My dear family, when you find yourselves tumbling into various trials and tribulations, learn to look at it with complete joy, because you know that, when your faith is put to the test, what comes out is patience. What’s more, you must let patience have its complete effect, so that you may be complete and whole, not falling short in anything. James 1:2–4 (The Bible for Everyone: A New Translation)
Very few “normal” people look forward to difficult trials and tribulations in their lives. In fact, most of us will do everything we can to avoid hardship and testing. But should we?
In John 16, Jesus is preparing his disciples for the aftermath of his crucifixion. He tells them that they will be scattered in many directions, leaving him alone, yet he will not be alone because the Father is with him.
He then proceeds to tell them a most astonishing thing: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” John 16:33 (NKJV). Is he serious? He tells them that they will desert him and be scattered, and the reason he tells them these things is so that they will have peace?
He says that they will face tribulation, defined as an “oppressive state of physical, mental, social or economic adversity.” Yet, in the face of this, Jesus told them to “be of good cheer.” It was not just about being of good cheer in the face of adversity. It was about taking heart because Jesus has overcome the world.
Partners with Christ
Jesus’ words to the disciples are not an isolated occurrence. Time and time again, we find examples not of tolerating trials but of looking forward to them and being glad. For instance, Peter writes: “Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world” 1 Peter 4:12–13 (NLT).
Perhaps some would consider it reasonable to be glad despite trials, but they balk at being happy because of them. James reinforces this thought: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” James 1:2–3 (NIV).
Peter tells us that when we are partners in Christ’s sufferings, we will have a front-row seat when God’s glory is revealed to all the world. And James lets us know that the testing of our faith will give us the stamina to withstand the things that will confront us.
God Has a Purpose
Ultimately, God’s purpose for us in testing is so that we will have confidence in him no matter what happens to us. In Isaiah, God tells us: “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” Isaiah 43:1-3 (NLT). We can have joy and gladness amid tribulation because we are not alone, and we are not without protection.
We may look around our world and be discouraged as we see a rising tide of evil, but do not despair. God is still God, and his glory will be revealed in all the earth. “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you” Isaiah 60:1–2 (NIV).
The Right Perspective
I have been wearing bifocal lenses for a few years. I need correction in my vision for reading and distance. Spiritually, if we spend all our time and energy looking down the road to eternity, we may miss what is right in front of us. Historically, people who have suffered in this life have looked to their future in heaven as consolation. Others, immersed in present-day troubles, seem to be unable to attain an encouraging outlook.
Paul said, “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” 2 Corinthians 4:17 (NLT). We find it interesting that Paul seems to be telling us that it is because of our present troubles, not despite them, producing a future glory for us.
Trouble and trials can cause us to lose proper perspective. Like a sailor navigating by the stars, the storms of life obscure and hinder our navigation. We must learn the hymn writer’s lesson: “When darkness veils his lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace. In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.”
It Will Be Worth It All
Without implying that the tribulations of life are the same as the discipline that God gives us as his children, we can still learn this lesson. “No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.” Hebrews 12:11 (NLT).
We can be cheerful when facing life’s tribulations because God allows nothing to go to waste. In some cases, our trials will encourage others as they see our trust in God. We can be examples to others and be a source of encouragement for them. Finally, we think of the words of another song, “It will be worth it all when we see Jesus! Life’s trials will seem so small when we see Christ. One glimpse of him him him him him His dear face, all sorrow will erase. So, bravely run the race till we see Christ.”