Tag Archive: trials


Understanding Our Trials

James 1:2-18 (part 2)

Introduction

I noted in the last sermon that this letter is addressed to Jewish believers who were scattered throughout the Roman Empire and who were, in some cases, facing severe trials. James is writing to Jews who had believed in Jesus as their Messiah. It appears that these people were formerly associated with the Church in Jerusalem but were forced to flee when persecution broke out following the death of Stephen.

REVIEW

The first section of this epistle has to do with gaining a Biblical perspective on our trials. We covered only the first point made by James, which is concerned with gaining a proper (or Biblical) understanding of our trials. I want to take a couple of minutes to review his teaching, which is found in vv. 2-4:

2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Most of us understand from experience that trials interrupt the normal routine of life and can shatter our confidence and disturb our comfort. Trials cause anxiety, sleeplessness, distraction, and even prevent us from being productive. Knowing, as we do, how trials can affect us, we wondered how James could say what he does in v. 2. How could he expect these believers to maintain a joyful countenance when they were being persecuted and when they were seeing friends and loved ones abused, and when they knew that returning home was an impossibility?

The answer comes in the next verse: “knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” (v. 3) It is knowledge or understanding of the nature of trials that permits the believer to face them and remain joyful. Perspective is the key, as it is in so many areas of our Christian experience. James tells his readers to be joyful and he tells them how they can be joyful: “know that your trial—the testing of your faith—has a design and the design is your endurance or perseverance in the faith.”

Knowing that trials actually purify faith, James adds: “Let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (v. 4) Trials come to us periodically to advance our maturity with the goal of a whole and fully developed faith at some point in the future. Trials, therefore, are beneficial. As God’s people, we should interpret our hardships as grounded in His love and purposes for us.

END OF REVIEW

  1. The Purpose of Our Trials (vv. 5-11)

5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. 9 But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; 10 and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.

This second point is taught in vv. 5-8 with an illustration following in vv. 9-11. The key to understanding these verses is remembering the context. James is talking about trials and is addressing Christians presently facing displacement and persecution. Following this passage, the same general topic continues as he explains the difference between trials and temptations.

Verses 5-11, therefore, must be interpreted as having to do with this prevailing theme. When James writes “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God…,” he still is thinking in reference to the trials being experienced by these believers. Most interpret vv. 5 ff. apart from the context. But, if taken in context, the “wisdom” promised must have something to do with the trials we endure. It seems clear, then, that v. 5 is written as instruction regarding the particular trials that believers experience.

This passage, nevertheless, has frequently been wrongly interpreted and applied. We have to discern how these verses fit into the overall context of the topic of trials, which is being explained by James. He is saying that if you do not understand why a trial has come upon you, you should pray and ask God for the wisdom to respond honorably and perhaps even discern the purpose. God will give wisdom to the believer who is being tested so that he might better understand particular trials and, therefore, benefit from them more quickly and endure them more gladly.

I look at v. 5 as a marvelous promise from God. James instructs his readers to pray to God and ask for understanding of their trials so that they will be able to see the goal that is being accomplished by their suffering. And this exhortation is accompanied by the promise: “let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”

God does not desire to hide from you His purpose in testing you. The purpose of a trial, remember, is the refinement of your faith. How can you be strengthened and caused to grow if you don’t even understand what God is doing or why He is doing it, at least in a general fashion?

Having discernment regarding our trials is a tremendously comforting gift from God. Having discernment helps us fight against despair and it helps us maintain hope since we know God is working in us and there will be an end to the hardship. When we can see the end for which a trial has come, when we can understand what it is about our faith that needs refinement, then we can be thankful for trials, as James taught in the previous section.

Nevertheless, as I said before, I’m convinced that very few Christians avail themselves of this promise in God’s Word. We pray, but we pray incompletely; we pray for God to sustain us, which is proper, of course, but we sometimes don’t go beyond that and seek understanding. We tell ourselves that we must accept whatever comes and in this way, which is certainly true, but we have given a promise and should not hesitate to take advantage of God’s willingness to grant us insight.

We must remember, especially during our trials, that God is a Being with purposes. And He has revealed Himself to be a God of compassion and a God whose nature makes it impossible for Him to treat us in an unrighteous manner. We must keep in mind these facts about God’s nature when we are confronted by trials that He has appointed for us. We should readily seek to understand why He has appointed our times of testing.

Notice the important qualifier added by James: “But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.” (v. 6) It does you no good, in other words, to ask God for wisdom regarding your trials if you don’t really believe He will give you that wisdom.

James says that you must ask “in faith,” that is, in the belief that God will do what is promised in v. 5. If you do not ask “in faith,” James warns, you are going to be tossed about like the surf of the sea. He means that you will be unsettled by your circumstances far more than is necessary. You will experience about and that will increase your anxiety and all of this is traceable to a lack of wisdom regarding how God leads us as His children.

