. Next week we’ll take a look at the Bible’s understanding of “why” suffering and hardship happen. That will be followed by an examination of “how” the Bible says we should respond to hardship, and my final sermon on the topic of hardship will be to examine God’s “purposes” for our problems.
So … are you ready to grab the issue of hardship and suffering by the Achille’s heel? This a big topic and there is a lot to explore … more than I could ever cover in a four-part series. So, if there are any questions that you might have about pain or suffering or trials that I don’t discuss or there are somethings about this topic that you would like to explore in greater detail, we can talk about it over a cup of coffee or you can shoot me an email at email@example.com or you can call me, okay?
Let’s start out discussing a few definitions so that we are all on the same page, amen? Our English word “trial” comes from the French word “trier” … which means “to try” … t-r-y. To “try” something … ‘t-r-y’ … means to “test” it … and the way that you “test” something is to see how much ‘pressure’ an object, situation, or person can take before they or it explode or fall apart.
We have all felt the ‘pressure’ of being ‘tested,’ haven’t we? Some of you may be feeling the pressures of life right now, amen? Whether you are aware of it or not, the pressure is always there. Usually we are only aware of it when it reaches beyond a certain point. Sometimes the pressure can become so great that we can feel like an ant about to be crushed under someone’s thumb. Here’s the good news … if you are here this morning, then you clearly made it through your crisis alive. It may have felt like it was going to destroy you but the fact that you are still here proves that it did not crush you like the proverbial ant under God’s thumb. And if God got you through your last crisis alive, there’s no reason to doubt that God can and will get you through the crisis that you’re going through now or any other crisis that you will no doubt have to face in the future, amen?
In his book, “When Life is Hard,” James MacDonald defines a “trial” as a “painful circumstance allowed by God to change my conduct and my character” (2010. Chicago: Moody Pub.). Listen carefully. A trial is a painful circumstance allowed by God to change my conduct and my character. My “conduct” is what I do … my “conduct” is how I behave when the pressure’s on. My “character” is who I am. As Jesus pointed out, my “conduct” springs out of my “character.” “The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil,” Jesus explained to His followers, “for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). God uses pressure to change how I behave, how I react to pressure, by using that pressure to re-shape and change me at the deepest levels of my heart and mind.
At this point, it is critical that I make a distinction between a “trial” and a “consequence.” It is very easy to mistake the consequences of our actions for a test or a trial when in reality they are really two different things that require two different responses. A “consequence” is the result of an action or decision that I have made. A “trial,” on the other hand, is not the result or consequence of my actions or my behavior. The way to deal with our consequences is to repent … to change the behavior. Change the behavior, change the consequences. The way to deal with trials is to learn from them. Got that? We change our consequences by changing our behavior … we face our trials and we learn from them.