I spent seven and a half years living in Phoenix Arizona. And while it’s true what they say about it being a “dry heat”, it’s still HOT!
Summertime is always the worst there. One summer in particular, I recall the temperature reaching 120 degrees. You haven’t ever truly been hot until you’ve been in Phoenix in the summer!
Whether it is 72 or 120 degrees outside, life goes on. There are still places to go, errands to run, and kids to drive around. You don’t get to simply stay inside in the air conditioning and wait it out. So I learned some ways to deal with it, some tactics if you will.
I learned that a good parking spot was not so much about closeness to the store, but where I could find shade. I learned that seatbelts get really really hot, so I better take along a washcloth to put between the buckle and my children’s skin. I learned that drinking water mattered more in the desert than it ever did in San Diego. I learned that the best time to go grocery shopping was early in the morning or later at night so that I didn’t have to take my kids out in the heat. And I learned that sometimes, you really do need a pot holder to drive your car.
And for those times when there was just no avoiding the heat of the day and the ghastly high temperatures, I tried to be fast. I wanted so badly to just get those errands done quickly and get back home. Home was where it was cool and comfortable.
I always just wanted to get out of the heat and get back to what felt good again.
This is true for all of us when it comes to trials in life, isn’t it?
As soon as something difficult comes into our lives, we just want it to be over. I know I do! I desperately want “normal” life back. I want comfortable. I want the hard thing to go away, and leave me in peace. This is human nature. That’s why when we touch a hot stove, we pull back quickly. Our mind sends that “get away quick” signal to our hand, and we pull back. Our brain does the same thing when we encounter trials and hardships in life. It tells us to do whatever it takes to get out of that uncomfortable situation and get back to what feels good, and safe. We all feel that way, and no one blames us for doing so.
But what does God’s word say?
James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything”
I also like the way The Message puts it. “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work, so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”
Wow. That’s a tough passage to really get behind isn’t it? Don’t try to rush the trial, your true faith is being developed under pressure. Consider it joy. Let it do it’s work.
If you are currently experiencing a trial, I can practically hear you saying, “Easier said than done! I don’t want this trial, I didn’t ask for it, it is painful, and I don’t really see how this is helping me at all”
If you’ve been a Follower of Jesus for more than five minutes, you know that accepting Christ is not some kind of free pass on hardship. It didn’t happen for the disciples that way, and Jesus warns us many times in scripture that we will endure difficulties. In John 16:33, Jesus tells us, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Sometimes, without even knowing it, we are asserting our American way of thinking, into the spiritual realm.
In the great country of America, if you work hard, and do your best to improve, and become a better you in every way, life gets better. The possibilities are endless. Dream big, work hard, give it your all, and in time, you can have the life you want. You can have the ease and comfort you strive for. But when it comes to our spiritual lives, this is not the case. We cannot simply improve ourselves to the point of ease. We cannot try harder and be “good enough” to never have hard times in our lives. God doesn’t grade on a curve. Trials are a part of every person’s life. Matthew 6:34 says “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” This is God letting us know that you, and I, and all of humanity, for all time, will have troubles.
But God wastes none of our pain. And He doesn’t waste the precious gift of time.
“Let perseverance finish it’s work…” Tough times change us, don’t they? Every challenge I have faced has changed me a little bit. Some have changed me more than a little bit. But as I have encountered difficulties, I have never encountered them alone. The Lord has been with me in the fire every time. And as each one has passed; I have been able to look back and see growth in my life. I think differently afterward. I have a greater understanding of the purpose of God in my life. I am more compassionate toward others. I learned that the “stove was hot” and that I better leave it alone! And each time, I mature a little bit too.
If God were to answer every prayer I prayed exactly the way I prayed it, not only would I make a giant mess of things, but I wouldn’t learn anything. And since I can’t really hurry the trial along any faster, I may as well grow in it. I think what God is saying to us in James 2:4 is “being miserable and wishing it was over won’t help, but seeing what I’m up to while it’s happening is where you’ll find peace. And purpose.”
I am certain that if you took out some paper and listed all the trials or difficulties that you have had in your life, and what you learned or how you changed as a result of having gone through them, you would see purpose. You could make a road map of your spiritual growth. And that growth is your testimony. It’s what God is doing and has done to complete you and make you to be more like the image of His Son. If we were to graph out our spiritual growth, we would see plainly that in the biggest times of trial, the most growth occurs.
I know that you know this is true. I know you’ve heard it before. I know it isn’t new. But I bet you needed to hear it again. I bet we all need the reminder that, in our hurt, God is at work. We need to remember that tough times are a normal part of everyone’s life. That God isn’t “mad at us” and He didn’t forget about us. But that there is purpose in the pain. And that He is working something good through it.
Mark 9:49 says that “Everyone is salted with fire.” Or some versions say, “seasoned with fire”. Salt, or seasoning, improves flavor. It also serves to tenderize meat. It can also enhance the color of food and provide nutrients needed to sustain balance in our bodies. If we apply the same idea of trials “salting” us, then we begin to get the picture of why they grow us and how that is good for our souls. Since we know that we can’t escape trials, we need to learn to let them season us, enhance our lives, and tenderize our hearts. And most importantly, to provide the needed nutrients to cause growth in us.
Nothing is wasted with God.
When trials come (and they will) you always have a choice in how you will respond. Will you allow them to make you BITTER or BETTER?
The first step of faith and trust is up to us. How will you respond?
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