James describes such a man. He should expect nothing from the Lord because he is “a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (vv. 7, 8) The word translated “double-minded” means just that—“having two minds.” And the term rendered “unstable” means “restless” or “fickle.” Without faith in God’s willingness to give wisdom, as James describes in v. 5, the man who is passing through a trial is going to be most uneasy. His double-mindedness only ends up adding to the severity of his trial, which only makes matters worse for him and those around him.

Now I must pause for a moment and admit that I do not believe nor expect you to believe that our testings in this life are always easy and that all we have to do is praying everything will be just fine. And as I speak about how to respond to the trials that God ordains for us, I do not mean to discount the harsh aspects of what we must face. And this is not what James is teaching.

He is teaching that there is a measure of discernment that God can provide for His people when they suffer. He is not teaching that there’s a formula for you to implement that will illuminate all of the unpleasant elements of the severe trial to which I referred previously. What James promises is that there is spiritual strength and insight provided by God who ordained the trial. This does not mean that our trials will be free of anxiety and it does not mean that we will simply “breeze through” any situation we happen to face in this life.

It does mean that God is able and willing to shepherd you through whatever it is He has determined is for your good and His glory so that, during those dark times, we may know for certain that God is with us and that He is working out His perfect will for us and that He has not and will not abandon us, but will bring glory to Himself through our misery. And that is knowledge that can cause us to have a measure of peace in our hearts that would otherwise not be possible without this promise from God and His willingness to keep His word.

I am sure you will remember something that the apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians as his letter was coming to a close. They, too, had experienced a measure of testing as they embraced the gospel and began to organize themselves and, in particular, provide ongoing support for Paul. As a matter of fact, Paul wrote these words while imprisoned for his labors on behalf of Christ and the gospel.

While he is in the middle of a severe trial himself, the apostle urges the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord always, which is an admonition that carries much significance since it was written by this servant during one of his extended trials. After encouraging joy at all times, Paul adds:

4:6 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Is this statement really different from what James writes? What is Paul’s counsel when it comes to being able to rejoice in all things? His counsel is prayer, his counsel is to seek God’s help and reveal your heart to Him. And then there is that wonderful promise, which is so similar to what James says: “and the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

If God supplies that which “surpasses all comprehension,” that means that we cannot attain it without His help. We cannot rejoice in the Lord always unless we are seeking God’s grace to persevere. We cannot count it all joy, regardless of what we face in life, as James exhorts, unless we turn to God and, again, seek his grace so that we had a measure of understanding. And that understanding, that discernment, as Paul declares and as James promises, keeps us grounded and hopeful.

As I stated, what follows in vv. 9-11 is an illustration of what James has just written.

9 But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; 10 and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.

James picks two extremes in the social order to illustrate the manner in which trials should be viewed and the positive results that trials accomplish. First, James speaks of “the brother of humble circumstances.” (v. 9) The word used to describe this first subject (tapeinos) literally means “not rising far above the ground.” Used figuratively, it refers to a lowly condition, a position of humility or, in some cases, a circumstance involving intense grief. Obviously, James has in mind a believer who is not wealthy, a man who, in fact, lacks most of the comforts of life. He is not necessarily destitute, but he is not far from that state.

How does that brother respond to the trials of life? How does he react to the fact that God has ordained such trying circumstances? Remembering James’ earlier command, “Consider it all joy, my brethren,” we have to conclude that James expects a man in such needy circumstances to react in the same manner as any other believer. Here, James says that this man is to “glory in his high position.” Note that language: he is to glory in his high position. How can this be?

The word “glory” here means “to boast” or “to rejoice.” How can the poor brother “boast” in his poverty? How can the poor man “rejoice” in his low estate? How can he give thanks, which is implied by the words of James, for such a life when he is tested daily by his situation? And how can such a circumstance be called a “high position,” indicating that it is a place or condition of honor? The answer is found in the previous section. He is to rejoice and find cause for giving thanks, not in spite of his suffering, but because of his suffering.

This brother knows that his testing is designed by God for his good; he knows that his trials are going to produce in him a complete faith, one that cannot be shaken by adversity. This is a great advantage to the brother of humble circumstances. He is daily being taught that having or not having is not the primary concern that should occupy his thoughts; he is daily reminded that what matters is knowing God and serving Him with all of his heart and strength. The brother of humble circumstances truly is blessed because his life is a continuing testimony to the sufficiency of God, to the willingness of God to supply his needs, and to the fact that God takes care of His own.

Being needy is a blessing, James teaches, a blessing, not a curse. It is a place of honor because the needy man must learn to rely upon his heavenly Father. The needy man cannot rely on his riches, for he has none; the needy man cannot be led away from devotion to God because he is so dependent upon God.

Notice what James says, by way of contrast, concerning the rich man. If the poor brother is to boast in his high position, then the rich man is to “glory” in his humiliation. (v. 10) Here, James offers a perspective on the trials that the rich man encounters. The rich man needs to learn the lessons that the poor man knows because trials are his life. The rich man faces all the temptations that the poor man does not face. The rich man may very well come to count on his possessions or on his ability to provide abundantly for himself. Therefore, his trials are designed to humble him, while the needy man’s trials are designed to exalt him.

