Facing Trials And Tests With Grace
What is a Christian to do when faced with disappointment, disaster, and despair? Scripture teaches us that “And we know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints. ” (Romans 8:28). Yet when we encounter difficulties, we often wonder, Why? Searching for answers and learning to view “bad things” as “good things in disguise” are disciplines that God wants His children to develop as they mature spiritually. (See I Corinthians 2:14 and Romans 8:1–17.)
When you respond to God’s grace and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and follow Him in baptism you are “born again” into the Kingdom of God. At the moment of salvation, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in your spirit. He confirms your relationship with God, comforts you, and leads you into all truth. (See Romans 8:16, John 14:16–17 and 16:13.)
God begins the supernatural work of transforming you, His child, into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ, Who was and is perfect. (See Romans 8:29.) As you mature in your faith, God uses tests and trials to develop your character and ministry. By responding to trials in the grace of God, you will experience the power of God’s Spirit, which will be manifested in your life through the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control. (See Galatians 5:22–23.)
“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.” (I Peter 4:12–13).
The Trials and Tests We Encounter
Below are brief descriptions of eight types of tests that every Christian will likely face:
Fiery trials: intense encounters or struggles; bursts of anger, grief, or lust
Infirmities: physical limitations and illnesses
Reproaches: ridicule and rejection on account of faith or holiness
Persecutions: harassment and oppression due to religious convictions
Necessities: wear and care of daily responsibilities
Distresses: disappointments and deep hurts
Tribulations: unusual pressures and challenges
Temptations: opportunities to yield to our sinful nature
Your Response Makes All the Difference
The Apostle Paul regarded these “tests” as opportunities to grow spiritually. Instead of despairing when he encountered trials, Paul said he would glory in his infirmities so that the power of Christ would rest upon him. (See II Corinthians 12:9.) As we, like Paul, choose to trust God and accept the grace He gives us, Christ’s character will be formed in us. “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).
Unless you accept God’s grace to deal with suffering, inevitably you will become bitter. However, if you choose to trust God to bring about His purposes through the suffering, you can avoid the trap of bitterness and grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord. (See II Corinthians 5:7, Ephesians 4:31, Hebrews 12:14–15, and II Peter 3:18.)
You can be confident that God will not allow anything to happen to you without His permission, and He will not let any “bad thing” happen that will not ultimately bring you more good than destruction. (See I Peter 4:12–13, Romans 9:14–24, Isaiah 55:8–9, Job 1:6–12, Genesis 50:20, and Psalm 121.)
How can we take advantage of these opportunities to mature spiritually? The following five responses are keys to enduring tests and trials through God’s grace:
1. Give thanks.
Sometimes being thankful in a difficult situation is the most difficult thing you can do. Yet, Scripture is very clear about this response: “In all things give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you all.” (I Thessalonians 5:18). To be thankful rather than to complain takes a conscious act of the will and a sacrifice of natural desires. Psalm 107:22 appropriately speaks of this choice in terms of a sacrifice: “Let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare his deeds with rejoicing.”
Unfortunately, most of us respond with murmuring or complaining when we face hardship of any kind—emotional, spiritual, mental, or physical. However, through trials, “it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Do all things without murmurings and disputings: that ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:13–15).
Thanking God in all things does not mean that we thank God for evil. It means that we are thanking God for the benefits He intends for us when He allows things to happen.
Along with giving thanks, we also are instructed to rejoice in all things: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4). Thanking God is an act of the will, but rejoicing is a response of the spirit. Therefore, it is possible to be sad and joyful at the same time. We cannot escape the pain of a difficult situation, but we can learn to rejoice in God Himself and in the good things God will do through our suffering.
We should try to discern the positive benefits that could come about through the situation. Ask the question, Why did God allow this to happen? Tests and trials give us opportunities to come to know God better and to bring glory to God.
The Apostle Paul stated: “For whosoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For you have not received the spirit of bondage again in fear; but you have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: Abba (Father). For the Spirit himself giveth testimony to our spirit, that we are the sons of God. And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God, and joint heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him. For I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, that shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:14–18).
When you experience a trial, choose—by faith—to put your trust in God. This choice will help you be more objective and consequently more alert to the reasons why God may have allowed the trial to occur. As you deal with the difficulties, remember the following truths:
Gaining intimate knowledge of Christ exceeds the value of gaining more possessions. (See Philippians 3:8.)
