3 Things to Remember About a Trial: Life’s Not All Smooth Sailing
There are times when life seems to go along smoothly, and things are generally in order. The family is well, the job is going fine, and God is good. Then there are other times. You know what I’m talking about: A sudden health crisis; a job loss; a tornado or some other act of God. Whatever the circumstance, it is clear that our smooth sailing is over, and rough waters will be the norm for a while. When these times come, we may wonder how we will ever be joyful again. The trial seems so heavy, the problems so many, that we can’t imagine ever returning to that sailboat cove where life was calm and times were good.
But, while God doesn’t promise us smooth sailing all the time, he has given us some counsel to prepare for rough waters, and some truth to help us when we’re battling the waves. Today, I’d like to share a few things for you to remember, whether you’re enjoying smooth waters, hunkering down for the storm, or clinging to the lifeboat.
When times are good, don’t let your guard down.
If you are enjoying a period of relative calm in your life, rejoice! Remember to thank God for the easier times, and to practice gratitude when things are good. But also remember that trials are a part of life, and if you’re not in one now, you will be sooner or later. I’m not suggesting that we all go around with a morbid sense of impending doom, but I do believe there is wisdom in shoring up the foundations of your faith while you are not distracted by enemies that want to destroy it.
In I Corinthians ten, Paul is reminding the church that the Israelites saw many miracles of God, but still failed to receive the reward they set out to get. Why? They got complacent. They stopped worshiping God and turned to idols, allowing their hearts to lust after evil things, and to become rooted in the things of this world. They fell into all kinds of idolatry and sin, and the things that happened to them, as a result, are written in the Bible as an example for us. After describing the failure of the Israelites to obey God, Paul says this to us, in verses 12 and 13:
Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
He is warning us not to become complacent when times are good. We need to be always on our guard against temptation and the snare of the devil, as Peter warns us in chapters four and five of his first letter:
But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. (4:7)
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. (5:8)
How do we guard our hearts? By Remembering what the only real source of contentment and joy is.
Philippians 4 has an excellent tutorial on how to do this:
- Verse four gives us the first step: Rejoice in the Lord! Remember that He alone is your source of joy and contentment. Circumstances and times change, but He never does. When things are good, enjoy it. But never seek your joy in it. Your source of true joy, both in happiness and sorrow, must always be Jesus Christ Himself. Nothing else.
- Verse 5 reminds us that our speech and behavior are on display for everyone to see. Let them see you trusting in the Lord and walking that out in your life. There’s also a good reminder here—because we sometimes forget—that the Lord is very near to us at all times, and that He knows the thoughts and intents of our heart. Make it your aim to live a life that is pleasing to Him!
- Last but not least, we are reminded here not to worry about anything but instead, to pray about everything.
When times are hard, trust God.
While I know this is easier said than done, when it comes right down to it, trusting God really is a choice. Remember, you are going to put your trust in something. We may be tempted to trust in many things that are not God. We want to depend on ourselves and our ability to control our circumstances. We may look to people we perceive as knowledgeable, strong, or somehow powerful to change our situation. We might put our trust in alcohol or drugs to “take the edge off,” or to help us forget our troubles for a while.
In our better moments, we know that these options are never going to lead us to walk in obedient submission to whatever God may be doing in our lives. But we always have a choice. We can choose to trust the all-powerful, loving creator of the universe, who already knows the outcome of our trial; or we can put our trust in people and things that have no power, no wisdom, and no real ability to help us. Sometimes, it is simply a matter of taking hold of our will and submitting it to God’s, trusting Him simply because of who He says He is.
Reach out to others for fellowship, prayer, and support.
If ever there was a time that you need to be in a good church, it’s during a difficult trial. There are a number of benefits here, but two particularly stand out. If you’ll allow me to pick up our nautical theme again, I’ll give you an example. Have you ever seen a movie where a number of people survive a shipwreck, and they are left bobbing on a vast ocean in a tiny lifeboat? Suddenly, there is sincere camaraderie among these people who were barely acquainted before the wreck. Why? Because they are all sharing a terrible trial. Sometimes, a church is a lifeboat full of survivors barely hanging on, clinging to God and one another through various trials. The fellowship of sufferers can be very sweet, and I cannot imagine going through some of the trials of my life without my sisters and brothers in Christ. While the trials may all be different, it is the commonality of trusting Jesus in them, just as the shipwreck survivors are all trusting in the lifeboat, that brings us together.
The other wonderful aspect of suffering through a trial within the body of Christ is that we can all share accounts of God’s faithfulness to us in the past. My trial may be different from yours, but it’s not really about the trial. It’s about the One who brings us through it. I can share with you how God has been faithful to me, and you can reciprocate. Rather than commiserating about our troubles, as those who don’t know the Lord do, we can encourage one another by sharing our experience of Christ’s hand over us as we walked in obedience to Him. This is real fellowship.
Dear reader, do you find yourself joyless today? If so, I can assure you that it’s not because God has failed to deliver your daily supply. If you have been looking to things of this world for help in your trial, repent right now, and turn to the living God who created you, loves you, and is eager teach you what true joy is. Seek real fellowship, and be honest and open about your troubles. You will find that you are not alone. The same God who gave you new life stands ready to make it a joyful one. Trust in Him, and persevere!