The rich man must remember, James writes, that “like flowering grass he will pass away.” The grass that is one day beautiful to behold, is the next destroyed by the hot sun and scorching wind. The rich man must keep in mind that his many things will not endure any longer than he endures in this life—“so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.” Therefore, the rich man’s boast or source of glory must be in something other than his wealth. James says he should boast in the humility that he learns from being tried by the Lord. The rich man who encounters trials has much to lose, while the poor man has nothing to lose.

By citing these two examples, James illustrates how wisdom is to be found in the midst of trials. The brother of humble circumstances prays and discerns that he is, in fact, being exalted by his trials. The brother of considerable means prays and discerns that he is, in fact, being humbled by his trials. In both cases, what is caused by the trials is exactly what each man would need. The poor brother needs to be lifted up so that he does not despair; the rich brother needs to be abased so that he is not overcome by pride and a sense of self-sufficiency.

James shows how trials come to all and are needed by all. It is not just the poor man who needs to learn to trust God more and it is not just the rich man who needs to learn to trust himself less. All Christians need to learn the lessons that trials teach and James shows how there is wisdom in every trial when he cites these two extreme cases. His message is that no matter who you are, your faith needs refinement and no matter what your lot in life, you need to endure testing. No one is an exception because trials refine the heart of man before God.

We have this marvelous promise from God. He tells us to “ask in faith” for wisdom when we are undergoing a trial; He promises to give us wisdom and discernment so that we might develop at least a measure of discernment regarding our trials. We need to understand that this brings great stability to our lives.

A number of years ago, I was in the middle of some trying situation. I don’t even remember exactly what the issue was, but I do remember that I was totally absorbed in it and the trial was causing me a great amount of anguish. It was at that time that I came upon this passage in James and read it in a manner that I had never done before. I saw v. 5 and for the first time in my life, the verse made sense in context. Therefore, I did exactly what James advises and I began to pray for discernment. I asked God to give me an understanding regarding my situation. I wanted to know what outcome was intended by my trial.

One night, while I was sleeping, I woke up suddenly with a clear illustration of my trial in my head. At that very moment—and, as I recall, it was in the middle of the night—the purpose of my present trial became crystal clear. I remember thinking, “Now I understand exactly what is going on and why.” What happened was not a direct revelation of any kind, it was only God answering my prayer and allowing my mind to discern His purposes and the knowledge happened to come to my consciousness at that particular moment—no doubt because, even while I slept, my soul was greatly troubled.

I can tell you that I was so relieved, not because the trial was over, but because I understood why it was happening and I understood what was being accomplished by it. That was a definite turning point in my understanding of how to react to trials. I now pray not just for the grace to endure, but for an understanding or discernment of why the Lord has ordained the circumstance.

Matters do not always become as clear as they did in my quick illustration, but I have found that God does provide comfort, guidance, and, as it pleases Him, some discernment regarding what is transpiring. And this helps me keep in mind that what has come upon me has been appointed by God; and then all of the wonderful things that I know about God’s nature and His magnificent benevolence toward us comes into play.

When you are tested, when your faith is being refined, pray and ask God for wisdom so that you might understand what is being accomplished and pray for the grace to endure. Imagine how much better that is than sitting around wondering and fretting, which only adds to your anxiety.

Trials come to all of God’s people from God. In the illustration which James uses in vv. 9-11, we learn that trials are the great “leveler” of all men. No one escapes trials because no believer is beyond the need of refinement. When you are enduring a trial, you want to ask “Why me?” or “Why now?” Instead, James teaches that we should “consider it all joy” because our trial is for our benefit and we are not alone. Trials convince us of God’s love and His good intentions for us. Trials train us to depend on Him, regardless of our position in life.

Let’s pray.

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Understanding Our Trials

James 1:2-18 (part 1)

 

Introduction

When it comes to our salvation, the means by which a person comes to have sins forgiven and inherit eternal life is identical in all ages and for all believers. The living out of that experience, however, can vary widely from person to person, place to place, and even generation to generation. I am referring to that which is not necessarily standard for all Christians and that is the path that God has ordained for His people.

 

We are all born again in the same manner, yet as our lives progress, we have experiences that God has ordained particularly for us. I’m thinking of the trials that every believer must face in life. We all come to the gospel in the same way, as I mentioned, but we do not all have the same record when it comes to our ongoing sanctification.

 

James is not so much concerned about how a person is born again as he is with how they live the life that God provides in Christ. Among the many edifying topics in this book is that of trials, by which I mean the episodes that our Heavenly Father appoints for us for our own particular good as one of His children and for His ultimate glory as we persevere by grace. This is the first major topic addressed by James as this letter begins.

 

This letter is addressed to Jewish believers who, due to persecution, were scattered throughout the Roman Empire and who were, in some cases, facing severe trials. James’ use of the phrase “to the twelve tribes” indicates his audience. He is writing to Jews who had believed in Jesus as their Messiah.

