The sixth principle we can count on during times of difficulty is that God uses trouble as a process with a purpose in our lives. God never wastes our sorrows. Any pain He permits is to be used by Him as a process with a purpose.
There are two biblical purposes: our growth, which is what James 1:2-4 speaks of, and God’s glory (Jn. 9:3).
Trouble attracts the attention of people around us. Hebrews 10:33 says, “Partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated” (NASB). One Christmas somebody gave one of our children a plastic fireman’s hat. It was one of those gifts you wish they hadn’t given. It had a red plastic flashing light on top of it and a battery-operated siren. Our kids ran all over the house with this siren and light going. You couldn’t help but notice their presence.
It’s like that with trouble. As soon as trouble hits our lives, the lights start flashing and everybody starts watching us. That’s why it’s such a wonderful opportunity to process the trial in the biblical manner so that as a “public spectacle” in trouble, with the world watching, we can demonstrate the presence and power of God in our lives. Trouble becomes a platform for God’s opportunity to glorify Himself and show Himself strong.
I had the opportunity to listen and watch as Joni Eareckson Tada told of her deep love for God and her joy in Christ. She was paralyzed from the shoulders down, but her face beamed as she sat in her wheelchair. It was clear that God was real, satisfying, fulfilling, and enabling in the midst of her lifelong trial. It was a credible statement to the reality and power of God and His grace. Whereas remorse, self-pity, and bitterness are the products of nonbiblical responses to suffering, the evidence in her life of God’s power and presence revealed through her pain was an unimpeachable statement of the grace and glory of God.
Suffering is a platform for the display of God’s power. Sometimes that power is displayed by His miraculous deliverance, and sometimes it is displayed by the grace He gives to us to positively endure as we reflect forgiveness and peace during an ongoing, sometimes lifelong, problem.
When trials put us on public display, it’s our privilege, through biblical responses, to turn the tables on Satan’s attempt to deface God’s glory. Our troubles allow us to demonstrate clearly God’s worthiness to be worshiped, regardless; to give Him our willing allegiance, regardless; and to demonstrate the reality of His presence, power, and peace in the midst of pain.
Not only is pain a process with the purpose of demonstrating God’s glory, but it’s also a process that focuses on the purpose of enabling our growth in character and in competency for living. James 1:2-4 states that we should count it all joy, knowing that the process will contribute to a life that is becoming “mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
How does that happen? The text goes on to speak of the four-step process that leads to our growth: the testing of our faith, the testing of our endurance, the testing of our yieldedness, and our reliance on prayer.
The Testing Of Our Faith. This comes when trouble challenges our faith and calls it to the witness stand. What is faith? Faith is our unflinching reliance on God. I’m glad that God is not a slippery commodity that slides out of our hands or a moving target we cannot trust. God doesn’t play hide and seek with us. He has revealed His promises, His ways, and His character to us. They are reliable, solid, and clearly true. They do not change. These are the handles that we cling to in trouble.
When trouble comes, by faith I cling to His promises:
Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you (Heb. 13:5). And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (Jas. 1:4).
Even when there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, when you are in a deepening darkness and your heart is broken, these promises are true and will provide your source of stability.
When trouble comes, by faith I cling to His ways. At such times we pray, “Heavenly Father, I know what You’ve done in the past and how You have responded in real lives in Scripture. Since that’s the kind of God You are, I’ll hang on to You through this. I will not become bitter or manipulative. I will simply permit You to do Your work in Your time,” and by faith we hang on to that.
When trouble comes, by faith I cling to His character. First Corinthians 10:13 says, “God is faithful.” By faith we hang on to the fact that God will be faithful. He’s not going to show up at the end of your trouble and say, “I’m really sorry, but I’ve had a busy 3 weeks. I just couldn’t quite get around to your situation.” His character is firm and reliable, fully worthy of our confidence. God is loving, just (which helps in terms of our enemies), righteous, gracious, and merciful.
When troubles come, our faith is tested. It’s called to the witness stand to demonstrate whether or not we will believe and non-negotiably apply His promises, ways, and character to every situation of life. When we give in to lesser responses, it reflects the weakness of our faith.
The Testing Of Our Endurance. This comes about when we apply the “faith response” to our situation. If we cling tenaciously to God, we won’t give up or give in. Interestingly, the English word endurance is made up of two Greek words: hupo and meno. Hupo means “under”; meno means “to remain.” Endurance is the capacity to remain under the stress until God’s work is done.
Our family loves to eat watermelon. Our children realized early on that if you put your thumb on a wet watermelon seed and apply a little pressure, it will spurt out and go flying across the table. It’s especially fun if you can score a bull’s-eye on your sister.
A lot of us respond to trouble in the same way. Life begins pressing on us, and what is our response? “Get me out of here! Lord, solve this problem. Immediately.” But when God says no, instead of trying to wiggle out, by faith we claim God and hang in there as faith produces endurance. Staying under the pressure with a good spirit is an important part of the divine process as He works toward His productive end in our lives.
