Recently, I witnessed a sobering example of the need to expect trials.
My wife, Katie, and I grew up together in northern California. We lost touch after high school and then reconnected almost ten years later. At the time, Katie was living in our hometown of McArthur, California, but I was seven hours south in Lemoore, California. Some wonderful friends of mine, Pat and Kathy Mundy, graciously invited Katie to live with them so we could be near each other, even though they did not know her yet. The four of us became close. They performed our pre-marital counseling and made the trip north for our wedding. Seven years ago, Katie and I moved from Lemoore to Woodland, Washington. Although the distance changed our relationship with Pat and Kathy, we remained friends.
A few years ago, Pat retired from the police department, and he and Kathy looked forward to investing in their grandkids, traveling, and serving their church. Then everything changed. Kathy got sick, and a hospital visit revealed an aggressive form of cancer. The “golden years” have been replaced with doctor appointments and multiple rounds of chemotherapy. Nothing slowed the disease, and in a last attempt, they moved to Seattle for an experimental treatment. A few weeks ago, on their way north, they surprised us and stopped by our house to visit.
I felt privileged to see them at this time in their lives. As soon as we got them sitting in our living room, I wanted to hear everything they felt comfortable sharing about their trial, but the first thing they said was, “How is your dad’s Alzheimer’s?” Despite what they were experiencing, they “[esteemed] others better than [themselves]” (Philippians 2:3). Throughout the conversation, they gave little indication they were experiencing such a difficult test. As we talked, they discussed their blessings far more than they discussed any amount of suffering. Repeatedly, they shared how good God was being to them.
Reflecting on that conversation, I have asked myself:
- Why did they not question (or criticize) God?
- How could they be so thankful during such a difficult trial?
- Why did they respond this way when their circumstances would devastate many other people?
I tried to answer these questions in Enduring Trials God’s Way. Is there any reason you should trust my answers? No, and I am not asking you to do so. This book is not a collection of my thoughts about trials. Rather, I am inviting you to trust the Bible. Enduring Trials God’s Way came from several sermons I preached, and I labored over each one for twenty to thirty hours per week. God knows what is necessary for people to find joy in suffering, and I hope to present the recipe for that in my book.
As a pastor, I watch firsthand as people suffer through trials. Woodland Christian Church maintains a prayer list, and it seems as soon as we can remove one request, another is added. We have prayed about medical issues, job losses, deaths of family members, and the examples could go on.
My family has learned to expect trials. This past year: my sister-in-law, who lives with her family next door to us, experienced two massive heart attacks; my dad, who lives with my mom up the street from us, went through radiation and chemotherapy (and that is besides his Alzheimer’s); and Katie and I experienced our second miscarriage.
The Bible Tells us to Expect Trials
1 Peter 4:12—Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you.
The New Testament was primarily written in Greek, and the word for “strange” is xenizō. It means, “Surprised, astonished, or shocked.” We should expect trials instead of being surprised, astonished, or shocked by them. James 1:2 says, “when you fall into various trials…” versus “if you…” We will face trials, and this is a New Testament theme:
- Acts 14:22a—“Strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, [Paul said] ‘We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.’”
- 1 Thessalonians 3:3—“No one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this.”
Even though trials are part of the Christian life, we often question how they could happen to us: “Why would God let this happen to me?” We act surprised, astonished, or shocked. Based on Scripture we should say, “Since I know trials are part of the Christian life, how would God have me respond? How can I handle this in a way that glorifies Him?”
Since we should expect trials, people expecting the Christian life to be carefree are in for a shock. This is why it is terrible to tell people, “If you become a Christian, Jesus will make your life wonderful!” When they experience trials, there are only three possibilities. They will:
- Be upset with you later, feeling as though you lied to them.
- Be angry with Jesus for not making their life perfect like you said He would.
- Think Christianity is untrue, telling themselves, “If Jesus were real, He would not have let this happen to me.”
Instead, we should expect trials and tell others to do the same. We should embrace what Jesus said to His disciples: “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33b).
Trials are Unpredictable, but not Accidents
Even though we should expect trials, we don’t know when they will take place, which makes them unpredictable. James 1:2 says, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials.” The words “fall into” communicate the unexpected nature of trials. The Greek word for “fall into,” or other translations say, “face,” “meet,” or “encounter,” is peripiptō. It only occurs three times in Scripture and each time it describes something that is unpredictable. The other two occurrences are:
- Luke 10:30—“Jesus answered and said, ‘A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among (peripiptō) thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.’”