Developing stronger character is more important than getting your own way. (See Hebrews 5:8.)
Demonstrating self-control is more heroic than dominating your competitors. (See Proverbs 25:28.)
Eternal treasures are more valuable than earthly riches. (See Matthew 19:21.)
3. Believe and act on the Word of God.
When Jesus was tested in the wilderness, He responded to each temptation by quoting the written Word. For example, when Satan urged Christ to turn stones into bread, Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 8:3: “not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4). We can follow Jesus’ example and successfully engage in spiritual warfare by proclaiming truth in the face of tests and temptations.
Ephesians 6:17 describes the Word of God as “the sword of the Spirit”—the only offensive weapon in our spiritual armor. Jesus said, “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). They are also the authority by which we can claim the promises of God, since we are told, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask whatever you will, and it shall be done unto you.” (John 15:7).
As you meditate on the truth of God’s Word, which is living and active (see Hebrews 4:12), you can learn to effectively battle the enemy of your soul, Satan, with the sword of the Spirit.
4. Cry out to God.
Perhaps the greatest reason God has for taking us through the trials of life is to bring us to the firm conclusion that we need God. What is God’s purpose in giving us commands that seem impossible to carry out? He desires to work powerfully through our lives; therefore we must learn to depend on Him. He alone must become our source of strength, provision, protection, and direction.
God has the ability to protect us from every trial or distress. Instead, He often chooses to deliver us in the midst of trials. In Psalm 50:15 we are told, “Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” God’s goal through our trials is to strengthen our dependence on Him. We must trust Him to work in the ways and in the time frame that will produce the most good in our lives and the most glory for His name. As we call to the Lord in our distress, He will deliver us.
5. Overcome evil with good.
Jesus gave His disciples a clear set of instructions about responding to those who made life miserable for them. (See Matthew 5:44.) These directions are completely opposite to what we would naturally do:
Love your enemies.
Bless those who curse you.
Do good to those who hate you.
Pray for those who despitefully use you and persecute you.
Such responses would never be a person’s natural tendency, but they do reflect the heart of God: “Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good.” (Romans 12:21).
God promises to give a blessing to those who reward evil with good. Although we cannot fully predict or describe that blessing, we know that it will include the power of genuine love. “And in fine, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, being lovers of the brotherhood, merciful, modest, humble: Not rendering evil for evil, nor railing for railing, but contrariwise, blessing: for unto this are you called, that you may inherit a blessing.” (I Peter 3:8–9).
If you react to a person who offends you and become bitter toward him, you actually put yourself in an emotional prison. Bitterness will control your thought life, your emotions, your free time, and your health. In order to be freed from this prison, you must forgive.
Scripture provides many examples of those who forgave offenders, including Job, Stephen, and Jesus Christ:
Job’s companions were about to encounter God’s wrath, but Job prayed for them and God delivered Job: “The Lord also was turned at the penance of Job, when he prayed for his friends....” (Job 42:10).
Stephen prayed for God to forgive his murderers, even as they were stoning him: “And they stoned Stephen, [who was] calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7:59–60).
Because Jesus was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities (see Isaiah 53:5), we are among the group of people He released when He said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
The Rewards of Responding With Grace
As God faithfully pours out His grace upon us in the midst of each fiery trial, we can endure hardships and overcome the enemy in God’s strength. (See II Chronicles 20:15.) Scripture reveals that there are great rewards for responding to trials with grace, including those listed below:
The strength of Godly character
“And not only so; but we glory also in tribulations, knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience trial; and trial hope; And hope confoundeth not: because the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost, who is given to us.” (Romans 5:3–5).
Exceeding joy in God’s glory
“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s suffering; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (I Peter 4:12–13).
God’s strength in our weaknesses
“. . . Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (II Corinthians 12:9–10).
Fellowship with Christ
“I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ . . . that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death” (Philippians 3:8–10).
“Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:11–12).
Reigning with Christ
“It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: If we suffer, we shall also reign with him” (II Timothy 2:11–12).
God has assured us that He will not permit us to be attacked with trials or temptations that are too overwhelming for us to handle. He will grant us grace to be overcomers. In I Corinthians 10:12–13, the Apostle Paul exhorts us with these words: “Wherefore he that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall. Let no temptation take hold on you, but such as is common to man. And God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able: but will make also with temptation issue, that you may be able to bear it.”