“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.”
Although I love the above verse and think its essential to the Christian life, it’s also one that I’ve struggled with the most (something I’m sure I’m not alone in), especially lately as I continue to grieve the loss of remission and the miracle drugs that gave it to me and deal with the resulting complications for which there are no good or easy solutions (stricturing, ongoing fatigue, bowel obstructions and possible SIBO). The last several years have each presented me with struggles that have tested me and brought me to the point of questioning my faith and the goodness of God. Being joyful about my situation and persevering through it are the last things I want to do, especially the longer the suffering goes on. However God tells us that suffering and trials are essential if we want to grow in our faith.
Think back to when you were a kid. Remember the painful leg cramps that would come along with growth spurts? As painful as they were, you knew that they were bringing you closer to adulthood and freedom (ha if only we knew as kids how hard adulthood would be). I guess you could look at suffering and trials as spiritual growing pains. As painful as they are in the moment, you have to trust that the destination they are leading you to will be worth it. Jesus himself experienced them in the Garden of Gethsemane. Look at these verses:
“‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”
Even on the cross Jesus had to remind himself of the goal:
“Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lemasabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’)”
What Jesus is actually doing here is quoting Psalm 22. As John Piper notes in his interview for DesiringGod.org,
“Psalm 22:22–24 goes like this:
I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.
In other words, this psalm ends with a note of triumph. Jesus isn’t curious, wondering how is this going to turn out? He had embedded in his soul both the horrors of the moment of abandonment, and he had embedded in his soul “for the joy that was set before him.”
John Piper interview, Desiring God
He is using scripture to remind himself of why he is suffering and what is promised to him for obeying. In doing so, Jesus is giving us an example to follow: When suffering, look to scripture and ground yourself in God’s truth. We as humans need lots of reminders and reassurance which is why the scripture is full of them. Going back to the book of James, he doesn’t just stop with those initial verses but spends the rest of the Chapter expanding on his initial statement. Listen to this:
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”
I love this verse! If we endure, there is a heavenly reward waiting for us and that is something worth celebrating. It’s funny how we as humans and especially Christians expect a life free from suffering, as if we are owed it. Ha! God doesn’t owe us anything. Jesus didn’t need to suffer. He could have just left us to suffer the consequences of our sin (complete separation from God) but instead he made it possible for us to share in His reward (a restored relationship with our Creator) and never experience that abandonment. I don’t know about you, but that’s a pretty humbling thought and should give us pause next time we are whining about our circumstances. If Jesus could endure the cross without the presence of God to comfort him, we can certainly endure our trials with it.
God never ceases to amaze me with the way that he gives me these reminders and helps realign my perspective at just the right time. He has given us all the tools that we need to endure our trials but I’m learning that I’m not very good at reaching for them, something I know I’m not alone in. For me, perhaps it has due to growing up with Turner’s Syndrome, but I’ve always had this idea that I have to be in control and prove that I can be independent and do things on my own. My journey with Crohn’s has only made this more obvious as I research diet after diet and treatment plan after treatment plan, looking for some way to gain control over my raging immune system. The overwhelming truth that God is showing me in all this is that no matter what I or my doctors try, the outcome is ultimately in His hands. Whatever happens, He will get me through. I am finally beginning to see the beauty and freedom that comes from giving up control because it means I no longer have to carry this exhausting burden by myself like Jesus did.
My goal in 2020 is to follow Jesus’ example and ground myself in Scripture. I’ve found that the easiest way for me to do this is to use the Bible app on my phone. There are many short devotionals on it available for download and this has been extremely helpful for when I’m transiting to work and don’t want to drag my Bible with me. I also take a quick glance at the verse of the day. By starting out my day in God’s word, I find I’m better prepared to face whatever might come my way knowing who is in control. Finally, I am making more of an effort to stay connected to God in prayer. Prayer is probably the most beautiful act of surrender there is and essential to growing in ones faith walk. I find writing out my prayers to be super helpful because I have this tendency to surrender something to God in prayer and then try and take back control of the issue or situation. By writing on my prayers, I have a way to look back on what I was struggling with and see how God was in control. Growth is a continual process and I know that my struggle with control issues will be something I constantly have to work on but I cannot wait to see what God next.
“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?”