- Acts 27:41a—“Striking (peripiptō) a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground.”
It was unexpected when thieves robbed the man and when the boat crashed. Unpredictable is a great way to describe trials, but do not misunderstand the words “fall into” and think trials are accidents. It is not as though we are walking along, trip, and find ourselves in a trial.
If we see trials this way, then when we experience one we will say, “I am so unlucky. Why do bad things keep happening to me?” Even worse is when people feel as though they could have prevented whatever took place. They are filled with guilt and regret saying, “If I had only _____, then this would not have happened.” They beat themselves up, sometimes never forgiving themselves.
Instead of viewing trials as accidents, we need to recognize they are from the Lord. Before trials reach us, they first pass through the throne of God. Some people are troubled by this view, but what is the alternative? God is not sovereign. He is not in control of what happens to us. He is looking down saying, “Why did this happen to _____? I wish there were something I could do. If only _____ would have happened instead.” This is a troubling view!
If you could only choose one area of life you want God in control of, wouldn’t it be the trials you experience? When people are suffering, one of the best ways for them to encourage themselves and experience any comfort is in recognizing: “God is in control. I can trust Him. He loves me. I am His child. He wants what is best for me, and He is using this for my benefit.”
One of the most quoted verses when people are suffering is Romans 8:28: “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” This verse is about God’s sovereignty. It encourages us because we are reminded the trial we are experiencing is not an accident.
Expect Trials Daily…and Understand Why They Are Dangerous
James 1:2 says, “You fall into various trials…” and 1 Peter 1:6 says, “You have been grieved by various trials…” The words “you” and “various” reveal the personal and unique nature of trials:
- Joseph was betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery.
- Job lost most of his loved ones and experienced terrible physical suffering.
- David was hunted by King Saul for years.
- Ezekiel’s wife was killed.
- The Apostle John was exiled on the island of Patmos.
Each of these trials was personal and unique to the individuals, and the trials we experience are personal and unique to us. Although that creates a similarity between us and the people in Scripture, the problem is we are often given the most dramatic events from their lives. Most trials we experience daily are of a much smaller magnitude. Only a handful of times do we experience suffering that could be considered life-changing. The rest of our lives are filled with trials that could be fittingly described by Jesus: “And the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house” (Matthew 7:25a and 27a).
What imagery is created by the words “beat on that house”? These trials take place daily and can even become unrecognizable because of their regularity. These storms beat on us at work, home, school, while raising children, and the list goes on until we—like the house in the parable—feel as though we are going to collapse. Who has not said, “I cannot do this anymore! I do not know if I will make it through one more day.” Many people expect trials of great magnitude, but then find themselves too weak to endure the strain of sleepless nights with babies, unpleasant co-workers, obnoxious neighbors, marriage struggles, financial issues, and health problems.
In November 2015, Czech pilot, Zbynek Abel, was forced to perform an emergency landing of his Aero L-159 Alco subsonic attack jet when it collided with a bird. The aircraft was armed with powerful weapons that could destroy other planes and attack cities, but it was downed by a bird hundreds of times smaller and had no powerful engine, deadly weapons, or skilled pilot.3 In the same way, small trials can threaten to take us down, making them as dangerous as the large trials we fear most. We know people who have endured great trials, whether it is a disease, physical handicap, or the loss of a loved one. We are challenged by their endurance, wondering how we would respond if we were in their place. Although, this creates a danger if we, like the attack jet, only “arm” ourselves for the large trials of life.
What is the solution to these daily trials? Jesus provided the answer: “whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock” (Matthew 7:24–25).
We need a strong foundation to endure the trials that can lead to the collapse of our lives. That foundation is obedience to Christ. Jesus promised obeying His teaching enables us to survive the storms of life we can all expect.
Discussion Questions to Answer in the Comments Section
- Why should it be encouraging to remember God is in control when you are in a trial?
- What trials have you experienced that are common to all Christians?
- What trials you have experienced that were unique to you?
- Are there daily trials you need to be aware of, because of their potential to wear you down?
Most of this post is taken from my book, Enduring Trials God’s Way: