Job captures the human condition when he says: “Man is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward”(Job 5:7). Painful and stressful situations are inevitable, no matter how hard we try to avoid them. They crouch behind corners and pounce when we least expect it. It is often believed that these circumstances are plagues from God and are not part of His plan. (I know that’s how I feel sometimes.) The reality, however, is that God has ordained difficult, stressful, painful situations – trials – as a means of transforming people into His image. As we recognize trials as God’s instrument, we can find joy in the midst of our trials and respond rightly to them.
Mental Response to Trials
It was Chuck Swindoll who said, “show me a man or woman who’s never endured suffering, and I’ll show you a spiritual wimp.” There is some truth to that statement. Trials and suffering produce spiritual maturity. It says in James 1:2: “Count it all joy when you experience trials of various kinds.” The verb “count” in Greek is noteworthy suggesting something done with your mind. The way it’s written suggests that one should dwell on the given situation and come to the conclusion that “This is good for me.” Not because the situation itself is good, (let’s be honest, trials hurt), but because of what you learn, and what it produces in your life, which is spiritual maturity.
Trials Come in Many Colors
As a child, I used to think of trials as the big problems and situations of life e.g. Abraham having to offer Isaac. However, the Greek word poikilois, translated as “various” in James 1:2 – “when you encounter various trials” – has the meaning “many colors.” When James uses it, he conveys that trials come in different colors. We can experience testing with finances, family, work, friendship, rebellious children, classes, etc.
Trials Reveal Our Condition
Recently, I got a mundane job that pays close to minimum wage working in a freezer. I definitely believe that it’s a trial from God! This job is making me work on my pride and is helping me to realize what’s important in life. I’ll admit that when I signed up for it, there wasn’t an ounce of joy. I was embarrassed and I wanted to buy a mask to hide my face. However, I’m realizing that working at this job will produce spiritual maturity.
The trials of our lives reveal our human condition. They show the areas of our life that haven’t conformed to the image of God. I didn’t understand I had a problem with pride until I faced my trial. Then I realized I am a prideful person, and that I need to change. I didn’t enjoy this realization, but now I can work on my pride. When you face trials it reveals your sinful areas and then by the power of the Holy Spirit you can change.
The Place of Wisdom
What is a Christian’s response to trials? It’s true that we ask God for deliverance, but what James suggests is to pray for wisdom. People use this verse for almost anything: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (1:5). However, the context of James chapter 1 is trials. When we find ourselves in a trial we pray to God for wisdom in dealing with it. “Lord, what do I do about this situation?” Wisdom is vital in responding to our various trials. We also pray to God for understanding in what we can learn from our testing. Even in the worst of trials, there is a nugget of wisdom to be taken from it, and we pray to God for it.
Hope is Key
Hope provides the necessary endurance to overcome trials. It says in Romans 5:3 “Tribulation works patience.” If you think about it, often tribulation does just the opposite. I know people in whom tribulation has worked bitterness and hatred. Why then does the Apostle Paul say, “it works patience”? This statement is found in the context of hope. When you have hope you can endure the most agonizing trials imaginable. Our hope in trials is the knowledge, that in the end, it’s shaping us in the image of our Savior.
As long as sparks fly upward, you will experience all sorts of trials and testings. It’s not fun or enjoyable in any way, but when we recognize what God is doing through it, we can embrace our trials wholeheartedly. For we know that as we endure it, we are becoming spiritual men and women of God.