Embracing Trials

Keeping a Proper Attitude

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2, 3 NAS).

Alex Zardja

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Are trials to be embraced, to be avoided, or to be suffered? Should we as Christians take pleasure in pain? Or should we react to trials by complaining, murmuring, and getting upset? It is our suggestion that trials should be embraced as an important part of Christian development. Our fleshly mind pictures embracing a trial similar to hugging a cactus. However, our new creature should think of it differently.

What is a Trial?

One definition of a trial is “a test of performance, qualities, or suitability of something or someone” (Oxford Dictionary). Trials are not always the bad consequences of what we do wrong or the results of bad decisions that we make. True trials are suffering for Christ’s sake, and include any experiences that could affect our character (1 Peter 2:19-20). If our attitude is right, each experience will improve our character. If our attitude is not right, it will block our character development.

It is not normal for people to enjoy pain and suffering. Therefore, we must consider the purpose for trials as outlined in scripture. We can glean this purpose from both the Old and New Testaments (1 Corinthians 10:11, Hebrews 11).

Trials often result from ignoring the commands of God because our flesh desires to go in a different direction. Consider the example of Jonah. Jonah experienced great difficulties, including being thrown overboard and swallowed by a great fish.

“The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.’ But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:1-3 NAS).

Jonah received instructions from God to leave his home and travel to Nineveh to call the people to repentance. This caused him great consternation because he did not want to obey. Rather than alter his way of thinking and follow God’s direction, Jonah thought he could avoid the command by running away to Tarshish. Some commentaries identify Tarshish with Tartessus in Spain, which was directly west of Joppa in Israel, where Jonah boarded the ship in his attempt to run away from God’s command. Tarshish was the end of the known world for Jonah.

Jonah thought that by getting as far away as possible, he would be able to escape his situation. While this appeared to be a solution, it proved otherwise. The people of Tarshish were descendants of Japheth, as in general were Europeans, as observed by Brother Russell in the fourth volume, page 556. It also includes, by extension, the Western world, America, and the capitalistic way of life. In our day, many, including some brethren, flee from the East to the West to escape trials, whether religious, social, or economic. It may have sounded like “greener pastures” but it might not necessarily have been so.

Can we escape trials which are allowed by the Lord? “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13 NAS). We must patiently endure the trial and wait for the Lord to provide the escape. Jonah sought to avoid it altogether. What he received was an even more difficult trial.

“The Lord hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up. Then the sailors became afraid and every man cried to his god, and they threw the cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone below into the hold of the ship, lain down and fallen sound asleep” (Jonah 1: 4-5).

Jonah did not seem to be concerned with the storm. But the sailor’s response and Jonah’s sleeping is analogous to what we find in the world today. Some are like the anxious sailors who thought if they lightened the load, they could sail through the trouble. Others are like Jonah and just try to ignore the trouble. Jonah likely knew that he had made a bad choice and the storm was an indication from Jehovah, but he chose to ignore it and sleep through the storm.

Unlike Jesus who slept on the troubled sea because he was at peace (Mark 4:37-39), Jonah’s sleeping was not such a sign. Although he cared about obedience, it took an outside source to wake him up to what he was doing.

“So the captain approached him and said, ‘How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish.’ Each man said to his mate, ‘Come, let us cast lots so we may learn on whose account this calamity has struck us.’ So they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, ‘Tell us, now! On whose account has this calamity struck us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?’ He said to them, ‘I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land’ ” (verses 6-9).

In our experiences, our own conscience asks, “What have you done? Why are you in this situation?” It is beneficial for us to reflect on what has brought us into a difficult experience, to be able to identify the problem, and then to pray for and look for the Lord’s leading out of it. Jonah’s way out was long and circuitous because he had to learn how to embrace the Lord’s way at the expense of his own will.

Embracing Trials

How can we learn to truly embrace our trials? “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in his steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in his mouth; and while being reviled, he did not revile in return; while suffering, he uttered no threats, but kept entrusting himself to him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:21-23 NAS).

When faced with a trial, we need to look at the example of Jesus. Our flesh will say that we cannot achieve such a high standard, but we must attempt to do the best that we can. We should not lower the standard simply because it is difficult to achieve.

In our theme text, James says that we must “consider” it joy to undergo trials. What does “consider” mean? The word in Greek is defined by Strong’s #71 as “to think, regard, govern, fix in the mind.” Thoughts should not just flicker through our minds, “Well, I’ll be happy,” “It’s going to be good for my character,” or “I’m doing what the Lord did.” We should let those thoughts govern our minds!

Jesus focused on the results that helped him to be faithful unto death. “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8 NAS).

We should likewise focus on our mission to build a character pleasing to the Heavenly Father. Trials are key in building that character. We do not develop that character merely by thinking we are going to be loving, kind, humble, and patient. Those are just wishes until we act accordingly.

Next, we must be single-minded. We cannot mind the things of the flesh. We must mind the things of the Spirit (Romans 8:5-13). It is important to fix in our mind that what we might lose of this life is not as valuable as what we will gain for eternity. “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him (James 1:12).

