June 24, 2014

God is full of surprises

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life . . .” (Psalm 23:6)

At first I thought that Christians would never suffer. Isn’t this what “name it and claim it” preachers tell us? But suffering comes, and for me that has been the first surprise. The second is that God says I can rejoice in it.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2–4)

Most Christians can say this easily after the trials are over and we see the good purpose of God in those trials. What is difficult and even seems impossible is to do it up front, when the trial begins or when it is in full swing.

The Bible says that God uses all things for good in order to produce the likeness of His Son in me. (Romans 8:28-29). James knew it too. While his trials are not recorded, he obviously understood that at the end of them, he would be blessed by God.

What is interesting is that the Bible uses the same word for both trial and temptation. That is, whether the trial is from outside like a difficult situation, or the trial is an inner desire related to sin, both have the same goal — becoming steadfast in faith . . .

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (James 1:12–18)

How can anyone rejoice in trials? How can anyone rejoice when temptation pulls on them like a cool stream beckons to a thirsty man? It seems to me that the only way to endure and be steadfast, even to rejoice in these things, is by valuing the character of Christ more than comfort or having my own way. If I value being like Jesus, then endurance and even joy is possible as those tests come.

Yet I know this value system depends on the Holy Spirit. Humanly speaking, what sane person can rejoice in suffering? Not me. Yet the Bible tells how it happens . . .

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3–5)

God gives godly responses to suffering through His Spirit. Most often, at least for me, this comes as a surprise as well as a blessing. I may have been surprised to experience suffering in the first place, but am even more surprised that I am called to suffering AND that I can rejoice in it  . . .

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (1 Peter 4:12–19)

This morning I also notice that rejoicing in suffering is not about letting my sin be the cause for rejoicing. This joy is called for in the battle to resist sin. That is, I can be glad if I am persecuted for my faith, but not glad that my sin has got me in trouble.

Yet here is another surprise: the love of God can take anything, even my foolishness, and use it to purge out of my life whatever does not look like Jesus Christ. While I cannot use that as an excuse to sin, knowing His loving power to overcome all trials PLUS my sin is great cause for joy.

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