Are you facing a severe difficulty in your life? Here's biblical advice on how to cope with and benefit from trials.
Survival! This one word, more than any other, describes the incredible obsession of this generation — that of merely staying alive through the atomic age of heretofore unsurpassed potential terrors! Bookstores now stock volumes describing how to survive an atomic blast if and when it should occur. Whole businesses thrive by selling dried foods, camping supplies and other goods and wares that their buyers hope will help them outlast the screaming terror of atomic war if a mushroom cloud should build its plume near their homes. Yes, even government has finally awakened to the terror of possible world suicide, by launching meager and sometimes naive civil defense plans aimed at helping people survive. But to true Christians, mere physical survival is not enough. J n fact, our physical survival is virtually assured by promises from God that His elect will be spared from the coming Great Tribulation if they remain zealous and spiritually alert (Rev. 3:10). Our main concern, therefore, becomes spiritual survival — the ability to bear our trials and remain firm and strong in faith. To us, surviving the spiritual ups and downs — trials — of everyday life is more important than merely keeping our physical bodies alive a little longer. But where can we go for help? Friends, relatives, business associates and the government are not concerned about our spiritual survival. There are not many spiritual survival manuals in the bookstores that can tell us how to survive our spiritual trials. But there is hope. Our God has not left us without a spiritual survival manual. For in His Word, the Bible, we can find all the keys we need to face our trials with determination, endurance and ultimate success. And make no mistake: We surely do need help to survive our trials. Many of us have had, in the past, trials, severe ones, that threatened, it seemed, our very spiritual sanity. Some of you will have this type of trial in the future. Perhaps you are in such a trial now. It is as sure as God's love for you that you will go through trials (Heb. 12:6). And it's also sure that you need the help God's Word can give if you are to survive these severe ones. So listen to the basic principles for surviving trials from the best survival manual around, the Bible.
Know the purpose for trials
The first step In learning to survive your trial is one too often ignored. That step is to realize that the problem or difficulty you are going through is indeed a trial of your faith and character, and not merely an unexplained tragedy. Remember that those in this world do not have trials in the same spiritual sense we mean here. Yes, they have worries, problems or difficulties, but they do not think of them as trials. Since people in the world do not consider their problems as trials, they also do not understand the meaning or purpose that their trials should have in their lives. Hence their suffering is strange and meaningless to them, and very depressing. But we who know God's Word understand what trials are, and we know their meaning and purpose! This great knowledge comforts us in our suffering and gives us hope in dealing with our trials. We know, for example, that God tries us through various difficulties because He loves us (verse 6) and because He desires to do us "good in the end" (Deut. 8:11-16). And knowing that our problem or worry is a trial tends to define it in our minds as a tool God is using to build righteous character in us and to help us reach our spiritual goal of His Kingdom. It puts limits on the trial in our minds, and changes it from being an insurmountable block In our path to a surmountable obstacle that we truly know we can overcome "through Christ who strengthens" us (Phil. 4:13). It gives our worries a purpose — that of becoming perfect, as Christ did, through suffering (Heb. 2:10). And it gives our worries a certain goal — that of making it to the other side and developing character along the way (Heb. 11:13-15). It also makes trials an expected part of life instead of some sort of strange emergency we thought could never happen to us. The apostle Peter tells us not to "think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you" (I Pet. 4:12). Don't pass over this first point too quickly. Many Christians suffer for months under heavy burdens and woes that would seem much lighter if they would realize that this or that burden or problem is merely a trial to try their faith.
Get the trial into perspective
The next key to surviving your trial is to get it into perspective. That is, don't overreact. It is easy when we are in the middle of a trial to believe that the particular trial we suffer is the world's worst disaster. Probably it is not. Remember the words of the apostle Paul in Hebrews 12:1-4, where he described Christ's suffering and compared it to our small trials. He reminds us of Christ "who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross" (verse 2), and reminds us to "consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged" (verse 3). For, he continues, our suffering has not been as great as Christ's, for we "have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin" (verse 4). Don't misunderstand. No one is saying that your trial is petty or slight when it is not. It may be severe indeed, even excruciating. But no matter what your trial, it pays to get it into perspective. Doing this means seeing it alongside our great possible reward of eternal life in happiness, which the apostle Paul says is "not worthy to be compared with" even our most severe suffering (Rom. 8:18). Therefore, even if your suffering is severe, no matter what it is, it is not the ultimate disaster or tragedy. Yes, even physical death, however terrifying the thought might be to you, is not the ultimate tragedy. The ultimate tragedy is to lose one's spiritual life, not one's physical life (Matt. 10:28). So be thankful that your trial is not worse than it is, and get it into perspective.