 

In vv. 2-18 of the first chapter, James talks about trials. He explains the design of our trials and writes about the purpose behind them. James also distinguishes between trials that God ordains for us and the temptations to sin that arise from within us.

 

  1. The Design of Our Trials (vv. 2-4)

2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

 

How many times have you heard someone question God, even God’s existence, when passing through some difficult circumstance? People who know very little of Scripture often jump to the conclusion that they are being treated unfairly and that must be evidence that there is no benevolent God. For reasons that are grounded in our twisted and sin-corrupted fallen natures, we assume, when we are ignorant of the Bible, that, if there is a God, He would not allow such things to happen to “good” people.

 

It is true that the majority of these kinds of reactions come from people who know nothing about the gospel and, therefore, nothing about the nature of God, His purposes, or His ways. But then there is another category of people who sometimes face extremely challenging circumstances. I am referring to those who are born again, who love God and are attempting to live in an honorable fashion. How should those who are assured that they are God’s children react when they face persecution or hardship?

 

This is not a sermon on God’s sovereign rule over His creation, but we need to be reminded once in a while just what sovereignty means. If God is sovereign over all things, then He is, of course, sovereign over the little things. James is not speaking of how God raises up or puts down world leaders and entire nations; James is concerned with something much smaller in scope—and that is the course of your life.

 

Let me provide you with a simple formula: According to the teaching of Scripture, God oversees everything, including the events of our daily lives. And if God oversees all things, then all things must be serving His perfect purposes. And if all things are serving His perfect purposes, then trials must also be interpreted in that light.

 

Many Christians, nevertheless, when preparing to write about the trials of this life, would not begin by saying: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials”! By definition, trials are not pleasant experiences. Trials are times when we are pressed, times when we are strained and forced to endure extraordinary circumstances, times when we have no direct control, times when the thought of facing the next few hours or days frightens us.

 

Trials can cause us to fear, doubt, cry, worry, and lose sleep. Trials interrupt the normal routine of life and disrupt families; trials can shatter our confidence and disturb our comfort. Trials hurt; they can be emotionally costly. They can cause everything else in life to come to a grinding halt. Yet this man declares: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials!

 

James, of course, was well acquainted with trials. As a leader in the early Church, he faced much opposition and was eventually executed, perhaps by stoning, according to various sources. Therefore, whatever we conclude about James, we cannot assume he was out of touch with reality. We must conclude, I believe, that James had a different perspective on trials, not a denial of the reality of trials and difficulties, but a viewpoint informed by a source other than his own heart.

 

Remember that James is writing to people who are presently dispersed in strange places, presently suffering far from their homes. How do you tell them to rejoice even though you know they are in miserable, dangerous, and frightening circumstances? Was it realistic for James to expect these particular Christians to maintain a joyful countenance when they were being persecuted and when they were seeing friends and loved ones abused, and when they knew that returning home was an impossibility?

 

What is joyful about that? What, in that description, is cause for gladness? How can such counsel be given to people whose entire existence has been turned upside down and the cause is directly traceable to their relationship with Jesus Christ? When I think of some contemporary Christian leaders who preach a gospel of prosperity and freedom from worry, I must assume that they have either never read what the Bible says about the course of life to be expected by a Christian or they simply choose to teach something else in order to gain some personal advantage.

 

You cannot stand before people and declare to them that God only wants them to be content and happy and free from burdens and still maintain that you are a preacher of the Word. This kind of heretical instruction brings untold misery into the lives of people who, after trying diligently to follow the preacher’s instructions regarding how to gain happiness in this life, still face trials and still get sick and still lose people they love and still suffer in various ways. They are left to conclude that they simply do not have a faith that is strong enough to believe in what God really wants for them.

 

James had an understanding of the nature of trials. He knew the purpose of trials, for example. Notice what follows that first exhortation: “knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” (v. 3) Here is one of the keys to understanding our trials. When we know the design of our trials, we can also begin to comprehend why James speaks as he does.

 

The word translated “endurance” (hupomone) refers to a basic attitude or frame of mind, one which could be described as “patience” or “steadfastness.” In this case, James means having patience through or during a trial; the translation “endurance,” therefore, is good. Remember that James is writing to people in seriously threatening situations; yet, he tells them to be joyful and he tells them how they can be joyful: “know that your trial—the testing of your faith—has a design and the design is your endurance or perseverance in the faith.”

 

Let’s think about what James has just said for a moment. When you find yourself in the midst of some trial and it is causing you anxiety or some uneasiness, knowing that the circumstances have been designed to bring about your growth in holiness does establish a perspective for you from which to analyze, not only what you are experiencing, but also your reaction to it.

 

And, if I may, I want to emphasize that this issue of our reaction to trials is of paramount importance. If God sends trials to further our maturity in Christ, then that truth makes our attitude and our conduct during trials most significant. The perspective James gives is essential to our reaction to trials. What James provides helps us have peace of mind during our testing.

