Wisdom for the Trials of Life
By Charles F. Stanley
Why does God allow us to go through hard times? Sometimes Christians assume that if they’re following the Lord, He should protect them from problems. But Jesus never promised His disciples lives of ease and comfort. On the contrary, He told them to expect tribulation (John 16:33). After all, Christ Himself wasn’t exempt from afflictions. He was called “a man of sorrows” (Isa. 53:3).
Trials have been the common experience of mankind throughout history.
By looking back on such situations from God’s perspective, we can gain insight that will help us respond wisely in the future. The Lord uses hardships to achieve something good in our lives, but whether we experience these benefits depends upon our response.
Develop the Right Attitude.
What is your behavior when experiencing difficulty or pain? Do you grumble and complain or indulge in self-pity? Or do you get angry and blame others for your troubles? All these reactions lead to despair and misery, but James 1:2-6 presents a totally different perspective about suffering: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials” (v. 2).
Some may read that verse and think, What a preposterous statement! Trials and tears go together. How is joy possible? Yet James obviously understands something about suffering that we need to know. The word consider is a financial term which means “to evaluate.” James isn’t telling us to delight in pain and be happy about suffering, but to assess our trials as an opportunity to receive the blessings God has promised us when we respond wisely.
I don’t know what you’re facing right now. But I do know that if you’re willing to count it as joy, you will find God’s goodness right in the middle of suffering. Unlike happiness, joy is not dependent upon pleasant circumstances, because it’s produced by the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Determine the Source.
Have you ever noticed that troubles come in all shapes and sizes? They also tend to pop up unexpectedly, and sometimes one right after another. In fact, you may feel as if you’re dealing with an entire range of difficulties.
Knowing how a trial began can help you understand the wise way to react. Since our problems originate from different sources, we need to adapt our responses accordingly. Each time you encounter difficulty, ask the Lord to help you determine the cause and the proper response. Here are some common sources of hardship:
Self: Sometimes we get ourselves in trouble with our own choices or actions. We may find ourselves standing in a field of trials simply because we’ve planted troublesome seed and are now reaping what we’ve sown (Gal. 6:7-8). The good news is that if we’ll repent and humble ourselves, the Lord will redeem our failures and teach us valuable lessons.
Others: But there are also times when our problems result from someone else’s decisions or conduct. Perhaps a loved one’s behavior has caused you suffering, or maybe an enemy is maliciously accusing and maligning you. Either way, the pain is real. Your job is to forgive those who wrong you, guard against resentment, and seek God’s wisdom in dealing with the situation in a way that honors Him.
World:Many of our trials are simply the result of living in a fallen world. Accidents happen, people get sick, natural disasters strike, wars erupt; and we have no control over any of it. Our hope is that one day when Christ returns, all this will end—we’ll finally live at peace. In the meantime, drawing on the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit will enable us to respond in a manner that draws others to the Savior.
Satan: We also have an Adversary who wants to devour us. The Devil is constantly working against us to weaken our faith, ruin our testimony, and make us useless in the kingdom of God. But we’re not helpless against his onslaught. The Father has given us His spiritual armor to protect us from enemy attacks (Eph. 6:11).
God:Because the Lord is sovereign over all things, no trial can touch us unless He has first allowed it to do so. Our heavenly Father knows that sometimes the only way we’ll grow spiritually is through suffering. Pain can sharpen our sensitivity to His presence and give us ears to hear when we have been deaf to His voice. It reveals hidden sins and purifies us the way fire refines gold. From a human perspective, trials hurt; but from God’s viewpoint, they are a bridge to a deeper relationship with Him.
Understand God’s Purposes.
Meaningless suffering is exhausting and demoralizing, but if we understand that there is a purpose and a benefit to our troubles, we can endure just about anything. The reason James could rejoice in trials was because he knew God was achieving something good. Though we may not know His specific purpose for each individual challenge or obstacle, Scripture reveals His overall goals.
