By: Harold Vaughan
Dealing with difficulties has never been my strong suit. Therefore the Apostle's words astound me, 'We glory in tribulations; knowing tribulation worketh patience.' The extraordinary pressures that result from following Christ were his delight. Paul had a victorious perspective, 'Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong' (2 Cor. 12:10). Did you hear what he said? Sicknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and distressing circumstances were things he took pleasure in. WOW!
Last summer in Ohio my family and I met a most amazing woman. One night the ambulance workers rolled Ida Brinkman into the church auditorium on a portable bed. Oxygen canisters, a breathing machine, equipment, and Ida occupied the front right side of the sanctuary. As I stood to preach that night my attention was arrested by the radiant countenance of this saintly woman. After service I introduced myself and inquired about her condition. Forty-nine years ago she contracted polio. Since that time she has been a paraplegic. The polio robbed her of all her physical abilities. She has not even been able to breathe without the aid of her breathing machine for forty-nine years. The only thing she can do for herself is dial the telephone touch pad with her left big toe. Her joyful and jubilant spirit is striking. I inquired further of Ida, 'How do you manage to have such a good attitude?' Her response, 'I try not to look at my circumstances, I just look to Jesus.'
People who come out sweet and joyful after intense suffering have always intrigued me. Later that week I loaded up our family and we made off for the nursing home where Ida has been staying since her husband died about a year ago. On entering the nursing home we encountered what you always see in nursing homes: feeble folks sitting in wheel chairs, yells and screams from deranged patients, and a host of staff and nurses hurrying about. Our family entered Ida's room where we met and talked quite awhile. Included in the conversation was dialogue about Ida's condition and all she has been through these last forty-nine years. As we got ready to leave, Ida commented, 'This is one opportunity I would not have wanted to have missed.' She was glorying in tribulation! Like Paul, she had learned to take pleasure in infirmities and distresses. Her radiant countenance testified to the grace of God, which was operative in her life.
Trials are Seasonal
The Lord gave me a verse when Dad got ill back in August, 'Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though if need be for a season, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations' (1 Peter 1:6).
The Lord allows periods of intense trials to come into our lives. Seeing my father suffer those final weeks was extremely difficult. Coupled with this were other traumatic events that were in themselves overwhelming. Everything was put on hold as I grappled with the hospital, doctors, medical decisions, and various pressures that caused great heaviness. At that point I could not see any farther than the end of each day.
The book of Ecclesiastes says there is an appointed season for everything. These designated periods of time are part of the process by which God works change in our hearts. 'There is a time to weep, and a time to laugh.' Psalm 84 speaks about passing through the valley of Baca (the valley of weeping). To relapse into discouragement, self-pity, and defeat is to miss God's purpose in the trial. Watchmen Nee said we never learn anything new about God except through adversity. The fruit from the grapevine always comes on the new growth. This is the reason for pruning the vine. Without it there would be little or no fruit. Spiritual pruning may hurt for the moment, but rather than harm, it actually helps us in the long run. These valleys may last for days, weeks, months, or even years, but sooner or later they pass. 'Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.'
This world has been referred to as a dressing room for eternity. God is raising up overcomers to rule and reign with His Son in the ages to come. Time is the vestibule to eternity. It provides the on-the-job training that is needed to produce godly character. Life here in the vestibule consists of appointed seasons through which we must pass in order to reach our ultimate destination. And among these seasons, there will be periods of heaviness and suffering. Indeed, there is no such thing as a saint who has not suffered. But the God who designs and permits trials also limits the testing. 'But God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.'
Trials are Necessary
God led the children of Israel out of Egypt and led them by the glory cloud into the wilderness. Soon they were at Marah (which means bitterness). No, it was not Moses' inability to follow directions that had brought them to this place. It was God who had led them to the bitter waters of Marah for the purpose of trying them. And the children of Israel failed miserably. They murmured and complained. Only days earlier they were praising God with loud voices and now they were lifting their voices against God and His man! Moses found himself in charge of three million gripers.
Sooner or later God leads all His children to bitter places to see if they will pass the test. 'Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you' (1 Peter 4:12). These trials are really blessings in disguise, and they are disguised so well you would never consider them beneficial until the trial is passed.
Advancement in Christ-likeness is never cheap. It comes with a price tag. Alexander MacClaren said, 'The pathway of spiritual progress will be marked by the bloody footprints of wounded self-love.' Practically speaking, by what means other than affliction can Self be decentralized? Adversity, trials, and temptations should be viewed as opportunities to dethrone the 'old man.' According to 1 Peter 4:1, suffering has the potential to sever a man from his sin''He that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin.' Severe trials have a way of narrowing our focus to what is really important.
We may have no choice concerning the bitter circumstances that come our way, but we sure have a choice in how we respond to these trials. The bitter waters of Marah were made sweet by divine provision. The Lord told Moses to cut down the tree and cast it into the waters. When he did, the waters were healed. When we find ourselves drinking from a bitter fountain our answer is also found in a Tree. The cross of Christ has the amazing ability to heal the debilitating effects of bitter circumstances. Healing is never far off when we can look beyond the situation and remember the mighty atoning work of Calvary.
Trials are Beneficial
Suffering is inherent in a moral universe. The introduction of sin into the human race mandated a sacrifice. In order to balance the scales of the law's demands, universal jurisprudence demanded that the penalty for every sin had to be paid by someone. Man's redemption called for suffering. This is why Christ is referred to as the Lamb of God who has been 'slain from the foundation of the world.'
But suffering is not limited to the redemptive work of Christ on the cross. While abnormal in the original creation, suffering is to be expected in a fallen world. 'Man that is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble' (Job 14:1). They say there are three types of people: those in a crisis, those coming out of a crisis, and those going into a crisis. As Christians, we can be sure that trouble and sorrow serve a larger purpose.
'Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.' The furnace of affliction improves the soul's condition. Martin Luther said, 'Affliction is the best book in my library.' David also saw the benefits of adversity. He said, 'Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word.' His heart was made better by hardship because it helped him obey God. 'Better to be taught by suffering than to be taught by sin, better to live in God's dungeon than to revel in the devil's palace,' said Spurgeon.
Growth in Christ-like character is a sure sign the heart has been made better. And this is precisely God's goal in allowing adversity. 'My brethren, count it in all joy when ye fall into divers temptations (various trials); Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience' (James 1:2-3). It's possible to confront difficulties with joy when we recognize problems as the tools God uses to transform our character. The alterations that need to take place in our hearts could never be realized apart from the God-ordained tests that come to every one of us who are His children. Believe me, on the front end, this is a FAITH ISSUE. Moment by moment we must stand on the scriptures God has given us. Like chastening, trials are not pleasant experiences, but conformity to God's Son is well worth the discomfort, inconvenience, and grief that accompany the process. Peter says the trying of your faith is more precious than gold. Ultimately gold will perish, but your undying soul will live forever. Our responses and reactions here will have a bearing on our standing in eternity.
Ida Brinkman has been bedridden for forty-nine years. To say the least, her life has been very difficult. Yet she has chosen be a victor instead of a victim. When I left her nursing home last summer, I felt pretty small and ashamed for fretting over insignificant things. Compared to her, I don't have any problems. Walking through the parking lot after our visit I said to myself, 'If Ida can make it, so can I!' Watching suffering saints glory in tribulations inspires courage and faith.
It also helps to remember that trials are seasonal, necessary, and beneficial. The only way to graduate to the next level is by passing the test. Paul, Ida, and countless others lived on the victory side. And so can you and I!
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