 

James teaches us that trials are not designed to destroy us, but to strengthen us. Trials are not given by God to see if He can make us fall, but are sent by God to train us to stand strong. The trials God appoints for us are training so that we become more like our Savior and leave more and more behind of our old self. Knowing that trials actually purify faith, James adds: “Let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (v. 4) Trials will, in time, James assures us, make us “perfect and complete” so that we are “lacking in nothing.”

 

The idea behind those two words, “perfect and complete,” is that of a process coming to an end after it has accomplished what it was designed to accomplish. Trials come to us periodically to advance our maturity with the goal of a whole and fully developed faith at some point in the future. Considered in this light, trials are more than helpful, they are necessary. It is only through trials that this maturing process can take place.

 

The most severe trials that I have faced as a Christian have consistently left me with a greater apprehension of the faith, a greater understanding of and appreciation for God, and an improved ability to live before Him honorably. Think of one of those severe times of testing you’ve endured. Would you not say that, in the end, it was a positive influence in your faith? Would you not say that, as a result of that trial, you are more mature in Christ and better able to discern God’s leading? Some of you, I know, can look back and now realize that the tears and the anxiety and the uncertainty that you experienced in a trial actually served to produce growth in you that otherwise may never have occurred.

 

If we put together all the information that James supplies, then we can return to that first statement and understand how and why he says: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.” The testing of our faith is necessary, beneficial, and completely desirable—if we truly want to advance in Christ. We are imperfect people living in this world. If we are to grow, then we must face that which causes maturity and, knowing the outcome, we can experience a sense of security and purpose even as we pass through a challenging episode.

 

I’ll close by pointing out that James refers to “various trials,” by which he means whatever kind of trial we happen to face. They can be met with joy if we keep in mind what James has declared. And, to be clear, the “joy” spoken of in this passage is not a superficial happiness that we try to manufacture from our own resources, but is a holy contentment, a divine peace that accompanies us through the valley. And that joy is grounded in the gospel and God’s intention to shape you into the image of His dear Son, the one who gave himself for us on the cross. Trials, as explained by James, therefore, are natural components of the gospel experience.

 

END OF PART 1

All Saints Weekly Devotional

(volume 2, number 3)

April 18, 2013

Perseverance

Pastor Bordwine

Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. (James 1:12)

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the topic of perseverance. Scripturally speaking, the term “perseverance” refers to remaining true to all the implications of our callings as Christians regardless of circumstances. Many think of perseverance as an attribute that is desired and needed primarily in conjunction with those times when we are facing some particularly difficult trial (note that the verse above relates to this perspective). The Bible teaches, however, that perseverance is not a quality to be manifested only occasionally under the most pressing of settings, but is a trait of character that must, by necessity, be exhibited at all times and under all conditions.

Because we are born-again and are guided by a holy disposition implanted and nurtured by the Spirit of Christ, we are in constant moral conflict due to the nature of our sinful environment. Our duty to remain faithful to God by interpreting and reacting to our circumstances according to the teaching of His Word is continually relevant throughout every day, in every conversation, and in every decision we make. In fact, the whole Christian experience, from the most routine aspects to the most demanding and painful, is an act of perseverance; it is an act of doing what God says instead of what the world expects (or even demands).

In addition to James 1:12, quoted above, there are several New Testament passages in which perseverance is highlighted. In every case, perseverance is presented as an indispensable component in a well-ordered, prosperous, and honorable life before God. For example, Paul identifies perseverance in tribulation as one of the means by which we develop proven character, which, in turn, strengthens our trust (or hope) in God and His promises. (cf. Rom. 5:3, 4; 8:24, 25) In other texts, perseverance is presented as having an ongoing, always active presence in our lives. (cf. Eph. 6:18, 19; 2 Thess. 1:3, 4; 1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Pet. 1:5-8)

Perseverance is not a facet of our Christian character that comes into play only now and then. To be a Christian is to persevere and overcome the world, as the apostle John explained. (cf. 1 John 5:4) A believer is a living expression of perseverance. Perseverance is living for God at every moment and in every situation, regardless of duration or severity.

As believers, we understand that we are called to remain faithful in learning and doing the will of God even when we face opposition. In every area of our lives, we are to seek to conform to God’s holy standard, which necessarily creates a state of tension because we exist in an environment that is in rebellion against His will. We are constantly challenged to do that which pleases God, rather than that which comes “naturally” in this fallen world. Perseverance in holiness, therefore, is one of the fundamental components in living as a Christian.

Persevering is “what we do” this side of heaven. As already explained, the Christian life is an extended act of perseverance. I believe that this truth can be especially encouraging to those who find themselves having to endure prolonged trials. If we think that the ability to persevere becomes most significant only when we are facing some unexpected and unusually burdensome ordeal, then we may very well find ourselves losing hope if, in fact, such a hardship continues week after week or even year after year. On the other hand, maintaining the Biblical point of view on this matter of perseverance will prevent us from questioning the wisdom of God, according to which our lives, including the most unpleasant of times, are ordered.

