I used to think God was picking on me if I was going through a rough time. It seems, over my lifetime, I have had more than my fair share of trials, trouble, and tribulation. Most recently, breast cancer reappeared five years after I was declared “cancer free.” My first impulse was to think “not again.” Then I realized my pursuit of a comfortable, secure, problem-free life is not scriptural.
In 1 Peter 4:12, the apostle says we should not be surprised by the “fiery trials” that come upon us. God uses adversity to not only reveal Himself to us in new ways, but also to test our faith, develop Christ-like character in us, and bring glory to His Name. As recorded in the gospel of John, Jesus warned His disciples of the cost of following Him. Because the world hated and persecuted Him, it would hate and persecute them also. Fortunately, adversity does not have the last word. God promises to redeem our painful experiences and bring good from our suffering (Romans 8:28, Genesis 50:20.)
Holy Spirit provided two excellent resources that changed my perspective on adversity. The first is this quote from A. W. Tozer I read in a devotional:
“God is looking for people through whom He can do the impossible – what a pity we plan only the things that we can do by ourselves.” I would add to this quote “only the things with a predictable outcome, only the things that feel comfortable or familiar, only the things that don’t require faith, sacrifice or suffering on our part.”
God wants us to know Him by personal experience. For too many years I remained distant from God, knowing about Him through reading the Bible, listening to messages at church and conferences, and hearing other people’s testimonies of their experience. I hesitated to fully embrace a personal relationship because I was afraid of what God might ask me to do. I wanted to remain in charge of my life and in control of my circumstances. Like I said earlier, I felt like I had already contributed more than my fair share to the suffering fund. Venturing into the unknown, where I might experience situations or circumstances I couldn’t handle, did not appeal to me.
I said I wanted to know God, but I did not want it to cost me anything. Then I read a little book (that second resource) called “Why a Suffering World Makes Sense.” The author is Chris Tiegreen, who writes a daily e-devotional called Faith. Hope. Coffee Break as well many different hard copy devotionals. The simple premise of the book is that only in a fallen world, filled with evil, where we routinely experience suffering and pain, can all of God’s remarkable attributes be displayed. In a perfect world such as heaven, there is no need for compassion, forgiveness, mercy, comfort, healing, or redemption. Perhaps apostle Peter was considering something similar when he thought that the good news being preached by followers of Jesus, inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit, “were things into which angels long to look.” (1 Peter 1: 12)
So, did I really want to know all of God? If so, I had to take seriously Paul’s appeal in Romans 12:1 to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” I also had to heed Jesus’ words, recorded in all four gospels, that “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternity.” (John 12:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24 &, 17:33, Matthew 10:39 & 16:25) I had to put behind me a life focused on this world and embrace the unknown adventure of following Jesus, one day at a time.
I experienced a paradox of God’s Kingdom – that in His Hands, adversity strengthens character, produces spiritual maturity, enlarges the body of Christ, and generates a testimony worth sharing. I discovered:
If I want to know God as Healer, then I must be afflicted physically, mentally, or emotionally.
If I want to know God as Restorer, then I must experience loss.
If I want to know God as Comforter, then I must experience emotional pain.
If I want to know God as Provider, then I must experience lack or deprivation.
If I want to know God as Deliverer, then I must be in bondage to someone or something.
If I want to know God as Merciful, then I must make mistakes and mess up.
If I want to know God as the Prince of Peace, then I must contend with situations that produce confusion, anxiety, and fear.
If I want to know God as Power, then I must admit my own weakness, limitations, and helplessness.
I learned that many of God’s attributes are experienced only in the presence of overwhelming problems, challenging situations, and painful circumstances.
James tells us “Count it all joy my brothers (and sisters), when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness (perseverance). And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1: 2-4, my additions in italics)
Peter encourages his readers to rejoice in their salvation “though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Christ Jesus.” (1 Peter 1: 6-7)
Next time you find yourself like I did in a “fiery trial,” I invite you to consider it an opportunity to personally experience an attribute of God that you only know in theory. Instead of “Why me?”, you could ask “What are you showing me in this situation God and how do you want me to respond?” Then be prepared to receive new revelations, deeper faith, inner healing, and greater trust.