Trials Come So That…
It was June of 1986, just days after my college graduation. I walked into my apartment to find an armed, masked man standing at the top of my stairs. The afternoon he spent in my apartment transformed my life forever. For days and months following my attack, I wept before God, shaking my fist, asking God, How could You sit on Your throne in heaven and allow the horrible things that man did to me? Night after night I lay in my bed, tears soaking my pillow. Questions plagued my mind. Why didn’t You protect me? Why didn’t You warn me? Why did You abandon me? Well-meaning friends would tell me that God had a purpose, that He would bring good out of it. I knew they meant well. But how could they utter such ridiculous statements? [Excerpt taken from my book, Hidden Joy in a Dark Corner: The Transforming Power of God’s Story] I knew no good would ever come from what happened to me that day. There would never be any purpose in the vile acts that man committed against me. That is what I believed for years and years following my attack.
You see, when I was raped, I was unfamiliar with the Bible. Oh, I had read it now and again, but I did not know God’s Word. I had no idea that the Bible spoke to the very questions I was asking, not once, but many times. Once God equipped me with the Truth, understanding and healing came.
Being equipped with Truth enables us to face our trials from an entirely different perspective. How I wish I had that perspective in June of 1986. But I am certain if I had, I would not be writing these words today.
Are you angry with God? Do you wonder where He is in the midst of your trial? Do you doubt He truly loves you considering what is happening in your life? If these questions, and others like it, burden your heart, God brought you here because He hears your cries. He wants to speak to you and encourage you. He wants to equip you for your trial. This is your divine appointment, sweet friend.
I am so excited for this lesson so let’s begin!
We have a special guest on our video this week. Her name is Bobbie Wolgemuth. Bobbie is my dear friend and mentor and is married to my literary agent. I shared a bit of Bobbie’s story a few months ago on my blog. To read it, click here. At that time, I was asking friends and family to pray for Bobbie as she went through chemotherapy for Stage 4 Ovarian Cancer. When I learned she was in Charlotte this week to visit her two daughters, I knew it was a divine appointment for me and for each one of you to hear her the rest of her powerful story. She is a living example of the power of prayer and of God’s faithfulness to through carry us through even the darkest of times with JOY and Hope. Please set aside a fifteen minutes to hear her inspiring testimony.
This Week’s Memory verse
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4
This Week’s Prayer
This week’s prayer is from Psalm 62:1-8 (NLT):
I wait quietly before God,
for my victory comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress where I will never be shaken.
So many enemies against one man—
all of them trying to kill me.
To them I’m just a broken-down wall
or a tottering fence.
They plan to topple me from my high position.
They delight in telling lies about me.
They praise me to my face
but curse me in their hearts. Interlude
Let all that I am wait quietly before God,
for my hope is in him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress where I will not be shaken.
My victory and honor come from God alone.
He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.
O my people, trust in him at all times.
Pour out your heart to him,
for God is our refuge.
A. Read James 1:2-4.
1. With what kind of attitude are we to approach our trials?
2. What word follows “Consider it pure joy, my brothers?” What does his use of this word speak to you about trials in our lives?
James did not choose the word “if.” He chose the word “when.” It is not a matter of whether trials will come but when trials will come. Trials are inevitable because we are a fallen people living in a fallen world. (1 Thessalonians 3:3). So, if we know trials will come our way, perhaps our question when they come should not be Why me, God? But rather, our question should be How do I deal with this trial, God, and what do you want to do in my life through it?
God is a good God. He tells us trials will come and provides guiding truths and principals to teach us how to cope. God’s guidance requires us to first look at the type of trial we are experiencing. Is it one we have brought upon ourselves as a consequence of our own choices? Or is it one that the Lord has allowed? Have we disobeyed or rebelled against God or is our suffering totally unrelated to our own choices. The latter is most difficult to understand. But God enlightens us and gives us understanding in His Word.
