Enduring Life’s Trials
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience (endurance or perseverance). But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect (mature) and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-4
In 1970, there was a hit song that topped the chart for over 5 weeks called “Rose Garden” by country singer Lynn Anderson. The lyrics of the chorus:
“I beg your pardon. I never promised you a rose garden. Along with the sunshine there’s gotta be a little rain sometimes.”
It’s funny how songs stick in your mind over the years. Since hearing this song, the term “rose garden” has always been equated to me as being a utopian state, where everything is always “rosy” and perfect.
In some places Christianity today is being sold to people as a “rose garden.” Or maybe it is being misinterpreted by some as such. Whatever the case, there is this notion that as Christians we will no longer encounter difficulty because as children of God, we are protected from life’s difficulties, or we can now use our relationship with God to manipulate our circumstances in our favor, by “believing” our way into positive situations that always work out to make life “easy” for us.
In reality, it is more likely that the opposite will be true. Rather than side stepping or running from difficult circumstances in our lives, we are now directed to face them head on. Our loving heavenly Father now gives us the means to go through the difficulties, rather than numbing ourselves with drugs, alcohol, or whatever other means of escape we use.
Going through trials is the only way that we can mature. Although painful, it’s for our good, and produces “good fruit” in our lives such as patience, strength, endurance, longsuffering, understanding of other’s trials, righteousness, holiness, etc. As we go though one trial, it prepares us for the next trial. In time, we are able to find such strength that we can even find joy in the midst of sorrow, and find peace in the midst of a storm.
Fortunately, the Scriptures give us direction about facing trials. I would like to share what I have found to be true from the Word.
There is an account in 1 Samuel 30 about a situation that David encountered that has always been instructive to me in this area. Here’s the start of the story in my words: David is living in a place called Ziklag with his wives and children, along with about 400 other men and their families. These other men are warriors or soldiers who have joined forces with David during his exile from King Saul of Israel. At this time, David and his men had developed a relationship with the Philistines. They go to the Philistines with the thought of joining forces with them against King Saul and the Israelites but they are rejected. Upon returning to Ziklag, they learn that an enemy of theirs, the Amalekites, has raided their city, burning their homes, plundering their valuables, and taking their families captive. I’ll pause here.
What typically happens is that we are taken by surprise by our trials. It’s like being punched when we are off balance and we stagger backwards. Remember that the battle is in our minds; it’s about how we think. This is why it is critical that we recognize that these circumstances will come upon us. I don’t think that David and his men were expecting this turn of events, and that it was a shock to them. I’m sure that they were hit hard and staggered backwards. The Bible says that :
“David and the people who were with him lifted up their voices and wept, until they had no more power to weep….David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of the people was grieved, every man for his sons and his daughters.”
It is what we do next that matters. It is how we recover from the blow; how we regain our stance and reset ourselves in the fight. This is a mental exercise. David does this next:
“But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.”
In the King James version, the translation is “encouraged himself”. The Hebrew word for strengthened or encouraged is “chazaq” meaning “to be or grow firm or strong” with the idea being that one is recovering to a place that is firm, rigid or immovable. We must anchor our hearts on the “Rock” when we encounter such trials.
Note that David strengthens himself “in the Lord his God.” David does not go to another man, nor does he look “within himself”, but he finds this strength in the Lord and leans entirely on Him. In times of trouble, we must look to the Lord Jesus and the Father. Only listen to men who will point you upwards, and support you in strengthening yourself in the Lord. Don’t look to the world or to the wisdom of men. Don’t look to men who would have you rely on them instead of pointing you to God. The only true strength will come “in the Lord.”
So what exactly does David do to “strengthen himself in the Lord”? This section of the Scriptures in 1 Sam. is not that explicit, but I believe we can gain insight into what David did next by looking at his other writings, namely the Psalms that he wrote. If you think about it, David’s Psalms were written to reflect the way that he thought, especially when going through difficult times in his life. David was alone and either praying or meditating on the things of God when he wrote the Psalms. I believe that the Psalms give us a great insight into the times that he was strengthening himself in the Lord.
From the Psalms, I see the following that David does to strengthen himself in the Lord (there are many verses from Psalms that support these concepts, but I have selected verses from Psalm 18):
Establish who God is
“As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him.” Psalm 18: 30
David re-establishes in his mind that God is King of Kings forever, and that He is almighty God, the Creator of heaven and earth. And not only is He the almighty King of Kings, but He is just and righteous, and is the one who brings justice upon the wicked, and mercy to those who honor Him and put their trust in Him. In time of trial we need to re-set the foundation of our beliefs in our minds. We need to step back and see things with God included.
I sometimes have to take things back to the lowest foundation in my mind. I have to remind myself that I have reached the conclusion that this beautiful and complex world has to have been created by a superior master designer. And that I have come to know that this Creator God is the God who has revealed Himself in the Bible and who has sent Jesus. Yes, and I have come to know this amazing, and all powerful God of the universe!
