Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
by Dr. Brian Allison
This past week, I was speaking to a friend of my wife and mine. She was very discouraged. The main reason for her discouragement was that life had apparently become one big disappointment for her. She professed that she was experiencing one problem after another. Apparently, there was no let up; and seemingly no relief in sight. The series of problems had worn her down. She wanted 'the world to stop' so that she 'could get off.' She did not want to go on; she wanted to quit. Can you identify with this woman? Do you seem to have one problem after another, and life just does not seem to get any better; and you wonder when it will all end, when things will improve, when you will get just a short season of rest and peace?
I suppose that at these times, it would be very easy to blame God, saying, for instance, "God, where are you? God, how long do I have to go through this?" I suppose that at these times, it would be very easy to get upset, not only with the circumstances, but with God Himself. I suppose that at these times, it would be very easy to wonder whether Christ has let you down. Perhaps you have a problem now and you are praying continually, and even weeping profusely, and yet there has been no change to date; there just doesn't seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps, in a moment of weakness, your faith has faltered, and thus you have wondered whether God really cares, or whether Christianity is even true. How are you responding to life's trials? How have you responded this past week, this past month, this past year, to life's trials, especially to that steady stream of trials? Are you persevering?
Trials are times of suffering
James 1:12 reads, "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him." The natural and necessary response to trial should simply be perseverance. Now a trial, Biblically speaking, is an experience of suffering through which one's allegiance or loyalty to Christ is tested. So, for instance, you may have a trial in being out of work. You may wonder how the bills will be paid; you may wonder how you will make ends meet. You may go to God and ask Him to 'come through' for you, but His answer may be delayed. Now, you may respond with anger and complaint or you may respond with patience and trust. Or, you may have a trial in being rejected. Someone may have abandoned you; someone whom you trusted very deeply, someone to whom you were committed very deeply. Again, you may go to the Lord and lay your case before Him, but your answer may be delayed. Now, you may respond with anger and complaint or you may respond with patience and trust. Or, you may have a trial by being physically ill. You may wonder whether you are ever going to recover. Your body may be racked with pain or with disease. You may pray about the situation, with no apparent improvement, but rather you may become worse. Now, you may respond with anger and complaint or with patience and trust. So, a trial is an experience of suffering through which your allegiance, your loyalty, to Christ is being tested.
Persevering through trials
There are two basic responses to trial. First, you may buckle and fold or, second, you may bear up and persevere. The latter response is the Christian one--"Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial." I know a Christian brother who has been serving the Lord faithfully for many years. There is never a moment in his life when he is free from physical pain. Yet, every time I see this brother, he has a smile on his face; he, indeed, is persevering through trial.
Now the question is this: How do you persevere? How do you bear up when the suffering comes? How do you endure the distress? First, if you are going to persevere, then you must realize that trials are part and parcel of the Christian life. Expect them and, as a result, prepare for them. Do not be surprised when the trials come, especially in rapid fashion. Do not scratch your head and inquire, "What in the world is happening?" Remember, "through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). Do not think that life must run smoothly and be hassle-free. The Scriptures read, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation" (1 Pe. 4:12f.). So, if you are going to persevere through trials, realize that trials are here to stay; you cannot avoid them.
Second, if you are going to persevere, then you must commit yourself and your situation to God. You should realize that God is in absolute control; you should confess that He is the sovereign Lord of glory, and that He knows the end from the beginning; you should acknowledge that you need His help, and that you cannot help yourself. God is the faithful Creator. Hence, you should self-consciously entrust yourself and your situation to Him, knowing that He will come through for you. Now, be prepared to wait for Him as long as He wants you to wait, even though everything seems gloomy and hopeless. Even though God seems to be distant and not to care, still patiently wait. When God seems farthest away, be all the more determined to entrust yourself to Him, realizing that when you do not know, He does know, and that He is worthy for you to commit yourself to Him. We read, "Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right" (1 Pe. 4:19). God will do what is best for you.
Third, if you are going to persevere, then you must pray and continually be on spiritual guard for any failings, loss of heart, or weakness in your commitment and resolve to press on (and thus prove faithless to Jesus Christ). Jesus instructed His disciples, "Keep watching and praying, that you may not enter into temptation [i.e., trial]; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Mt. 26:41). We are to watch and pray lest we be tempted. We are to engage in these spiritual activities before the testing comes in order that we may be buoyed up and thus enabled to endure when the testing does come.