If you struggle believing God ordains some suffering, look at the lives of Joseph and Job. God needed Joseph in Egypt in the Pharoah’s house to save His people from a terrible famine. As a consequence, God orchestrated circumstances to get Joseph there. Scripture teaches at the end of the story that Joseph not only saw God’s purpose but testified to it when he forgave his brothers for what they did.
3. Read Genesis 50:20. What truth does it teach?
In the opening chapter of Job, the Lord initiated a conversation with Satan that led to the testing of Job. Satan claimed Job’s righteousness was meaningless because God had richly blessed him and placed a hedge of protection around him. Satan contended that if God took away all Job had, he would curse God.
4. Read Job 1:12. How did God respond?
These are not the only stories in Scripture that speak to God as the author of suffering.
5. Read Psalm 119:67, 71, 75, and Hebrews 12:5-11. Share what you learn. How does this make you feel about God? Explain.
It is difficult to think of God this way. But we must remember that He is our Creator and our Father. He knows us inside out and always has our best interests at heart. God allows trials for many reasons. Sometimes He needs to refine us to make us more like Him. Sometimes He needs to strengthen our faith. And sometimes another person may need to see Christ’s character demonstrated in us in order to grow their faith. One promise of which we can be certain…when we respond to trials with faith and trust, God will use our suffering for good and His glory.
B. What does Peter say about how we should respond to suffering in 1 Peter 4:12-19?
James tells us we are to “consider it pure joy whenever we face trials of many kinds.” The King James Version says we are to “count it all joy.” This word “count” means evaluate. When trials come, we must evaluate them in light of God’s truths and promises. It’s not the trial that we consider a joy. Rather, it is the results that will come from the trial that we consider as pure joy. Hebrews 12:2 tells us that Jesus endured the cross because of the “joy set before him.” He knew He would be resurrected and would ascend into heaven to once again sit at the right hand of His Father in heaven. And He knew one day He would return to get His bride.
1. According to James 1:3, why are we to consider our trials “pure joy?”
The testing of our faith produces perseverance. “Perseverance” from the Greek word hupomone means “an abiding under.” As used here, it means steadfastness or endurance in the face of difficulties. This is not a passive acceptance of our circumstances. It is a courageous persevering through in order to reach what is promised on the other side.
Listen to Paul’s words in Romans 5:3-4,
Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
Endurance cannot be acquired through reading a devotional, listening to a sermon, or praying a prayer. We must walk through the trial, trusting and obeying God every step of the way. I have never forgotten the words of a friend of mine who had walked through several trials, one after the other.
“God’s faithfulness is most effectively learned when experienced.”
2. Read James 1:4. What is the “so that?”
3. What does James mean by “mature” and “complete?”
What these verses and passages teach us is that before God can work through us, He must work in us!!!
God spent decades working in the lives of Abraham, Joseph, Moses and David before He ever worked through them. Jesus spent three years training His disciples before He sent them out “to all the earth.” These men walked through many trials and experienced many “testings.”
God builds character before He calls a leader. God humbles a heart before He calls a servant.
God refines us through our suffering. Perseverance builds character and molds us to be the women God created us to be. The NIV describes that character as “mature and complete.” The King James Version says “perfect and entire.” The Greek word “perfect” is telos and means “finished, wanting nothing necessary to completeness, perfect.” It implies a mature faith lived out in faithful, loving service.
The Greek word “complete” is holokleros and means “complete in every part, perfectly sound.” It is used to speak of the health and wholeness of the body, physically and spiritually.
When we face our trials with faith; when we keep our eyes on God’s truth and promises in the midst of them, we will persevere. Each step of courageous perseverance builds on the next until we come out the other side a thoroughly mature believer lacking nothing.
C. Read 2 Corinthians 12:9.
Next we will spend time in one of Paul’s most well-known passages from 2 Corinthians, specifically the “so that” verse in 2 Corinthians 12:9:
But he said to me, ‚My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.‛ Therefore I will boast
all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
As we learned in the last section, God sometimes uses suffering as a tool to build godly character. In the midst of refining us, He pours out His amazing grace. Paul portrays this promise beautifully in the story below.
Paul begins this passage by sharing his vision in which he was “caught up into paradise.” It had happened years before, and even Paul was not certain exactly what happened. But he knew his spirit rose to a place where he was in the presence of God. What he learned, Scripture says, he could not tell. But I cannot help but wonder if God gave him a personal word to prepare him for all that lay ahead for
his ministry. In 2 Corinthians 4:17 Paul wrote,
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Had God warned him during his visit of thorn in his side? Did God impart truths and promises to Paul that would sustain him? We will never know. But I would like to think this was so.
1. What reason does Paul give in verse 7 for his thorn in the flesh? How does this make you feel about God?
What we do know is that Paul says outright that God allowed this thorn in the flesh to keep him from being conceited. He refers to this thorn as a messenger of Satan.
2 Corinthians 12:7 in the King James Version reads,
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.
As hard as it is to understand, there is no other way to read Paul’s words. Paul had gone to heaven and back…an experience few, if any, are given. God knew Paul’s frame and inclinations, so perhaps He gave him this thorn to keep him from being prideful about his experience. God abhors pride. He knows it leads to deeper temptation and to sin. To protect Paul from this, He allowed this thorn. Without it, perhaps the fourteen years of ministry following his visit to paradise would have been filled with pride and failure instead of Christ confidence and success.
Scripture does not identify Paul’s thorn. The word translated “thorn” is skolops and means “anything pointed.” One commentator stated that it means “a sharp stake used for torturing or impaling someone.” What seems clear is that it indicates a physical affliction of some kind that brings great pain and distress. There are many theories, but none proven. Some believe it was epilepsy, others an eye ailment, and still others severe headaches. For our teaching purposes today, it really does not matter. In fact, I think it is best we not know because then, no matter what our suffering may be, we are able to look to Paul’s experience for wisdom and encouragement.
God permitted Satan to “buffet” Paul. “Buffet” translated from the Greek means “to strike with clenched hands, the fist.” This word implies constant, recurring attacks.
2. What is your response when trials and suffering come? How has it worked for you?
When God permits trials and suffering in our lives, we have a choice as to how we deal with them. We can blame God and become bitter. We can wave the white flag and give up. We can grit our teeth and suffer through the trial until the bitter end. Or we can choose Paul’s response. Paul wanted God to take this thorn away. He pleaded with God to take it away. Paul’s words are such an encouragement because he gives us permission to tell God we don’t like what He is doing and to please stop it!
3. How many times did Paul ask God to take it away?
4. Who else went before God three times asking Him to take something from Him? (Matthew 26:43-44)
Friend, their words teach us that praying for God to change our circumstances does not reveal a lack of faith. Their stories give us permission to cry out to our Father for whatever burdens our hearts. He invites us to unload our burdens on Him so that He can can carry them. But in the end, He may not answer the way we ask. Jesus and Paul show us that “unanswered” prayer is not always due to our lack of faith. It is because God has another plan…a better plan.
5. Write God’s answer to Paul below (2 Corinthians 12:9a)
Despite Paul’s desperate pleas, God did not take away his thorn. But He did give Paul a most amazing gift. The gift of grace.
God comforts Paul with these words: “My grace is sufficient.” “Sufficient” is from the Greek word arkeo and means “to be possessed of sufficient strength, to be strong enough for a thing.” Friend, with God, His grace is always enough to sustain us. God’s grace never runs dry. It is always enough! He tells us in His Word that He is the strength of our heart and our portion forever. (Psalm 73:26)
Not only is His grace sufficient. God adds this promise: “my power is made perfect in weakness.” It is in our times of greatest weakness that God will pour out His power upon us. He created us in such a way that His power works most effectively when we are weak.
6. Let’s stop for a moment to meditate on what Paul has taught us. Prayerfully reread the passage for this section and any notes you have taken. Share in your own words what this passage is teaching you about the trial you are currently facing. How is God speaking to your heart about applying them?
