Discerning the Source of Our Trials
By Dr. Charles Stanley
James 1:1-8, 12
What was the last painful or stressful trial you experienced? Was it a struggle for you physically, emotionally, and spiritually? No one has ever lived a life completely free from pain, uncertainty, stress, and trials. The Bible makes this point abundantly clear. Jesus, Moses, Job, Peter, Paul, and all of the heroes of Scripture are portrayed as men and women who, at one time or another, underwent trying times of hardship and heartache. Now, thousands of years later, God's servants are still undergoing hard times. Therefore, it is important that you learn how to cope with these harsh patches in life.
James 1:2 is a rather short verse, but it contains tremendous insight into the issue of life's trials. The phrase "when you encounter various trials" includes three key words that demonstrate the universality of man's hardships. First, it is significant that James uses the word "when." This defines the issue; undergoing trials is not a matter of if but rather when. Second, when he says that you will "encounter" misfortune, he is stating that difficulties will arise unexpectedly; there may be no time to prepare for these dilemmas. Third, he uses the adjective "various" to denote the ever-changing, often-surprising forms in which trials appear.
As you begin to examine the issue of life's persistent difficulties, a reasonable question to ask is, "Where do these hard times come from?" There are, in fact, some specific sources of trials. The primary cause is simply making wrong decisions ourselves. Our God-given free will allows us the opportunity and responsibility of making our own choices. Unfortunately, though, even the most committed Christian will make mistakes when making decisions, and the result will be a period of hardship.
Another cause of trials is persecution by other people. This is certainly an impediment with which the early church was familiar. Writing to the suffering Christians scattered throughout the ancient world, Peter says, "But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled" (1 Peter 3:14). Whether it is on account of your faith or for some other reason altogether, a sad fact of life is that the world is full of people who have the ability and desire to hurt you. This is certainly a challenge for Christians seeking to respond to their oppressors in a Christ-like manner.
A third source of trials is the fallen world in which we live. Sin has so permeated the earth that God's original concept of paradise seems impossible. Tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, sickness, war, bloodshed, and crime are all the results of sin's impact upon the world. Clearly, there is no way to escape the trials that seem to appear out of nowhere.
Not surprisingly, many trials often come straight from the Devil. After all, Satan is interested in ways in which he can torment us, and each attempt he makes has but one purpose—to draw us further away from God.
A final source of trials is the Lord. Many people resist this idea, believing that God desires only happiness for them. However, the truth is that God is more concerned with our maturity and development than He is our general happiness. That is difficult for some to accept, but our relationships with Him are far more important than our temporary well-being here on earth.
Often, there are lessons that can only be learned through hardship; therefore, God will allow difficulties to enter into our lives for His purposes. Finding God's reasoning for our suffering can be a daunting task, but when we view our hardships from our Father’s eternal perspective, we can begin to understand them more clearly. Therefore, the best starring point for understanding the rationale behind our trials is to prayerfully consider their source. The better we understand where these problems come from, the better we will be able to work through them.
Adapted from "The Charles F. Stanley’s Life Principles Bible," 2008.
One of the most common questions people ask is, “If God is a loving Father, why does He allow His children to go through painful and difficult trials?” In this sermon, Dr. Stanley explains how God uses trials to do several things, and the 10 ways we can respond properly. (Watch Wisdom For Life's Trials.)
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