Responding To Life’s Trials
Maybe it’s spiritual warfare raging within us – clawing at us to be defiant, angry, unforgiving, or unloving. Whatever the source; whatever the circumstances, we all know that it’s simply part of the human experience. Trials. You can’t escape them.
And if we think about it honestly, we know that many times we don’t even recognize them. They are small, seemingly insignificant little decisions that accumulate over time, growing around us like a silent fog until one day we realize that we are blinded by a besetting sin. And all those insignificant struggles that we shrugged off, have morphed into an authentic fight for the survival of our character, our family or even our very lives.
Often times, we cannot control them. They come suddenly and viciously from the outside. We get a phone call from a family member, or a neighbor, or the office. We finally visit the doctor about those recurring headaches or that lump that we’re sure is really nothing. And as we hear the news, we sense the coming dread. The blood rushes from our face. We feel as if the very fibers of our soul are being stretched and torn, and life is instantly taken to a place where the things we thought were so important really don’t mean a thing.
Trials. They are internal and external. They can be by all accounts a passing irritant, or they can be life altering, watershed events.
If you haven’t already begun to do so, I want you to turn your gaze inward a few minutes. And I want you to think about your own trials, big and small.
Think about the ones that have defined you – that massive failure of integrity, or the illness you faced in yourself or your close family member, or that relationship failure where your heart was crushed and your loyalty taken advantage of.
I also want you to think about the dozens of smaller skirmishes you walk through on a daily basis – the testing of your purity, the trying of your patience, or the challenge to your willingness to forgive or be a peacemaker. Whatever the case, I want you to get into your mind your trials. And I want you to do something that under normal circumstances would not be particularly healthy. I want you to dwell on them for a minute. I want you to let the difficulty, shame and frustration of your trials, big and small, wash over you. Are you there yet?
Here’s why I’m asking you to do this. It’s critical for you to understand at a gut level, not just intellectually, the significance of what I’m going to share. And you may gloss over it if you don’t take yourself there right now.
Ok, so now that you are thinking about your trials, read these words from James 1:2-4.
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
The New Living Translation says Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.
How will you respond?
Whether or not we will have trials is not the issue. The source of our trials is not the issue. It’s how we respond to trials that is the key.
When confronted by trials, how will you respond? What are you going to do? It’s so easy to gloss over scripture but I find these words of truth to be so powerful that I don’t want you to miss an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to speak to you in a very real way.
So let’s start with the big idea. What is the ultimate purpose of our trials? When you get beyond the noise and silence, pain and pleasure, consequences and rewards of life’s trials, what is God’s aim through it all? I’ll tell you. It’s to glorify Himself. We have been put on earth and saved by the blood of Jesus to glorify God.
To glorify is to cause the dignity and worth of some person or thing to become manifest and acknowledged. It means to render excellent. To make renowned. To magnify.
John Piper has written extensively on this and supports this idea with loads of scripture, but one of his key thoughts is this. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. I agree with this statement. So how do we go from trial to glorifying? How do we go from the pain of loss, the frustration of unrealized hope or expectations, the utter shame of failure to causing the worth of God to become visible and acknowledged? It hinges on our response to the trials of life.
What is a trial?
I started out by attempting to get you to think about your own trials. But let’s look for a minute at what this word means. What are these trials and why on earth should we consider it great joy when we encounter them? The Greek word is parasmos, and is sometimes translated trial and sometimes translated temptation. Here’s what it means. A trial – a parasmos – is:
- an experiment, an attempt, a proving
- It also refers to the trial of man’s fidelity, integrity, virtue or consistency.
- Parasmos is also an enticement to sin, aka temptation, which arises either from inward desires or outward circumstances.
- In some instances parasmos is dealing with adversity, affliction or trouble sent by God that serves to test or prove one’s faith, holiness and character.
- Finally it can also mean a temptation arising from a bodily infirmity
It’s very important that we understand the full scope of this word parasmos, that is translated trials. So just think back to a few moments ago and inject your own circumstances in the text.
Sometimes the trial might be some enticement to sin. Other times, it will be some acute adversity, affliction, or trouble. Whatever the case, how are you going to respond? You see, we each respond differently to adversity. Some folks can take on a corporate board room, or the most challenging work project and see it as an opportunity to grow and shine, but fold under the pressure of an unruly, relentless child. I’ll give a bit of an extreme example.
