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CDC1-13. Grace When Things Are Hard {Transcript}

God Is at Work in Your Trials and Uses Your Trials to Mature You.

  • Jas 1:2-4

The second point is that God is at work in your trials. He says consider it all joy, my brethren when you encounter various trials and this is where it’s so important for us to think properly about our trials. It’s the same thing Peter says that we can rejoice even though now for a little while if necessary you’ve been distressed by various trials. Now all of us would agree that our initial feeling is not oh, good, I have a trial. We like to be comfortable. We like to have a trouble-free life. And when a trial comes, typically our first reaction is make it stop! And I really believe in the West in the U.S., we’ve lived such easy lives by and large compared to other Christians in other places in other ages. We have been really unprepared for our suffering. Now when James says consider it all joy, he’s not saying that the suffering itself is enjoyable. What’s good is what’s yet to come. Like in Hebrews 12 when the author’s talking about discipline he says, “all discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful but sorrowful. Yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness.” So it’s not the trial itself you’re to enjoy. Nor are you just to be blind to the misery of it. It may really be hard. The reason you can rejoice is that God is in the picture and that He has a purpose. And so I can say, for example, for the couple with the brain injured 22 year old son that even though this is very difficult and my heart goes out to you, that we can know that God is working in at least three lives here and probably many more. He does not cause us to suffer for no reason. He has a purpose. He’s gonna do something good because He’s a sovereign God and He is good. Now these thoughts don’t always come naturally. Counselees often come in and they’re miserable. They’re complaining. I’ve even seen counselees tempted to be angry with God. How could God be doing this to me? And so we have to force ourself. He says count it all joy. He doesn’t say feel it all joy. Count it all joy means it’s a deliberate decision not to follow your own heart because the way that seems right to you is the end of death. But to trust in God with all of your heart and not to lean on your own understanding.

Now we see in Scripture people who have experienced this kind of joy in their trials. It’s amazing to me reading in Acts how the apostles, after they were beaten, rejoiced that they had been counted worthy to suffer for Christ. Paul could say I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction. Even our Lord Jesus in Hebrews, it says how He endured the cross for the joy set before Him. And so we need to realize as we look at our own lives in the past but also at others that when there’s a trial, we have a reason to rejoice because God is at work. And the way God is working, he explains in verse three. “Knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” God uses trials to make you grow. You understand, you know. You think beyond the pain to God’s purpose. We know because God says so in Scripture. God’s goal for your life is that you be holy. And God, because He loves you and is committed to that, He’s conforming you to Christ. He will do what is necessary to work that holiness in you. It’s like a sculptor knocking away the unneeded marble to get the statue just right. Well God is working in your life and even though you prefer comfort, He prefers holiness and we need to get with that program. He calls it the testing of your faith. This concept of testing can be thought of in a couple of different ways. The one who’s testing you is God. And test something, you prove when you test it, that it’s genuine, it’s proving that your faith is real. Some years ago I was in the country of Oman in the Middle East and I went to the souk, to the market and I’m a bit of a coin collector and they had there some silver Maria Theresa thalers. And I looked at them and I bought a couple and I got them back to the coin shop here in Escondido where I live and I asked are they genuine? And the guy actually had a way of testing them on a scale and as he tested them, there was one that was real, but he showed me one, this is fake. It weighs the wrong amount. It can’t really be made silver. It doesn’t meet the standard. It’s counterfeit. Well in the same way, our afflictions they prove that we’re really believers. In the midst of our affliction, our faith endures. Not like in the parable of the soils when the heat comes we don’t wilt. But by God’s grace we continue.

