I write this post with tears still soggy on my lower eyelashes. I have read in the news of yet another compounded tragedy – where one tragedy added to the pain of another and beget another tragedy. And a family is left torn up and wounded beyond recognition in its wake. It reminds me of so many other stories and things I’ve been pondering lately.
The choices made that led up to this second tragedy devastate me, and would have seriously confused me as well a mere two or three years ago. But God has been teaching me something so seriously sobering as I enter into the sufferings of others, and experience it myself.
Suffering is not an “Automatic Godliness” button.
I think that we Christians give ourselves pep talks for trials by thumping our flimsy, unarmored chests and saying, “No worries. It will make me a better Christian. Everything will happen to make me grow. I’ll come out the other side more Christlike.” As if we can sit back in our lawn chairs and wait for the magic happen.
The thing is, we’re told to PUT our armor on (Ephesians 6:10). We’re told it’s a battle. We are not spectators in our own trials, lying in surprise pain and waiting for it to be over when we can be awarded with instant Spiritual Hero trophies.
I’ve seen family members go through the exact same trial, and one is a light and beacon for her faith, while the other walks away from God completely.
I’ve seen very similar adults go through nearly identical rejections and hurts, and one man is bitter and angry, assuming the worst about all of humanity, while the other embraces those around him, counseling and promoting God’s goodness.
It shocked me – the unpredictability of the response of humans to suffering. The unpredictability of my own heart. And that’s when I realized that suffering changes you, in one direction or the other. You can’t stay stagnant. You’re either going to fester and blister and wound, or you’re going to be cleaned out and refined like gold. But it’s something in which you have a say.
I’d even go so far as to say that trials are not to GIVE you faith, but to TEST your faith.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
James 1:2-4 says that the trials are to test our already existing faith, to make us more Christlike. To do a work, not to have you stand still. And the passage implies that we should already have the faith necessary to withstand and produce steadfastness. That we should be waiting on WHEN, not IF these trials come – expectant and ready.
Maybe what’s important isn’t the outward specifics of any trial – “big” or “small” – but how bad the inward yuck you have to battle in the midst of it.
If it’s not actual faith that we have inside, it’s sin, or most likely, some mixture of both. Suffering WILL bring out our yuck. And every little sin has the potential to be exposed when we go through a tough time. They come to the surface, often shocking our family, surprising our friends, mortifying ourselves. Some of us have a whole host of yuck that come spinning out of the deepest crevices of our hearts.
Absolutely no one can sit there and assume that sin will just flee in the face of suffering. Throw on your armor, wipe your sweat, and fight. Otherwise, that heart will be unrecognizable at the end of your trial if you choose to lie around in the mud and wait it out, lazy and unhappy.
God clearly is the one fighting with you and for you, but He desires our action and our hard work alongside of Him – it’s the way He planned it to be. I want to start a list of the sins I’m aware of, the yuck that lingers and are hard to beat, and I want to get diligent about a spiritual military regimen to fight them today. I don’t want to wait for a trial to explode them into giant bosses like at the end of a video game level.
One thing is for sure: suffering may not be an instant godliness button, but it will definitely, always, 100% of the time, change you.
There is no option to just stand still. Do you want it to change you to be like Christ? Or do you want it to change you into a monster that no one, least of all yourself, ever would have expected to be your future?
“Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” 1 Tim. 6:12
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12
“But clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its improper desires.” Romans 13:14
“And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” Rev.12:11
“For You have girded me with strength for battle; You have subdued under me those who rose up against me.” Ps. 18:39
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21
“Through You we will push back our adversaries, through Your name we will trample down those who rise up against us.” Ps. 44:5
“We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Romans 8:37
“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith.” 1 Pet. 5:8-9