As a Christian, I know all good things are a blessing from God. But what about the bad things? Are they also allowed by God? Or are they an attack from Satan? My mental image of God is a heavenly father who, like my parents, wants only blessings of health and peace for His children. So how do I reconcile that image to the words in James 1:2, “Consider it pure joy whenever I face trials”?
James also discusses the difference between a trial from God and a temptation from Satan; how to I determine the difference? James instructs us clearly, “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone,” 1:13.
Over the years, James 1:2-18 has garnered more of my considered attention than any other part of the Bible. Then a couple weeks ago, this topic came up in the support group at Hillside, Take Heart. That same week I came across a book that prompted even more consideration. In his book, “God’s Devil” by Erwin W Lutzer, Dr. Lutzer explains the immediate cause of a Christian’s trial usually is Satan, but only to the extent that God gives permission to Satan. That concept seems so antithetical to my perception of God that I had to read the book a couple of times to fully grasp that.
Dr. Lutzer gives the example of the two different times Satan touched Job with adversity. In each case, Satan first had to ask permission. When Peter denied Jesus three times, it was only after Satan asked God for permission. In Luke 22:31, we read Jesus’ words, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked for permission to sift you as wheat.”
Dr. Lutzer gives examples of how God turns into good what Satan means for harm. In the case of Peter, his guilt and shame for denying Jesus eventually helped Peter mature in his faith so he could minister to his brothers. Even though God allowed Peter to go through this trial, Luke 22:32 continues, “But I [Jesus] have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” In this example, God allowed Peter to be tested by Satan so that Peter would eventually deepen his love for Jesus, and, after being filled with the Holy Spirit, he preached the gospel and 3,000 people joined the church. This difficult trial spiritually formed the apostle Peter; he never again was afraid of fear.
Paul was afflicted by a thorn in the flesh. God allowed this trial so Paul would come to learn that God’s grace is sufficient. After his third request to God to remove this thorn, God told Paul he would have to live with it, but that His grace would give him the ability to handle it. This thorn is referred to “as a messenger from Satan.” So Satan is being used by God to work God’s will.
In his June 16 sermon, Pastor Arek O’Connell reminds us that God knows us better than we know ourselves, and God knows when we have the potential to be pushed to even greater faith. Arek shared with us the shocking news when he found out his dad was murdered. Arek had a choice to make: give in to the temptation to be bitter and angry or embrace the trial to grow his faith. Ultimately, Arek chose the trial and today, as an ordained minister, can minister to people who have also experienced the senseless passing of a close family member. Arek can honestly say, “I know how that feels and with God’s grace, here’s how I worked through the trial.”
In James 1:4, God’s trials help us develop a faith that has tenacity and determination and that perseverance is necessary so that our faith is mature and complete.
So how do you equip yourself for a trial from God? In verse 5, James instructs us to ask God for wisdom – wisdom defined as asking God for His insight and strength. (Charles Spurgeon, sermon 735, Feb 17, 1866)
The Bible also provides a guide to prayer for the trial. It’s ok to pray that God allows this trial to pass. Jesus did just before He was betrayed and arrested. But if God’s answer is no, then Paul’s prayer becomes vital – that God gives you strength and grace to embrace your trial.
God’s trials are not events, but processes that take the rest of your life. To those in that trial, you serve as an inspiration to others. And you know how to provide support to others in a similar trial. Various ministries at Hillside do a fantastic job of support. When we share our trials and ask for support, that serves as a great bonding of Christian love. (If no one at Hillside had any trials from God, would we still have the communal, life-affirming cohesion of Christ’s love?)
I must confess I’ve personally never been challenged by a life-changing trial from God. I’ve never had a life-threatening disease or permanent disability. And I’ve never had to grieve the death of my parents, wife, or child. So, I can’t say with certainty that if faced with a challenge to my faith, that I would embrace that as a trial from God. As a Christian, I know the only comfort I need is the fact that I belong to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. My challenge will be to spiritually internalize that to face whatever trial God brings to me. Dr. Lutzer puts it this way: “God has absolute
sovereignty in the universe. That means that evil is a part of a larger plan of God. Of course, I do not mean to imply that God either does or approves of it.”
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds. James 1:2
by Bob VerBurg