Individuals that God uses in a special way are often put through deeper and more difficult trials than others. We see this throughout Scripture. You cannot name a single individual used greatly by God that did not face fire, opposition, sickness, hardship, persecution and testing. In fact, you often see a correlation between the depth of their despair and the height to which God uses them after they have been proven by the testing. The deeper the pit the higher the mountaintop to follow. This is counterintuitive to our way of thinking (and, sadly, also counter to much of what today is proclaimed as “gospel”). Why would a loving God not treat His children better?
There are probably as many answers to that as there are types of trials we endure. Some are just part of living in a fallen world – it rains on good people and evil people (Matthew 5:45). Some fires are to purify us and work in our hearts the character of Christ much like fire purifies gold and silver (1 Peter 1:6-7). Rather than a sign of weak faith, Paul used his trials as an evidence of his true apostleship (2 Corinthians 11:23-33). The “faith chapter”, Hebrews 11, lists heroes of the Bible and the intense suffering they endured. It is their endurance, not an easy life, that demonstrated their faith (2 Thessalonians 1:4,5). In fact, the Bible “give(s) great honor to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance.” (James 5:11)
Quite often trials simple give us a life message. It is one thing to tell others the “theory” that God can deliver them, comfort them and sustain them through even the most difficult of times. It is quite another thing to be a living witness of that in your own life. Interestingly the Greek word the Bible uses for “witness” is the same word that is translated “martyr”. We think of a “martyr” as one who died for their faith but a more accurate understanding is one who “witnesses” to the truth of what they proclaim through their willingness to hold fast to their profession even when in the fire. You can not have a testimony without first enduring a test. As the songwriter Andrae Crouch put it, “if I’d never had a problem, I wouldn’t know God could solve them, I’d never know what faith in God could do.” (Through it All)
So what is the Biblical response to all these hardships? Paul and James rejoiced (Romans 5:3, James 1:2-4) knowing that trials cannot separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8:35-39), in all these things we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:35-39), that in suffering we share a common experience with our savior (1Peter 2:19-23; 4:1) and struggles conform us to the image of our dear Lord (James 1:2-4). If you are facing the fire hold on to God and “take heart“, it is evidence God is at work in your life and has great plans ahead for you (Hebrews 12:7-11). The things you are going through now will prepare you with a life message that you can then use to encourage and minister to others.
2 Corinthians 1:3-6
God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.
*Dedicated to our friends David and Marie Godines who are in the fire right now as God composes their life message that will bring hope, comfort and encouragement to many in the years ahead.