Eyes On The Outcome
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.
Many Christians read James’ comment about suffering and don’t believe it, and those who do believe often feel frustrated and defeated because they don’t see the result promised. Count it all joy? Oh, come on!
To see these trials produce results in our lives, we need to undergo a radical reorientation. Years ago, cultural critic, Frances Schaefer observed that most of us supremely value “personal peace and affluence.” Anything that gets in the way of those values is, to say the least unwelcome. But in the Kingdom of God, those things aren’t all that valuable, and in fact, they can get in the way of what God truly values. He treasures our faith in Him through thick and thin, but He knows faith is built most effectively in times of difficulty. For that reason, God, our loving and attentive Father, allows or orchestrates problems in our lives so that we learn to trust Him.
Author and speaker Elizabeth Elliot notes that suffering takes all kinds of forms. Her broad definition is, “Not having what you want, or having what you don’t want.” Every obstacle, every annoyance, and every genuine heartache in our lives is part of God’s curriculum to produce persistent, tenacious, rich, deep trust in Him. Patience isn’t killing time until we experience more personal peace and affluence.It’s riveting our affections on God and His purposes every moment of every day.
It does not matter how great the pressure is. What matters is where does the pressure lie? Does it push you closer to the heart of God or away from God?
For those who have joined us in our study of James, I know these words of Ziglar resonate with our study. As I ran across this, I thought it might be good to share it. Of all the things concerning the Kingdom of God, perhaps, the idea that God allows suffering may be one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult to accept. Many Christians seem to have a utopian view that excludes any form of suffering. After all, they reason, isn’t one of the benefits of committing our lives to God is so we can have all the benefits and blessings? We even hear from some ministers that God always intends for us to be healed, whole, and prosperous in this life with all the things of this world. The truth is that the Bible teaches that part of the existence of humanity is suffering. As we read through the Bible, we read of great sufferings of the people of God. Sometimes we overlook the fact that the Israelites suffered over 400 years of slavery before God raised up Moses to deliver them. We often miss the fact that David experienced suffering. After slaying Goliath and pushing back the armies of the Philistines he found himself hiding in caves for fear of his life. In later years he found himself being pursued by his own son who was wanting to seize the throne. And we all know that Christ, the Son of God suffered and yet we still somehow are shocked when we experience suffering.
What we ought to do as Taylor says, is to discern the outcome of suffering. We may have no control over the causes of suffering but we can control our response to it. Suffering has the ability to either draw us nearer to God or to push us away from God. The pressure is the same but the outcome is determined by the direction of the pressure. We can either see that God is gracious and loving and is allowing our suffering for the purpose of molding us or moving us toward a greater trust or we can view the allowing of suffering as that of an uncaring and unkind master. Satan will always press us to the latter view. Sometimes even when we have prayed and prayed, when we have fully yielded ourselves to God, suffering comes. Sometimes it comes because the devil is aware that if we give God complete use of us his kingdom will be shaken and so he tries to get us to give up to the pressures of suffering and back down. Some years ago, there was a woman who was part of a church where I was the pastor. During a service, the Lord spoke to her about becoming more involved in the work of God. Her husband was not a Christian but he had been allowing her to attend church and as long as she was a fringe member, he was ok. After this service, she became more faithful in attendance and after some time became the song leader. Things went well for a little while but then the day came when she said to me that she wished to step down from her role and just become part of the congregation again. After a few weeks I noticed that she had returned to her old habits of missing attending services. One Sunday I asked her what was going on. Her reply shocked me. She said that when she responded to the call of God to draw closer it was the best feeling she had ever experience. Her joy was overflowing and for a while things were good. Her husband who had his own hobbies was ok with her enjoying her new hobby until God began to convict him of his sins. In his resistance to conviction, he saw her and her “religion” as a threat and initially told her she could no longer come to church. They reached an unhealthy compromise. He would let her attend church but not be involved and she must go with him when he was participating in his “hobbies.” So she agreed and in a short time she was totally away from God and actively participating with her husband in worldly things. You see the pressure of suffering for her was so great that it drew her away from God.
With great concern I watched my son and his wife walk through a journey of loss as they released their two year old to be in the presence of God. I am told that of all losses, the loss of a child is one of the most difficult. Statistics say that most marriages don’t survive such suffering and it would have been easy for them to walk away from God and each other. When Titus was born with all his challenges, we prayed diligently for God to heal him. We put our trust in God as he went through many intense procedures. Not long before he passed away, we had begun to rejoice in his improvement and our hope and expectation was for the day he would graduate from the ventilator. Then our world crashed as he was rushed to the intensive care and a few days later, we said our goodbyes. What I’ve seen is a couple who have chose to allow the pressure of suffering draw them closer to God and to each other. They have chose to let God use them and their suffering to minister to others especially those who are walking in the dark valley of trial. Their relationship with God is deeper and stronger and their relationship with each other has gone to a deeper depth. The pain is still present but the joy of being used by God is present too.
James tells us to “count it all joy” when we suffer. He’s not suggesting that trials are some light thing, something without pain. What he is saying to us is that in the trial, if we will choose, we can draw nearer to God and find His all-sufficient grace.
Paul, who suffered greatly, tells that he had sought God to remove the “thorn in the flesh.” There is a lot of speculation as to what that thorn was. I think the reason we weren’t given a specific description was so that we could know that our “thorn” could well be it and we could take heart in God’s response, “My grace is sufficient.” Our response could join in with Paul’s response.
“And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
2 Corinthians 12:9-10
In your trial today, turn your face and heart toward God. Don’t run away from Him for even in the trial He’s allowing, He is also with you.
Dr. John Thompson