We all experience trials, difficulties, troubles, tribulations of various kinds. How do these hardships, big and small, fit into God’s plan for us?
The first question we need to ask is this: “What is God’s ultimate goal or purpose for us?”
We find the answer in Romans 8:29. God’s goal is that we be “conformed to the image of His Son.” The Father wants us to resemble Jesus in holiness, character, and virtue. We need to end up looking like Jesus…that is God’s goal for us and so it should be our goal as well.
The next question is, “How does God conform us to Jesus? What tools does God use to do this?”
The answer is: The Cross…in other words, trials, difficulties, troubles, tribulations, etc. These are like God’s hammer and chisel. They are also called God’s discipline. God either sends them or permits them to come into our lives for a purpose.
There are many readings from the Scripture that illustrate this truth: “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom He loves and He chastises every son He favors” (Proverbs 3: 11-12).
“Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes THAT IT MAY BEAR MORE FRUIT” (John 15: 1-8).
Now, here is the “rub”… we can either cooperate with God’s discipline, or resist and even reject it! The wise choice, of course, is for us to embrace and cooperate with God’s discipline. Consider what the Lord says in Scripture:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” ( Phil. 4:4-7).
“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you
in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:16-18).
Our next question, then, is why should we cooperate?
The answer is, quite simply, because God is God and we are not! And God assures us in His word: Romans 8: 28- 39, esp. 28, “God makes all things work together unto good for those who love Him.” The Letter of James 1:2-4 presents the benefits of cooperating with the Lord: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet with various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” I think we would all want to be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing,” but the way to get there is through trials, the testing of our faith, and perseverance.
To illustrate our various reactions when trials and difficulties occur, try to imagine two different elevators…one going down and the other going up.
The “down” elevator represents bad reactions to trials, difficulties, crosses in our lives.
The first level of reaction is questioning, self-pity, and some grumbling…but still reaching out to the Lord. The second floor, going down further, is one of doubt, confusion, giving in to discouragement and depression…a weakening of our trust in the Lord.
Finally, the bottom floor is one of anger, bitterness, despair…the ultimate end of which is being cut off from the Lord.
There is another elevator, however, going “up”. It represents the good, better, and best reactions to trials and difficulties we may face.
On the lowest level of “good” reactions would be: resignation to God’s plan and trust in the Lord, based on Romans 8:28, knowing that God makes all things work together unto good for those who love Him. At a higher level, an even “better” response would be: thanksgiving and praise of the Lord, in obedience to 1 Thess. 5:16-18. The highest level and the “best” response would be: rejoicing, based on Phil. 4:4 and James 1: 2-4.
In conclusion, may we all get on the elevator going up and get to the top level of rejoicing in praise, thanksgiving, and trust!
In the dark and uncertain days, weeks, and months following Hurricane Katrina, I found myself trying to cope with great temptations to discouragement. I knew I was called to rejoicing, praise and thanksgiving, but felt incapable of doing that in my own power. I formulated this prayer and would say it over and over as I drove the Causeway Bridge. I found it helped me immeasurably at that time. I share it with you in hopes that it may be of help to you as well.
Let us pray: “Father, in the name of Jesus, despite the way I feel, I choose to rejoice, praise and thank you in obedience to your word. You have promised to make all things work together unto good for those who love you, and I trust you to do this for me in this situation and every situation I face. Amen.”