Trials or Missed Opportunities?

James 1:2-4 says

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

A careful study of the Word of God will teach us that, while God takes us as we are when we come to him, he does not leave us there. Jesus famously told the Pharisees that he came for the sick, not the healthy. He came for the sick to heal them, not so they could remain sick. Constantly throughout the Scriptures, we are exhorted to grow up in our faith, to put off the old man, to mortify the deeds of the flesh, to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.

We are also told that the God ordained tool for accomplishing this in our lives is trials. James is not the only one who tells us this. 1 Peter 1:6-7 says,

In this you rejoice, 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 Jesus Christ.

The writer of Hebrews expresses the same concepts in Hebrews 12:5ff

…”My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives”…. he disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

We also see the same truth embedded in Paul’s expression of God’s Sovereignty to the Romans in chapter 8, verse 28 when he says

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…

Most believers are aware of these truths, but they hit me upside the head in a new way today. What struck me was that I think I miss out on God’s good gifts!

Read James again carefully and you’ll see a strange truth that isn’t quite as clearly reflected in the others. James doesn’t present our approach to trials as a ship weathering a storm by battening down the hatches and just waiting for things to pass. No, James tells us to rejoice in our trials. What does that mean to rejoice in our trials? It means just that when trials happen it should make us overflow with elation that God is working in us to perfect our faith in Him! That’s a radical and profound truth that you have to roll around in your mind for a while before it sinks in. And I stink at obeying it. For two reasons. The first is that when I recognize I’m in a trial, I’m so good at having a bad attitude when I should really be rejoicing. But the second is the one that blew me away today. There are times I don’t even realize I’m in a trial!

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not because I can’t know. It’s not like you can go through these trials and not even know it. Would that that were the case! It’s the spiritual growth plan to match all of those “eat whatever you want” diet scams out there. Who wouldn’t sign up for that? No it’s in the pain of trials that we grow in our faith and draw nearer to God. The pain is the important part.

So what do I mean when I say I don’t realize I’m in a trial? Just simply that I don’t recognize that what I’m going through at the moment is actually a trial. See I don’t know about you, but I have a habit of thinking that trials have to be big things. Losing a job. Major sickness. Extreme persecution. Turbulent Relationships. These big things are the kinds of things that come to mind when I think of trials. You know what doesn’t come to mind when I think of trials. “I didn’t get time today to write the code I wanted to on the major development project on my plate because I had to deal with like a 1,000 support requests all afternoon. UGH!” Guess what? That’s a trial! It is a set of circumstances designed by our Sovereign Lord to test my faith and develop perseverance. And if that’s my response to it (as it typically is), then I failed, man!

I realized this when I got home after being gone for the weekend. While I was away, I got a speeding ticket. Well not exactly. I earned a speeding ticket on January 18 when I sped past a speeding camera that I knew was there because I’m an idiot. What I got this weekend was a notice in the mail about it. It’s worse than that because this was the second notice! It kindly informed me that since I had failed to pay my fine by the February 21 deadline they gave me in my first notice, I was being charged an additional $25 as a late fee, which I should pay immediately in order to avoid certain consequences.

Here’s the catch: I never received a first notice. I’m tearing the house apart to make sure I didn’t just miss it, but unless I find it soon, I would be willing to swear in court on penalty of perjury that I never got a first notice.

I could have gotten very angry and frustrated about this. How dare they charge me a late fee for something I didn’t even know about! Further, aren’t speeding and stop light cameras a violation of the 4th and 6th Amendments? And what’s with speed limits anyway? People who behave in their own rational self interest drive at a safe speed no matter what’s posted. People who don’t behave in their own rational self interest will drive at an unsafe speed no matter what’s posted. There’s no way you can convince me that speed limits increase safety. It’s all just revenue enhancement!

Yeah, all these thoughts went through my head, but ultimately, God gave me the grace to handle this in a Christ honoring manner. I went online and looked up the video of the citation and I can’t dispute it. Despite my misgivings with the law, I will obey Romans 13 and pay the fine. But I dont’ think that it is against the principals of Scripture to at least try to appeal the late fee, which I’m in the process of doing. I could only be ok with this by God’s grace. (Edit: by “appeal the late fee”, I do not mean that I’m going through any official court proceedings. I’m just trying to get ahold of a detective with the Dayton police who would be able to tell me if I can get it waived. If she won’t waive it for me, then I’ll just pay it. $25 isn’t worth court costs or anything).

I was praying about it this afternoon and prayed that God would help me handle the situation as Christ would. And immediately I thought to myself, “This is a trial.” But then I immediately dismissed it. I had looked at the money, and I can afford to pay the fine, even if they don’t waive the late fee. I’d rather not, but it’s not going to break the bank to have to do this. So I thought to myself. Nah, it’s not a trial. It’s just a nuisance. An inconvenience. I got this.

And it was in that moment of debating myself on what constitutes as a trial that it hit me. It’s as though I had believed that if I could handle something, it must not be a trial. Trials must only be those things that I need God’s help to handle. But really, don’t I need God’s help to handle everything? Isn’t that one of the things I’m supposed to be learning in my trials? And aren’t they also supposed to be teaching me to have a Christ like attitude even if it is something I can handle? After all, the immediate, incidental problem is not the point of the trial! It’s my attitude and the faith I have in Christ. I can handle something just fine, but if I’m grumbling at the Lord, or if I’m self-confidently relying on my own strength, then I need to be corrected!

How many trials do I miss and fail to count joy because I call them “inconveniences”  or “nuisances.” I can take care of them, but I’d rather not because they get in the way of what I want to do, as though I’m somehow in control of my life! Wow!

So if you see me looking sullen and it seems like I’m frustrated about general business, maybe you can encourage me to recognize the trials that the Lord is using. Remind me that they’re supposed to make me rejoice!

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