“For a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Pet. 1:6-7).
As a 21st century American, I’ve got to admit that I have WAY fewer trials than most human beings have had through history. We kid in our family about our “first world problems” – lost remotes, slow internet connections, not enough foam on our lattes … in other words, not really “trials” at all. In fact, progress has made my life so simple and prosperous, I rarely experience a legitimate trial.
As a result, I don’t have much of a stomach for hardship. My heart should be full of gratitude, and the feeling that I don’t deserve all the blessings I have. Instead, I’m slow to say “thank you”, and quick to whine when things don’t go exactly my way. I’m spoiled rotten.
And this is a key reason why “hope” feels awkward and contrived to me at times. It’s hard to long for something more when you have so much. Layer upon this a holiday season where everything is pretty, tasty food is everywhere, everyone is on their best behavior … it’s hard to long for heaven when it seems like heaven materializes before us every December!
According to Peter, without trials, we’re missing something. He says that “trials…have come so that…your faith…may result in praise, glory and honor.” Good stuff comes out of trials. Important stuff. Needed stuff.
Martin Luther says this: “The very nature of the Christian life is that it constantly increases and becomes holier and purer.” Really? If that’s true, how does this increase happen? Luther describes one critical way: “God throws us into the midst of the fire of opposition, suffering, and tribulation, so that we may become more and more purified until we die … as a result, from day to day we become more assured of our calling, we grow in the understanding of the divine wisdom and knowledge, and the Scriptures become ever easier and clearer … we need such a fire and cross as this daily … to this we cannot attain by any works of our own.” *
Hmmm … if I experienced more trials, my faith would be stronger. My witness would be bolder. My life would be praiseworthy, for the Lord’s sake. And, my longing for Christ’s return and the inauguration of the heavenly Kingdom would come alive. It sounds like the bi-products of trials are desirable!
But…what do I do? I just don’t have many trials. And Luther warns against the monastic approach of self-initiated trials (e.g., disciplines of “mortification”): “It is not God’s pleasure that we should select our own works, but wait for whatever God imposes upon us and ordains for us.” But, it seems God just isn’t imposing any trials on me…
Or is he?
- Has he charged me to share the gospel more boldly in situations that might result in conflict?
- Has he charged me to be more selfless in my relationships?
- Has he charged me to embrace and love the unlovely?
- Has he charged me to be more generous, giving up my prosperity for the sake of others?
- Has he charged me to fast?
- Has he charged me to labor in Bible study and prayer?
The sad truth is this: I don’t have trials because I don’t obey. To obey the Lord is to be ushered into divinely appointed, beneficial trials … and if I continue to avoid them to protect my own comforts, my faith will be anemic, my flesh will take charge, and my hope will wither.
Knowing that simple obedience will bring trials … do I dare walk in obedience this Advent season?
E * O
* For you lovers of history out there — Luther spins the Reformation itself as a God-given trial: “Had not the devil here of late years both with force and cunning attacked us so strongly, we would never have come to this certainty in our doctrine; neither would the articles of faith on the righteousness of the Christian and the doctrine of faith be developed as fully as they are.”