I’d like to direct you to James 1:2,3: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” There are often deep spiritual lessons in even one sentence, you know. Such is the case with this small portion.
When we accept God’s words with full confidence, knowing that they are inspired, infallible, and profitable; when we accept them into our hearts; when we have digested their teaching and made them a part of our belief system and our philosophy, when we are absolutely certain that the text means just what it says… and when we are prepared fully to accept all its implications, then…
…We begin to live our lives within the only true reality. The things we can see are not real, not like these “unseen” things.
When we “get” these words, then we do not protest against hardships, trials, tribulations, and troubles. We do not complain to the world at large, or to God, or even to ourselves, “What have I ever done to deserve this?” As the KJV puts it, we “do not kick against the pricks” (the goads applied to animals, such as to oxen pulling the plow). We do not murmur or grumble. Why? because we have learned that there is a purpose in all things that happen to a believer.
I know: it takes a while to learn how to rejoice in tribulations (Matt. 5:10-12). Such knowledge is not likely to come early, and certainly not easily, to any believer. And none of us, I’m sorry to say, are as “mature” as we ought to be: we may grow and develop, as we move through life; but we don’t all grow at the same pace.
One thing to remember: we cannot be impatient. Certainly not with God (who is working with each of us in mysterious ways), certainly not with our fellow-believers (“Who are you to judge another man’s servant?”), and ⎯ maybe most especially ⎯ we cannot be impatient, even with ourselves. For who do we think we are, that we alone can take “shortcuts” to the Kingdom?
God is by no means “finished” with you or with me, so long as we live. We shall never get too old to learn something new, to our eternal profit.
And understanding how to “rejoice in tribulations”, to find joy in “trials”, is probably the closest thing in this world to a post-graduate course in “Discipleship”. Compared to that, dissecting Daniel or Zechariah or Revelation is, well, almost child’s play!
Trust me: I do not write this to you because you bear your burdens less effectively than others, nor because you especially murmur or complain, because that is not true. Neither am I writing to you to find fault or to “judge”. I am writing only to encourage, and to build you up, if at all possible.
I am writing also to remind you there is “no new thing under the sun”. Suffering is the common lot of all mankind, and you and I are no exceptions; it is what happens to everyone who lives in this flesh, and who lives in this world. We are exhorted not to imagine that a severe trial, or even a combination of severe trials, is “a strange thing”. Instead, it may be the inheritance ⎯ the privilege and blessing ⎯ of those who follow Christ.
So we read in Acts 5 that the highest Jewish court, the Sanhedrin, “called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.” Then ⎯ please mark these words! ⎯ “the apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (vv. 40,41).
That’s why they “rejoiced”! Not because it “felt so good” to be flogged ⎯ it hurt like, well, like just about the worst pain imaginable. And surely they could not “enjoy” the cruel lash biting into their skin and flesh, their sinew and muscle!
But they “rejoiced”, after it had happened (and maybe the more mature of them rejoiced, even while it happened!) for this reason: it put them closer to Christ! In that moment, and maybe for a while beyond (and maybe, with some, for the rest of their lives), it helped them to feel that they were truly a part of Christ’s body ⎯ that they could share the “fellowship of his sufferings” (Phil. 3:10).
Pain to the body, to the mind, and to the spirit… but a pain that drew them closer to the Lord who died for them.
In a world of suffering, where innocent and guilty suffer alike, where babies and old folks suffer alike, we believers have the wonderful privilege of knowing that our sufferings are meaningful! We are suffering for the sake of Christ! Our suffering connects us with eternity! Our suffering enables us, in a small but not insignificant way, to be on the cross with our Lord and Savior.
We begin to understand and to grow, as we learn this real truth: that we ⎯ of all people ⎯ live, and feel, and hurt, and finally die in a special place: the bosom of Abraham, the shadow of God’s wings, the most holy place of God’s Temple.
How can we be bitter? How can we complain? How can we “kick against the goads”? How can we turn away, no matter how intense the purifying flames of our fiery trials? We are living sacrifices on God’s altar.
We belong to God, and He belongs to us.
You ask, how do I know this? I’ll tell you. Because I learned this lesson myself; it’s not “theory”. I profited by my painful experiences, by my loneliness, when I called out to my God from a place of desperate need, where it seemed no one else could know what I was going through. And in that place I learned about the truly “deep things” ⎯ God’s goodness, His love, and His grace. Springs whose blessings never fail. A sea without a shore.
I would not, willingly, undergo the sufferings of that time again, no, not for many millions of dollars! But, as I look back on it now, I consider that time the greatest gift our Heavenly Father could ever have given me. I know now that it did more for me than a “good, comfortable, happy life” alone could ever have done.
It brought me closer to Him.
And it will do the same for you.
Trust me. I know.
With love in Christ,