One of the many helpful books I have read and re-read these past few months is Suffering and the Sovereignty of God edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor. This book includes contributions by experts in the field of suffering: men and women who have experienced—and in some cases are still in the midst of—extreme and unrelenting suffering, but who have learned to count it all joy when facing trials of many kinds (James 1:2). A few years ago, when this book was first published, we were allowed to offer a sneak preview of several chapters:
”All the Good that is Ours in Christ”: Seeing God’s Gracious Hand in the Hurts Others Do to Us by Mark Talbot
God’s Grace and Your Sufferings by David Powlison
Hope…the Best of Things by Joni Eareckson Tada
“How does God’s grace meet you in your sufferings?” David Powlison asks in his chapter:
“We can make the right answer sound old hat, but I guarantee this: God will surprise you. He will make you stop. You will struggle. He will bring you up short. You will hurt. He will take his time. You will grow in faith and in love. He will deeply delight you. You will find the process harder than you ever imagined – and better. Goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life. No matter how many times you’ve heard it, no matter how long you’ve known it, no matter how well you can say it, God’s answer will come to mean something better than you could ever imagine.”
Let me encourage you to listen to the conference messages that these chapters were based on and to buy and study this book. Let these godly men and women hold your hand through your suffering and point you to our gracious, sovereign God.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” James 1:2-3
Nancy Wilson has some helpful thoughts on trials and testing:
So, how do we react when tough things happen? We should view it the way the Bible tells us to view it. This is a test. God sends His children pop quizzes and tests from time to time to see if we are learning our lessons, if we are paying attention, if we are reading our assignments.
Read her entire post here.
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” Ps. 103:2
The Psalmist tells us to “forget not” because it is so easy to forget—especially in a trial! When enemies surround us and troubles rain down like arrows thick and fast, it is hard to remember the benefits we have received from the Lord.
That’s why my mom started a “mercies list” She wanted to help our family remember all the Lord’s benefits, and not forget a single one. So she asked for our help to think of all the mercies we had received from God’s hand in the midst of this difficult time and she wrote them down. She continues to add to the list regularly whenever one of us remembers or receives a specific mercy.
Not only is this (long!) list a reminder to all of us of God’s many benefits, it encourages us to keep on the lookout for new mercies every morning (Lam. 3:22-23). This regular recalling of God’s mercies gives us renewed hope for the future, for as the hymn writer put it so well, His streams of mercy are never-ceasing.
The amazing thing is that even when we do forget His benefits, God does not forget to lavish us with grace. “God has not forgotten to be gracious, nor shut up His tender mercies,” Spurgeon reminds us, “it may be night in the soul, but there need be no terror, for the God of love changes not.”
What mercies can you remember today? The rest of Psalm 103 can get you started.
“Why yield to gloomy anticipations? Who told you that the night would never end in day?.... Who told you that the winter of your discontent would proceed from frost to frost, from snow and ice and hail to deeper snow and yet more heavy tempest of despair? Don’t you know that day follows night, that flood comes after ebb, that spring and summer succeed winter? Be full of hope! Hope forever! For God does not fail you. Do you know that God loves you in the midst of all this?.... You will yet, midst the splendors of eternity, forget the trials of time, or only remember them to bless the God who led you through them and works your lasting good by them. Come, sing in the midst of tribulation. Rejoice even while passing through the furnace. Cause the desert to ring with your exulting joys, for these light afflictions will soon be over, and then forever with the Lord, your bliss shall never wane.”
~Charles Spurgeon, Morning & Evening revised and edited by Alistair Begg, July 21, evening.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4
Another insight I’ve gleaned in my study of James 1:2-8 is from the phrase “And let steadfastness have its full effect…” This command carries an implication, and the implication is that it is possible to walk through a trial and not profit in the way that God intends. We can actually miss out on the “full effect” God has designed for that trial. What a horrific thought!
Trials are allowed by God for a purpose. They are hard, sometimes excruciatingly so, but they produce good fruit if—and only if—we let steadfastness have its full effect. That’s why John Piper urges people “Don’t Waste Your Trial”: because it is possible to waste it.
