IT AIN’T EASY – ASK PAUL

Jesus said in John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” In Acts 14:22 we read, “Strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” All Christians who follows Jesus are going to face afflictions. The Psalmist writes, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous” (Psalm 34:19). Hebrews describes saints who are “destitute, afflicted, tormented” and “endur(ing) a great fight of afflictions” (Hebrews 11:37, 10:32).

 

My family and I have been going through a very tough time during the last three years, mainly due to my wife’s illness and the high impact it has on our financial position. Last night I finally had the opportunity to watch a copy of the movie, “Paul, An apostle of Christ.” Suddenly, I realized that our own tests, trials and tribulations are so much smaller, compared to what the believers in biblical times had to go through.

2 Cor 11:23-28 speaks of the many trials Paul faced. He:

  • Was put in prison over and over;
  • Was flogged an uncounted number of times;
  • Faced death over and over;
  • Received 39 lashes from the Jews 5 times;
  • Was beaten with rods 3 times;
  • Was stoned one time;
  • Was shipwrecked 3 times;
  • Spent a day and night in the sea;
  • Was in continual danger from rivers and robbers;
  • Was in danger from his own countrymen, as well as the Gentiles;
  • Was in danger in the city, in the country, at sea, and from false brothers;
  • Was weary and in pain often, without sleep;
  • Was often hungry and thirsty, cold and naked;
  • And was continually concerned about the health of all of the churches.

Although some of these things might seem familiar to some of us, I doubt that any of us can say that we went through all of them during our lifetimes. Do we with our Westernized culture honestly know what it is to be tested? We are much, much further away from what the Bible means by tribulation, if we compare ourselves to those times. Christians in parts of the world, like the Middle East and China, where persecution is part of Christian life, must have a much better understanding.

The Institute in Basic Life Principles list an interesting, brief description of eight types of tests that Christian are likely to face:

  • Fiery trials: intense encounters or struggles; bursts of anger, grief, or lust;
  • Infirmities: physical limitations and illnesses;
  • Reproaches: ridicule and rejection on account of faith or holiness;
  • Persecutions: harassment and oppression due to religious convictions;
  • Necessities: wear and care of daily responsibilities;
  • Distresses: disappointments and deep hurts;
  • Tribulations: unusual pressures and challenges;
  • Temptations: opportunities to yield to our sinful nature.

WHY DOES GOD EXPECT US TO GO THROUGH TESTS, TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS?

When we respond to God’s grace and believe in Jesus Christ, we are “born again” into the Kingdom of God. At the moment of salvation, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in your spirit. He confirms our relationship with God, comforts us, and leads us into all truth. (See Romans 8:16, John 14:16–17 and 16:13.)

God begins the supernatural work of transforming us, His children, into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ, who was and is perfect. (See Romans 8:29.) As we mature in our faith, God uses tests and trials to develop our character.

“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (I Peter 4:12–13).

HOW WILL I KNOW IF GOD IS TESTING ME?

We will not always know when we are being tested by God. Job didn’t know that what he was going through was a test until he came out of it. The best thing to do is to regard everything as a test at first. Every trial, even every time someone does or say something to us that they shouldn’t or try to get us upset or to respond in a negative way. This way we will not react our normal fleshly way. If we are unable to pay your bills are sick and being depress. Try to have faith in God. Having and maintaining faith in God in times of trials will not always be easy and for some of us faith doesn’t come very easy, but we must start training ourselves to have faith if you want to live in victory each day.

It is also important to remember that not all of our trials are tests of faith. There is another of God’s purposes in our trials: The Father is preparing a bride for his Son. And he wants more from us in our trials than greater faith. This bride is going to be tried severely, and her love for the Bridegroom will come through the fire. Her trust in him will be refined through fires, floods and afflictions. Yet these trials aren’t a matter of testing her love and devotion. Rather, they’re about refining a love that is already fully committed.

However, we must be careful not to forget that many of our “trials and tribulations” are also a result of our own wrongdoing. “By no means let any of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler” (1 Peter 4:15). God will forgive our sins because the eternal punishment for them has been paid by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. However, we still have to suffer the natural consequences in this life for our sins and bad choices. But God uses even those sufferings to mold and shape us for His purposes and our ultimate good.

