“Trials Can Be Opportunities in Disguise” 12/29/2013 PM, Sharon
Dr. Jeffrey K. Boer
When I was a boy, living on the farm in Iowa, we used to have our own “farm” version of “spring cleaning” for the farm yard. We’d pick up all the old, broken wagons, wooden fences, machinery, and tree branches lying around, and we’d haul them all to a big “junk pile” behind the grove of trees behind our yard. We’d pour a five gallon can of gasoline over the top of the whole
pile. And then, we’d throw a match on it.
Just think of lighting a gas grill, and multiply that about a hundred times! “POOF!” Everything went up in flames! (That may be why a lot of farmers have short hair!) Everything that could burn would burn – old tires, leaky wooden barrels, tree branches, paper, you name it. That fire would burn red hot for several hours and would keep on burning,
sometimes for several days.
Finally, when it was all over, all that was left was the iron and the metal parts. We’d gather all those metal parts together and put them in a wagon and take them into town to sell as scrap metal. Everything in that
burn-pile was literally “tried by fire” to see how much “metal” there was in
each piece of junk. All the “fluff and feathers,” all the “wood, hay and stubble” were burned away. All that was left was the metal, the worthwhile substance, the things of value.
Well trials and troubles have much the same purpose in our lives. They act as “fire” to test our “metal.” True faith, sincere faith, is often discovered and exposed and best made visible to those around us only by the fires of tribulation and suffering.
You see, the world knows that religious talk is cheap. It’s easy for us, as Christians, to say, “People should tithe. They should give 10% of their increase to the Lord through His Church.”
But then, let that same Christian continue to give his tithe when he’s
just suffered a financial problem. Let him continue to tithe in the midst of trouble, and then we see his real “metal.” We see how much of his Christian testimony was just “fluff and feathers” and how much was “real metal.” And the unbelieving world sees that too as they observe the lives of Christians in this world.
Christians can easily say, “We must give our children a Christian education.”
But then, we see how much is talk and how much is metal when financial
sacrifice is necessary in order to do that.
Reformed, Evangelical Christians are also very quick to say, “God sovereignly controls all things for the good of His people.”
But then what do they often do at the first sign of trouble or trials? They complain. They moan. They groan. They may even become bitter against God because of what’s happened. And here again, what do you suppose the world thinks about such a testimony?
I believe that it’s when a Christian is tried by fire and still comes through that trial praising God – that’s when the world pays the most attention to that Christian’s witness and to his testimony.
I believe that God often uses us much the same way today as when He used
Job in the OT. Sometimes the world tends to scoff at the Christian’s witness, just like Satan did regarding Job. They’ll say, “Yeah, he’s optimistic and cheerful all right when things are going well. He’s devoted to worshipping and obeying God simply because he’s happy and healthy and well-fed. But take
away his luxuries and his life of ease for awhile and then see what happens.
“Let him walk a mile in my shoes and he’ll change his tune. He’ll see that God isn’t as kind and as loving as he thinks. He’ll become just as bitter and negative about God as I am.”
So sometimes, to prove such scoffers wrong, God will take a Christian and
“put the fire to him,” so to speak. Not because He wants to hurt His beloved child, mind you, but because He wants to show him off. He wants to put His holy child up on a pedestal and burn away all the fluff and feathers and let the world see clearly that this Christian’s faith is true "metal.”
You see, you and I believe in Jesus Christ because God proudly showed us His true metal. Jesus Christ proved to us that God’s love was more than just talk. He left His riches in glory and became a man, like us. He perfectly
obeyed God, for us, in spite of all sorts of troubles and trials and temptations. In this way, the true glory of Jesus Christ was revealed to men and so through the preaching of that Gospel, we came to believe in Him.
So when God puts us on display in the same manner, by allowing us to suffer, we can be said to “share in Christ’s sufferings.”
As we respond in faith, even in the midst of sufferings, we show the world that Christ’s Spirit dwells in us and that our love for God is real.
Paul says, in Philippians 1:29-30, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him,
since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.”
The reason Paul wasn’t all upset by his troubles in prison, was because he saw these troubles as an opportunity to witness more effectively.
Just think about it for a minute. How many people would have believed Paul’s message and his testimony if it hadn’t cost Paul anything? How many people would have been willing to follow Christ if Paul, Himself, would have deserted Christ at the first sign of trouble? I’m sure that Paul’s joyful preaching of this Gospel, even in the face of beatings and persecutions and even death, made people more willing to listen. So Paul’s troubles only served to prove to the world that Paul really meant what he said and believed what he preached.
He was “for real.” He was “metal.”
And you know, it’s no accident that the very word, “witness,” in the Bible, is the word, “martyr.” A witness or a martyr is one who so strongly believes in something that he’s willing to die for his belief. In fact, nearly every one of the apostles of Jesus Christ was actually martyred for his faith. Because of God’s true grace working powerfully in them, they chose to suffer death rather than to give up their faith in Jesus Christ. These men weren’t super-heroes. These men were just ordinary, everyday, folks – fishermen, a tax
collector, a doctor. They didn’t stand firm in the faith on their own strength. They had true metal because they had been transformed by the Holy Spirit working in their lives.
Quite obviously, then, whether you’re an ordained preacher of the Gospel or whether you’re just an ordinary child of God who wishes to bring glory to God, the most effective witness to Jesus Christ is the witness of your life and words when times are tough.
This is true in a court of law as well. The most believable testimony in court
is the testimony of someone who’s putting his very life in danger by testifying. If someone was paid to testify, or bribed to say the right thing, his testimony would carry very little weight with the jurors. He wouldn’t be nearly as believable a witness.
In the same way, the most believable testimony to the truth of the Gospel
of Jesus Christ is the testimony that’s made from the middle of the fire. When a person has troubles, no matter what kind, that person has been given an opportunity for a more powerful witness in his life.
This is true even if that person is all alone and there’s not another soul on earth to see that person’s testimony. When we resist a difficult temptation,
even when nobody’s looking, and even when no human being on earth knows about it, God still sees it. And the angels in heaven and the demons see it too, and so your obedience still brings glory to God and proves the metal of your faith.
May God grant us the grace that we could all be ready to give the
response of Job, as God strengthened him while he suffered in the midst of his terrible trials and troubles in Job 13:15. Job said, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.”
May God grant to all of us that kind of, “Though he slay me,” kind of
If only every member of Christ’s church could give the testimony of
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3:16-18.
When King Nebuchadnezzar threatened to throw them all into the fiery
furnace if they wouldn’t bow down and worship his image, they said, “O
Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set
May God grant to all of us that, “But even if he does not,” kind of
Someone once said, “Every man has his price.”
Do you? Have you ever thought how much trouble it would take for you to compromise with the world and disobey God? You see, it’s especially in trouble that the world sees what Christians are really made of. You remember, from our sermon last week on Philippians 1, how Paul made the best of that wonderful opportunity God gave him in prison in Rome? Well, it was from that same prison that Paul wrote the letter to the Colossians. In that letter, Paul encouraged them, in Colossians 4:2-6, to do the same thing as he did.
Paul writes, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
We don’t often think of troubles as opportunities to witness, but they always are. Troubles are always opportunities to stand firmly for what we believe, even when things are going bad. Troubles are always opportunities in disguise – opportunities to bring glory to God by our obedience, even in trouble.
But such a witness and such a testimony doesn’t come automatically. It’s something we need to prepare for in advance. We must prepare ourselves
for trouble, so that when it comes, we’ll be able to handle it the way we
should. We need to be ready to handle these trials well, to God’s glory.
If God has given you times of freedom from trouble, use that time wisely
to prepare for trouble when it comes.
For example: How would you handle it if your child was run over by a
drunken driver? How would you respond if your husband or your wife were to leave you for another lover? How would you handle the loss of your job, or finding out that you have terminal cancer?
Are you prepared to handle even small troubles? What if your car runs out of gas and you have to walk five miles in the hot summer heat? What if you break your arm, or even a little finger?
Are you prepared to accept, with joy and thanksgiving, whatever God, in
His wise and loving providence decides to send you?