Also, the Bible teaches that our afflictions not only prove our faith is genuine but it also purifies our faith. In 1 Peter 1:7 Peter writes “so that the proof of your faith being more precious than gold which is perishable even though tested by fire would be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Christ Jesus.” And so the picture here and I remember when our family would go up into the Gold Country in California. We’d see how the gold mining was done up there. And you don’t just pull nuggets of gold out of the ground typically. Often you’d have ore and the ore would have to be refined and they’d have to burn off the dross to get it down to the pure gold. And God is doing that in our lives. That our trials typically address our weaknesses. And God’s goal is to make us perfect and complete. It’s to mature us to produce endurance in us as God tests us and shows our weakness. That weakness is burned off. And it produces endurance. It produces steadfastness. And that’s something also we need that we naturally give up too easily. About four years ago I took up running again. And I remember the first time I went out that I could not run more than just a few minutes without sweat pouring down me. I would lose my breath and I had to kinda stumble and walk after going less than a half a mile. And I had to gain endurance. And of course the way endurance came was first day I ran a half mile. Then six tenths of a mile and kept going and going and by God’s grace, over time I was able to run 26.2 miles. Then in a marathon. But you don’t just show up for a marathon. You train and you gain endurance as your body is built up. Well bodily discipline Paul says profits little. What we need is spiritual discipline. And many times, and this is true of our counselees, we wanna give up too quickly. And we don’t wanna press on. Sometimes the great need of a counselee is not to give up but to endure in a marriage, to endure in a difficult job situation or endure in loving a hard to love child. And endurance isn’t just something that happens quickly. Endurance takes time. And so the question is do you want to grow? Do you want to be more godly? Do you want to be more like Christ? Well if so, and really one way to look at it if you were to say well what is the greatest need in my life spiritually? And then you ask yourself well what is the biggest trial I’m now having in my life? Well typically what’s going on in your life is the trial is addressing the very need that you have.

So the question is what is God doing in my life? And I want to grow. We also are comforted by the fact that he’s describing endurance that God gives endurance to those who trust Him. You read in the book of Hebrews. You read of people who endured trials far greater than we will, people who were sawed in two, tempted, put to death by the sword and sheepskins, goatskins, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated, men of whom the world was not worthy. And yet, God gave them faith. God gave them endurance. Jesus, who endured the greatest possible trial of bearing our sin for the joy set before Him. He endured. And I’ve actually been amazed. It’s a testimony to me to see people who have gone through awful trials, abandoned by a spouse, children breaking their heart, physical disease, body wasting away. And yet as they turn to the Lord they’re strengthened, they find grace and help in their time of need. And then the end result in verse four of James 1 is let endurance have its perfect result so that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing. Now I think it’s also when he says let endurance have its perfect result that not every trial produces endurance. You have to cooperate from the standpoint of human responsibility. You have to respond to your trial in joy and in faith. Quite frankly, don’t waste your suffering. But don’t try to cut the trial short by giving in to temptation or by escaping where God has put you. You see people, especially in marriage, when Scripture would say they should continue, they just run away to get away from what’s hard and they give up. Or in relationships writing people off. No we need to endure so far as the Word of God instructs us to continue. Now he says we may be perfect and complete he doesn’t mean that we will achieve spiritual perfection in this life. I think here by perfect he means mature. And particularly, growing in the areas where you’re weak.

The idea of being perfect, complete, the idea would have been used like in the sacrifices that you couldn’t have an animal for a sacrifice that had damaged or missing parts. And so God’s aim in our trials is to correct deficiencies in our holiness, in our character, in the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. In my own life in the first about 10 years of our marriage Carolyn and I were very inconsistent in praying together, I’m embarrassed to say. But over 20 years ago, we experienced a very great trial. One of the two or three greatest trials of our entire lives. And the trial was so overwhelming we found ourselves daily praying together. And even though that trial was no fun at all, I look back on that trial with thankfulness. One reason being that in the 23 years since then by God’s grace we have been praying together daily. We don’t go to sleep before we’ve prayed together. And so I’m thankful that that deficiency in my leadership in our family and in our marriage was corrected in that way. In my own life probably the worst trial I’ve experienced has been unbelieving adult children. And for me that really began in 2001. And all of my children professed faith and then as they came into adulthood one by one they very sadly turned other directions and that’s the hardest thing, even harder than that other trial I mentioned. But it’s done good in my life. I think something where I was weak was really having compassion for others who were hurting. And God has given me a compassion not just for people with troubles with their kids but I know now what emotional pain feels like. If it’s bereavement, if it’s loss of a job or financial disaster or loss of a house. It’s given me an ability to care for those who are hurting I never would have had without that trial. So in your counselee I think it’s very important to say well, you see this trial. But let’s ask what might God be doing in your life? You have an anger problem. You have a problem with impatience. It may be that God is working through this trial and perhaps people who are difficult for you to train you to be gracious and patient. He may be doing this to humble you. Paul describes his thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12. That he would in his weakness find his strength to be found in God alone and not in himself. And so we’ve seen first you will have trials. Your counselee, you, should not be surprised when a trial comes. Actually we should be a little bit surprised when things are going well. We should appreciate that as a gift from God. But you will face trials. Then when you do face a trial, you want to, as God helps you, see that God is at work in your trial. And then to cooperate with what God is doing.