As we return to our study of the trials of life we need to go back and begin to answer a question that I raised in the third post of this series. As we suffer in the midst of a trial and bring specific petitions before the LORD as Hannah did in asking for a son, how are we to respond if the LORD does not immediately answer that request? What if I pray for the LORD to remove a difficulty and that difficulty remains? Maybe you have experienced the reality of a line from a familiar contemporary Christian song concerning the storms of life, “Once again, I say amen, and it’s still raining?”
The answer to this question connects back to the ultimate purpose for trials in the life of God’s people, trials serve to bring Him glory. We must view our trials not only with a desire for relief and removal, but with the attitude of “not my will, LORD, but Your will be done.” This was Jesus’ heart attitude in the garden of Gethsemane.
In His humanity Jesus prayed for the cross to be removed; but, even as Jesus looked upon the horror of the cross He desired above all that the LORD’s will be done. Why should we think and pray as Jesus did? Because, often times the LORD has greater purposes in our lives that trials will serve to accomplish.
Jesus knew the glory that would be revealed in His death and resurrection and He desired for that glory to be revealed. We must also look to the greater purposes of the LORD through the trials we encounter. Scripture is clear that the LORD uses trials, affliction and suffering in the life of His people for the purposes of sanctification; meaning, that God uses trials to grow us in Christ-likeness. The fiery furnace of difficulty is where the LORD sanctifies His people and as we are sanctified He is glorified. Do we long for His glory as Jesus did or do we long for our comfort?
Therefore, we must and should pray as Hannah did, but we must also pray for wisdom looking for God’s purpose(s) in our trials. Maybe His purpose is to lovingly discipline us for sin. Maybe it is to grow us in an area of Christian virtue such as trust, patience, joy, love, forgiveness or faith. As certain prayers during trial go unanswered we must also be praying and looking for God’s greater purposes in our own sanctification. Let’s consider one of those purposes from the writings of James.
In James 1:3-12, James speak of the sanctifying work of trials in the life of God’s people. Writing to Jewish believers who had been scattered out of Jerusalem through persecution and threats on their life, James exhorts these Jewish believers to count (or “consider”) it all joy when you encounter various trials (James 1:3, emphasis added). Now that certainly appears as a contradiction in terms does it not? But wait. James explains why we should be joyful in the face of trials.
In James 1:4 James writes, “knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” In verse 4 James equates trials with “testing” of your faith. That is one of the LORD’s purposes for trials in your life, to test your faith. The word used here for “testing” carries the idea of proof or proving. Trials serve to test our faith and reveal its quality, character and deficiencies. The revelation of the character of our faith helps us in at least three ways.
First, it shows us where we need to grow. As we maneuver through a trial the LORD will reveal deficiencies in our faith that manifest themselves through sinful responses. Through prayer, the Word, the Spirit and the counsel of others the LORD will convict us of these sinful responses from which we then have the opportunity, by His power, to grow from them.
Second, we can gain assurance of our faith in the midst of a trial. Trials cause our faith in the promises of God to be tested. As we endure a trial by believing and resting in God’s promises we see God’s work of faith in us to be real and alive.
Third, trials also serve to strengthen and increase faith which in turn produces endurance or steadfastness. Endurance speaks to the ability to bear down under pressure until something is complete. Like a runner completing a marathon, you and I grow in our ability to endure the pressure of a trial until the LORD brings relief and grows us according to His will. In this passage Jewish believers were being persecuted for their faith and they were enduring that unjust treatment by trusting in the LORD and His perfect justice.
Are you experiencing difficulty, suffering and affliction in your life even now? If so, are you looking for the LORD’s greater purposes in sanctifying you through this trial? I pray that you are and that He will be glorified in your life as you discover His purpose for you in the midst of this trial. Next week, we will look at the example of the Apostle Paul and his request for the removal of a great affliction and we will see how the LORD sanctified him in that process.