WHERE IS GOD DURING OUR TESTS, TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS?

God takes no delight in the testings of His children. The Bible says Christ is sympathetic toward us in all our trials, being touched by the feelings of our infirmities. In Revelation 2:9 he tells the church, “I know thy … tribulation, and poverty…” He is actually saying, “I know what you’re going through. You may not understand it, but I know all about it.”

The Lord provides strength and faith through even the most excruciating ordeals. Think about your own past ordeals or trials. While you went through them, didn’t you sometimes thought that you would not be able to endure? And yet you did – all by the strength and mercy of God!

God has assured us that He will not permit us to be attacked with trials or temptations that are too overwhelming for us to handle. He will grant us grace to be overcomers. In I Corinthians 10:12–13, Paul says: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

THE ROLE AND AUTHORITY OF SATAN AND THE DEMONS.

Satan wants us to let go of God, give up on life, curse God, or stop believing in God. Many Christians therefore blindly blame all bad things that happen to them on Satan. Sadly, the actual purposes of tests, trials and tribulations in their lives are then overlooked. As a matter of fact, they give the serpent way too much credit (and he thoroughly enjoys it).

If you think about the word “authority,” it comes from the word “author.” We know from Genesis 1 that God is the Author of the entire universe (including Satan himself)! Remember, Satan is an angel, created by God. Satan is not divine. He is not God’s equal. The closest Satan comes to being an author is by twisting what God has done, and turning it into sin. He’s the author of lies.

“All authority comes from God, and those in position of authority have been placed there by God” (Romans 13:1). Therefore, no authority that God has given has been given to Satan. So any authority that Satan exercises was taken, not given. He is, by definition, unauthorized!

The book of Job gives further insight into the limited nature of Satan’s power. Satan came before God with other heavenly beings (Job 1:6), and God asked him where he had been (1:7). Satan tells him, and God asks if he knows about his servant, Job (1:8). Satan challenges God, saying he’s put a hedge around him and blessed him, and he asks God to take away the hedge, threatening that if he did, Job would curse God to his face (1:10-11). God removes the hedge of blessing around Job’s life, but restricts Satan’s activity.

It is clear from this that Satan could do only what God had given him permission to do, and nothing more. Job was certainly a believer, but there is no reason to think that Satan somehow has unrestricted authority over unbelievers. This Scripture tells us the reason that Satan has any authority at all, because God allows it to be so…for now, and only for the purposes of God.

You can be confident that God will not allow anything to happen to you without His permission, and He will not let any “bad thing” happen that will not ultimately bring you more good than destruction. (See I Peter 4:12–13, Romans 9:14–24, Isaiah 55:8–9, Job 1:6–12, Genesis 50:20, and Psalm 121.)

HOW SHOULD WE RESPOND TO OUR OWN TESTS, TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS?

What is a Christian to do when faced with disappointment, disaster, and despair? Scripture teaches us that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Yet when we encounter difficulties, we often wonder, “Why?”

Paul regarded these “tests” as opportunities to grow spiritually. Instead of despairing when he encountered trials, Paul said he would glory in his infirmities so that the power of Christ would rest upon him. (See 2 Corinthians 12:9.) As we, like Paul, choose to trust God and accept the grace He gives us, Christ’s character will be formed in us. “We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:3–5).

Unless you accept God’s grace to deal with suffering, inevitably you will become bitter. However, if you choose to trust God to bring about His purposes through the suffering, you can avoid the trap of bitterness and grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord. (See II Corinthians 5:7, Ephesians 4:31, Hebrews 12:14–15, and II Peter 3:18.)

The Institute in Basic Life Principles  provides five responses that are keys to enduring tests and trials through God’s grace:

  1. GIVE THANKS.

Sometimes being thankful in a difficult situation is the most difficult thing you can do. Yet, Scripture is very clear about this response: “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (I Thessalonians 5:18). To be thankful rather than to complain takes a conscious act of the will and a sacrifice of natural desires.

