There is a belief among many Christians that God’s ways are easy and that Christians are somehow exempt from the pain and suffering that those who do not know Christ face. Nowhere in Scripture is this belief supported. In fact, James reminds Christians that we will face trials and tribulations. He tells us that our faith will be tested and tried (James 1:2-4, 12). The apostle Paul supports the words of James when he mentions that we are persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:9). Jesus said that we would face troubles in this world (John 16:33). Throughout the Bible, there are countless stories of men and women of faith who faced tremendous struggles; who experienced pain, despair, hurt, and disappointment; who asked God many of the questions we ask God today; and who came to their own crises of faith. With this evidence, the question, then, is not whether Christians will face trials, but how Christians are to respond to trials.
I had no control over the trials I was facing, but I could choose how I was going to live during the trials. If I learned nothing else from these terribly painful struggles, I do know this: Doing the right thing, obeying God, is not always easy. In fact, doing what is right in God’s eyes is often very difficult. This truth goes against everything our natural man is seeing, thinking, and feeling. It goes against our human reasoning and understanding. But our human limitations do not change the truths of God. Living out what God told me to do during this time in my life was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Standing on his promises and remaining obedient to him were hard. A lot of people did not understand; I don’t think I fully understood. But, the part of me that is alive in Christ knew that despite the opposition and obstacles, I was doing the right thing. I was doing what God was asking me to do; I was obeying him to the best of my ability, but it was by no means easy. Easy times, though, do not produce much fruit in a believer’s life. Easy times don’t require us to lean on God and trust him. Easy times don’t help us grow and become more like Christ. Those things come about by the trying of our faith (James 1:2-4). They are forged in the fiery struggles of our souls. These things, the tools God uses most, are the things that make our faith more mature, perfecting in us the image of Christ.
In yesterday’s post, I recounted the story of the apostle Peter stepping out of the boat and walking on water. Peter’s faith was tested then, but it was tested much more severely later. Before Jesus was crucified, he told his disciples that all of them would deny him. Peter, who was a little proud and thought he knew what was in his own heart, firmly stated that he would never deny Jesus. Jesus, however, knew what Peter was going to face, and he responded, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31). Peter thought he knew himself; he thought he knew his heart. He thought he would never do what Jesus was saying he would do. But he was wrong. He did not know himself as well as he thought he did.
There are two things about this passage that I want to point out. First, everything that happens to us has to go through God’s hands first. Satan cannot touch those who love Christ without getting permission from God. So, nothing we experience ever takes God by surprise or off guard. Nothing we experience is beyond God’s control. He remains sovereign. Second, because God is all-knowing, He sees the past, present and future. He knows what is going to happen, when it is going to happen, and even allows things that we consider terrible to happen to us. Because of God’s omniscience, Jesus knows what to pray and how to pray for us. He told Simon Peter that he had prayed for him (and all the disciples) so that his faith would not fail when it was tested. Jesus is constantly making intercession for us before God the Father (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). He was already praying for Peter before Peter’s faith was tested. He goes before us and prays for us, long before we can see any storm clouds. He prays for us so that our faith will withstand the trials. He prays that we will continue to hold on to his hand, even when we cannot see him and do not understand. What an awesome revelation: Jesus is always praying for us—he never stops. He knows that if our faith can withstand the storm, we will be stronger and have more of his character reflected in us, which ultimately brings glory to God.
There is another person in the Bible who Satan asked God to let him test. This man was righteous, blameless, revered God and hated evil, but God allowed him to be tested. We read this story in the Book of Job. Satan was convinced that if Job lost all he had, if God allowed terrible things to happen to Job, then Job would turn his back on God. God granted Satan permission to take all Job had, except Job’s life. Job lost everything—his wealth, his home, his children, and his health. He wrestled with questions about why such trials were coming upon him. He was accused of sinning by his friends, who thought that he had done something bad to bring God’s punishment on him. Job was even told by his wife to curse God and die. Everyone around Job was asking him to turn his back on God. Although Job was experiencing pain, despair, and confusion, he refused to listen to those who encouraged him to forsake his faith. The calamities that occurred happened rapidly, and Job had no warning. In the first chapter of Job, things seem to go from bad to worse to worst. Yet, look at how Job chose to respond in the face of the trials. In Job 1:20-21, we read: “Then Job stood up, tore his robe, and shaved his head. He fell to the ground and worshiped, saying: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life. The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away. Praise the name of Yahweh.” (HCSB, emphasis mine). Through all the loss, suffering, pain, and despair, Job never sinned and he never blamed God for what was happening. In fact, during the darkest period of his life, Job made the decision to continue to praise God and to place his faith in God. He continued to worship God. He continued to live righteously and revere God. What an awesome legacy to leave! God honored Job’s obedience by not only restoring what Job had lost, but also by giving Job more than what he had before the trials.
So, why am I telling you these stories about Peter and Job? Because the Truth has not changed. God has not changed. God allowed Satan to do everything he could to destroy my marriage, my family, and my faith. But, there was one thing that Satan could not do. He could not get me to abandon my faith in God. That was his goal, but even though my faith was shaken, it was not destroyed. The very thing that Satan intended to use to destroy my faith was the thing that God used to increase my faith. But, the choice was mine—I could turn my back on God or I could turn to God. God was able to use the events in my life for my good and His glory because I remained submitted to His will. I chose to embrace what God had for me, regardless of what I was seeing and feeling, because I knew that God was holding me. Even when my world seemed to be spinning out of control, God was always in control.