We all have them. Some of us even seem to have more than our share! The Apostle James tells us to count them all joy, but, as we know, that is easier said than done.
After having experienced what seems to have been an exceptional Feast, we’ve all had to come back to living life in today’s world. Tomorrow’s World is not here yet and we have to cope with the here and now. Part of that involves dealing with the pressures of life—trials and tests.
We must ask what many might think is a silly question. What exactly are trials and tests, anyway? Also, why must we face them and why should we be told to count them a joy? Is there a right way and a wrong way to approach trials?
The Greek terms rendered “temptation,” “trial” or “test” in the New Testament are all closely related. They are derived from peirazo, which means “to test,” “try” or “put to the proof,” and from peira, meaning “to attempt” or “to know by experience.” Another word, dokime, meaning “to test the genuineness of something,” is also used. This latter term is found in 1 Peter 1:7 where the testing of our faith is compared to assaying the quality and purity of gold.
The book of James tells us that tests (peirasmos, 1:2) have a purpose. They are the process by which the genuineness of our faith is determined (dokime, v. 3). Throughout this process, the quality of steadfast character is developed!
We are not only told that we must undergo many tests throughout this life, as indeed all humans must, but we are also given a pattern to follow in handling them. Face it. It is hard enough to maintain a decent attitude when you are going through troubles that you know you brought on yourself. But what about things that are patently unfair? Humanly, we all bristle at the idea of unfairness. If one does not seek to retaliate and even the score, it seems almost, well, un-American!
Notice what the Apostle Peter tells us: “For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer for it, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, nor was guile found in His mouth’; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:19–23). The English word “example” in verse 21 is from upogrammos meaning “a writing copy.” It was a term used for a child’s copybook. The child, in copying every stroke of every letter, learned to reproduce the writing of the teacher. Christ is to be our pattern. We are to seek to reproduce His approach to life’s difficulties as closely as possible.
Besides Christ’s example, James 5:9–10 cites the prophets as worthy of consideration when it comes to handling trials. Most of the prophets of God suffered for their faithfulness. In addition to them, the Patriarch Job is pointed out in verse 11 as an outstanding example of steadfast faith in the way he handled severe trials. The book of Job is the story of a normal human being who is beset by misfortune and suffering. Look at the specific lessons we can learn about responding to trials as revealed in the book of Job.
Lesson 1—God Knows
One of the most overwhelming things about a severe trial can be the sense of isolation. We want to make sure that God knows because when He finds out, surely He’ll do something about it! In Job I we are given a behind-the-scenes look at events of which Job was completely unaware.
God, however, was very much aware of Job and of the wholehearted obedience he sought to render. In fact, God Himself called Satan’s attention to Job. Christ reminded His disciples in Luke 12:6–7 that God, who even takes detailed note of the sparrows, is much more deeply interested in the affairs of His own children. The Father is aware of everything about us down to the smallest detail. Even the hairs of our head are numbered
When we are struck with personal tragedy or persecuted for obedience, we can be sure that God knows. This is vitally important to keep in mind to counteract the sense of isolation and loneliness that will often beset us at such times. “No one understands what I’m going through,” we think. But Jesus Christ does! We have a faithful High Priest who was tested in all ways like us and is therefore able to empathize and give us the needed help (Hebrews 4:15–16).
Though Job could not begin to understand why all of these things were happening to him, he knew God was aware of it. He did not react, as Satan had predicted, by cursing God. Rather, Job told his wife, “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10).
Lesson 2—God Limits the Trial
The story recounted in chapters 1 and 2 makes us privy to actual conversations between God and Satan! When we begin reading the book of Job we learn that, while God allowed Satan to afflict Job, He set limits beyond which the devil could not pass. From the start we know there are limits to Job’s trial, and we know what those limits are. Initially, God restricted Satan from harming Job’s health. Later, He allowed Job to be personally stricken, but insisted that his life be spared. In all of this we have an advantage over Job. At the time he was going through adversity, Job knew nothing of the conversation between God and Satan. He knew nothing of any limits God had pre-imposed upon his trial.
When we find ourselves in the midst of great adversity, we must always keep in mind that there may have been a similar “behind-the-scenes” conversation regarding us. God has established the limits of our trial, but we just do not know what those limits are!
What we as Christians experience is not generally time and chance. The devil does not “sneak up” while God’s back is turned. God is involved in every test that we undergo and He has established preset limits beyond which Satan cannot go. Neither the duration nor the intensity of the trial is completely open-ended. Ultimately, God is in charge!
Lesson 3—Seek Growth, Not Vindication
This is perhaps one of the hardest lessons to keep in mind. Job wanted God to vindicate him in the eyes of his friends. People ridiculed him (30:1, 9) and that can be hard to take. When Elihu began to answer Job on behalf of God in chapters 32 through 37, he pointed out that Job had been wrongly focused during much of his trial. In Job 33:12–22, Elihu explains that God instructs and chastens in various ways. God has His reasons for how He deals with us. And sometimes they are beyond our understanding.
Job was so certain of his innocence and of the injustice of his afflictions that for a long time he was unable to see beyond that. He tried to defend himself from the false conclusions of his friends and in so doing was unable to see areas of needed growth in his life.
