It could hardly be said that any Christian enjoys going through a trial. It is one of those aspects of our faith that we would rather avoid. Depending upon its depth and length, it could shake us to the core, far more than we ever anticipated when we first began travelling down its winding (and perhaps harrowing) path. Yet after coming through it in dependence upon the Lord, we will undoubtedly admit that it had a significant part in the deepening of our faith, sharpening our once nebulous convictions, and conforming us more closely to the character of Christ, Rom. 8. 28-29.
The Benefit of Trials
Scripture refers to the purifying and beneficial effect that trials can have in the life of a Christian. When Job was going through his great trial of affliction, he could hardly be thankful for the series of calamities that befell him. But through the eye of faith he uttered his deep confession of faith with unshakeable conviction, ’But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold’, Job 23. 10.Job well understood the benefit of God’s refining process, a process he would have rather sidestepped if he had the option, but one that proved invaluable in deepening his faith. It is not that Job was a blatant sinner, he was anything but that. Yet, it could never have been said of him that ‘he feared God for nothing’, that is, for no personal benefit, thus dismissing the arrogant charge of the devil, Job 1. 9. There are a lot of trials that many believers would also have preferred to sidestep, but if they had, they would have forfeited their beneficial effect. It was a tough road for Job and it may be a tough road for many of God’s own, but it can and often does, turn out to the glory of God and to be a shining example of how the Lord brings many sons to glory.
The Necessity for Trials
Sometimes, however, there are gaps in the life of a Christian that necessitate the disciplining hand of God through trial. Peter stated, ’If need be ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations (or trials)’, 1 Pet. 1. 6. There are at times those ‘need be’ situations in which certain sins have found entrance in a life and have been permitted to remain unjudged. Like Israel, who failed to cast out all of the Canaanites in the land, sins can be tolerated and the residue of our past life not sufficiently dealt with, Jas. 1. 21, this can only impede spiritual progress in the life of faith. Things objectionable to God are allowed to coexist without us realizing the damaging effect that they can have in the course of time. This is exactly why trials come into the life of the Christian to jar us out of our spiritual complacency and to realign our biblical priorities. Just as Samuel had to hack Agag to pieces, so we too are exhorted to take decisive action and mortify the deeds of our flesh in obedience to the Lord, Col. 3. 5. David confessed, ‘Before I was afflicted, I went astray: but now have I kept thy word’, Ps. 119. 67. He knew too well the sting of the disciplining hand of God upon his life on more than a few occasions, only to express, later, the surpassing value of it. No wonder God would later call him ‘a man after mine own heart’, Acts 13. 22. In short, trials keep the believer on track, spiritually. Regarding this, CHARLES SPURGEON, the great nineteenth-century preacher, once related the account in his day of a rope bridge that collapsed unexpectedly, plunging many to their deaths in a ravine below. Upon investigation, it was determined why the catastrophe occurred: a little seedling which had taken root between the strands of rope and the wooden planks, had been ignored, thus weakening the bridge. Trials from the Lord help us to do the necessary inspection in our lives so that we can identify and pull out the weeds of sin that could eventually weaken and mar our testimony.
Made into His Image
God wants all believers to reflect the character of Christ in their lives. To accomplish this, He may bring about certain trials to soften the heart, making the Christian more compassionate and sensitive to the needs of others. In so doing, he will be able to comfort others with the same comfort, 2 Cor. 1. 4. Becoming more like Christ, fulfils the principle of Colossians chapter 1 verse 27, ‘Christ in you the hope of glory’. Just as it was with Daniel’s friends, the believer entering the furnace of affliction will sense the Lord’s nearness in a trial, perhaps more than at any other time in his experience. There will be a reality to the words of Isaiah chapter 43 verse 2, ‘When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee’. Ironically, despite questioning God’s ways, many often come to see through their difficulties that they actually are the object of His special affection and that their trial will ultimately serve a greater purpose. This is what Zechariah prophesied to Israel about the Man among the myrtle trees, the preincarnate Lord Jesus, who reassured the nation of a future glory though at the time they were at the ‘bottom’ and oppressed by the nations, Zech. 1. 8- 11. Later, in Malachi’s day, God had a similar lesson to teach them. During the future Tribulation, God will effect a great national cleansing as a result of His refining work during that time. Described as sitting, like ‘a refiner and purifier of silver’, He will ‘purify the sons of Levi and to purge them as gold and silver that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness’, Mal. 3. 3. The work of any refiner and purifier of silver is to subject precious metal to intense heat in order to remove the impurities from it. The dross which rises to the top is then scooped away. As the refiner sits over the purified metal and looks down upon an even more valuable product, he is able to see his own image in the metal. And so it is with us: our Father in heaven, subjecting His own special people to the purifying process of trial and affliction, makes of us an even more valuable and precious commodity, as we are conformed to the image of His Son, Rom. 8. 28-29.
Joseph also offers additional lessons about the trial of our faith. After going through many years of severe personal trial, he acknowledged the beneficial effect that it produced in his life. Rising to the rank of Prime Minister of Egypt, he was able to look back and acknowledge the hand of God at work in his life. The names of his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, outlined his response to trials. The first he named Manasseh saying, ‘God hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father’s house’, Gen. 41. 51. The second he named Ephraim, stating, ‘God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction’, v. 52. Despite the rejection and hurt caused by his brothers, the slander of Potiphar’s wife, and being forgotten in prison by the chief butler, he was able to avoid the snare of bitterness and resentment, deliberately forgetting the plethora of personal slights against him. By so doing, he was able to attest to the fruitful result from such a course of action, and a right pattern and the right order: first, ‘forgetting’; then fruit-bearing; always the inevitable consequence of committing our way to the Lord. In due time, God will honour those who honour Him.
Certainly, much more could be said about the work of trials in the life of the believer. There is Paul’s request to have his thorn in the flesh removed, only to be denied by the Lord to keep him humbly dependent upon Him and cognizant of His all-sufficient grace, 2 Cor. 12. 9. There is Jacob’s all-night wrestling episode at Peniel with the Angel of the Lord, ending in a limp, but also a changed life, as well as a changed name, a changed purpose and a changed direction as he crossed back over the river Jabbok to be reconciled to his brother Esau, Gen. 32. 24-32. What a picture and what a transformation! And then there is James’ direct exhortation to adjust our attitude as we enter a trial to see the rounding-out of character that it produces, ‘My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing’, Jas. 1. 2-4.
The apostle Paul reminds us, ‘For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory’, 2 Cor. 4. 17. Peter stated it this way, ‘The God of all grace … after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you’, 1 Pet. 5. 10. Only as we look into the mirror of God’s word, will we begin to understand more clearly the bigger picture and the wisdom of God in taking us through various trials and tribulations that He sends our way. As we do, we will be able to sing more convincingly the words of the hymnwriter, ‘Every joy or trial falleth from above, Traced upon our dial by the Son of love. We may trust Him fully all for us to do, They who trust Him wholly, find Him wholly true’, F. R. HAVERGAL.
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