7. God’s grace transformed Paul’s perspective. Paul ends this passage with a “so that.” He will boast in his weaknesses “so that” what?
Paul wanted Christ’s power to rest on him.
8. Have you ever felt Christ’s power rest on you? Describe that feeling.
The word “rest” translated here means “to spread a tabernacle over.” Don’t you love the picture this creates in your mind about our Father in heaven?
9. Read Psalm 28:7. What does this verse tell us about God?
Friend, we are frail creatures, created by God to need Him. He longs for us to admit our frailty and cry out for help so that He can come to our rescue. He is our covering, our Shield, our Defender, our Strength, and our Strong Tower. He wants to transform our weak, frail bodies into a glorious holy tabernacle indwelt by His Spirit!
Rejoice in His promise: it is only when we are weak that we will be strong!
D. Read Ephesians 2:10. What does it say about why God created us?
God created each one of us to do good works in the Kingdom of God. These are works which He prepared us in advance to do. (Ephesians 2:10) Sometimes that preparation requires that we endure difficult trials. But, in the trials, we have God’s promise that He will never leave us or forsake us. (Romans 8:38-39)
1. Read Isaiah 45:2, 55:12 and Romans 8:28. What does God promise in each of these verses?
God promises that no matter the trial, no matter how impossible our circumstances may seem, He will work things together for good. But His promise in Romans 8:28 contains a condition.
2. Define those for whom He will work all things together for good? What does it mean?
If you are in the midst of a trial, His Word is your encouragement. And even if you are not currently walking through a trial, one will come. Our strength to persevere and endure lies in God’s Word. In it, we will find answers to the questions that plague our hearts and minds. It is there, and not in the wisdom of man, that we will find our answers. He fills it with stories to encourage us and teach us and
E. Read John 9:1-12. Jesus’ disciples wanted to know why this man was born blind. Jesus answered in John 9:2-3.
1. Why was this man born blind? Does this upset or confuse you? If so, why?
For the Jews at that time, morality translated into a simple formula: those who do right will be rewarded and those who do wrong will be punished. Consequently, they saw sickness, weakness and personal failures as evidence of sin in a person’s life (or in the life of his parents). Alternatively, they saw health, strength and prosperity as evidence of God’s favor. This philosophy forms the basis of the disciples’ question to Jesus, “who sinned?”
One Bible commentator described this story beautifully: “[The blind man’s] tragedy was a backdrop for a blessing.”
I see this in my own story. After my attack, I asked God what I had done to deserve what happened to me. I cried myself to sleep more nights than not. I felt abandoned by God. I locked myself in a prison of fear to protect myself. At times, daily living seemed too much to bear. Yet out of this trial grew a ministry. It is why you are reading these words today. My vicious assault was a backdrop for a ministry. I did nothing wrong. But God now uses my transformed life as a vessel to draw others to Him. The blind man’s story reminds us that we are created for God’s purposes alone, and the trials and sufferings that enter into our lives come to bring about the glory of God.
2. Is there a trial in your life that God may want to use as a backdrop for a blessing? Is there something keeping you from trusting Him on this? Are you holding tightly to the pain, the disappointment, the anger, the bitterness, the confusion, the doubt? Spend time this week with the circumstances of your trial and the truths God has been revealing to you. Invite God to show you the Romans 8:28 good…the blessing He wants to give you through this trial. Ask Him to enable you, through the Word and the power of His Holy Spirit, to move to a new place of trust, peace and joy…even if your circumstances do not immediately change. Invite Him to help you with your unbelief.
Please remember as you work though your homework, I am praying for you and believing God that He is at work in your hearts, speaking through His living and active Word.
F. Read Hebrews 10:35-36.
1.What is at risk when we walk through a trial according to this verse?
Circumstances sometimes make it so easy to throw away our confidence. Maybe it’s a time when nothing is going as planned. Maybe it’s a time of unanswered prayer. Maybe it’s a time when we cannot see, feel or hear God. Maybe it’s a time of physical weariness or chronic sickness. Our reasons are many and varied. We all have them. We want to give up and walk away.
