Shelter in Place Survival Guide – The Blessing of Trials

The Blessing of Trials

12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.  14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. James 1:12-15 


Imagine for a moment that we are sitting across the table from one another and I am holding an orange.  What would happen if I began to slowly squeeze this fruit?  At first, the orange—being somewhat malleable—would absorb the pressure and distort as the inside of the fruit was crushed and reshaped by the increasing strain.  In this process, the internal structures of the citrus would fail as the individual vesicles ruptured beneath the crushing force of my hand.  Given enough time and enough pressure, the orange’s ability to displace the stress would be exhausted, the firm exterior would split, and a violent explosion would splatter its juices across anything in its vicinity.

In this season of “sheltering in place,” perhaps you have felt much like this little orange.  You have been confined to your home now for weeks and the place that was once your refuge from the stresses of the world is marred by the constant conflict between siblings, spouses, or stubborn seniors.  To make matters worse, you have been cut off from your normal outlets for emotional stress and relational strain.  You cannot go to the gym to burn off your anger, get to your favorite coffee shop for your girlfriends to talk you down, meander the store to get a few extra minutes of quiet, or even go to church and hug your spiritual siblings and sing praises to the Lord.  With every passing day, your internal walls are failing as your emotional vesicles are collapsing and the juices of your soul are ready to explode all over the next person that says “coronavirus!”

As counterintuitive as it sounds, the Bible tells us that this is a blessing.  James tells us in his letter, Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds (James 1:2).  Count trials as joy? Seriously!? What in the world could make this season of stress, separation, and shutdown a blessing for us?  These times of trial are blessings because they expose what is inside of us.  When the orange does finally explode under the pressure of my grip no one would expect anything to come from it except what was already inside of it.  We would not expect to squeeze an orange and get sweet tea, grape juice, or even lemonade.  That would be absurd.  In the same way, the trials that we face in this life expose what is inside of us, both the good and the bad.

Seasons of stress can bring out the best in us.  I am hearing testimonies of members of our church family who are loving their neighbors well in this season.  Some are cooking dinner for their neighbors, others are mowing lawns, delivering groceries, and spending more time in God’s word and worship as a family than ever before.  We are finally learning first-hand that the church is not a place or a time but a people.  Church leaders are finding new ways to communicate, to serve, and to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12) as we are being forced to realize that churches do not reach people, people reach people.  But this is not the only possibility.

When the pressures of life’s trials squeeze, the worst that is within us often bursts out of hiding.  All that we attempt to cover up and cram into the closets of our hearts and private places come tumbling into the light when the winds of chaos blow open the doors.  This exposure of our inner unmentionables is not merely what is displayed in public.  This happens privately and even internally.  It is not uncommon for us to be shocked by what comes up from our hearts, into our minds, and out of our mouths in times of trial. 

We have two options when we do not like what boils to the surface due to the heat that is dialed up in our hearts.  On the one hand, we can follow the example of Adam and Eve who ran from the presence of the good and gracious God.  They attempted to hide their sin and shame through their own ingenuity by making garments for themselves from the material world.  When this did not work and they were confronted with their disobedience they began pointing fingers at one another and, ultimately, at God himself.  

Unfortunately, we have not advanced much further than our first parents.  We desperately want to believe that the worst of us comes from somewhere else.  “My family makes me angry.” “The barrage of bad news makes me anxious.” “That photo of a scantily clad coed makes me lustful.”  And to make it all worse, we think, “if God is really sovereign then he is the One who allowed all of this to happen to me and so he is to blame!”

Nearly two millennia ago, James pastored people through times of trial with the exact same tendencies.  He forbade them and us from pointing our crooked fingers at the Father of lights and the Giver of good gifts (James 1:16).  God is holy and the epitome of moral perfection, so there can be no evil or malicious intent in anything that the Lord allows in his reign over the universe.  So, what then must be the source of our broken and wicked behavior in these times of trial?  James tells us that it is our own evil desires that give birth to sin and ultimately to death.  In other words, the worst of us comes from within us.

Jesus said it this way, out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander (Matthew 15:19).

Our circumstances never create the anger, lust, anxiety, or bitterness that come out of us, they merely expose the reality that these things were inside us, to begin with.  The dark things we do are birthed in the dark dens of our hearts that we have kept hidden from the light of the gospel.  

Hiding is as old as sin itself.  Immediately after eating the fruit forbidden to them Adam and Eve hid from one another and from God.  When confronted by the Lord they then attempted to deflect his gaze by blaming others for their sin.  Adam and Eve wanted two things as they stood exposed before one another and the Lord.  They wanted to be covered and they wanted someone else to take the blame, even if that someone was a perfect God.  Little did they know that this was exactly what they needed and what God was willing to do for them from the bounty of his love and grace.

In the moment, he covered their shame with the skins of a sacrifice.  In the fullness of time, he would be the One to cover himself but this time with the frame and frailty of humanity.  He would walk this earth and live this life without sin, without shame, but not without suffering.  He would not merely clothe himself with our form but would clothe himself in our guilt and shame as well.   He would bear our sins in his body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24) as he hung in our place and freely took upon himself the guilt that is ours.  

The eternal Son of the Father drank the cup of wrath that we deserve for our sins so that we might be forgiven.  He died so that we might be spared the death that was rightfully ours.  He was raised to life that we might receive the promise of everlasting life in him.  He ascended that he might send his Spirit to breathe life into our dead hearts, sanctify us for his purpose, and bear fruit in us that we might bring him glory.

On the one hand, when we do not like what boils to the surface due to the heat that is dialed up in our hearts we can run from the God of grace, hide in our own pathetic attempts to conceal our shame, and look for someone else to blame.  Or we can choose to run to the God of grace who has already taken upon himself the blame, endured the punishment, and given from himself the forgiveness, life, and love we could never earn but desperately need.

James tells us that we are blessed when we remain steadfast under trial.  Remaining steadfast looks like standing firm in our faith in what Christ has done for us and who he declares us to be no matter what comes at us from without or rises against us from within.

When we understand and live in the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ we need not be afraid of the ugly that inevitably comes out of us in seasons of stress and strife.  Instead, when the anger, anxiety, lust, bitterness, and far worse come out of us we can know that God has exposed it through our circumstances so that by his grace we might confess it, forsake it, and be transformed.  We can go to our family and to our friends and seek their forgiveness for lashing out or letting them down without shame because we know that we are not defined by what we have done or even their opinion of us but rather by what God has done for us and who he says we are.  He does not say that we are sinners but instead says we are sons and daughters, forgiven and set free from sin and death, and indwelled by his Spirit to bear fruit in keeping with the gospel.  

Therefore, when we are in Christ, his Spirit is in us.  This means that as Christians there is far more within us to come out in times of stress and strain than the things that we do not like.  There is fruit that is not natural to who we are but that has been placed there by the gracious hand of our loving Father.  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are all there inside of us waiting to be squeezed from us as well.   So we need not be afraid of the times of testing and trials.  Instead, we can embrace them as occasions for growth where what is unhealthy can be pruned, and what is good can be strengthened.  In the end, we can have confidence that the times of testing are curated for us by our loving Father to produce steadfastness in our faith that by his grace we might be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:4).


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