Last week I looked at what it meant to accept blessing. Pastor Andrew preached a sermon a couple of weeks ago, about God bestowing a blessing on Jesus in the story of the transfiguration. Then this past Sunday Pastor Grant preached again on Jesus blessing the little children. On the one hand, it is hard for some individuals to accept blessings, particularly if they have been hurt, or if they have a tendency to believe the lies the world tells about them. But I think even more difficult than accepting blessing is accepting trial.
Sometimes people give the false notion that if you follow Jesus, then your life will come up roses, he will take away all your pain, and you will be filled with earthly blessings. Occasionally this may be the case, and indeed it is the case that God blesses His beloved children with love and wholeness. But when people look at faith this way, when trial strikes, they are apt to lose faith. God doesn’t prevent Christians from suffering. However, God does suffer with us. Read more on this topic here.
But Jesus actually says to His followers in Scripture, “Take up your cross,” and, “Whoever wants to be first shall be last.” These are powerful words that do not avoid trial, but rather call Christians to accept trial and even engage it. James, one of the disciples, goes even farther, saying, “Consider if pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3). Notice that James does not say, “if you face trials,” James says, “whenever you face trials.” Trials are a surety.
We are assured of blessings with life in Christ, but we are also assured of trials. But life in Christ teaches us to accept trials and suffering for the sake of the other. Matthew 5:43-45 says, “’You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.’” God calls His children to meet trials and persecution with love; but Jesus also makes clear that both the righteous and the unrighteous will encounter blessing and trial this side of eternity.
So what do we do with this as believers? First, I think we learn to accept blessings from God, becoming whole children, whole people, who know their gifts and that they are loved. But second, we must accept trial alongside blessing.
Jeremiah, one of the major prophets during the Babylonian exile of the Israelites, provides a worthy human example to follow. I preached a sermon on this last fall, that you can listen to here. Jeremiah was a man who understood what it meant to be afflicted by substantial trials. He stands alongside Paul in that respect, being internally and externally afflicted for the sake of his faith.
In Jeremiah 15, he had reason to complain to God, understanding that awful things were about to happen for Israel. He complains to God, and not in a sanitized, churchy way. He cries out to God in frankly insulting lamentation. “Why is my pain unceasing?…Truly, [God], you are to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail.” Our verbiage today is a bit different than Jeremiah’s context. But these insults have weight in the desert, a land with scarce water! Besides, I don’t know many church-goers who would call God “deceitful.” But Jeremiah does, and he does not get struck by lightning.
Instead God calls him out on his attitude in love, and with a path forward. God says to Jeremiah that first he needs to turn from his self-pity, and then he tells him he will make him stand. Self-pity as a turning in on one’s self. But God calls Jeremiah out of that self-pitying posture and to a posture of standing. When you curl in on yourself, you no longer see the bigger picture. You no longer see God. You can no longer heed God’s plans. And it is a miserable way to live! But when you stand, you can see the bigger picture, you can witness how God is with you in the midst of pain, and you can step forward.
Learning to accept trial alongside blessing is part and parcel of the maturation process in Christ. It is a life-long battle for most people (like me), but I am learning that bad things happen to good people and vice versa, and every combination therein.
I imagine that when I get to meet Jesus face-to-face, and ask him the questions I want to ask, he will show me a beautiful tapestry with a magnificent work of art on it. And then he will show me the thread that my earthly life represents. It necessarily goes through ups and downs, because that is the only way to weave together fibers. But my life is part of a bigger picture, and I cannot see the meaning of it all. Maybe my life doesn’t or won’t always make sense at the time, but I am learning the necessity of accepting the bad alongside the good and moving forward regardless.
Learning to accept trial is not “getting over it.” It is allowing pain to enlighten you, not cripple you. It is allowing Jesus to walk with you in the pain and allowing him to help you move forward. It is allowing events, circumstances, and traumas to affect who you are, but not be who you are. Accepting the good with the bad is part of life as a Christian. But our hope is in the resurrection!
In John 16:33, Jesus says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” And that changes everything.
- Read Jeremiah 15:15-21.
- Write about a time in your life where you felt self-pity. What emotions go along with that?
- Think about a time when God brought you to a place of acceptance. What did that look like?
- What in your life right now do you need to accept?
- What might it look like for you to “stand” and be able to accept it?