Tuesday, November 15, 2011

We Need to Suffer Various Trials

The Christian life leads us through the “valley of the shadow of death.” It’s the only way to the heavenly city. However, as we journey through this “valley,” we often loose our way, thinking that God has utterly abandoned us.

For years I had experienced horribly troubling doubts about my salvation. It just didn't seem that my life was lining up with the promises of Scripture. I was convinced that someone took a wrong turn somewhere. However, I subsequently learned that these trials are normal for the Christian life, even necessary. They were also the “daily bread” of the Israelites, who often felt abandoned by God. In the midst of their various trials, they would forget about the many ways that their God had delivered them. Moses, however, admonished them to recall the things of the Lord – both the trials and the deliverances:

• Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. (Deut. 8:2-3)

It's important for us to understand the Lord's ways, so that when the trials arrive, we will not despair. Besides, we will never learn how to abide "on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord" without trials. If we are too comfortable, we will not seek the Scriptures for a deeper understanding.

Eaglets become too comfortable in their nest to try out their wings. The parents therefore begin to make the nest inhospitable by removing the down. Only then will the eaglet venture forth and depend on their wings.

We need to learn how to depend on God. This requires us to despair of ourselves and our circumstances. David had thanked God for his periods of torment and affliction:

• Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word... 119:71 It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. (Psalm 119:67)

All of God's chosen people must endure affliction:

• We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. (2 Cor. 4:10-11)

If we want to manifest Christ in our lives, we have to experience His sufferings. These can take many different forms. It’s important to understand this, because we often doubt whether our suffering is the “authorized” suffering. We’re tempted to think that our suffering represents a form of pathology and therefore doesn’t count. We forget that our Lord works all things for our good (Romans 8:28).

Our Savior loves us too much to not prune us back so that we can bear fruit for His glory sake (and ultimately our own):

• I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. (John 15:1-2)

The grape vines must be pruned back every season if they are going to be productive. Otherwise, the vines have a tendency to suffocate themselves. Ironically, their fruit production can prevent them from bearing more fruit if they are not skillfully attended.

If we are not pruned back, our past accomplishments can blind us with pride – the most deadly threat to the spiritual life. Consequently, I find that after every spiritual success and that warm accompanying glow, my Savior must hold up the mirror to my face and show me who I really am. He reveals to me my lack of any true spirituality and righteousness. He reminds me of my utter helplessness and dependence upon Him, and He does this through painful trials.

I don’t like the trials and never will. They are painful as they must be to produce the types of fruit that God is looking for (Hebrews 12:11). If He loves us – and He does – He works on us overtime:

• For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, "If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?" (1 Peter 4:17-18)

If we fail to see how necessary the struggles are, we will not be prepared for them. Therefore, Peter warns:

• Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13)

The trials are inevitable. They’re also necessary. They prepare us for this life, and they also prepare us to meet our Savior with great rejoicing when He returns. If earth’s delights are so tantalizing, who then will long for their final home?

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