Know that God hears us
“In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple, and my cry came before Him, even to His ears.” Psalm 18: 6
David establishes that God hears his cry for help and is mindful of him. He’s not just “talking to the air, or wasting his words, but God hears and is aware of these circumstances. The Bible is very clear that, as amazing as it is, God not only knows us in general, but he knows every detail about us. He has the hairs on our heads counted and numbered. He knows what we need before we even ask for it. Very hard for us to comprehend how this is possible, but true as per His revealed Word. Rest assured that God hears our prayers and knows our circumstances personally.
Remember the past miracles
“It is God who avenges me, and subdues the peoples under me; He delivers me from my enemies. You also lift me up above those who rise against me; You have delivered me from the violent man.” Psalm 18: 47-48
David reminds himself of what God had done for him in the past, remembering the many times that God has come to his aid. We so easily forget what God has done for us. It is well worth the effort to bring back to remembrance the miracles of the past. One of the greatest flaws of humanity is our forgetfulness. I like to write things down in a journal and then read through these things periodically. Obviously, refreshing ourselves on the memory of the miracles of the past strengthens our ability to trust Him for the present.
Establish your trust in Him alone
“It is God who arms me with strength, and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of deer, and sets me on my high places. He teaches my hands to make war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.” Psalm 18: 32 – 34
David establishes that God alone is his strength, and the One in whom he will trust. God is our fortress, our refuge, our deliverer, our shield, our high tower that we run to for protection. We must establish this in our hearts and not let any other person or thing replace this. We know this in our head, but we must make it a reality. We must make it impact our emotions, removing the anxiety and bringing peace. Take time to meditate and allow this truth to sink deeply into your thoughts until the peace and comfort comes. We must exercise our faith to make this happen. As we persist over time in this ability to trust and endure through a trial, we may need to spend this time to establish our trust often, even daily.
Examine yourself for a clear conscience; God rewards righteousness
“The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me. For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God. For all His judgments were before me, and I did not put away His statutes from me. I was also blameless before Him, and I kept myself from my iniquity. Therefore the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in His sight. With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful; with the blameless man You will show Yourself blameless; with the pure You will show Yourself pure; and with the devious You will show Yourself shrewd. For you will save the humble people, but will bring down haughty looks.” Psalm 18: 20-27
David looks to himself and asks for mercy for his own sins and shortcomings, clearing and cleansing his conscience before the Lord, and submitting himself to the Lord’s authority. We must humble ourselves and be sure that we are not in sin, that our conscience is clear. Many times the difficulties we face are a part of God’s loving discipline. Remember that His discipline is for our own good, to help us, strengthen us, and release us from bondage. If we find that there is something on our conscience that must be corrected, bring it before the Lord, asking forgiveness.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
True repentance means that we turn from our sins with the intention to never engage in the same activity again. Sometimes we need to deal with the root cause that is some part of our flesh that needs to die.
We cannot expect help from God if we are knowingly continuing in sin and disobedience. The Lord is serious about sin and expects us to remove any wickedness from our lives.
Ask for God’s help
“I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised; so shall I be saved from my enemies.” Psalm 18: 3
David appeals to God for mercy and help in his current circumstances. We must ask. We must seek Him for a solution or deliverance. This way He receives the glory when the resolution comes.
Read through any of the Psalms yourself with this in mind and see how David encouraged and strengthened himself. And yes, if you find yourself in need of encouragement, the Psalms are a good place to go to help meet this need.
Once David has strengthened and encouraged himself in the Lord, his next action is to seek God for explicit direction in his circumstance.
“So David inquired of the Lord saying, ‘Shall I pursue this troop? Shall I overtake them?’ And He answered him. ‘Pursue, for you shall surely overtake them and without fail recover all.’”
Does this apply for us today? Yes, I believe it does. We may not get explicit direction, but we will get direction, one way or another, and we should ask God to give us this direction. God can direct us through circumstances by opening or closing doors for us. Or He can impress on us what we should do next. I even believe that we can hear that still small voice in our hearts that give us explicit direction. Be cautious with this though, because in the heat of our trials, we can be open to hearing what we want to hear and miss what the Lord is saying. My experience is that we learn over time what is God voice or direction and what is not. He does say “My sheep hear My voice.” We can surely come to know the Shepherd’s leading. Most times we must patiently wait on Him for the answer, proving our faithfulness. Sometimes we hear and know His direction early and must take a step of faith. Other times we must wait for Him to move on our behalf.
David’s direction was clear. He obeyed God’s directive and God’s words were fulfilled. David overtook the enemy that had taken captive his goods and family. Not only were all things restored to David and his men, but God also allowed them to take the spoils from the enemy when they were defeated so that the latter state was better than the former. David was able, from the spoils, to send presents to the elders of Judah and his friends.
In this story, David’s trial is resolved quickly. For many of us (and for David as well), the trials last much longer, even for years. God, in His wisdom, knows what is best for us. Regardless of the length of the trial, the strength comes from the same place as David found it, as does the direction. Be assured that God is faithful, and He is able to do far beyond what we even think is possible. As I look back on my life, I can testify that this is true. You can too, I’m sure. Let’s continue in this way and be clear about what needs to be done, taking David’s example as a means of endurance for our present and future trials, with the end result that we would be “perfect, mature, complete and lacking nothing.”