Charles Haddon Spurgeon tells the story of a man whose testimony remained
strong, even in difficult times:
When that eminent servant of God, Mr. Gilpin, was arrested to be brought
up to London to be tried for preaching the gospel, his captors made mirth of his frequent remark, “Everything is for the best.” When he fell from his horse and broke his leg, they were especially merry about it. But the good man quietly remarked, “I have no doubt but that even this painful accident will prove to be a blessing.”
And so it was, for, as he could not travel quickly, the journey was prolonged, and he arrived at London some days later than had been expected. When they reached Highgate, they heard the bells ringing merrily in the city down below. They asked the meaning and were told, “Queen Mary is dead, and there will be no more burning of Protestants!”
“Ah,” said Gilpin, “you see, it is all for the best.” It is a blessing to break a leg if thereby a life is saved. How often our calamities are our preservatives! [Spurgeon’s Works, vol. 31, pp. 562-563.]
If it’s a blessing to break a leg in order to be spared a trial and possible burning at the stake, how much more is it a blessing to suffer trials in life in order to be spared eternal Hell! How many of us would still be on that road to Hell if God had not brought some trouble or calamity into our lives to turn our lives around and to cause us to seek Him?
Christian, God knows what He’s doing, and He never causes any one of His
children a needless tear or a needless trial.
If you’re relatively free from trouble now, that’s an opportunity for you
to prepare to deal with trouble Biblically, when it hits. It’s also an opportunity for you to encourage and help others who may be suffering more trouble than you right now. And if you have trouble, right now, that’s an opportunity to witness to the world, and to the angels and demons as well, that yours is a faith, not merely of convenience. Your faith is a, “Though he slay me, yet will I praise him,” kind of faith. Your faith is a, “But even if he does not, yet will I trust him,” kind of faith.
Trouble is a perfect opportunity to show the world that your God is your
God, no matter what.
Let me close with another quotation from that great preacher, Charles
Haddon Spurgeon, concerning God’s providence in troubles:
It seems to me to be the highest stage of man to have no wish, no thought, no desire but Christ – to feel that to die were bliss if it were for Christ, that to live in penury [that is, “to live in great poverty”] and woe and scorn and contempt and misery were sweet for Christ, to feel that it did not matter what became of one’s self, so that one’s Master was but exalted, to feel that though, like a leaf, you are blown in the blast, you are quite free from anxiety, as long as you feel that the Master’s hand is guiding you according to his will. Though like the diamond you must be cut, you care not how sharply you may be cut, so that you may be made fit to be brilliant in his
Remember, fellow Christians, that the jewels that shine the brightest for His glory are often the jewels that have been cut and polished the most by those
trials and tribulations He allows into our lives.
The Lord knows how often we’ve all failed Christ in our lives. Even the apostles were not without sin. We’re all weak in our own strength and we should all recognize that fact. That’s why it’s so important to draw upon the strength of the Lord in prayer, and to faithfully use all the means of grace He gives us to help to strengthen our faith.
Some of you younger folks may not have seen a lot of difficult trials in your lives yet. But don’t think that you’re immune from such trials. Ask yourself, “Would I be able to keep my faith in God if God were to allow me to have an accident where my legs would be paralyzed and I’d never be able to walk again? Would I be able to continue to love and praise God even if He were to cause me to be made blind or deaf?”
Such trials come upon young people every day in this world, and many of
them become bitter against God because they haven’t prepared themselves for trials. Now is the time to prepare. Once the hurricane arrives, it’s too late. If you’re not ready then, you’ll simply be blown away by the storm.
But if you’re ready to suffer with Christ, if God calls upon you to do
that, and if you’re ready to stand firm in your faith – if you’re ready for those big temptations when they come, then you’ll be able to rejoice knowing that God has enabled you to bring Him glory even through those difficult times.
And so Paul encourages all of us with these words, in Philippians 1:27, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
And in v. 29, he adds, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him.”
May God grant all of us the strength, when the time comes, to stand firm
in the face of temptation, and to stand firm in our faith, even in the midst of
trials. May we, at such times, be enabled to show our true metal!