The other day I heard someone tell the story of what his friend once told him was his ideal life. His friend said he hoped to be living on a beach somewhere in Hawaii, with a simple hut that had a satellite dish so he could watch a lot of TV. He didn't want to experience any stress. He didn't want to be bothered with long conversations. In general, he didn't want to have to interact with very many people. This was his picture of stress-free life.
If you were given the ability to carve out the ideal version of your earthly life, what would you want it to look like? Would you be by yourself or are other people included in your vision? What are some of the stresses that bother you now that you would make certain to not include?
As fun or interesting as it may be to try to imagine what an easy life might look like, the reality is that isn't something we've been promised on this earth. In fact, when you look at what Scripture tells us, we're encouraged not to be surprised or discouraged by our trials. These things will come and the Lord has a purpose for them.
What else does His word tell us about the trials and difficulties we might experience as those who trust in Jesus Christ?
1. Something strange isn't happening to you
I have a complicated last name. I'm glad my parents gave me an easy first name because it usually takes people a while to learn how to spell or pronounce my last name. Twice this past week, I experienced people mistakenly adding an "R" to "Stange" which then turns the word into "strange." I will admit to being somewhat strange, but I haven't adopted that word as my surname.
But this passage makes use of the word "strange" and it tells us that when we're in the midst of difficult and fiery trials, we shouldn't consider that to be overly odd or strange. In fact, we're told here to not even be surprised when such things take place. I guess that means we should actually expect some trials to come our way, as difficult as that may be to do.
When you experience a trying season of life, how do you typically respond to it? Do you resent it? Do you consider it a form of punishment from God? Do you question God's fairness in allowing you to go through it?
Many believers mistakenly go through life thinking that God has shallow goals for their lives. It can be easy for us to start thinking that just because our goal for our earthly life is stress-free happiness, that that's God's goal too, but that's simply not the case. Our Lord desires that our faith grow strong. Our Lord wants to produce holiness in our lives. His plan for you goes much deeper than your plans may have gone up to this point.
For that reason, the Lord graciously allows our faith to be tested. A tested faith is a genuine faith. A tested faith is a strong faith. Trials and tests differentiate who truly believes in Jesus and who doesn't. Trials and tests do a great job of convincing your own heart that you truly believe.
If you're going through a testing season right now, realize that something strange isn't happening to you. This is, in fact, quite normal and will most certainly have a long-term good effect on you and the depth of your faith.
2. Rejoice in the midst of your suffering
Keep in mind that suffering is only a temporary thing. Sometimes, we tend to catastrophize our pain and treat a temporary concern like a permanent reality. But those who know Jesus can learn to see beyond our temporary pain. We have been blessed with joy in Christ that isn't dependent on our circumstances.
When we suffer on this earth, particularly when we're suffering at the hands of others because of our willingness to live out our faith in Christ, we can rejoice because we're experiencing the same kind of treatment Jesus received during the course of His earthly ministry. The Scripture speaks of our suffering in this context as sharing in Christ's sufferings. In those moments, the testimony of our life is saying that we love Christ more than we love the praise or kind treatment of other people. We don't want to idolize the comforts of this world over Jesus. He's the one who is to be the ultimate object of our affection.
We can also rejoice in our suffering because we've been told what's coming next. As those who have displayed a genuine faith that bears itself out in a willingness to suffer for Christ, we're also told that we can look forward to the blessings of living in the midst of His eternal glory when that glory is finally revealed.
Suffering may be part of our present, but it won't be part of our future. Our hope isn't anchored in our momentary circumstances. Our hope is anchored in Christ and our eyes can see future blessings by faith, that He has in store for us.
In all honesty, I pity those whose greatest desire for comfort is tied to the present moment. It's the most short-sighted way a person can choose to live.
3. Don't be ashamed if you're insulted
So, let's say you choose to go about your life on this earth joyfully looking forward to what Christ has in store, and not willing to anchor your greatest hopes to temporary things. If that's what you do, what might you experience at the hands of others? As your faith becomes more and more apparent, and your beliefs become more and more audible, what might you receive from others? This Scripture cautions us to understand that we might be insulted for bearing the name of Christ. Have you ever experienced something like that? How did it feel?
Growing up, I didn't have very many friends who shared my faith. The few I had didn't live anywhere near me. When the Lord got a hold of my life, I can remember two distinct times during that season as a young Christian when I was insulted in hurtful ways. I remember being ridiculed by my neighborhood friends when I came home from working at a Christian Summer camp for the first time. I also remember being made fun of for getting a cross and a Bible fashioned on my senior class ring. My guess is that there are plenty of people who speak poorly about my faith today as well, it's just that when you're an adult, you learn to be more covert about it.
But God's word tells us not to be ashamed if and when we're insulted for following Christ. Some professing Christians will never experience this, for two reasons. First, they may not be very open about their faith and therefore few people know what they believe. Second, some believers don't spend enough time interacting with or building genuine friendships with unbelievers, and as a result, they rarely put themselves in a context where someone might take issue with their beliefs.
Still, if someday you are insulted or cursed by others because you follow Christ, don't forget what this Scripture tells us. This world may curse you, but God will bless you. His Spirit rests upon all who bear the name of Christ.
We're cautioned here not to lump suffering for Christ in the same category as suffering for practicing evil. If we practice murder, theft, or other forms of evil, we can expect to suffer as well, but that's a different story all together. The insults we might receive in a context like that would be earned and expected. But if we're insulted for living with a sincere, faith-filled, devotion to Christ, don't be crushed. Rejoice that someone took the time to notice your faith in action.
4. God will use your suffering to refine you
I take a high level of comfort in knowing that the Lord doesn't waste the experiences He allows me to go through. It's easier for me to talk about seasons of suffering that I have experienced when they were a long time ago and not very easy to talk about recent seasons. I will admit to you that several years ago I went through a season where I felt abnormally discouraged with a variety of things that were outside of my control. I remember wondering if I should consider taking a decade or two to do something different instead of pastoring.
But the Lord bolstered me up and encouraged me not to quit. He used the experience to refine me, teach me, and frankly, I'm convinced that he used that season of suffering to help me identify areas of sin in my life that I needed to repent of. (I realize pastors aren't supposed to admit that they sin, but I've always been really good at sinning and I think some of you probably already knew that was one of my most prolific skills). Through it all, the Lord reminded me yet again that I can entrust my soul to His care.
I don't know what kind of trials you may have been through or what kind of trials you may be going through at present, but don't let those things surprise or discourage you. From time to time, these things come, but the Lord doesn't waste them at all. He uses them to remind us that our greatest hope and comfort is Jesus Christ. He helps us identify areas of worldliness that have crept into our thinking. And He invites us to rejoice in Him, even when our circumstances look less than favorable. Our Lord is faithful and we can entrust our souls to Him.
© John Stange, 2017