Though generally joy-filled, one of the difficult aspects of the Christian life are the troubles we encounter in the midst of following and trusting God. Jesus and the apostles tell us in God’s Word that this will be a common experience for us, and it raises the question of how we deal with such hardships when they arise.
Recently, this truth hit very close to home for us at Forward Edge. Our program, Villa Esperanza, in Managua, Nicaragua has been deeply impacted by the current political and social unrest and violence in the country. Not only has the financial and daily operation of the ministry been challenged, but our staff, the children and youth we serve, and their families have experienced the pain of seeing relationships torn apart and lives lost in this tragic conflict.
As Christ followers, while striving to reconcile trying circumstances with our knowledge and experience of God, we need to ask ourselves, “What is the appropriate response in the face of such tribulation?” To paraphrase the apostle Peter (1 Peter 4:12–13), we shouldn’t be surprised when difficult trials come to test us, as though they were something out of the ordinary; but, rather, we should rejoice that we have the opportunity to share in Christ’s sufferings, and to also rejoice when His glory is revealed.
So, if we’re not to be surprised when difficulties come, the implication is that we should be prepared. Here are five things to keep in mind when we are faced with trials:
1. Recognize that suffering is a part of life.
“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me, your rod and your staff comfort me.” Psalm 23:4
Each time a hardship enters our lives, we’re reminded that, ultimately, this is not our home. We are broken people living in a broken world. We need to understand that problems are a normal part of this life and no one is exempt; but, as David proclaims in Psalm 23, God is always with us and that can help us endure. No problem is too great because we are not alone; we are in God’s loving care.
2. Focus on God’s sovereignty and glory.
Though we live in a fallen world that is subject to sin; we know there will come a time when God will directly intervene on behalf of mankind and establish His kingdom on earth. We can be comforted by 2 Corinthians 4:17, “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” If we keep our focus on God’s Kingdom and all that will be ours in it, we can be confident that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
3. Pray and rely on God’s Word.
Prayer is powerful. It is the highest privilege given to man to be able to speak to the Creator and Ruler of the universe. We are invited to ‘approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need’ (Hebrew 4:16). When we are beat down by life’s trials, Jesus encourages us: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). The Bible is full of God’s practical wisdom and comforting words and promises. In Psalms 34:18-19, we read: “The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves those who are crushed in spirit. The righteous person faces many troubles, but the LORD comes to the rescue each time.” We need to call and rely upon the One who can sustain us with His grace and provide an answer to life’s problems.
4. Commit to growing in faith.
Often, our response to trials reveals the condition of our faith; they can either draw us closer to God in trust or cause us to pull away in discouragement. God is in control of our circumstances; nothing happens to us without His knowledge or permission. He sometimes allows us to go through things that are hard, but will ultimately work for our benefit. Typical human responses to trials are depression, anxiety, anger, fear, and bitterness; however, we need to have a mindset that runs contrary to our human nature. In Romans 5:4, Paul exhorts us to not only endure but rejoice in our sufferings, because “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope”. Romans 8:28 also reminds us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose”, and that through them He is shaping us to be more like His Son.
5. Consider that trials can further equip us for ministry.
God does not intend for us to endure suffering on our own. As the body of Christ, we are called to bear each other’s burdens and minister to one another. The apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:4-5a, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.” In the midst of trials, we need to avoid becoming self-focused; suffering does not excuse us from doing good for others. “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good” (1 Peter 4:19). We should keep reaching out, praying for others, and looking for ways to bless and encourage someone else in the midst of their difficulties.
To have joy in trials is not to deny pain; it is to recognize the fact that they can exist together. In 2 Corinthians 6:4,10 Paul said, “In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind… [we are] Sorrowful, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.” It seems a dichotomy but a quote from author, Elisabeth Elliot sums it up best, “When Paul and Silas were in prison, they prayed and sang. It isn’t troubles that make saints, but their response to troubles.”