Do you ever wonder why difficulties in your life seem to cycle on repeat?
Like lapsing waves, one hardship rose after the other this month. Each circumstance cued my anxiety like clockwork. But when the pressure didn’t let up, it got me thinking. Why does each struggle feel so eerily similar to the last one?
When your season of pain keeps coming back again, perhaps it’s time for a second look.
When troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing…Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. James 1:2-4, 12
Being thankful, even joyful, for adversity sounds a little crazy and counter-cultural. Most of us will do anything to avoid pain and pursue a happy life. But perhaps James knew four things about trials that we don’t.
Trials will test your faith
Trials are not the result of bad luck or an unfortunate hand in life. The truth is that many trials are tests. But the real question is, are you passing them?
In school, tests are given for a reason. They are meant to track your progress and reveal areas of growth. In the same way, trials are the litmus test of faith.
James makes it clear that the testing of your faith is not a matter of “if” but when. If you follow Jesus and want to be more like Him, then expect your faith to be tested. The Greek word used for testing means “that by which something is tried or proved” (Strongs #1383). In other words, when you face trouble and adversity you’re being given an opportunity to prove that your faith is more than just lip service.
Trials will reveal your heart
When you are hurting, your true colors show. Hardship has a way of exposing inner desires, motives and emotions that could otherwise remain hidden.
God uses trials as a way to reveal your heart. For “the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind…” (Jer 17:9). God already sees and knows the depths of our hearts but many times we are unaware of our own sin patterns that will destroy us.
Proverbs 20:5 says, “a motive in the human heart is like deep water, and a person who has understanding will draw it out.” In His wisdom, God draws our deepest motives and desires to the surface for our benefit, so that we will become aware of our own junk. God loves you enough to expose your sin and reveal your heart to you, so that you can choose to repent and change.
Trials will refine your character.
The Bible uses the refining process of precious metals as a perfect analogy of what God does for us.
In biblical times, a refiner began by breaking up rough ore—hardened rock encased with common minerals such as tin, copper, and zinc. But that rock also had the promise of valuable, rare metals hidden within—the precious metals of gold and silver.
The refiner puts broken, crushed ore into a “crucible”—a fireproof melting pot able to withstand extreme heat. Then the refiner places the crucible into the furnace at the precise temperature necessary for removing other metals that would mar the quality of the gold or silver.
As the ore melts in the crucible under the watchful eye of the refiner, a layer of impurities forms on the surface. After the refiner painstakingly skims off these impurities, he then turns up the heat and places the crucible back into the blistering furnace. Again and again (up to seven times…) impurities rise to the surface. He knows that only certain impurities are released at certain temperatures. Each time, with utmost skill and patience, the refiner removes the dross, leaving behind gleaming gold and shimmering silver.
To gauge his progress, the refiner looks for his own reflection on the surface of the silver-filled crucible. The more dross removed, the less distorted his reflection. Only when the refiner looks into the crucible and sees a clear reflection of himself is the process complete. Finally, the silver attains its highest degree of purity! (June Hunt)
God cares more about our character than our comfort. He uses trials as refining fire, turning up the heat when necessary. Yet God is not careless or inattentive. He doesn’t throw us into the deep end just to see if we can swim. Even in the most intense situations, He carefully molds us in a way that we will not break (Isa 42:3) but become pure and complete, bearing the image of His son Jesus.
Difficulty drives us to God but often we go to Him so that He will take our pain away. We see our difficult circumstances as ruining our life and infringing upon our happiness. We want God to fix our problems and relieve the pressure so that we can have more happiness, joy and fulfillment.
But here’s the problem.
Your happiness is not the result of a pain-free life. Getting rid of your frustrations, difficult relationships or hard circumstances will not make you happier.
Happiness is a by-product of holiness. God is not a means to an end; He is the end. Only becoming like Jesus and being in a thriving relationship with Him will give you true joy, fulfillment and purpose.
Trials will help you learn
A test is meant for you to learn something. If you don’t learn the material, you won’t pass the test. And if you don’t pass, you won’t have the skills you need to move on to the next level of maturity.
Why did the Israelites wander around in circles in the desert for 40 years? “That [the Lord your God] might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would [obey Him] or not” (Deut 8:2).
The Israelites needed to learn how to trust and obey God first before they could enter the Promised Land and fulfill their purpose. God tested them along the way but they were too stubborn to get the message. Each failed test resulted in another one, and so they wandered around the desert until they humbled themselves enough to listen and learn.
“God has a plan, and what you’re walking through right now will play a role in the purpose God has for your life. Instead of asking God to rescue you, maybe you should be asking God to teach you” (Dave Sumrall, Sermon on the Book of James: Trials).
Hardship can either make you bitter or better. It requires humility if you want it to make you holy. If you allow yourself to become distracted and frustrated with the details, you’ll stay stuck. But if you humble yourself and embrace your trial as a learning opportunity, you’ll grow in faith and character.
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. Romans 5:3-5
Trials will test your faith, reveal your heart and refine your character. Will you let your pain drive you to God or away from Him? When you see hardship as an opportunity to grow, you really can be joyful in adversity. Instead of trying to fix your problem, ask God to help you learn from it and to transform you in the midst of it.
Some of the points in this post were adapted and expanded on from Dave Sumrall’s sermon “Trials” in his series on the Book of James.