As a child of God, whether my most demanding days are few or many, I am always persevering; I am always overcoming and never surrendering; I am always pressing forward and never stepping backward. (cf. Gal. 6:9; Phil. 3:12; 2 Pet. 1:10)

All Saints Weekly Devotional

Volume 1 Number 22

July 6, 2012

Confessing the Goodness of God

From Pastor Bordwine

“Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.”

(Job 13:15)

As many of you know, on this past Monday evening I was admitted to the hospital after experiencing severe pain in my abdomen. From the beginning, the doctors were primarily concerned about a potential heart issue. The next day, an angiogram was performed which showed that my arteries were completely clear. Whatever the cause of my symptoms, it was not my heart.

I related this bit of information to a friend who dropped by the house for a visit the day after I returned home. I told him how grateful I was for God’s display of goodness in the results of that procedure. My friend immediately said: “But God would still have been just as good even if the report had been the opposite.” That comment startled me for a moment, but I quickly realized the beautiful truth just expressed by my brother. My perception of the goodness of God could not rest upon the report from my cardiologist.

The goodness of God is of His essence. It is God’s nature to be good and do good in everything. And it is impossible for God not to be and do good in everything. Therefore, had the results of my angiogram have indicated that my death was imminent, I could still have confessed that God was good. In such a situation, I would have to accept the truth that what sounded like devastating news to my ears was, in fact, an outcome ordained by a God of goodness. And I would then need to call upon Him for the grace to receive and rejoice in the kind of report no person ever wants to hear.

God most certainly showed love to me and my family by equipping me with a strong and healthy heart. But we must understand that God’s “reputation” for being good does not rest upon our estimation of the character or consequences of what He ordains. If God gives me life, He is good; if God ends my earthly life at this moment, He is good. God’s works do not determine the character of His nature, His nature determines the character of His works. God is good by nature; therefore, all of His works must be good as well.

The verse above expresses this truth in a magnificent way. Most of us know the story of Job. His suffering was beyond comprehension. His misery was compounded by friends who were sure that Job was being punished for sin. In his agony, Job pleaded his case of innocence, but his acquaintances were unmoved and continued to heap blame and guilt upon him. Nevertheless, as he wrestled with that incredibly harsh and intensely discouraging situation, Job maintained his conviction regarding the nature of God.

“Even if God takes my life in the midst of this horrible circumstance and even if my friends walk away satisfied that they have rightly diagnosed the cause of my suffering,” Job declared, “my trust in God’s essential goodness and righteousness will remain.” That is the confession of a man who truly knew God. Job was able to persevere through the most severe trial of his life without accusing God of wrongdoing because he knew and that such an complaint would be absurd.

How is it with you right now? Has God appointed a frightening and seemingly overwhelming trial for you? If so, fortify yourself with the sure knowledge of the essential and unchanging character of God. Confess His goodness even in the midst of your pain. Declare God’s trustworthiness even if you cannot see the end of your ordeal. While there are many things we cannot know during our trials, we can always find a measure of peace in the truth of the abiding goodness of God.

For I was envious of the arrogant, as I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

(Ps. 73:3)

I am thankful for the realistic way in which Scripture represents our struggles. It does not by-pass the agony, doubts, anger, or depression of believers. This characteristic is particularly observable in the book of Psalms. Often, David describes his personal fears and reveals the questions that arose in his heart concerning the purposes of God, especially during times when he was suffering unjustly or facing an enemy that threatened his kingdom and his life.

One of the themes on which David comments many times is the apparent prosperity of the wicked while the righteous are oppressed and ill-treated. There were times, as the context for the verse above illustrates, when David knew that he was not guilty of any great offense toward God, yet his welfare was in jeopardy. At the same time, the king observed that the wicked were enjoying security and advancement. These kinds of situations forced David to recognize his own limitations and concede that the ways of God are sometimes mysterious.

When a believer is passing through a trial, perhaps one in which he is being falsely accused of sin, and he notices that those who are truly guilty of breaking God’s commandments face no particular hardship, it can create considerable turmoil in his heart as he wonders why God is letting him suffer, but letting his guilty neighbor remain untouched. In such circumstances, the believer may have very little insight regarding God’s intentions. How, therefore, should the believer react to this kind of challenge?

There is one essential truth to keep in mind when we are enduring the kind of testing I’ve just described. We must keep our focus on what we know to be true. We know, for example, that God’s nature makes Him incapable of treating His children unjustly or in a manner designed to do them harm just for the sake of harm.

Our eyes and ears may be telling us that we have been abandoned. Our observations may lead us to conclude that God is favoring the wicked over His own child. But, as noted, God’s righteous nature and the everlasting validity of His promises make this kind of explanation absolutely invalid.