The testing of your faith. For faith to be genuine, it must be tested—just as weightlifters rely on resistance to make their muscles stronger. When everything’s going well, it is easy to say, “Sure, I trust the Lord.” But when times get tough, confidence in Him can take a nosedive. Will you believe and act on the truths in Scripture or let hardship cause you to doubt His love and care for you? Each moment of adversity you face is an opportunity to believe God, rest in His promises, and grow further into His likeness.
Produces endurance. One of the most valuable qualities the Lord desires to produce in our life is endurance. That may not be what we desire when suffering knocks on our door. But the Lord knows that some lessons are learned only under the pressure of adversity. Yet even then, He sovereignly and lovingly protects us by determining the length and intensity of each trial. Although we may think we can’t endure it, He knows our limits and will not go beyond them.
The kind of endurance God wants for us is not resignation in which we grumble, saying, “Well, I can’t do anything to change my situation, so I guess I’m stuck with it.” His goal is that we patiently abide the trial with an attitude of unfailing trust in His goodness and complete reliance upon His strength. The only way we can do this is to have a firm determination to live for His purposes, regardless of the cost.
That you may be perfect and complete. James tells us that to endure hardships in this way will have amazing results—but not that we’re going to be sinless. “Perfect and complete” means that we will be mature and fully developed. Being born again is not the end goal in the Christian life; it’s just the beginning. From that point on, God wants us to grow up to become mature men and women of faith. His goal is to conform us to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29), and trials play a vital role in this lifelong process. He uses them to sand away ungodly qualities, sift out sinful habits and attitudes, and polish our character until we reflect Christ.
Lacking in nothing. Perhaps the most surprising benefit of trials is that they supply something we need. If you endure hardship with the right attitude, James says you’ll come out “lacking in nothing” (1:4). The apostle Paul said that his “thorn in the flesh” was given to teach him humility and dependence on Christ (2 Cor. 12:7-10). But he also says that the Lord comforted him in his afflictions so that he’d be able to comfort others (1:3-4). If you want to become useful in God’s kingdom, brokenness is the path the Lord uses to produce the qualities needed to accomplish His will.
Cooperate with God’s Goals.
Although all of these benefits are available to you, they are not automatically yours. But by following James’s commands in these few verses, we open ourselves up to God’s promised blessings—all the tools we need to live victoriously in Him. So consider trials an occasion for joy, and let endurance produce its fruit, because then your suffering will be profitable, both now and in eternity. If you lack wisdom in responding to trials, the Lord invites you to ask Him for it and in faith expect to receive (James 1:5-6).
The crown of life awaits those who persevere under trial and are approved (1:12). God wants to do great things in you—and He will, if you’ll let Him. But He won’t force any of this upon you. The choice is yours. Won’t you allow Him to use adversity to transform you?
Questions for Further Study
- Read Romans 5:1-5. How does Paul say we are to react to our tribulations (v. 3)? What series of benefits does God want to produce in us through adversity?
- According to 1 Peter 1:3-9, in what can we greatly rejoice? How could focusing on your inheritance help you endure trials? In verse 6, what do the phrases “for a little while” and “if necessary” tell you about God’s perspective and His sovereignty over your afflictions? What is His purpose for you in your trials (v. 7)?
Do You Know God?
If you’ve never trusted Jesus as your Savior and are tired of going through trials on your own, why not come to Him now? Without Christ, suffering is just meaningless misery. But when you let Him take control of your life, He’ll walk with you through every difficulty and give you an unexplainable joy, even in the midst of pain.
He suffered in your place on the cross so that you could be forgiven and experience His peace forevermore. Will you accept His offer of salvation? You can use the following prayer or your own words:
Lord Jesus, I believe You are truly the Son of God. I confess that I have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed. Please forgive all my wrongdoing, and let me live in relationship with You from now on. I receive You as my personal Savior, accepting the work You accomplished once and for all on the cross. Thank You for saving me. Help me to live a life that is pleasing to You. Amen.
We will gladly send you our free All Things Are New kit to help you take the next step in your relationship with God.