I didn't sleep well last night. This has been an ongoing struggle for the past three weeks now. I cannot put my finger on the trouble or the underlying issue, but I am not a happy camper. No, I am stressed, really stressed, and nothing I seem to do is helping me to feel rested or relaxed. I started to think about it last night, around 3 a.m. I woke up after a start, and I couldn't get myself back to sleep. I reached for my phone, googled bible verses on anxiety, and spent about five minutes reading them. It did the trick because I was able to fall right back to sleep and rest fairly well for the remaining hours of the night. Clearly, I am undergoing some trial (hence the reference to James 1:2-4 above). I wish I could consider it as "joy," but instead, I am thinking that it is a "bum rap" (really, not very fun at all!)
I cannot grasp what is causing this difficulty. I mean, I am standing my ground, wearing the full armor of God, and proclaiming victory in Jesus. I am reading and reciting Scripture, and I am in prayer continuously asking the Father for clarification, for wisdom (as James 1:5 recommends). Still, nothing seems to be abating. Nothing seems to be working. Why, Lord? What have I done? What must I do to see an end to this torment?
There are any number of reasons why I am being tested right now. Some of those reasons are due to my own error or pride. Some, of course, are due to forces outside my control. I cannot determine which is which so I must simply endure the test until the Lord determines it is "enough." Until then, I remain firm, I keep the faith, and I rest in the knowledge that I do have -- that God is in control, that He is on His throne, and that I can do nothing in and of myself or my own strength. No, I come before Him in humility and with yielded heart and hands, and I claim Jesus as my source, my only source, in order to stand the test, to endure the trial, and to eventually find the way out (that blessed open door).
The Word is clear. As believers, we will encounter trials, tests of all sorts, that serve to develop our faith. We are to become mature, to grow up to that full stature of a Godly person, and to do that, we must be tempered by the fire. Trials -- whether we like it or not -- do produce results. Often, we are burnt or singed, but we endure them, we overcome, and we find some meaning at the end of the process. We may not like the process, but we do see results in one way, shape or form.
I am struggling with prolonged testing of my faith, and I do not like it one bit. I mean, this has been a long, long process for me. For weeks now, it seems, I have experienced life filled with strife, trial, and with suffering. I recall the words of Peter who said, "And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you" (1 Peter 5:10 NIV). As I think about his words, I take hope in the thought that in time, God will lift me up and restore me. He will strengthen and establish me -- make me ready and fit -- for whatever He has in store for me next. I need to be patient, that is all, and I need to endure. It is only with patience that we can experience the fruit of the Holy Spirit -- true joy -- as James says. If we patiently endure, the Holy Spirit will help us to bear joy (gladness) despite the trials we are undergoing. I long for joy right now, for happiness, contentment and peace in my life. I want this burden lifted. I want to experience rest, restoration, and relief.
Three Types of Trials
There are three types of trials that seem to afflict me most often. The first type is trial by fire or what I call the trial of experience. It is simply the "going through" process that typically results in a life lesson. I experience life by trying it out, as in "testing" different options to see which one fits me best. I do this with just about every decision I make -- test to see if what I think will work. I guess you could call it "trial by invention" as well because this is usually my approach to life. I come up with some way to resolve a problem or to achieve a goal, and then once I have analyzed the ins and outs of it, I try my best "invention" on. I may succeed or I may fail, but either way, I learn something of value through the experience. I learn what to do or not to do, and I then move to the next step in the plan.
The second type of trial that seems to trip me up is trial that occurs as the result of a lack of trust or faith in God. This is what I call my "doubting trial." Whenever I doubt God, doubt His provision or protection, I tend to endure some trial that proves me wrong. I will often incur some little test that shows me, proves to me that 1) God is faithful, and 2) God is ever-present and that His word is true (He will never leave me nor forsake me).
The third type of trial is the nasty kind, the kind I like least. It is the trial that is purposed for His Name and His praise. This is the type of trial that James is speaking of in chapter 1. This type of trial is purposed for one outcome -- to create perseverance -- and to build Godly character and discipline. Yes, this is the type of trial that comes through no fault of my own. I didn't ask for it, didn't seek it, and didn't want it, but it comes just the same. Normally, this type of trial blindsides you, hits you when you least expect it, and the duration of it runs anywhere from "quickly over" to "prolonged agony" (think of Job).
As I think about the past three weeks, I am fairly confident that this trial is the latter type. I haven't experienced anything "invented" recently, and I am not in a place of doubting God's provision or His protection. No, I am squarely being tested in order to produce fruit in my life. I am being tested in preparation for ministry, and to show me weakness, my weakness and my inability to stand under the glaring heat of scrutiny. It makes sense to me now, now that I have thought about it more today. I mean, if the Lord desires me to work in ministry, I am going to have to be able to withstand scrutiny and criticism of my work, my ethic, and my abilities. I may not like it, I may not think it is fair, but the truth is that I must be able to withstand it and remain calm. My faith must rest in God alone, and I must not rely on my own feelings. I must resist the temptation to run, to jump ship, and to find the nearest exit door. I must be steady, stable, and strong so that I can do the work the Lord is calling me to do.
I get it. I really do. I just don't like it very much. Sigh!
Consider it nothing but joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you fall into various trials. Be assured that the testing of your faith [through experience] produces endurance [leading to spiritual maturity, and inner peace]. And let endurance have its perfect result and do a thorough work, so that you may be perfect and completely developed [in your faith], lacking in nothing.I must be able to do as James instructs us to do. I must look at the trial I face as a joyous experience, as something good and valuable. God has determined that I must go through this trial for a reason, therefore, I must submit to it, and allow its perfect work to be produced. Selah!
Thus, today as I consider adversity and this prolonged trial, I realize that God is allowing this suffering for a reason, and that reason is to make me ready for ministry. I may not like it. I may not want it to last, but until He removes it from me, is satisfied by the result, etc., I must let this be. I must let Him have His way in me. I must allow Him to make me ready. He is the Potter, and I am the clay. I may not like the shape I am in right now, but I can take great faith in knowing that He will turn this lump of my life into something beautiful. It is just time -- you know -- it just takes time. I would like for everything to be "peachy keen" right now. I would like my life to be "picture perfect," but this is not the case, will not be the case for some time now. I am where I am because He has determined it is best for me to be here. I must rest, I must relent, and I must allow this refining process to take place. I cannot control this outcome, not today, not tomorrow, not ever. No, I must let Him have His way in me, and in this manner, He will see to it that I am matured, brought to maturity so I can serve Him and others in the way He desires most. I trust Him to handle the details, to make the changes, and to produce the results. I trust Him to be a Father to me, to guide and to direct my steps, and to provide opportunities to me in order for me to move into the position of His choosing. God is gracious and He is good. He has everything in control, and I have to let this go. I must rest. I must let this go.
Thank you for this trial, this present discomfort. Thank you for showing me that I need to submit to this refining process in order to produce the results you desire in my life. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to experience this trial, so that I can see where I am most weak. I ask now that you would help me to withstand, to endure, and to persevere so that I learn from this experience, and so that I can develop the Godly characteristics that you desire I develop. I ask now for your peace, your blessed peace to reign in my life, and I ask that you bring to me, allow me to experience true joy even through these difficult days. I know you have me well-covered, and I know you have provided abundantly for my life so I let this be. I choose rest today. I let you guide me, direct me, and lead me to the place of your choosing, in your blessed time, and with your blessed provision. I ask all this now in Jesus' Name, Amen. So be it, thy will be done. Selah! (Pause and calmly think about it!)