When we find ourselves in discouraging situations where our discernment is weak and the test we are facing is severe, we should turn our attention to the nature of God. By doing so, our fears will be subdued and our doubts about God’s regard for us will be vanquished. Dwelling on that which we know to be true—the holy character of God and, therefore, the holy character of His works—establishes stability in our heart. We may not know much about what God is doing at the moment, but we will know that His unchanging nature guarantees that His plan is perfect in all respects.

This is the pattern seen in the writings of David. He reveals the anxiety that has filled his mind and he confesses his doubts regarding God’s activity in his present crisis. But as these Psalms continue, David turns to the nature of God and quickly finds that place of peace and assurance as he reviews the truth of God’s holy character. David creates a proper perspective from which to analyze his trial and that results in a dramatic change in his demeanor.

Simply put, there are times in our lives when faith must overrule sight. There are circumstances in which our perception is flawed and, therefore, we need to find steady ground on which to stand as we consider our predicament. Faith, which is grounded in the trustworthiness of God’s revelation of Himself, is the element that allows us to place our burden of uncertainty before God and wait for His will to run its course.

Remember this important verse: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1, emphasis added) Your ability to perceive the intentions of God has nothing to do with the stability of your soul during a trial. Your stability, your confidence, your hope, and your expectation rest in the truth of God’s holy nature.

For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it passes by,

or as a watch in the night.

(Psalm 90:4)

Recently, I listened to a sermon by George Grant that was based on Genesis 8. In that chapter, we read about the end of Noah’s experience in the ark. For more than a year, Noah and his passengers endured all the trials and tribulations that you might imagine would arise in such a situation. Dr. Grant emphasizes, however, that when the day came for the door to be opened so that Noah could lead everyone out into the new world, his first inclination had nothing to do with himself. He did not think it was the time to walk around and relax, nor did Noah conclude that he had just accomplished some great feat; he did not heave a sigh of relief as if some tremendous burden had been lifted from his back. As soon as Noah left the ark, as Dr. Grant notes, he built an altar and offered sacrifices to God.

Noah’s initial concern was the recognition of God’s hand in that journey. The timing and extent of Noah’s ordeal are never mentioned as issues that troubled him. And this is in spite of the fact that God had not revealed His entire intention regarding the flood that covered the earth. Nothing was said about the duration of that adventure. When it was over, the primary thought in the heart of Noah was God’s worthiness to be worshiped.

As Dr. Grant stated in his sermon, this was such a fitting act given the circumstances. After that extended time of uncertainty, danger, and challenge, the worship of God was the most appropriate thing that could have been done. God had preserved Noah and all those with him in the ark. God had cleansed the earth of sin, as it were, and gave man a new beginning. Noah realized that he was part of a monumental work of God, the full implications of which were dawning on him, no doubt, as he stepped through the doorway and gazed upon the good earth.

Month after month, Noah remained faithful and carried out his duties waiting for God to accomplish His purposes. It was not a series of questions spoken by Noah that dominated those first moments after he stepped onto the dry land. Noah’s act of veneration captured the moment and Noah worshiped God because he believed that God had orchestrated all that had transpired. God had preserved all the occupants of the ark and had done so according to righteous purposes; and Noah was humbled and thankful to be involved in this display of God’s compassion and power.

How many times do we find ourselves passing through a challenging period during which we have little or no comprehension of what God is doing? And how many times are we tempted to think that no end is in sight? One of the most difficult obligations we face as Christians is accepting without question or alarm the timing of God. During challenging episodes, the weakness of our flesh and the limitations of our discernment can create barriers that prevent us from resting in God. But as the story of Noah teaches—and many other examples could be cited—God always has a purpose for whatever He ordains for us. Just because many days or weeks or even months pass, there is no reason to conclude that God has lost control or that He has been distracted. There is no justification for concluding that whatever it was that God planned to accomplish has been interrupted.

The key to confidence during our trials is trust in God’s promises as we fortify ourselves with the many wonderful examples of God’s merciful conduct that we find in the Bible and throughout history. We must remember that God’s timing is not subject to our perceptions. God only appoints and accomplishes that which is perfect. We will have no peace dwelling on the question of “how long?” Our peace will come from our conviction that all of our hours, days, years, and circumstances are held with tenderness and love in the hands of our heavenly Father for whom a thousand years is as a day.

“Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.”

(Matt. 10:29-31)

Last week, I wrote about the difficulties that we face in life. Using a statement from the book of James, I talked about the benefits of the trials God appoints for us. The Bible provides a perspective on our trials that helps us understand why God allows them and what is accomplished through them. That devotional went out on Friday morning. On Saturday evening, my son and I were involved in a serious car accident. We were struck from behind while stopped in an intersection waiting to make a left-hand turn. The impact left me groggy for a few seconds, but one of the first thoughts that came to mind as my head began to clear were those words to which I referred last week: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.”

