Agonizing in prayer over a difficult leader who was causing conflict in my church, I asked God to remove him and to protect my family and me. As senior pastor, I became the target for a few disgruntled people that this man had secretly poisoned against me. Eventually they demanded my resignation, threatening to disrupt and control the coming business meeting if I refused to comply. How could God let this happen? Why was I facing this trial while the church was growing? I fervently prayed for God to act, but His silence was deafening. I felt that He had abandoned me to my trials and left me to suffer alone.
Every Christian has experienced times when trials seem overwhelming. We naturally wonder: Where is God? Is God letting us down? Does He care? If God is good, then why is He allowing evil to triumph? These questions may lead us to ask: Is God punishing me? When God seems absent, or worse, uncaring, trials become doubly difficult to endure.
When facing the tough stuff of life, a biblical perspective makes hardship easier to endure.
Sources of Trials
Trials come from many sources. Some trials are simply the natural consequences of our own sin. For instance, if I act selfishly in my marriage, I will likely reap a less satisfying relationship. If I am gluttonous, I will reap the physical effects of an unhealthy lifestyle. When the Holy Spirit points out personal sin, we need to agree with God that the sin is wrong and turn away from it.
Some trials are a part of God’s program of discipline for us. These are never divine punishment—Jesus took all of our punishment on the cross, leaving us none to bear. However, painful consequences also can be God’s instrument of instruction for His children whom He loves (Hebrews 12:3-11). Just as earthly parents train (discipline) their children to discern between right and wrong behavior, so our heavenly Father also trains us, so we may share His holiness (12:10). As someone once said, “Pain plants the flag of reality in the fortress of a rebel heart.”
Some trials are direct attacks of Satan. Job experienced such attacks (Job 12) as did Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7-10), and both were considered exceptionally righteous men. In reality, we are at war with evil, and we have an enemy who wants to destroy us (1 Peter 5:8), so it stands to reason that we may boast of a few battle scars when we reach heaven. Paul considered such suffering proof that he and Jesus were fighting on the same team. (Colossians 1:14)
Other trials we experience may result from our own foolish—although not necessarily sinful—actions. Once I bought an overpriced stock in a volatile market. My decision was foolish, and I lost money because I failed to seek sound advice (Proverbs 12:15). God, in His sovereignty, has granted us a certain amount of autonomy, the freedom to act on our own. Along with that privilege, He gave us a mind and the dignity of owning the consequences of our decisions. As a result, we may become wise because of our past foolishness. That, too, is a choice we can make. Rather than bear the weight of needless guilt, we are able to turn the painful lesson of our self-imposed difficulty into a gift. Let me encourage you to use your newfound wisdom to spare someone else the same trial.
Each of these situations is a genuine source of our trials. But sometimes we focus on one source, ignoring Paul’s words to the believers in Rome: we experience trials simply because we live in a fallen world.
It’s Always Something!
In Romans 8, Paul described the world as deeply marred by sin. In this fallen world, nothing—not even creation itself—is as God originally designed. Nothing will work the way it is supposed to until that day when we will be made completely like Jesus and fully revealed as God’s sons and daughters (Romans 8:19-21).
For us and for all of creation, Paul compares the pain and groaning of this present time to the suffering of a woman in labor (8:22-23). No wonder much of life can be unpleasant! And God says it will be that way regardless of our own sin or foolishness, God’s discipline, or direct attacks of the enemy. Life in a fallen world means trials—and lots of them. Even Jesus didn’t escape the cruel caprice of a broken world.
Good News for Those in Labor
In the midst of these imperfect conditions, Paul offers encouragement. First, this period of pain is only temporary. One day soon, we will enter a glory that will make our present suffering seem insignificant in comparison (Romans 8:18).
Second, God has not left us alone in our suffering. Jesus suffered for us; we have a God who loves us with empathy. And even now, the Holy Spirit suffers along with us, groaning as He intercedes for us with the Father (8:26-27).
Third, God is using our imperfect condition to bring about a very perfect result: transforming us into the likeness of His Son (8:28-30). Can you imagine being like Jesus someday? A state of being beyond our imagination. One day He will return! And in a moment, we will be changed. What we desperately long for will become reality. In the meantime, God uses our current trials to prepare us for eternal intimacy with Him.
Finally, it’s essential to realize that when God allows trials in a fallen world, it doesn’t mean that He is angry with us or has stopped loving us. The opposite is true. As Paul wrote, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (8:32). Indeed, we are truly co-heirs with Christ, inheriting everything that He will receive from the Father. We just can’t see it quite yet. And so Paul reminded us that in the meantime, nothing will ever separate us from the infinite, personal love that the Father has for each one of us (8:38-39). We must resist the temptation to measure God’s love by our external circumstances. Instead, our eye of faith must look beyond our circumstances to the heart of the One who carries us through them.
Reflecting back on the episode at the church many years ago, I can see several sources that contributed to the trial:
- My own foolishness; I should have dealt with the problem when I first encountered it.
- The sin of others; this man stirred up strife in the church.
- The attack of Satan; he’ll stop at nothing to halt the growth and vitality of a church.
Recognizing all of this, I eventually found the grace to let my frustration go and to learn from the situation.
When we face trials, we can waste our time blaming ourselves, looking for the devil behind every disappointment, wondering why God is absent—or we can accept the biblical facts. This is the world we live in. We will suffer for a while, but a much greater time approaches. In the meantime, God loves us, groans with us, and promises to use every trial for our highest, greatest good. As I look back on my trial, I can see clearly now what I did not see then. God was with me throughout my ordeal. He was faithful to give me the grace to endure the hardship and grow as a result. Today, I am stronger, wiser, and I love Him more than ever.