I’ve become convinced that for a Christian to retain hope in the midst of a trial, he or she must believe that God allowed the trial for a purpose; a purpose greater than what Christ would have been able to accomplish in and through that person apart from the trial.
“…even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith…may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 1:6-7)
They might phrase it differently, but I think every Christian that goes through a difficult trial will eventually ask “Why me?” But I’ve learned that our motive behind asking this seemingly simple question tells a lot about how we view God and how we view ourselves.
The first man asks the question like this: “Why me; out of over 6 billion people in the world, why did I get ALS (or whatever)?” He’s really asking, “Why didn’t God put this on one of the other 6 billion + people?” This man has a warped view of God and an exalted view of himself. He views his trial as pointless and thought that he was somehow exempt from the suffering of humanity.
I know what I said about this first man sounds harsh and judgmental, but I know this man well; in a spiritual and emotional sense, I wrestled with him for several months after being diagnosed with ALS. Thankfully, with the help of God’s word, wise counsel from Christian friends and a well-timed conversation with our then non-Christian next-door neighbors, I began to see that there was a purpose behind my trial and I defeated that “woe is me” man that was trying to get into my head. (More about our next-door neighbors further down).
The second man asks the question like this: “Why me; what’s God’s purpose behind allowing this horrible trial?” This man has the correct view of God and of his place in the world. As a Christian who knows the Bible, this man knows that God wouldn’t have allowed this trial unless He had a purpose.
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
That verse can only be true if we have an eternal (“Big Picture”) view of our trial. God still heals and performs miracles, and I believe that we should always pray for that result. But regardless of the outcome, God can bring about eternal good from every trial. In a hundred years, the eternal good that came from our trial will be the only thing that matters.
Trials cause the person going through the trial and those that are close to that person, to focus more on the spiritual and the eternal things because, by comparison, the temporal and the material things begin to look more and more insignificant.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)
Back to our next-door neighbors: Mike and Lorraine were not followers of Christ when we met them. We did our Christian duty and invited them to church and tried to share the “Good news” with them; even our girls (then 4 and 7) invited them to church, but all to no avail. (They later told us that they mocked us in private. I could relate; I once mocked Christians too. Let’s be honest: making fun of Christians is so easy).
But after I was diagnosed, they began to reexamine the faith that was sustaining our family through this trial. Lorraine told me; “…When you were diagnosed with ALS I began to see a man who held no anger with the God that ‘allowed’ this to happen. Then you began to demonstrate trust in God’s plan, I saw your faith and I saw 2 little girls accept what God was doing in your lives and I began to wonder how such young children could love God unconditionally. I opened my heart first to the possibility that this might be good thing for me as well. Then I finally got it and allowed my brain to accept the basic truth that God is only good, loving and faithful…”
Mike and Lorraine committed to following Christ and now faithfully attend church and share their faith with others. (Now people probably make fun of them). Would they have committed to following Christ if we had not gone through this trial? Only God knows the answer to questions like that. The only thing I know for sure is that this trial has strengthened my faith and given me more confidence for sharing that faith.
But I admit that trials can sometimes feel like you’re serving a prison sentence; especially when you have ALS and you’re imprisoned in your own body. But the Apostle Paul wrote much of the New Testament while imprisoned and many of his fellow prisoners and the guards that observed Paul became followers of Christ. Only Jesus can spread a message of hope through a prisoner!
“Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.” (Philippians 1:12-14)
This post was written by Bill Sweeney. Seventeen years ago Bill was diagnosed with ALS (“Lou Gehrig’s Disease”) and is now completely paralyzed. Through his “Unshakable Hope” blog he encourages others that, no matter how horrible our trials might be, there is always hope in Christ.
I’ve never really liked tests before even though I’m pretty good at them. Any time the word “test” comes up, I think of one of my high school teachers, Mr. Hart. He loved giving tests. He would wear a red contact lens, the ugliest tie he could find and eat a bag of chips while you were taking it. He’d ask, “Is this bothering you,” and then give an evil laugh. He’d ask questions that would earn you a Nobel Prize if you could answer them. His “bonus” questions came from movies like “Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail”. Maybe my memory has added to his legend, but that’s how I remember taking tests in his class.
I remember doing a lot of studying for tests to make sure I passed. I read back through the chapter, looked at my notes, made flash cards and quizzed other classmates to prepare. You knew the subject matter, but not what to expect on the test. As a person who played sports, there was extra pressure to pass since the “No Pass No Play” law had gone into effect. I wouldn’t have let myself down by failing, but my team too. So I put a lot of time and energy into making sure I knew the material.
All those memories came flooding back when I read what Paul wrote to the Corinthian church in II Corinthians 13:5-9. He said, “Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don’t drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. (MSG)”. Paul was saying to do with our faith what I did for tests in school. Read the book (Bible), look at notes (commentaries), make flash cards (memorize scripture) and quiz other classmates (have accountability partners to help you learn and grow).
Just like we had to prepare for what Mr. Hart might throw at us, we need to be prepared for what might challenge our faith. Times of testing shouldn’t come as a surprise to us. They shouldn’t scare us either if we’ve prepared beforehand. If you can read this, you’ve lived enough life to know that you’re going to be tested. If you’re a Christian, you should know your faith will be tested. It’s not so that you will fail, but to make sure you know what you believe. When I give tests at work, I jokingly call them “celebrations of knowledge” to relieve the stress. I’m not trying to get you to fail, I’m trying to showcase how much you’ve learned.
God does that with us too. He’s not up there trying to see if you’ll fail when He tests you. He’s wanting to show you how much you’ve learned and what you need to work on. Paul understood this and encouraged us to test ourselves ahead of time so we could pass with flying colors. When we do that, we won’t take our faith for granted or drift along. We’ll know what we believe, be able to confidently speak God’s Word when the enemy comes against us and live out our faith with a purpose and a passion. What will you do today to prepare for the testing of your faith?
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