“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
How in the world could anyone “consider it all joy” to go through trials? Are we being told to adopt some sort of masochistic attitude toward life? We don’t like pain or struggle, and spend much of our time and energy avoiding and/or running away from the difficulties of life, and why not?
We want life, no, expect life to be enjoyable, even fun. After all, Jesus said “I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) And obviously, the hard times seem to be anything but abundant living.
Our problem is perspective – we view the hard times as an enemy of the good: walls that block the way to our happiness. But the truth is that rather than being the hindrances that we perceive, the trials are the pathway to the abundance that we long for. Every single trial is an opportunity: to learn, to be changed, transformed, and grow more in the likeness of Christ. To learn another lesson about God’s love and His provision for you. When we recognize that there is an upgrade built into every trial, we can “consider it all joy.”
Indeed, the Lord longs to bless us (“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:5 ), giving us the riches of Heaven and earth. This is not just (or even) financial wealth, but wealth of soul and spirit. But there are at least three reasons we do not/cannot receive what He has to offer:
1. The Enemy has come to steal and destroy. (John 10:10)
2. We often prefer the lesser things: what we can see right now rather than what requires faith and patience.
3. Our immaturity: our inability to contain and steward what He has to offer. It is this issue that is the focus of the remainder of this writing.
In His mercy, He will not give us more than we can handle righteously, for we will be judged according to our stewardship of it: “And from everyone who has been given much shall much be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.” Luke 12:48
Dallas Willard addresses one aspect of this abundance that I think equally applies to all the others in The Divine Conspiracy, (pg 368): “Great power requires great character if it is to be a blessing and not a curse, and that character is something we only grow toward. Yet it is God’s intent that in His kingdom we should have as much power as we can bear for good.” If we use the abundance He blesses us with (wealth, power, influence, talents, etc.) for our own selfish purposes, then they are not blessings for us or the world, but a detriment.
Can the Lord trust us with what He longs to give? As Dallas Willard and James, in the verse above tell us, (“that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing”), our character is the limiting factor.
Countless volumes have been written about character, and many more could be written. But please allow me to boil it down to a few basic statements (at the risk of gross over-simplification).
The character required is the out-working of the Fruit of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galations 5:22-23) The Fruit of the Spirit is not something to strive for: it is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit in a life. But there is a part that we play: we must submit to and cooperate with the Spirit, then nurture and cultivate what was planted in us by Him. This is the connection between the Fruit of the Spirit and our character: our choices and response to His work. Character development is never passive: we must be actively involved and cooperating in the process for any good to come of it. “And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience;” (Colossians 3:12)
But this is never easy, for real growth occurs only when we are taken to the limits of our capacity, and then beyond. Character is formed, then tested and proven in the trials of life. Anyone can learn to manage day to day life, but when it “hits the fan,” or when your “ship comes in,” the true character is revealed. What Satan means for our destruction, the Lord intends to use for our transformation and growth. This is where our most significant choices begin: when we ignore the issues or seek the easy way out, Satan is able to work freely towards our destruction. He offers what looks like a means of escape, but that relief is only temporary and destroys the opportunity for long term gain. These trials, if responded to correctly, will lead to the character development that we so desperately need.
“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” 1 Peter 1:6-7
How could it possibly get any better than this?
P.S. This is not theory for me, for I am in the midst of a heavy-duty trial that I am told will only intensify in the coming years. I know this did not come from the Lord, but from the Enemy that seeks to destroy my wife and I. But I also know the truth of Romans 8:28: “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” As Graham Cooke puts it, “God allows in His wisdom what He can easily prevent by His power.” As I contemplated these things yesterday, I found myself truly thankful, even deeply grateful to the Lord, for I can see how God is using it to accomplish something profoundly significant and good in our lives. He loves us too much to leave us as we are.
At the end of a snowstorm, Zion National Park, Utah.