Now, you may ask, "Why must I even undergo trial? Why must I suffer?" Trial is God's way of determining your spiritual worth and genuineness--"for once he has been approved..." Trial is God's proving ground; He wants to reveal the kind of spiritual 'stuff' of which you are made. Suffering is God's way of sifting the wheat from the chaff, and thus establishing whether we are bona fide Christians or not. So, God allows these testing times in order to prove the reality of your faith, and thus reveal whether you are a true child of God. A slogan on a TV commercial advertising a Chevrolet product reads: "Tried, tested and true." That slogan can be raised over every true child of God. God will prove the genuineness of your faith. We read, "In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Pe. 1:6f.). Those who truly love God will persevere. God's refining work is not an expression of demonic cruelty, but of divine love.
Persevering through trials brings reward
Now, these who persevere through trials, and thus demonstrate the genuineness of their faith, are called blessed--"Blessed...who perseveres under trial." To be blessed is to be divinely favoured. The point is that these perseverant ones are those who ought to be rejoicing. They will be the recipients of God's goodness. They are blessed because of what they will receive, having been afflicted and having persevered--"he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him." Those who endure life's testing will receive the fullness of eternal life in glory as a gift and reward. They will reign with Christ. The gift will make the suffering all worthwhile. We read, "The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us [when Jesus returns]" (Rm. 8:18). Similarly, 1 Peter 1:9 reads, "Obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls."
We can be assured of the gift and reward of eternal life (which, in one sense, is God's response to our faithful suffering) because He has promised it; and this promise, in turn, should give us the incentive and encouragement to press on to secure it. When I was about 7 years old, I was shopping with my mother along the Lakeshore. We met an acquaintance who was rushing off somewhere. He assured me, "If you are here when I return, I will give you a gift." I waited and I waited, and finally my mother said, "Let's go." Yet, I still waited. He finally turned up, and I will never forget what he gave me. He gave me a little plastic statue of an RCMP officer. I had that statue for years. He assured me that he would give me a gift. Therefore, I persevered in waiting for him (even to the chagrin of my mother). Promise propels perseverance. Similarly, God has promised to give us a gift. He has promised us a glorious future life with Him if we endure life's trials. His promise should provide us with incentive and encouragement to 'hang in there.' God knows our weakness; He knows our proneness to 'throw in the towel,' and so He endeavours to buoy up our spirits and to encourage our hearts to rest on His promise(s) so that we might persevere, knowing that 'it will be worth it all when we see Jesus.'
Press on through trials
The gift or reward of eternal life will be given to you after the genuineness of your faith has been approved of God. The obvious implication is that the whole of life will involve God's proving, refining work. Life itself is one long probation. That may not be very encouraging, but it is true. The whole of life will be peppered with trials and conflicts. You need to be faithful. There will be times when you get tired; and you will say such things as: "Lord, how much longer? How much longer do I need to deal with that obstinate, ridiculous individual? How much longer do I need to work that second job in order to pay the bills? How much longer must I deal with those rebellious children? How much longer must I deal with that wife or that husband whose thinking is irrational? Lord, how much longer?" God's response to you is this: "Just keep going, with this assurance that 'faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass'" (1 Th. 5:23b). I was speaking to a Christian brother this past week who had just finished a very tiring and difficult day. I said to him, "When it seems that you cannot hang on any longer, remember that He is hanging on to you." God indeed is faithful.
What is your trial? If you do not have one now, you will. I am not trying to discourage you; I am trying to prepare you. Do you have a trial at present? Maybe it is that difficult relative who keeps 'getting under your skin,' 'driving you up the wall.' Maybe it is that wayward son or daughter? Are you saying, "How much longer can I take this; it is just wearing me down." Maybe it is spiritual dryness. Perhaps you have felt so distant from God the past little while, and you are wondering when He will revive your heart so that you can pick up your Bible and read it again. Maybe you are anticipating a reduction in financial income, but the bills, no doubt, will continue to come in. Remember these word: "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him." Press on, my weary friends; press on my beleaguered saints. God will help you to reach the finish line. He is faithful. Trust in Him.
Reformed Pastor Brian Allison attended the University of Western Ontario, and matriculated with a B.A. in Psychology and Philosophy, a M.Div. from Toronto Baptist Seminary (as valedictorian), and with a M.A. (Theology) from Wycliffe College, University of Toronto. He finished off his formal education by securing a D.Min. (Counseling) from Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA.