Trials! Ugh....don't you just hate that word! Nobody in their right mind wants to have trials. Our trials slow us down, cause us pain and sadness, and frustrate us to no end. No one is immune either; they are common to us all. Trials are the stuff-of-life; our path is laden on every side with setbacks and struggles and suffering.
For years, I have not wanted to admit that suffering is part of the Christian experience. I would skip over the Bible verses about trials, sweep them under the rug, so to speak. I believed that my faith in Christ would somehow shield me from suffering, and there is some truth to this idea, because Jesus suffered for us, taking our place when he died on the cross for our sins. So, there is great comfort in the fact that Christ has paid the just penalty for my sins and I am no longer charged as guilty of those sins.
A good place to go to find out more about the topic of suffering is the Bible, of course. One major theme of the book of 1Peter is the willingness of Christians to suffer for Christ's sake. So, it is there that we will look to find some answers to the problem of suffering. Here we find that Christ suffered for our sake, to bring us to God (1Peter 3:18). We learn that Christ's suffering was an example for us to follow (1Peter 2:21) and the trial of our faith is more precious than gold (1Peter1:7).
We can be certain then, that we will have trials. Experience has proven that I was not exempt from suffering even though my life was hidden in Christ. Like everyone else, I have had my share of trials and problems to deal with. These trials and problems were the very "things" that have shaped my life. "Things" I encountered, like financial woes caused by debt and over-spending, "things" like difficulty in relationships caused by divorce and estrangement and unforgivness, and "things" like the heartbreak of caring for a child with a disability.
Suffering is inevitable because we live in a fallen world. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they died as a result of that one act and today we still live under the curse of that one act. We are born in sin and unless we accept God's salvation through Christ, we will die in sin and be eternally separated from God.
Let's look again at 1Peter 4:12-19; here we find some answers as to why we suffer and how we are to respond to trials whenever they come our way. We are instructed in verse 12 to think it not strange; to understand that it is normal, something to be expected. We will encounter persecution and opposition because we have an enemy of our souls and we are engaged in a war between the forces of good and evil. Our response to suffering, we see in verse 13, is to rejoice because Christ is glorified in us when we suffer. This is a reminder to us that even though we live in this world; this world is not our home. We are to live for the world to come. We are to invest in the kingdom of heaven. And we are to lay down our lives for the sake of others. Finally, in verse 19 we see that our response to trials is to commit the keeping of our souls to him in well-doing. This is where our faith takes over; we believe that God is in control, that he knows where we are and what we are going through, and he will bring us through it.
Most everyone who has suffered will admit that now, looking back on that time, they can see that God was at work in their life. God speaks to us through trials; it is at these difficult times that God has our full attention. We are brought to the end of ourself and we realize that we need his help. We grow stronger in our faith as we endure,and in time, like gold that is tried by fire, we too are purified and strengthened by the fire of suffering. The key is to endure; to remain true to Christ, to keep-on, keeping-on. God is speaking through trials.....but, are we listening?