Monday, April 18, 2016

God's Faithfulness and Our Trials

Have you thought about God's faithfulness in the midst of your trials? Or have you further considered how you normally view the trials that come into your life? Consider the following:
In 1851, an English missionary named Allen Gardiner was shipwrecked with a number of other people on a little remote, uninhabited island off the bottom tip of South America. They all died one at a time; he was the last one to be alive before he died. He kept a journal and they found the journal next to his body. The last entry in the journal cited Psalm 34:10, “Young lions do lack and suffer hunger.” Now here’s a man dying of hunger. “But they that seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing.”
The very last thing he wrote in his journal was essentially this, “I am overwhelmed with a sense of the goodness of God.” Here’s a man dying of starvation. Here’s a man far from home. His body is broken. All his hopes are dashed. His last words are, “I am overwhelmed with a sense of the goodness of God.” 
Now let’s think about this incident for a second. How do you and I ordinarily come to the conclusion that God is good? It’s when things are going well for us, right? When life is blossoming. When the money and health is there. When things are going the way you want. 

But here is something quite different. Everything in this man’s life had gone wrong, yet he was in contact with the goodness of God. He was overwhelmed with a sense of it. He knew the goodness of God in spite of life’s circumstances and as a result, he could face with poise anything that happened. How is that possible? Let's consider a few things about trials.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1–3, ESV)
What happens to make a person a Christian—a child of God? First, the gospel is made known to him—the historical fact that God sent his Son into the world to die for sinners and to rise from the dead triumphant over death and hell for all who believe in him. The Holy Spirit opens the heart to see that Christ is trustworthy and more to be desired than all human treasures. When that faith happens, we are justified before God. The Spirit of God unites us to Christ so that his death becomes our death, and his life becomes our life. God laid on him the sins that we performed, and God laid on us the righteousness that Christ performed. In our ultimate trials - separation from God because of our sin - God has already proven Himself faithful in Jesus Christ. The proof of that is that God makes us Christians. Paul says in Romans 5:1 that we have peace with God and says that we now stand in grace and says that we rejoice (and ought to rejoice) in the hope of the glory of God. In fact, the glory of God and our enjoyment of it is the goal of justification by faith. This is where all of Christian life is moving.


Now, I’ve just said that because of God’s faithfulness, salvation comes to the Christian’s life. But something else comes to your Christian life too, namely, trials and tribulations. We must learn to see that these trials are meant for our benefit. This is what verses 3–5 are about. Paul says that trials have a gracious and purposeful place in the Christian life and that we should therefore rejoice in them.
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3–5, ESV)
Now, when I say that trials have a purposeful place your life and you should rejoice in them, I don’t take this lightly or say it easily. Christians around the world have been and are being subjected to the most difficult challenges, illnesses, and even death. I don’t say this lightly.

But, it is important to remember that when Paul says we should rejoice in our trials he is not speaking as a spectator, but as a fellow-sufferer. Paul’s sufferings in the service of the gospel were long and hard. Paul experienced a whole array of distresses and weaknesses and sicknesses and difficulties. But in 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul said, 
“[Christ] has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.’” (2 Corinthians 12:9, ESV) 
Paul’s sees his sufferings as reasons for rejoicing for he knows that in them all of Christ’s power is at work. What does this mean for YOUR trials? It means your trials are tests to your faith and are the context where Christ’s power will show up in the greatest measure in your life. It could be trials from loss of health, broken relationships, job troubles, natural disasters, verbal or physical assaults, or simply everyday inconveniences from traffic jams to plumbing problems. Anything that makes life harder and threatens your faith in the goodness and power and wisdom of God is a trial. The important thing to remember is that trials are normal, not abnormal. Jesus called those who would follow him to count the cost and expect trials and persecutions, so we can expect suffering along the path that leads to glory.

Charles Spurgeon said, “The second greatest earthly blessing that God can give us is health. The greatest? Sickness.” Spurgeon suffered from regular bouts of what he called “the black dog” - depression. To him it was a gift because it tested his faith.

Thomas Watson said, “The sickbed often teaches more than a sermon.”


Now Paul says in Romans 5:3 the most astonishing thing about trials: “Rejoice in them.” REJOICE IN TRIALS. How in the world is this possible? The answer from verse 2 is that we are…standing in grace
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1–3, ESV)
By God’s grace, God’s omnipotent power to help us is given to us though we don’t deserve it. Grace produces an indomitable joy in a great test of affliction. The omnipotent power of grace is the key. We stand in this grace. But here’s the thing. This grace does not work like magic. It works through truth. Grace opens the eyes of the heart to truth and inclines the heart to embrace it and live by it. Now, what truth am I speaking about? That is what the rest of this text is about. 
“…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3–5, ESV).
There are three truths that Paul wants us to know and meditate on. These truths concern how grace will change us into peaceful, joyful people who rejoice in our afflictions.

1. Trials brings about endurance.

If something happens in your life that is hard or painful and by grace your faith looks to Christ and to his power and his sufficiency and you don’t give in to bitterness and resentment, then your faith endures. It becomes stronger. It’s stronger the way tempered steel is stronger: it takes more to break it. Trials are like the fire that tempers the steel of faith. That’s the first truth that grace uses to make us into joyful people who rejoice in trials. The second truth is this:

2. Endurance brings about proven character.

Paul uses a Greek word here which means “proven.” When you go through trials, and your faith is tested, and it emdures, what you get is a wonderful sense of authenticity. You feel that your faith is real. And it is real. James assures us of a similar truth in his great letter,
“Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial, for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).
So this is the second truth that God’s grace uses to make us into the kind of people who rejoice in trials: endurance brings about proven character. The third truth follows from it:

3. Proven character brings about hope.

How does “proven character” bring about hope? One of the great obstacles to a strong hope in the glory of God is the fear that we are hypocrites—that our faith is not real or that we just inherited it from our parents or we’re just a bunch of fakers. One of the purposes of trials is to give us victory over those fears and make us full of confidence as the children of God. So God takes us through hard times to temper the steel of our faith and show us that we are authentic. And Paul says that the more we experience trials and we endure them by standing in God’s grace, the greater will be our hope and we are sustained through it all by God’s powerful grace. So you see, times of trial becomes times of triumph for the believer.

The picture above shows an emperor moth - a truly beautiful moth from a group called the Royal Moths. A young student in one of my labs once found a cocoon of an emperor moth and took it home to watch it emerge. One day a small opening appeared, and for several hours the moth struggled but couldn’t seem to force its body past a certain point. 

Deciding something was wrong, the student took scissors and snipped the remaining bit of cocoon and the moth was able then to emerge easily. As it did the student saw that the moth’s body was large and swollen and the wings were small and shriveled.

But he expected that in a few hours the wings would spread out in their natural beauty. He waited. He waited some more. But he was disappointed that they never did. Instead of developing into a creature able to freely fly, the moth spent its days dragging around a swollen body and shriveled wings. He brought it to me for help.

Sadly, I explained to him that the cocoon was expressly designed to create a struggle for the moth. You see, the struggle necessary to pass through the cocoon is God’s way of forcing fluid from the moth’s body into the winds so they can be inflated. My student’s “merciful” snip was, in reality, a cruelty. The moth would never fly.

What is the point of the story of the moth? Sometimes, the struggle is exactly what we need. And God will be faithful to us in the midst of our trials. As you pray and reckon your life in Christ, don’t count it strange when trials and afflictions come. They will come. But rejoice and exult in the love of God to use them to temper the steel of your faith and confirm in your heart that you are indeed the child of God through faith.