“James is bringing in a word of caution.” comments Alec Motyer on this verse:
“A believer might endure for a while, and then tire of enduring. In this case the desired growth to maturity is halted mid-way. There has to be a persistency of enduring: Steadfastness must have its full effect…. The road is, therefore, hard and long, and the task is unremitting: to endure the first onset of the startling, unexpected trial, and to endure again while it persists, and then to go on enduring…. We are thus called to a persistent endurance. But this hard road has a glorious destination for us: that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. The Message of James, p.32.
So how do we keep from wasting our trial? We persist in enduring. No matter how long the road. No matter how numerous the setbacks. No matter how deep the disappointment. We must keep before us that glorious destination: “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” And having done all, we must simply stand.
On our dining room wall hangs a four by six foot chalkboard. Come over some time and see, you can’t miss it. I change it up every so often with a Scripture or quote or fun seasonal decor. But I have a feeling that the quote I put up there recently isn’t coming down any time soon. I hope it brings comfort to your soul as it does mine every time I sneak into the dining room for a peek.
Whatever my God ordains is right,
Here shall my stand be taken;
Though sorrow, or need, or death be mine,
Yet I am not forsaken,
My Father’s care circles me there,
He holds me that I shall not fall,
And so to Him I leave it all.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” James 1:2-8 To be honest, these haven’t been the first verses I’ve run to in the midst of this trial. “Count it all joy.” Really?! But over time, God has graciously drawn me to this passage and taught me encouraging, faith-building lessons as I have sought to study and plunge its depths. One sermon that has helped me explore this passage is by Russell Moore from his series on James, “Life in the Mist”. I’ve listened to it several times and highly recommend it as an insightful introduction to this passage of Scripture. Whether or not you are in a trial, we all need wisdom; and thanks be to God, He promises to give generously to all, without reproach!
There have been certain times during this trial when my prayers were reduced to nothing more than cries for help throughout the day. “Lord, have mercy on us.” “Lord, we need your grace.” “Lord, please help.” On these days I sometimes felt guilty that my prayers lacked substance. Then I remembered the truth of Christ’s prayers for me:
“It is a consoling thought that Christ is praying for us, even when we are negligent in our prayer life; that He is presenting to the Father those spiritual needs which were not present to our minds and which we often neglect to include in our prayers; and that He prays for our protection against the dangers of which we are not even conscious, and against the enemies which threaten us, though we do not notice it. He is praying that our faith may not cease, and that we may come out victoriously in the end.”
Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p.403.
“If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me.”
Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Robert Murray M’Cheyne p.179.
(From a post by Justin Taylor)
What enormous comfort and courage poured into my soul when I remembered my Savior’s prayers!
In these past few months, I have discovered a helpful exercise for the soul: studying the lives of great saints. These men and women often had great trials, and when I read about their trials it puts my own in proper perspective. Martyn Lloyd-Jones makes this point in the book Faith on Trial:
“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.” 1 Co. 10:13
“Where the devil gets us is just here. He persuades us that nobody has ever had this trial before: no one has ever had a problem like mine, no one else has been dealt with like this. But Paul says, ‘There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man,’ and the moment you remember even that much, you feel better. All God’s people know something about this: we are such strange creatures, and sin has had a strange effect upon us. We are always helped in our suffering by hearing that somebody else is suffering too!.... Some of the greatest saints that have ever adorned the life of the Church have experienced trials and troubles and tribulations which cause our little problems to pale into insignificance.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Faith on Trial, pp. 56-57
So let me encourage you, sometime soon, to read a biography of a godly man or woman. Or, if you don’t have time to read, listen to John Piper’s biographical sermons online. For me, this spiritual exercise has caused my “little problems to pale into insignificance.”
“They that love God as they ought, will have such a sense of his wonderful long-suffering toward them under the many injuries they have offered to him, that it will seem to them but a small thing to bear with the injuries that have been offered to them by their fellow-men.”
~Jonathan Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits, p.78.