Three responses to trial
Years ago, HBO did a series called Band of Brothers, which was based on the book by Steven Ambrose. It follows the movements of the 502nd parachute infantry regiment from its training in Georgia through D-Day and the major battles they fought in throughout the war.
One particular episode dealt with fear. Private Blythe found that he was gripped with fear to the point where he was immobilized and could not fight. In a telling scene this soldier is in a fox hole and he is visited by other soldiers who offer their perspectives. The first one, an officer, asks why he couldn’t fight. The soldier replies, cause I’m scared. The officer says, we’re all scared private. You just have to come to the realization that you’re already dead. Only then can you serve the purpose for which you were trained.
Later, another soldier jumps in the fox hole and they begin to discuss the element of fear. His take is that it’s all a game. Just one giant game played by the politicians and generals and all they are doing is moving back and forth with little aim or purpose. So the fear was irrelevant because it’s all a game. So they each were faced with the same trial: fear. But each responded a little differently. One was completely paralyzed and ineffective, one was fatalistic and became a valiant warrior, and the third rationalized his indifference and oft lack of focus. Same trial. Three responses.
Why consider trials an opportunity for joy?
Our trials may or may not put us in immediate physical danger. And of course they come in all shapes and intensity throughout life. But in our text we find a beacon to point us to a proper response.
James gives us our instruction on how to respond to trials. He says to consider it great joy when we encounter them. When he says to consider, he’s saying to account it as so. To deem it as such. So we are to believe or reckon it great joy. Do you get that? Joy is cheerfulness, calm delight or gladness.
James is saying that when we experience life’s trials (remember what I asked you to dwell on earlier), we are to consider them as opportunities for gladness. Whaaaat? Is he insane? Why is James instructing us to do this? Why?
He instructs us to do this because these trials test or prove our faith, resulting in endurance. And God allows us to go through testing for at least a couple of reasons. It’s never to destroy us. We need to remember that. God never allows trials in our lives to destroy us. Here are two reasons God may allow trials in our lives.
- To reveal to us the truth about ourselves. I may be bragging about certain things, and even have convinced myself that it is so. But when put to the test, I find out that I am not as strong or great as I thought I was. As that reality is revealed to me, I realize I must cling to Him all the more. So trials can reveal something about me.
- To reveal to us something about God. Trials can also prove to me the faithfulness of God when I do cling to Him and His promises. We don’t always fail our trials. Often, we grab ahold of God through scripture and prayer and we don’t let go. Or, God may reveal himself to us in a way previously unknown.
So, it’s often a two-fold purpose that God has in mind – to show us ourselves, and show us himself. Trials, then, prove or test our faith and that proving produces endurance. So, what is endurance?
Endurance is steadfastness, constancy, sustaining or perseverance. In this context, it’s the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and godliness by even the greatest trials and sufferings.
James says that the testing of our faith, the proving of our faith by means of various trials, will produce endurance in our faith. He goes on to say that we should let endurance have its perfect result, or its intended end.
In other words, the end result of endurance or perseverance is that we are perfect and complete lacking in nothing. This phrase “perfect and complete” carries the idea of being full grown or mature – an adult. It’s to be entire or whole.
Let's bring it all full circle
All the trials you face, big and small. You have to deal with them. They are a part of life. But James instructs us here.
James says to consider it an opportunity for great joy when we walk through life’s trials / afflictions / temptations / adversities because we know that the proving of our faith results in a perseverance and an ability to be loyal in our faith. And that endurance will result in our spiritual maturity and wholeness.
We must cling to God in the midst of our trials. We must find our satisfaction in Him. Yet we also need to remember that God may or may not remove the trial. That’s not for us to know. But he is faithful to see us through the trial, even unto death, and as we are satisfied in him, he is glorified in us.
The source of your trial should not be the focus. It’s your response. James says to count it as an opportunity for great joy. But keep in mind what he doesn’t say:
- He doesn’t say that the trial isn’t going to be painful.
- He doesn’t say that God will take it away.
- He doesn’t say that there won’t be lasting consequences that result from having gone through it.
He doesn’t minimize it. Yet neither does he amplify it.
What James does is provide us with powerful, clear and practical instruction as to how we respond to the trials and temptations of life. He tells us what the end game is when we go through them. And as we become full-gown spiritually speaking, we realize more and more that ultimately, our purpose is to glorify God.
So do yourself a favor, consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let that ability to be loyal in your faith work itself out completely in your life so that you can become a mature believer, giving you the ability to glorify God, which is your chief aim.