Trials, Tribulations And Afflictions
(Or Suffering for the Sake of the Call)
Christians must really have it easy. Surely, as the children of God, nothing bad
can ever happen to them. If God is truly
their Father and He is filled with love and compassion, it must be true that
all Christians live on easy street.
Every Christian must be wealthy, successful, satisfied and healthy; they
probably never have to deal with any of the problems that plague the rest of
mankind. Yep, I’ll bet these people have
Have you ever encountered that sort of attitude from anyone
or better yet, did you have those expectations before you became a
Christian? Worse yet, were these
expectations the reason that you wanted to become a Christian? The fact of the matter is that the Christian
life is not a life for the faint of heart.
It is not a life devoid of pain and suffering. Quite to the contrary in many instances, it
is a life that experiences difficulties in many forms. The Christian life can feel sort of like
running a gauntlet wondering if you are going to make it all of the way through
before you collapse.
I know many Christian brothers and sisters who have
experienced or are experiencing “trials, tribulations and afflictions” of all
kinds. These are people who are not
being punished by God for some reason although God certainly can and does
correct His children. Many of these
individuals literally deal with a “hell on earth” but remain faithful in their
Christian faith. These problems range
from physical to mental to spiritual to financial to emotional to familial to
societal to social to occupational. In
other words, these problems cover every conceivable aspect of life. It would be impossible for me to list every
imaginable problem faced by the Christian family. However, that impossibility does not prohibit
us from delving into God’s word about this subject.
First of all, let us dispense with the notion that suffering
is a modern phenomenon. From the
earliest records contained in the Bible, mankind has suffered. Commencing with the fall in the Garden of
Eden wherein Adam and Eve were banished to work the remainder of their days
trying to scratch a living from the soil and continuing all of the way through
the imprisonment of the apostle John on the Isle of Patmos where he wrote the
book of Revelation, the Bible is replete with tales of suffering. Whether it be Job as
a righteous man contending with the Satan’s furious assault on his life and his
family or Jesus Christ enduring the hate and fury of the mob before and during
His crucifixion, it seems that no one throughout the Bible was immune from the
trials of life. Even the wisest,
wealthiest, most powerful man in the Bible (King Solomon) dealt with issues
that seemed to overwhelm him at times.
You will remember that he wrote the book of Ecclesiastes and is famous
for the phrase, “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.” If you don’t think Solomon had problems, go
back and read this book. It is an eye
opener. In fact, as I think about it, I
cannot recall anyone in the entire Biblical account who did not deal with tribulations
at some point during his or her life.
That being the case, it is remarkable that people can
actually believe that as Christians, they should be immune somehow from the
difficulties of this life. Query: If Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God
and the only perfect person to ever walk the face of this earth, was not immune
from life’s problems, why do we think that we should be? The answer, of course, is that we shouldn’t
be and we aren’t. Problems and
difficulties are a part of life and for those people who wonder, “Why do we
have to endure these problems?” the answer is Satan, the fall of man and a
sinful world. That is the nutshell
answer to this issue; the expounded version of the answer will have to wait for
another day. Suffice it to say, no matter the reason why we have trials, the
fact of the matter is that these trials exist and we have to deal with them.
If we are going to endure difficulty in this life, no matter
what form that difficulty may take, what should our attitude be and how do we
deal with it? The fact is that people
deal with terrible, horrendous problems every day that try their faith. Some of these problems are almost
incomprehensible. These trials can
challenge the believer to just get through the day and fall into bed each night
exhausted and wondering what tomorrow is going to bring. That being the case, let’s get back to the
seminal question: How do we deal with
James took a rather unusual view of trials in his writings
when he said:
2 My brethren, count it
all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; 3
Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. 4 But let
patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting
nothing. James 1:2-4 (KJV)
We are really supposed to be joyful when we have
problems? Are you kidding me? Nope.
We are to actually be glad when we encounter these difficulties. The reason, according to James, is that the trials
and tribulations of life begin a process.
That process ultimately leads to a certain result. The progression is from trials (or divers temptations) to the trying of your faith to patience
and then letting patience work resulting in perfection (wanting nothing). The truth is that no one, save One, ever
works through this process in a progression to the point where perfection is
reached but it is to be the goal of the Christian, i.e. to become more like
Christ. Along with that we develop
certain attributes including faith and patience.
Peter also addressed the concept of rejoicing in the face of
problems and temptations.
6 Wherein ye
greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in
heaviness through manifold temptations:
7 That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold
that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and
honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: 1 Peter 1:6-7 (KJV)
He indicated that we should greatly rejoice even
though we are weighed down with the temptations of life. Your first thought when you read this may be,
“What was he, some kind of nut??? What
do you mean, greatly rejoice?” Peter
then provides the reason for demonstrating this sort of attitude. The reason is that this “heaviness” will only
be experienced for a season meaning that it is only temporary. Additionally, the reason for trials of faith
is that through those trials you will be refined like gold ultimately resulting
in praise, honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ. These attributes are much more valuable than
gold itself which will ultimately become eternally worthless Keep in mind that what we call “wealth” in
this life, i.e. gold, the heavenly host calls “asphalt” in heaven.
Paul, in his letter
to the Romans, emphasized the point that we should celebrate when we experience
tribulation. He also provides the
reasons, similar to Peter, for his statement.