Although many blessings will come in our future life with the Lord, we receive some blessings now by faith. For example, we can be  assured that all that occurs in our life is for a purpose and will, over the long term, be beneficial for our spiritual life. Pastor Russell expresses it this way:

“The spirit of a sound mind, and the instructions of God’s Word … assure all such that the trials, difficulties and adversities of life, rightly accepted as lessons, are blessings in disguise … [one is] enabled additionally to joy in tribulation also; not because he loved tribulation, but because he loved the patience, the experience, the character, which God assures us are a fruitage which all tribulations must yield us under his providence, if we are rightly exercised thereby” (Reprints 2737).

James’ statement to “Consider it pure joy my brothers, when you are involved in various trials,” does not end there. He continues, “Because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3 ISV). Do we want to “win Christ” like Paul did (Philippians 3:7-8)? If so, then it requires us to think beyond our immediate hardship. We must want to rise above our natural feelings.

In order to overcome our feelings, we must avoid listening to our enemies, the world, the flesh, and the adversary. These will never say, “Something good will come from this.” These enemies will cause us to worry and perhaps, like Jonah, do something that we will regret. Paul as well as James says that “tribulations will build patience” (Romans 5:3), and this is the reason for our joy. Patience is defined elsewhere in the Bible as constancy, enduring, and long suffering.

We must think of our ultimate goal — to be partakers of the divine nature so that we may minister to the resurrected of the world as they go up the highway of holiness. In order to be granted this reward, we must be capable of enduring any battle of the will against evil. We must be able to do this eternally, no matter what the circumstance. We must also be able to help the world achieve the same mindset. Thus we see the importance of patience and how it must be achieved through testing, and perfected through even more testing.

Let us consider another example from the Old Testament.

Daniel and the three Hebrews are a positive example of embracing the trial of living in the captivity of a heathen nation while still living up to the laws of God (Daniel 1). They did not try to escape from their problem when confronted with eating meat at the king’s table. Instead, they used the Lord’s wisdom to find a solution.

Daniel did not say: “We’re not going to sit at the king’s table.” They didn’t try to escape the situation, but looked for an acceptable path. Was there a way to be a captive in Babylon and still do what was acceptable to God? The Daily Heavenly Manna for July 28 reads, “It is our duty not only to study the Lord’s will, but also to consider well the circumstances and the conditions which surround us, and to seek to adopt such a moderate course in life as would first of all have divine approval, and secondly, cause as little trouble, inconvenience, and displeasure to others as possible, and then to confidently rely upon the Lord’s supervising wisdom and providence.” We must live in the world while being separate from the world. We are not to live in seclusion like a monastic, but to integrate as best we can in an attitude of service to God under all circumstances.

When later faced with worshiping the golden image (Daniel 3), Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego knew there could be no moderation in their choice. Yet they did not make a public spectacle of their disapproval. They quietly defied the king. When asked why, they explained that they would only bow to Jehovah. They were willing to accept the consequences of such an action. Many brethren who lived under communism faced such a choice and went to prison rather than violate their vow of consecration to serve only Jehovah.

Our Action Plan for Trials

What is our action plan once we are in a trial? “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). Beyond looking at the trial from the perspective of eternity, we can pray to the Lord for direction and help, sing hymns of encouragement, talk to our brethren, and listen to discourses, particularly those related to our experience. We must determine what works best to help us during times of stress and difficulty.

God will provide deliverance from every trial so that we will not fail if we rely on Him (2 Peter 2:6-9). He will not try us above our capacity to bear the experience. Our blessings in “mountain-top” experiences are given as a way to recharge us spiritually for the hard times. They can give us strength to endure if our heart is right.

Two common errors to avoid: expect only blessings in this life or; put ourselves in a constant state of mental or physical suffering. Neither view is in harmony with the scriptures. We are not on a path to success or ease in this earthly life. Neither are we to purposely seek suffering in order to prove our loyalty.

Finally, we should not be overwhelmed seeking a “reason” for our trial. If the reason for the experience is not clear, keep watching, praying, and thinking, “I will understand the reason for this trial in due time.” It is never easy to go through trials. Yet there is no way to get where we want to be without them. We have the tools we need in the scriptures to help us through them and to help us build a character that is pleasing to the Lord. As one sister in the U.S. has said, “Our trials are worth millions; don’t waste any.”

In every trial, let us tell ourselves: “I have a tough trial now. It is difficult for me and may affect the ones around me. I am not going to let it control my attitude, character, and course in life. I will remind myself of God’s promises that put present difficulties in the right perspective of His plan to redeem the world and teach a valuable lesson of the permission of evil.

With this hope in mind, I will go to the throne of grace to ask for forgiveness, count my blessings, and ask for God’s help in revealing the purpose of the trial, granting the necessary strength, wisdom, and patience needed to overcome the challenge ahead and the attitude of the flesh.

Then, I will get up and do the little things that I can, with the hopeful attitude that all things are under God’s control and direction. Furthermore, I will continue repeating the steps of going to God’s word for hope and wisdom, to His throne for grace and forgiveness, and take pleasure in doing the little things that I can to grow my character in Christ.”

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