In the world, you will have trouble.
But take heart; I have overcome the world.
I was preaching recently on the topic of trials, and I was reminded of how frequently and honestly the Bible speaks to us on the hard seasons of life. This is a quick post to share with you one very important truth:
Some trials were meant to be so hard that
no one but God could get you through them.
Trials are unavoidable. We live in a broken world inhabited by broken people, and sooner or later that kind of world drags us into difficult days. This doesn’t mean that we seek them out, they find us on their own. People who seek out trials are usually in need of psychiatric care. Trials are not necessarily our fault either. Sometimes, it is our sin that brings hardship upon us, but the hardship of life comes to all of us apart from whether we’ve done anything good or bad. Storms blow in with the wind no matter what we do.
I am certain that some of you are fighting for your life, whether literally or figuratively, right now. I hurt for you that are suffering or struggling in this season, and this season may have no end in sight. The cruelty of people, a failed adoption, an incurable illness, a foreclosure on your home, a wayward child. Tough things happen to all of us. If you are not experiencing pain now, you will.
In no way am I minimizing the pain. It’s real. You might feel like you’ve had all that you can handle. In fact, it might be more than you can handle.
But maybe that’s the point.
C. S. Lewis famously said that pain is God’s megaphone.* He speaks loudly and deeply into our souls through hardship. In God’s work to renovate our hearts, it seems as though some places can only be strengthened by pain.
When we experience trials, it is like the scaffolding of our lives falls away so that we no longer can prop ourselves up with temporary supports. Pain forces us to the end of ourselves so that we have no where else to turn but to God.
One of Jesus’ followers named Paul described his trials this way:
8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 11 You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. (2 Corinthians 1:8-11)
Let me make a few quick observations on these verses.
When we face a trial, people are helpful, but God is better. Our friends and families and pastors can empathize with us (v.8), pray with us (v.11), and remind us to set our hope on God (v.9-10). But they can’t actually deliver us from the trial. As much as your mother wants you to have a child, she can’t overcome infertility. As much as a spouse wants her husband not to suffer, she can’t make him well. As much as your boss wants you to keep your job, he can’t change the economy.
Why is this Acknowledgment Necessary?
Over the last few years, I’ve experienced how tempting it is to stop short of the ultimate finish line of trials. I sometimes look first to those around me to help me when life goes bad. Some of this is healthy: I’ve learned to receive God’s grace extended through people he’s placed in my life. For a guy who wants to be resilient and strong, this has been a healthy correction to false self-sufficiency.
But it’s not enough. Paul shares his struggle with others, but he realizes that they can’t meet his deepest needs. When we look to others not just for help but for rescue, we put a weight on them that they cannot bear. It is unhealthy for them and for us. We ought to share our journey with others, but we need to do so in a way that encourages us both to seek Jesus more than anyone else.
If we don’t allow our trials to drive us all the way to desperate dependence on God, then we aren’t learning what God wants us to learn. Unless we turn our gaze to God, we fail to get enough out of our hard times. In a crisis, cultural christianity doesn’t amount to much. People will sometimes depend on their parents’ faith or the faith of a spouse, but trials teach us to look to God personally.
How Desperate Dependence Becomes a Place of Strength
Fact is that a life of great faith may also be a life of great pain. Sorry to the prosperity preachers, but, sometimes, your best life now is really hard.
I want to point out two phrases that Paul used in the verses above to describe his life and the lives of those with him:
- Burdened Beyond Our Strength. Some may take this as hyperbole, but I think it was straightforward. In his own strength, this was too much to handle. Paul was excessively weighed down. It was too much to bear.
- Despairing of Life Itself. I love that Paul was so honest. He is not just making a theological or theoretical statement. This is real struggle. Despairing of life means “I want to quit.” He wants to throw in the towel, to give up. This is suicidal language: I would rather be dead than face what I am facing.
This is what I mean when I say that “some trials were meant to be so hard no one but God could get you through them.” What this means, of course, is that trials are not meaningless. They have a purpose–they teach us to rely on God more than anyone or anything else.**
Look at Paul’s bold confidence in God (v.10): “He delivered us, he will deliver us, on him we set our hope that that he will deliver us again.”
Past, present and future: Paul trusts God in it all.
We mature and grow through our trials. We do not cease to hurt in tough seasons, but we grow more and more confident in the God who is with us. He has shown up in our trials and delivered us before, and we come to believe that he’ll do it again. Maturity is not the end of struggle; rather, it’s the confidence that God is with you in the midst of your struggle.
Are You Making the Most of your Pain?
Some people fail to redeem their suffering. My hope for you is that you will not waste a trial. Trust God now. In this moment. And in the next moment. And in the one after that. Until you reach that last great trial at the end of your life.
As you trust him in trials both great and small, you will have learn to trust him with it all. I think that’s the goal.
For it is only God who can “make all things new.” It is only God who can “wipe away every tear from their eyes.” It is only God who can be certain that “death shall be no more.” It is only God who can deliver on the promise that we will have no “mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” ***
Trials are not forever. God is. Let’s trust Him now. And let’s trust him whenever the next storm blows in.
How has God deepened your faith through the experience of trials? Are you in a trial right now? Let me know, and I’ll pray for you.
* C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain.
** I am not saying that all of our circumstances are good. The point here is that one of the ways that God brings good out of the bad is to grow our faith and teach us greater reliance on him. Anything more is beyond the scope of this post.
*** Revelation 21
So true, Jeff. I’m reading “The Problem of Pain” now for a book I’m writing. I also liked a song I heard Chelsea sing about trials being the seeds of blessings. I find living with increasing trust in God through trials to be a great blessing in spiritual growth and maturity. Thanks!
Thanks, Jan. It’s always about trusting God, in the good and the bad times. May you know his presence in each.
Jeff, In a recent Bible Study on the book of James, Bill Lawrence coined a phrase for us. “Some trials come and go, others come and stay.” God orchestrates them all so that I might be totally and desparately dependent on Him and that I might grow in faith as that seems to be a major part of His ultimate goal. Enjoyed your post. Cy Cozart
Thanks, Cy. Helpful comments. Please tell Bill I said “hello.” Hope you and yours are well.