3 And not only so, but
we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh
patience; 4 And patience, experience; and experience, hope: 5 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. Rom 5:3-5 (KJV)
Once again we see the progression in the spiritual growth of
the believer that comes from tribulations.
That continuum starts with trials that produce patience; the next step
in the continuum is experience coming from patience; hope follows thereafter;
and finally, hope gives us the courage to spread the love of God which is
brought to live within us by the Holy Spirit.
Paul endured to the end of his life in service to Jesus
Christ. The trials and tribulations that
he faced in his ministry brought about a sense of contentment. Contentment is not happiness; it is
satisfaction and he learned to be satisfied no matter what the circumstances.
11 Not that I speak
in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to
be content. 12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound:
every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry,
both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ
which strengtheneth me. Phil 4:11-13
The reason that Paul was able to endure is captured in the
last verse of this passage. He did not
rely upon his own mortal strength but rather he learned to do everything he
needed to do through the immortal strength of Jesus Christ. The strength of Christ is a strength or power
that in the beginning manufactured all of creation and at the end of His life,
endured not just extreme physical pain and suffering but also emotional and
spiritual pain brought on by shouldering the sins of mankind and enduring
separation from almighty God.
In his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul revealed that he was tormented
by a “thorn in the flesh.” Modern
commentators have speculated about this “thorn” but no one is certain what it
actually was. What is known is that Paul
endured it even though he had asked God to remove it from him. God’s answer was, “No. My grace is
enough.” God loved Paul just as He loves
us but there was a larger purpose to be served through Paul’s suffering. That purpose lives through the centuries not
just through Paul’s witness and his writings but the phrase “thorn in the
flesh” is used even today to describe suffering.
7 And lest I should be
exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given
to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should
be exalted above measure. 8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. 9 And he said unto me,
My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in
weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the
power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 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. 2 Cor 12:7-10 (KJV)
Paul did not just write about a joyful attitude when
suffering through the trials of life; he evidenced it. He said that he took pleasure in these trials
for the sake of Christ because when he was at his weakest point, it was then
that he was strong through the power of Jesus Christ.
Timothy addressed this same topic and indicated that all
saints will suffer persecution. We have
indicated how sufferings may be made manifest in a believer’s life but the
point is that suffering is a part of life.
Timothy was no exception; he endured and was delivered out of them by
afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch,
at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me. 12 Yea, and all that will live
godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. 13 But
evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.
2 Tim 3:11-13 (KJV)
There are those who may say that God has not delivered them
despite their faith and their prayers. God
did not deliver Jesus Christ or the apostle Paul from his suffering
either. The question then arises if
suffering can be for a larger purpose than just beyond our limited human
perspective. The answer is that
suffering can serve a much higher and noble purpose than we can imagine. A faithful life lived (endured) with
suffering is a very powerful witness.
Attitude is everything and even though life may be difficult, there is
an end in sight. Once again, I believe
that God is much more concerned about your spiritual condition (and the
spiritual condition of others) than He is about your physical condition.
Some react by saying, “You just don’t understand what I am
going through. No one could deal with
this. No one should have to deal with
what I am dealing with.” God understands
and yes, you can deal with it through the love, power and strength of Jesus
Christ. Can your suffering serve a
higher purpose? Can it be used to
glorify God? If I am correct in what I
have been reading, then we should count ourselves lucky when we endure the
trials of life. That is where God is.
Before people write and berate me for my lack of
understanding, let me share this. I
understand a life filled with pain brought on by cancer at birth initially
diagnosed as terminal. I understand the
pain associated with body braces and casts used to keep a twisting spine
straight. I understand feeling different
because of how you look. I understand
the trials brought on by six major spinal surgeries (three of which were emergencies). I understand the effects of body infections
(staph, e-coli and sepsis) and how they can kill you. I understand the effects of a six week coma
and how it robs you of all of your strength and vitality. I understand close calls with death and the damage
it inflicts on your family. I understand
chronic pain and how it can enslave your body.
I understand nerve damage and how it can render you immobile making life
for you and those you love much more difficult.
I understand how it feels to lay on your back day after day for months
on end in a hospital and at home wondering if you are ever going to be a parent
to your children or a spouse to your mate again. I also understand the deliverance of God and
how that deliverance can be physical but more importantly, spiritual. I also understand of which I speak – a
faithful life lived with suffering is a powerful witness.
The trials of life seem to be getting more difficult with
each passing day. I personally know more
people at this point in my life who are dealing with trials and tribulations
than I have ever known before. These
trials will only become more intense as time goes on. These tribulations overtake the world
following the Rapture of the church in the end times. The Book of Revelation talks about the
Tribulation and then the Great Tribulation which transpires during the Second
Coming of Jesus Christ. Those troubles
will make today’s problems look like nothing in comparison.
Maintain an eternal perspective instead of a temporal
one. Never give up; never
surrender. Remember that your life is a
witness to others even though you may not see it. In his letter to the church at Thessalonica,
Paul addressed persecution and tribulation again:
4 So that we
ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in
all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure: 5 Which is a
manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted
worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer: 6 Seeing it is a
righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; 7 And
to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed
from heaven with his mighty angels, 2 Thess 1:4-7 (KJV )
A day of rest is coming when Jesus is revealed from
heaven. It is the believer’s hope to be
counted worthy and one day for Jesus Christ Himself to say,
Well done, thou good
and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make
thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. Matt 25:21
That day may be closer than we think.
Comments or questions may be directed to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.