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There may be more written in the Bible about trials than any other subject. Scriptures reveal that trials will happen and that they are necessary for the growth of God’s people. We learn the purpose of trials and how to get through trials without our faith being broken. There are correct responses to trials and incorrect responses. Trials can destroy a person or trials can lift a person to a new level of commitment to God. One thing is very clear; trials are no fun.
Some “trials” are like bumps in the road; they come and go with relatively little impact in a person’s life. As the Preacher said, there will be days of prosperity in which we should rejoice and there will be days of adversity in which we should consider that God has made both so that we will not know what will happen after us (Eccl. 7:13-14). In other words, God made it so we cannot know what will happen tomorrow so that we will put our trust in Him.
But the every day bumps in the road are not the kind of things the Bible usually speaks of when trials are addressed. The book of Job reveals a number of characteristics of a real trial. Consider a few of these:
- A real trial rocks our world. Our mind has a difficult time grasping what is happening because it seems unimaginable. We have been punched in the gut and the pain does not diminish but only increases.
- In a real trial you cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. You cannot imagine how the trial will end or if it will end; it seems that it will go on forever. The fact is, if we knew exactly when the trial would end, we would simply “endure” until that date. But then we would lose the benefit of the trial.
- In a real trial it is not uncommon to wish for death. It is not that one necessarily becomes suicidal, but there is a despair of life and a desire to leave this world and its cares behind. We’ve had enough. The desire for death was Job’s first response to his trial (Job 3).
- As in the case of Job, real trials usually invite miserable comforters (Job 16:2). It is difficult not to be a miserable comforter. Sometimes another person’s trial is so foreign to us that we have no earthly idea how to respond except to say, “I’m sorry.” But in serious trials there seems to always be those who have all the answers. Indeed, some trials come from foolish decisions we made in the past. But trials also come to people who have lived wisely and did not “deserve” the pain of the trial. Even so, miserable comforters are not uncommon.
- Real trials go on for extended periods of time, pounding a person down until one feels he is millimeters from a breaking point.From God’s point of view, if the trial is really going to have its greatest benefit, a person must come to the point of complete helplessness. As long as we believe we can “beat” the trial or change the trial or make the trial go away, we have not learned the most important lesson of trials.
The Purpose of Trials
The Hebrew writer tells us that trials are always painful, but in the end they yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Heb. 12:11). Trials wake us up to the fact that we cannot control our lives or the circumstances of our lives. Trials make it clear to us that our hope is not in this world and that there is no reason for us to live for what this world has to offer.
Paul tells us to rejoice in trials because trials produce endurance and endurance produces a proven character and a proven character produces hope. So how do we get endurance? Through trials. Can I bypass trials and get endurance a different way? No, “tribulation produces endurance” (Rom. 5:3). Trials are the only way to endurance, the only way to a proven character, and the only way to biblical hope. Therefore we rejoice, not because the trial is pleasant, but because the suffering gets us to a greater goal.
Most importantly, trials are intended to move us closer to God. Trials create a proving ground for us, testing the quality of our faith (1 Pet. 1:6-7; 1 Cor. 3:13). Job’s wife caved, the seed sown on rocky soil withered, but those of genuine faith endure. As great as Job was prior to his trial, in the end he had learned to trust God implicitly, even when there was no reasonable explanation for what was happening.
Most Important Lesson of a Trial
There are usually many sins committed during trials. Even Job had to repent of irresponsible statements and emotions. But the sin that comes up the most is the sin of demanding. Before God spoke to Job directly, Job made many demands. He demanded he die. He demanded the trial cease. He demanded an audience with God. He was absolutely positive that his understanding of the trial was perfect.
The opposite of demanding, and the godly approach to a trial, is acceptance and reliance on God. While God does not necessarily make trials come, in His providence He allows trials to happen for a good reason (Eccl. 7:14). When Paul was imprisoned unjustly, do we see him “fighting” the trial or “accepting” the trial? Philippians shows us clearly that Paul was accepting whatever outcome God determined for him and he rejoiced that good things came from his trial. Finding “peace that surpasses all understanding” is tied up in the fact that we are “not anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication” we let our requests be known to God (Phil. 4:6-7). In other words, as Peter said, “Casting all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:7). We do not own our life, He does. He bought us, and therefore He can do with our life whatever He pleases. We must trust that what He pleases is also what is best for His cause and best for us.