What is a Christian to do when faced with disappointment, disaster, or despair? Scripture teaches us that “we know all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Yet when we encounter difficulties, we often wonder, Why? Searching for answers and learning to view “bad things” as avenues to “good things” are disciplines that God wants His children to develop as they mature spiritually. (See I Corinthians 2:14 and Romans 8:16–17.)
When you respond to God’s grace and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, 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 the tests and trials you face to develop your character and ministry. By responding to trials with God’s grace, 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 temperance [self-control]. (See Galatians 5:22–23.)
“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 sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (I Peter 4:12–13).
The Trials and Distresses We Encounter
Below are brief descriptions of eight types of trying situations that every Christian will likely face at some point:
- Fiery trials: intense encounters or struggles; bursts of anger, grief, or lust
- Infirmities: physical limitations or illnesses
- Reproaches: ridicule and rejection on account of faith
- Persecutions: harassment and oppression due to religious convictions
- Necessities: wear and care of daily responsibilities
- Distresses: disappointments and deep emotional 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 whenever 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. “We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto 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 challenging situation is the most difficult and unnatural thing you can do. Yet, Scripture is very clear about this response: “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (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 works with rejoicing.”
Sadly, most of us respond with murmuring or complaining when we face hardship of any kind—emotional, spiritual, mental, or physical. However, we are encouraged in Scripture to have a different response: “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 2:14–15).
Thanking God in all things does not mean that we thank God for evil. Rather, we are to thank God in the midst of all things.
Along with giving thanks, we also are instructed to rejoice in all things: “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). Thanking God is an act of the will, while rejoicing is a response of the spirit. Therefore, it is possible to be both 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 He will do in our lives through our suffering.
We should try to discern the positive benefits that could come about through the situation. Ask yourself the question, “Why did God allow this to happen?” Tests and trials give us opportunities to know God better. The Apostle Paul elaborated on the ultimate benefit believers gain through suffering: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. . . . We are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which 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 Scripture. For example, when Satan urged Christ to turn stones into bread, Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 8:3: “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of 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, trials, 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 ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you” (John 15:7).
As you meditate on the truth of God’s Word, which is quick (living) and powerful (see Hebrews 4:12), you can learn to effectively battle the enemy of your soul, Satan, with the sword of the Spirit. Satan not only tempts people to sin, but he also tries to tempt toward discouragement and despair when trials come.
4. Cry out to God.
Perhaps the greatest reason God takes us through trials in life is to bring us to the firm conclusion that we need Him. What is God’s purpose in giving us commands that seem impossible to carry out? He desires to work powerfully through our lives (see Psalm 18:28–29); therefore, we must learn to depend on Him. He alone must become our source of strength, provision, protection, direction, comfort, and peace.
God has the ability to protect us from every trial or distress. However, He often chooses instead to deliver, strengthen, or preserve 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 would make life miserable for them. (See Matthew 5:44.) Instead of following their natural inclinations, Jesus’ directions are completely the opposite:
- 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 of evil, but overcome evil with 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 promised blessing, we know that it will include the power of genuine love. “Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren . . . Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should 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 thoughts, 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: “And the LORD turned the captivity 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 in the following list:
- The strength of Godly character
“We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto 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).
- Heavenly rewards
“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 tests, trials or temptations that are too overwhelming for us. He will grant us grace to be overcomers. In I Corinthians 10:12–13, the Apostle Paul exhorts us with these words: “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”