The verses above from Matthew 10 were spoken by Jesus as He encouraged His disciples with the assurance that God was constantly and comprehensively watching over them. No matter what they faced, no matter what threats were made, no matter what they might need, God was fully knowledgeable. To emphasize the significance of this truth, Jesus declared that God is aware of the fate of every sparrow that falls to the ground. By implication, therefore, God will certainly show even greater concern for the creatures made in His own image. That is, in essence, what the Savior said after mentioning the birds: “So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.”

Obviously, this passage teaches that God is always aware of us and, of course, there is a wonderful measure of comfort and encouragement to be taken from that fact. But I want to stress something in addition, which is the love of God. This aspect comes out clearly in Christ’s expressions. As He spoke to the disciples, Jesus referred to God as “your Father.” This designation reminds us of the familiar relationship we enjoy with God. By grace, we are His sons and daughters; we have been adopted into His redeemed family. (cf. Gal. 4:4-7)

Consider again what the Savior says. Our Father’s love for us is comprehensive, particular, and ultimate. God is all-seeing and all-knowing, which means He is cognizant of everything at every moment. But the Lord’s point goes beyond a simple consequence of God’s nature. As noted, He draws attention to the relationship we have with God, that of child to Father. From experience, we know this is one of the most personal and essential relationships that exist in this life. God not only controls what we experience, but He also cares about what we encounter. This assures us that whatever He allows or appoints for us is grounded in His love and, therefore, must be for our good.

A number of questions occurred to me as I stood beside our vehicle last Saturday evening waiting for the police to arrive. Did the other driver, who was at fault, have insurance? If so, would his insurance company be cooperative and truly helpful? Will our car be fixable or is it totaled? What kind of medical consequences were we facing? As important as these questions were, the knowledge of God’s Fatherly love as the foundation for our trials dominated my thinking and it was, without question, the one element that gave encouragement during a stressful and upsetting episode. In love, our Father was with us and was looking upon us as His treasured sons.

Every believer may rest in and count on God’s love as our heavenly Father throughout life and in every circumstance. This is the one truth that will sustain us during the most painful and demanding trials we endure. We are never without the loving embrace of our Father in heaven. We will never be cast out of His household. Fear may be overcome and worry may be subdued because our Father in heaven loves us—forever.

Sooner or later, every Christian is going to understand the heart of David when he asked this question. In Psa. 10, he records his frustration with the seeming prosperity and success of the wicked who were “hotly pursuing the afflicted” even while they declared “there is no God” and delighted in their conviction that they would never be moved or face adversity. Naturally, a Godly man like king David found this situation intolerable and it caused him no small amount of grief.

David’s description in this Psalm is chilling. The wicked laugh in the face of God, they have no fear of Him, and don’t worry about ever being called to give an account of themselves. They succeed in whatever they do no matter what harsh methods they employ. They think nothing of killing the innocent and delight in the cleverness of their schemes.

Where is God, David laments. Why is He hiding Himself? David struggled with the notion that such people could prosper while God is enthroned. In desperation, David cries out: “Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up Your hand. Do not forget the afflicted.” Knowing that God is just and kind and merciful, David could not accept the continuing prosperity of the wicked who opposed all that is righteous and good. He had only one option, however. He could not stop the mouth of the wicked from boasting; he could not prevent them from trampling the poor and defenseless under foot. But David could call upon God Himself to come and judge the evil doers. And that is what he does.

Obviously, David had lived for some time in the context described in this Psalm. He saw the innocent persecuted; he saw justice perverted. David witnessed first-hand the cruelty of men who found satisfaction in heaping misery upon others. He experienced the pain of being threatened and maligned; David knew what it was like to have an enemy “pile on,” as we say. David also knew something else; he knew the character of God and the consideration of that knowledge results in the restoration of his confidence and hope.

“You have seen it, for You have beheld mischief and vexation to take it into Your hand. The unfortunate commits himself to You; You have been the helper of the orphan.” (v. 14) It is God’s nature to be just and merciful; it is His nature to protect the helpless. This truth was David’s solace during this terribly difficult period in his life. David’s cry of despair becomes a shout of confident praise as he reminds himself of the amazing power and deeds of God.

As I noted in the beginning, every believer will eventually find himself in a situation where it seems that God’s attention has been turned away. It will appear that the plans of the wicked are unfolding without hindrance. It will feel as if an enemy is free to launch attack after attack and to make unopposed accusations of the most disturbing kind. That is when a Christian might wonder: “O LORD, why do You stand afar off?” Such thoughts are known to God, of course. It is how we react to them and to our situation that matters most.

The right course of action is to follow David’s example and remind ourselves of God’s character during those times when it seems as if God is not near us. We may never fully understand all that God is doing when He causes us to pass through the kind of heart-breaking circumstance I’ve described; at such times, we must cling to what we do know for sure, which is the holy character of God. As we dwell on what we do know to be true about God, those elements that are, at least for the moment, beyond our comprehension will cause us far less stress and anxiety. We know that God is good. We know that God orchestrates all things for His glory and our good. This includes whatever we encounter in this life, be it blessings that leave us astonished or trials that leave us in tears.