Again, God has reasons for allowing whatever happens—though we are often at a loss to fathom what they are. In our trials and tests, James encourages us to ask God for wisdom (James 1:5). If we do so in faith, He will surely give it. Whatever the trial or test, there is always growth that can be achieved. Even Jesus Christ Himself learned by the things He suffered (Hebrews 5:8). God wants us to grow. Therefore, we must undergo periodic pruning to stimulate that growth (John 15:2).
Lesson 4—The “Why” Often Proves Elusive
Humanly, we like everything to be neatly pigeonholed. We want the world and the events in it to make sense. But in trying to give an explanation for everything we sometimes miss the point. This is the way it was for Job’s friends.
The first of Job’s friends to speak was Eliphaz. He declared, “Remember now, who ever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright ever cut off? Even as I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same” (4:7–8). Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, Job’s three friends, were all sure that Job must have had some dirty secret at the root of his newfound troubles. They “knew” there had to be a reason. So, they badgered poor Job to confess this suspected secret sin.
Job knew there was no great hidden scandal in his life engendering his trials. He was defensive in the face of his accusers, but he also wondered—’ ‘Why?” One of the difficult things for us to accept is that many of the sufferings we go through simply cannot be neatly categorized. The why is often elusive. Bad things do not only happen to bad people. Job recognized that many times the wicked live to reach old age and even appear to prosper (21:7–13).
There are many whys that we will never know in this life. Acceptance that the why may prove elusive sets the stage for a fifth vital lesson from the book of Job.
Lesson 5—Trust in the Face of Anguish
Job was in despair. His whole life had been turned upside down. He had lost his wealth and his loved ones in a series of sudden calamities. Now his health was gone too. Why? Job was deeply frustrated because he could not make sense out of his trials. Yet in the depths of perplexity and despair he made one of the most profound declarations of faith recorded in the Bible: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (13:15).
In Job 19 we read the words of anguish that poured from Job’s lips. “Know that God has overthrown and put me in the wrong, and has closed His net about me.... He has walled up my way, so that I cannot pass, and He has set darkness upon my paths.... My kinsfolk have failed me, and my familiar friends have forgotten me.... I am repulsive to my wife and loathsome to the children of my own mother” (vv. 6, 8, 14, 17 Amplified Bible). Yet even at this low point of anguish and bewilderment, Job declares his heartfelt trust in God. “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth.... I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself” (vv. 25–27).
Job understood the truth of the resurrection. “If a man die, shall he live again?” Job asked. He went on to record the divinely inspired answer. “All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come (14:14 KJV). Job knew that God would call and that he would answer and come forth from the grave, because God would have a desire to the work of His hands (v. 15).
It is relatively easy to trust God when things are going the way we like them. When the world around us makes sense it is fairly easy to believe God is in charge. But what about when things turn upside down and inside out? It is in the midst of such perplexity and anguish that faith in God is most needed.
One of the things Satan never understood about Job was his motive. Satan thought Job only served God because it was to his advantage here and now. He was convinced that if God removed blessings and protection, Job would curse and revile Him. But that was not true. Job loved God and served Him out of sincere devotion. He trusted God even when he was feeling abandoned. This lesson of steadfast trust is one of the most important aspects of character we can gain from any trial.
Lesson 6—God Will Ultimately Reward both Good and Evil
Life can often seem unfair. There are those who make no pretense of serving God and yet they seem to be doing well. There are others who are genuinely trying, but they are experiencing many difficulties and setbacks. What we have to keep in mind is that this life is temporary.
Job noticed that there were wicked men whose “houses are safe from fear, neither is the rod of God upon them. Their bull breeds without failure; their cow calves without miscarriage” (21:9–10). Yet he realized that was not the end of the story. In verse 30 of the same chapter, Job said, “For the wicked are reserved for the day of doom; they shall be brought out on the day of wrath.” Even though it may seem that life is not fair, God is a God of justice.
Ultimately, it is in the resurrection that God will reward the righteous and punish the wicked. However, there are many times when even in this life events can make a sudden shift. The conclusion of the book of Job reveals, “Now the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning” (42:12). In the long run, there are blessings for obedience—entrance into the Kingdom of God is the greatest of all blessings—and curses for disobedience.
Lesson 7—We Emerge When We Learn What God Is Teaching
Many public schools in the United States promote and graduate students regardless of what they’ve actually learned. But God does not operate that way. He is the great Teacher who is preparing us for a role in His Kingdom and He insists that we learn our lessons properly. It was only when Job began coming to grips with the lessons that God wanted Him to learn that he began emerging from his period of great trial.
God focuses on the bottom line. He wants us to become like Him. Job was an exemplary man but he had a flaw. The Scriptures say Job’s problem was that “he was righteous in his own eyes and that “he justified himself rather than God” (32:1–2). Ultimately Job emerged with a far deeper understanding of the Almighty as well as a deeper understanding of himself and his own human nature. “Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes,” Job told God (42:6).
A vital lesson that all of us must learn in order to please God and to begin emerging from a trial is that of mercy and forgiveness. Job’s friends were miserable comforters. Regardless of their motives, they were a great part of Job’s trial. Yet notice the turning point when Job began to emerge from his great adversity. ‘And the Lord restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends” (v. 10).
Job came to really know God deeply, not simply to know about Him. He became a far more humble and compassionate man as a result of what he went through. Learning these lessons was the key to his emerging out of the dark shadows of life and into the sunlight once again.
Our trials can make us bitter or they can make us better! Which will yours do for you?