In times of trouble, it helps to list specific relevant truths about God and match them with the supporting passages. Memorizing and praying through those sections of Scripture will anchor them in your heart and mind. A pledge to wait for God to fulfill those truths in your life while you unflinchingly obey and trust Him is the essence of endurance.
Look with anticipation for grace, growth, and glory, and rejoice in any signal that the process is working in your life. Regularly check your commitment. Have you started trusting in yourself and your own ways? Have you become manipulative, resentful, bitter, cutting, unforgiving? Or are you by faith clinging to God and responding in a biblical way?
The Testing Of Our Yieldedness. After exercising unflinching and persisting faith in Him, the third dynamic is to yield to the process. “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (Jas. 1:2-4 NASB).
“And let endurance have its perfect result” is the command in the text. It’s like surgery. When the surgeon comes in and tells us we need an operation, we say, “Okay, I’ll endure the process and take the pain.” We have confidence in the doctor and believe that it’s ultimately for our good. Imagine the following situation: We are wheeled into the operating room and the staff begins to prepare us for the surgery. When the surgeon walks in, we watch as he walks past the trays of razor-sharp scalpels. The nurse puts his gloves on him and then rolls the tray with the scalpels on it toward the operating table. At that point we mutter under our breath, “No way,” and leap off the table. The doctor grabs a scalpel and tries to operate as he chases us around the operating room.
Obviously that would never happen. Yet many of us give God that kind of trouble when He seeks to produce growth in us through a trial in our lives. That’s why James 1:4 requires that we yield to the process. We must resist the initial impulse to jump off the table. We need, instead, to place unwavering faith in the divine surgeon and endure, knowing that ultimately it will culminate in a way that we can claim joy and praise for the process.
Our Reliance On Prayer. Last, James tells us to pray. Verse 5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God.” There will be plenty of times when we don’t know what to do or how to respond. We need to go to the Father and seek wisdom from Him. But if we’re so distressed that we can’t pray or don’t know how to pray, Romans 8:26 assures us that the Holy Spirit takes the groanings we can’t even utter and brings them before the Father, untangles all their confusion, and lays them before Him on our behalf in accord with His will.
Prayer in the midst of trouble helps us see God again. It gets our eyes off our problems and focuses us afresh on God, who is allpowerful, merciful, and just.
Prayer reveals things about myself. When I pray in the midst of trouble, I may say, “Lord, you know this mess with Bob and Sally. Well, they . . . ” Often the Lord interrupts and says, “Yes, I know about them. But can we talk about you?” Prayer has a way of revealing things in my own life that need to be faced if I am to become “mature and complete, not lacking anything” (Jas. 1:4). I find that God regularly responds, “I’ll take care of them. Let’s talk about you.”
When I’m in prayer, I’m often reminded of biblical principles that are relevant and true. His Word starts coming back to me and I’m reminded of passages and principles I need to apply. This is wisdom from God. Wisdom about Him, wisdom about me, wisdom about His Word. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God” (Jas. 1:5).
There’s never an easy way to go through trouble, but there’s always a right way—by counting it joy because of what we know to be true about the process, by exercising faith, by yielding to the process, and by praying for wisdom.
Being committed to the fact that difficulties are a process with a purpose requires that our purposes for life be like His purposes for us. If our purpose in life is to be comfortable, well liked, happy, and to accumulate enough money to buy the things we want, then we will never find hope in trouble. These are not God’s driving agendas for our existence. Character is more important to God than cash, convenience, or comfort. Our competency is of greater value to Him than simply going through life blissful yet unprepared and functionally unable to make a contribution to people’s lives and to the cause of eternity.
The measure of how productive trials have been in our lives is how much more we are like Jesus Christ now than we were when the trouble began. Pain is a process with a divine purpose, and God never wastes our sorrows.
Among all the question marks that invade our hearts and heads in times of trouble, the certainties revolve around the answers to who and what.
Who? It is God and me. The reliable, trustworthy God working in me and through me with an outpouring of His grace until my growth and His glory are realized.
What? My knowledge of what is clearly true and reliable. Choosing to bypass alternate, unproductive, and destructive responses, we choose to reckon our trial ultimately to be a thing of joy in His powerful and creative hand. Choosing not to permit the baggage of our feelings to drive our responses, we direct our reactions by what we know to be true, counting it all to be a thing of joy as we cling by faith to what is true about Him: His promises, His character, and His ways; yielding to the process; praying for wisdom and enduring under the pressure until there is measurable growth in both character and competency and a reflection of His glory.
The principles of growth and glory are often demonstrated in Scripture. The penetrating theme of the New Testament is that God will do what is necessary to bring us to the likeness of His Son. His purpose may be to “grow” us to be capable and productive by using problems to reduce the risks that we bring to the kingdom. Growth may be fostered by the difficulty that finally forces us to be God-sufficient rather than self-sufficient. And His glory through us will only become evident as we seek to turn every attack of the adversary into a clear testimony of God’s worth and work in us and through us.