Embracing God’s Purposes in Our Trials


What trials are you facing right now in your life?

It could be just a ”small” trial like an irritating coworker.  Or you could be running a  ”marathon” trial such as a chronic illness that saps your health and your joy.  Or you may be facing a “crushing” trial of a failed marriage or financial collapse where you feel there is no escape from the unrelenting pressure.

Why is this happening?  When will it end?  How can I make it through? How can good ever come from this?  Will I ever come out of this?

Do those questions sound familiar?

The Bible does not leave us without answers to our heart’s questions about trials. In fact, our answers are found in embracing God’s purposes in our trials. In James chapter 1 we read God’s perspective about trials:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

On first read, those are hardly comforting words to a soul under siege.  They’re confusing words, a schizophrenic perspective that makes no sense at all. We read those verses and the question immediately forms in our mind:

What is he talking about? Joy? Joy? Joy in the midst of this pain I am facing?

Yes, the word is “joy.” And not just any “joy” either— this is the same Greek word as in the familiar response of the wise men “when they saw the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” (Matthew 2:10)  And just for good measure, I love that James uses the Greek word for “meet” trials that means “to fall so as to be swallowed up”— it’s the same word used in the story of the Good Samaritan where the man “met” his trial with the thieves who stole him blind and left him a half-dead bloody pulp on the ground.

So you’re telling me I’m supposed to have joy about this misery in my life? I’m supposed to be happy about it?  Are you crazy?

To which James replies, “Yes, have joy, embrace the trial, because God is at work to make you perfect and complete, lacking nothing.  Have joy as you look toward the end in sight, that this awful trial will result in you lacking nothing in what God has designed you to be.”

How is that possible?  How can I embrace God’s purpose in the midst of this pain?

Here’s the bottom line: embracing God’s purposes in our trials isn’t easy.  It requires several radical shifts in perspective that can only come through the study of the Bible, prayer, and the action of the Holy Spirit.  Only then will we be able to see through God’s eyes and genuinely have joy in the midst of a painful trial.

Where do we start?  According to James, the first profound paradigm shift that we must embrace in the midst of every trial is: what really matters in this trial is the testing of my faith. 

What does it mean to “test my faith?” First, we must be clear about what kind of “test” this is. It’s not like some “qualifying test” set up to see if we can “make the cut” with God. No, this test is like putting gold through fire, a test to make it clear that our faith is genuine and precious. 1 Peter 1:6-9 states:

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Second, we need to know what kind of “faith” God wants to see in us.  It’s not what we often want to have “faith” in: that my marriage will survive, that I will get the job transfer, that my cancer will be healed, that the trial will somehow “turn out all right.”  Those “good” outcomes in our hopes & prayers God may or may not grant to us, but they are not what the Bible defines as faith.  In fact, Hebrews 11 clearly tells us that people of faith sometimes experience God’s miraculous deliverance from a trial but sometimes die in great suffering in a trial.

If a “good outcome” is not what we are to have faith in, then what is the faith that is being tested in a trial?  The passage in 1 Peter 1 tells us it is our faith in the revelation of Jesus: faith that He loves us, that He is in control, and that we can love Him and glorify Him and rejoice in Him even in the midst of our trial.  Peter calls this faith “more precious than gold.”

If we are to do well in this testing of our faith in Jesus, we must ask ourselves, “What is the enemy of my faith in a trial? What am I battling against?”  The answer lies in looking at what James tells us that faith produces: steadfastness, endurance, patience.  In the midst of a trial faith tells us, “God is good! God loves you! Wait! Endure! Have patience!Continue to do what is right!”

The lie that comes against us in the trial says, “God has abandoned you! God doesn’t care! God may not even exist! Do whatever it takes to get out of this pain, this problem, this predicament!”  The Bible is full of examples of men who listened to this lie.  Peter, afraid of being arrested, folded under pressure and lied in Mark 14:66-72.  King Saul in 1 Samuel 15 decided to do what was politically expedient instead of obeying God.  Esau let his stomach rule over his head and gave up his birthright in Genesis 25.  Whatever the trial or temptation, our daily choice is always whether we will continue to endure the trial looking in faith to God, or try to fix or escape the trial on our own terms.

That is how we must frame every trial: that this trial is not a test of how wise I am, or how I can solve this problem or escape this burden or engineer what works out best for me; this trial is a test of my faith that God loves me and that I will joyfully follow Him.

And what is the end result of our endurance, of our holding fast to God day after day, maybe year after year through the trial? James encourages us to keep enduring, keep being steadfast, so that this steadfastness can have its “full effect” (more literally “perfect work”) on our souls.  What is this perfect work? That our souls will develop the complete, perfect maturity of character that God intends for us (Romans 5:4).

Here is the final paradigm shift to truly see what the trial is accomplishing in our eternal souls.  Stop focusing on the pain and perplexity that the trial brings, but rejoice to see that this trial is testing your faith to set your gaze on the God who loves you (Psalm 141:8). Rejoice to see that through it God is teaching you endurance as a lesson to a beloved child (Hebrews 12:3-11). And finally, rejoice to see that endurance is forming your character into Christlikeness as you daily embrace Christ & reject that which is wrong (Romans 8:18-30).

Study these great truths from the Scriptures and pray for the Holy Spirit to open your eyes so you can truly embrace this trial before you in faith and endurance, becoming perfect and complete in Christ.

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