What we often forget during those times is that we have full access to God’s power and His promises. It is in that power and those promises that we find our confidence. It is not in the world’s confidence. It is Christ’s confidence. Is there a difference? Absolutely.
The world’s confidence is based on what we see with our eyes and what we feel with our emotions. Christ’s confidence is based on Christ and Who He is. We don’t gain Christ’s confidence by simply asking for it. We have to take action.
First, when feelings of doubt and uncertainty arise, we must immediately stop and ask God to help us identify what is causing our doubt and uncertainty.
Second, we must compare our thoughts about our situation with God’s thoughts, which are reflected in Scripture.
Do they match? If they do, then we meditate on and pray through those truths, holding fast to them and trusting God to carry us through. We can do this confidently because we know that God honors His Word and that His Word will not return void but will accomplish what He desires and achieve the purposes for which He sends it.
If they do not match, we must search His Word for truths and promises to replace the lies we are hearing.
2. In Hebrews 10:35-25, we must persevere in difficult times “so that” what?
If we persevere and maintain our confidence in God and His Word, God promises that we will be “richly rewarded.” Rewarded with spiritual and sometimes even physical blessings beyond measure.
3. Is something stealing your confidence today? Share with us on the web site so that we can pray for you.
As we close today, I want to end with Isaiah 46:8-11.
4. Read Isaiah 46:8-11. What truths about God do you learn from this passage?
God knows how to run the universe, the world, and our lives better than we do. He is Sovereign over ALL things. Nothing, ABSOLUTELY nothing happens outside His sovereign hand. So when trials come, we need to trust in the character of God. It isn’t that we can’t have a time of panic when trials come our way. The key is not to stay in panic mode. We most STOP and examine our response. If we are not responding in confident trust and faith, we must identify our response and change it immediately. What does this look like?
Faith asks these questions:
1. Am I looking for God or am I looking for the nearest escape route?
2. Am I humbling my heart to hear God’s voice?
3. Am I rebelling against God or disobeying a truth I know?
4. Am I harboring unforgiveness?
5. Am I in the Word, claiming and praying God’s promises?
6. Am I ready to trust God no matter how my trial turns out because I know God is good and has my best interests in mind?
G. As we close, read Joshua 1:7-9. Meditate on the truths God gave to Joshua and pray for God to bring them alive in your own heart.
God charged Joshua to not only be grounded in the Word but also to obey the Word. He told Joshua not to let it depart from his heart and to meditate on it night and day. And if Joshua obeyed, the Lord promised him prosperity and success. He promised Joshua His presence would be with him wherever he went. God was not saying that Joshua wouldn’t have trials, because difficult trials materialized in the very next chapter. But God was promising that He would be with Joshua through those trials and that Joshua would come out victorious in the end.
Friend, how we handle adversity is an accurate barometer of where we are spiritually. When our barometer is low, it is because we do not have an accurate understanding of God, and we do not have a strong foundation in His Word. And oftentimes the way God increases our barometer is through trials.
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These
have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be
proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:6-7
Yes, our faith is precious, but the trials of our faith are also precious because in and through them we grow closer to God and share in the praise, glory and honor of God. Can there be any better place?
My Call to Action:
What have you heard from the Lord this week? What steps is He asking you to take regarding a trial in your life?
Commit now to take the first steps in obedience to what you have heard.
Bobbie, thank you again for stopping by our Bible study today! If you would like to leave Bobbie a message, I know she would love to hear from you. Also if you are looking for a great Christmas idea for a mom you love and would like to learn more about Bobbie’s Bible, Mom’s Bible: God’s Wisdom for Mothers, click here, and the corresponding Bible Study, God’s Wisdom for a Mother’s Heart: A Bible Study for Moms, click here.
Thank you for stopping by today for your lesson and homework. Please be sure to stop by throughout the week and share your thoughts, comments, answers, and prayers. I will be praying for you!