Something I’ve noticed about the trials that God brings into my life is that they aren’t very explosive. He doesn’t often bring hurricanes or eruptions as much as He sets rain clouds over my life that just seem to park for long periods of time and slowly drench everything. The rain isn’t even all that intense. It’s just steady and unrelenting. Some people seem to have big, flashy trials that make for great prayer requests (“Our son Jimmy joined ISIS – please pray”). For me – and I’d probably include my wife in this – the trials seem to be fixed and ongoing and hard to summarize into good prayer-request-bytes (“Um, well, nothing’s really changed since the last time we talked. Jimmy doesn’t seem to want to get out of bed…”).
I think the reason for this may be my personality. Since God is God, He obviously knows just what kind of trial will be the most effective in bringing me to Him (assuming that all trials have the twin purposes – among other things – of making us realize our dependence on God and enabling us to know Him more). He knows that in a lot of ways I’d probably cope with a sudden disaster better than I can with the steady drumbeat of missed expectations and continual discomfort. You see, that’s the key word – ‘discomfort.’ As I get older I realize more and more just how important comfort is to me and how I’ve arranged my life to make sure I’m comfortable the vast majority of the time. If I’m honest with myself (something I’m doing more of these days after hiding so much from me for so long), I’d have to say that many times I’ve put comfort on the throne ahead of kids, wife, friends, church, and God. And since God will not abide a rival (see First Commandment), He brings things into my life to upset that throne, and He does it in such a way that I can’t shift into crisis mode (which would allow me to rearrange everything and put responsibilities on hold and ask for DefCon 1 levels of prayer) but have to keep living normally with a low level of stress that chases my god right out of my life.
The key, of course, is what I do with that empty throne. Do I joyously welcome my Creator and Redeemer back to His rightful place? OR do I try to do everything in my power to bring my god back because that’s what I’m accustomed to? The answer may explain why these trials seem to park in my life for long periods of time. If I honestly evaluate my thoughts and prayers (which, after all, are what people send out to the suffering), they take different forms but they all likely have the theme of, “Make this stop! Make it go away! Change whoever needs changing so this issue gets resolved and I can go back to living normally!” I do that instead of praying for God to change me where I need changing. Maybe if I took the approach that I want this trial to make me more useful for His kingdom it would simultaneously change my perspective on what’s happening AND – perhaps – serve to bring it to a close.
Along those lines, my wife and I had an interesting day this past Sunday (a day clearly superintended by a sovereign God). We had lunch with an older couple who shared with us some excruciating trials they went through with one of their kids. Their perspective on those trials was illuminating. They said they weren’t entirely sure what effect the tough times had on their daughter, but they absolutely know that they wouldn’t be walking with God in the way they’re walking with Him if it weren’t for going through them. They now consider their difficult child a gift from God because of what He accomplished through her. We then had dinner with another couple whose kids are older than ours and who also were hugely challenged by one of them. They said almost exactly the same thing – they wouldn’t be who they are with their trust in God where it is without her.
Both couples spoke to the same issue – ongoing trials without simple resolutions can’t be wasted by pining for the good old days or hoping that the easy times come back soon. If all we do is complain – either outwardly or in our thoughts – we miss the opportunity God affords us to move on from our worldly values and treasures. If all we see is what we’re missing or how our lives don’t measure up or how hard it is to explain the stress we’re feeling, then we waste what God gives us through the trial – the chance to become more conformed to the image of His Son. This is true of all trials, obviously, but it seems especially true of the ongoing, low-level kind that lend themselves to thoughts of, “We just need to wait for this to go away” rather than, “We need to use this to become more Christ-centered and eternally-focused.”
Unfortunately, what I’ve found is that trials like this have in some cases pushed me away from God. Their seeming unendingness has allowed the Enemy to convince me that since prayer never changes anything, what’s the point of doing it? And if I do pray – as I mentioned above – I tend to simply pray for it all to end and for my worship of comfort to resume. What talking to the two couples this past Sunday showed me is that I’m wasting what God’s trying to give me the opportunity to do.
One final thought on this, and it’s perhaps a little off topic (and you’ll have to excuse my soapbox). But it’s interesting how these kinds of trials affect the believers who are around the people going through them. My experience has been that as a Christian community we don’t respond well to situations that don’t resolve. We typically don’t like hearing the same prayer requests over and over. When I was in fifth grade in Christian School, I had a teacher who took requests before she began each day with prayer. Every day – and I mean EVERY DAY – a girl named Lynn Brosnan raised her hand and made the same request: “Please pray for my uncle, he’s not saved.” She did this every day of the school year. It got so that it was a running joke between my friends and I (who were REALLY mature in our faith and in our consideration of others) and we’d all snicker when she raised her hand (“Gee, I wonder what Lynn’s prayer request will be?”). But here’s the thing that 11-year-old Lynn realized and it’s the same thing George Muller taught roughly a hundred years before – you pray until God answers. And in Lynn’s case, her uncle still wasn’t saved by the end of the school year so we kept praying. Where am I going with this? Only that trials of the kind I’m describing aren’t easily resolved and don’t go away after a few rounds of praying in a small group or Sunday School class. They just kind of hang around and for the people going through them, if they honestly bring their requests when asked, the requests begin to sound very Brosnian. The situation doesn’t change so the requests don’t change. And that requires patience and understanding of a type that often isn’t typical of Christian groups. It’s something for all of us to think about. As for Lynn? No idea what happened to her – I honestly don’t remember her after fifth grade. You know what, though? I’m willing to bet that her uncle – if he’s alive – is faithfully serving Christ, and if he’s not alive is joyously worshiping Christ with the saints.
Father, I hate what we’re going through.
I’d love for it to go away.
I’d love for You to resolve it.
But I know You will act in Your own time and in Your own way.
And I know that both will be perfect, if not understandable.
So until that happens, please use this to change me.
Please make me more useful for Your kingdom.
Please make me more mature, more able to endure to the end.
Please give me the wisdom – as you promised You would in James 1 – to see beyond the discomfort and pain and see You working.
Please continually remind me that this trial is You fulfilling Romans 8:28-29 in my life and making me more conformed to the image of Your Son (if I’ll let You).
Please don’t allow the Enemy to convince me that the biggest thing I need is for my comfortable life to resume.
Please don’t allow the Enemy to convince me that You never do anything so what’s the point of pursuing You.
Please don’t allow the Enemy to embitter me because things aren’t going as I think they should or as I deserve or like they do for other people.
Please don’t let me waste this time in self-absorption.
Please enable me to walk by what I know, not by what I see – by faith, not by sight.
Thank You that You love me.
Thank You that at bottom what we’re going through is an example of that love – that if I weren’t Yours, You wouldn’t need to perfect me.
You’re sovereign, You’re omnipotent, You love me, and You’re good.
Please don’t let me forget that.