Unfortunately, most of us respond with murmuring or complaining when we face hardship of any kind—emotional, spiritual, mental, or physical. However, through trials, “it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Do all things without murmurings and disputings: that ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:13–15).

Thanking God in all things does not mean that we thank God for evil. It means that we are thanking God for the benefits He intends for us when He allows things to happen.

  1. REJOICE!

Along with giving thanks, we also are instructed to rejoice in all things: “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). Thanking God is an act of the will, but rejoicing is a response of the spirit. Therefore, it is possible to be sad and joyful at the same time. We cannot escape the pain of a difficult situation, but we can learn to rejoice in God Himself and in the good things God will do through our suffering.

We should try to discern the positive benefits that could come about through the situation. Ask the question, Why did God allow this to happen? Tests and trials give us opportunities to come to know God better and to bring glory to God.

Paul stated: “. . . We are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:14–18).

As you deal with the difficulties, remember the following truths:

Gaining intimate knowledge of Christ exceeds the value of gaining more possessions. (See Philippians 3:8.)

Developing stronger character is more important than getting your own way. (See Hebrews 5:8.)

Demonstrating self-control is more heroic than dominating your competitors. (See Proverbs 25:28.)

Eternal treasures are more valuable than earthly riches. (See Matthew 19:21.)

  1. BELIEVE AND ACT ON THE WORD OF GOD.

When Jesus was tested in the wilderness, He responded to each temptation by quoting Scripture. For example, when Satan urged Christ to turn stones into bread, Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 8:3: “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). We can follow Jesus’ example and successfully engage in spiritual warfare by proclaiming truth in the face of tests and temptations.

Ephesians 6:17 describes the Word of God as “the sword of the Spirit”—the only offensive weapon in our spiritual armor. Jesus said, “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). They are also the authority by which we can claim the promises of God, since we are told, “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you” (John 15:7).

As you meditate on the truth of God’s Word, which is living and active (see Hebrews 4:12), you can learn to effectively battle the enemy of your soul, Satan, with the sword of the Spirit.

  1. CRY OUT TO GOD.

Perhaps the greatest reason God has for taking us through the trials of life is to bring us to the firm conclusion that we need God. He desires to work powerfully through our lives; therefore we must learn to depend on Him. He alone must become our source of strength, provision, protection, and direction.

God has the ability to protect us from every trial or distress. Instead, He often chooses to deliver us in the midst of trials. In Psalm 50:15 we are told, “Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” God’s goal through our trials is to strengthen our dependence on Him. We must trust Him to work in the ways and in the time frame that will produce the most good in our lives and the most glory for His name. As we call to the Lord in our distress, He will deliver us.

  1. OVERCOME EVIL WITH GOOD.

Jesus gave His disciples a clear set of instructions about responding to those who made life miserable for them. (See Matthew 5:44.) These directions are completely opposite to what we would naturally do:

Love your enemies.

Bless those who curse you.

Do good to those who hate you.

Pray for those who despitefully use you and persecute you.

Such responses would never be a person’s natural tendency, but they do reflect the heart of God: “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

If you react to a person who offends you and become bitter toward him, you actually put yourself in an emotional prison. Bitterness will control your thought life, your emotions, your free time, and your health. In order to be freed from this prison, you must forgive.

Scripture provides many examples of those who forgave offenders, including Job (Job 42:10), Stephen (Acts 7:59–60), and Jesus Christ (Luke 23:34).

THE REWARDS OF RESPONDING WITH GRACE

As God faithfully pours out His grace upon us in the midst of each fiery trial, we can endure hardships and overcome the enemy in God’s strength. (See 2 Chronicles 20:15.) Scripture reveals that there are great rewards for responding to trials with grace, including those listed below:

The strength of Godly character

“We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:3–5).

Exceeding joy in God’s glory

“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s suffering; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (I Peter 4:12–13).

God’s strength in our weaknesses

“. . . Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (II Corinthians 12:9–10).

Fellowship with Christ

“I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ . . . that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death” (Philippians 3:8–10).

Heavenly rewards

“Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:11–12).

Reigning with Christ

“It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: If we suffer, we shall also reign with him” (II Timothy 2:11–12).

 

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