Accept the trial
Closely attuned with getting your particular trial into perspective is the step of accepting the trial in a good attitude. Refusing to accept your trial — to acknowledge that you are indeed in a trial that you must perhaps bear a while — means that you will not be able to deal with it maturely. Again, in Hebrews 12, Paul reminds us that "no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but grievous" (verse 11). But he goes on to admonish us that we "strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed" (verses 12-13). In other words, accept your trial with a good attitude so you can deal with it and not be overcome by it.
Learn the lesson
Next, determine now to learn the lesson of your trial. Since our trials are to teach us lessons, we should face our trials in the eye and ask God to show us what lessons we are to learn. Ask yourself whether this trial was caused by your faults, or just by time and chance, which sometimes brings woes upon us (Eccl. 9:11). Realize that most trials are caused by our faults, but that even if we were perfect, the universe is so designed that from time to time things beyond our control will happen to us to test our faith. This is in accordance with God's plan, since God designed this earth as a testing and proving ground. And don't think that learning the lesson of your trial merely means finding out why it is upon you. It goes beyond that. Learning the lesson from your trial means also learning or building the character that comes from enduring the trial for a while. Yes, suffering is uncomfortable, but if you try to learn what the trial is teaching you, you will be working with the trial and not against it. If you work with it, you will accomplish the "perfect work" the trial should bring (Jas. 1:4), and you may even shorten its duration, to your great relief.
Seek God's way
Seek God's way, and not man's, of solving your problem. Since people do have problems, people have learned various ways to cope or deal with their problems. Most times, mankind's way of dealing with a problem is to deal simply with the effects. They try to escape these effects at all costs through devices such as drugs, alcohol, sex. And instead of learning any lessons, they try to find someone on whom to place the blame — be it God or others. But God's way of dealing with a problem is to deal with the causes. To deal with the causes of spiritual problems, one must use spiritual tools to research and admit the causes. Those spiritual tools are well known to Christians and include prayer, Bible study and fasting. This last tool, fasting, is one we all know we should use in a crisis but, because of the difficulty of fasting, tend to put off to the last minute. But don't wait "until things get bad enough." A severe trial may call for severe measures, and these measures probably include fasting in moderation. Why put off the inevitable? Fast now and your problem will be easier to survive.
The next step in surviving your trial is a step we must all be reminded of from time to time: Don't be overwhelmed by your insight into your weaknesses, failures or human nature. Human beings are merely clay models that must learn strength of character over a period of time. God Himself says that He "knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust" (Ps. 103:14). That's right. God remembers that we are dust, but sometimes we forget and hence become discouraged when we see how weak we are. Don't be discouraged by seeing your faults or weaknesses, but, on the other hand, do grow from your trials into more perfect strength. We will not enter God's Kingdom unless we repent and grow (I Cor. 6:9). One final thought on the point of not being overwhelmed by our insight into our human nature during our trials is this: Occasionally, everyone even fails a trial. It is to be hoped that these failures will be rarer and rarer as we proceed. But remember: All have failed some trials, including such men as Abraham and David, and still gone on to obtain more perfect character. So can you.
Take pleasure in building character
Finally, take pleasure in the building of character, which comes through your trials. Paul admitted, in Hebrews 12:11, that "no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but grievous," but he went on to show how we could still take pleasure in our trials if we realize that their end result is to build righteous character. "Nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." Never forget, even in the darkest hour of your seemingly insurmountable and unsurvivable trial, that one who is suffering spiritually, and building righteous character as a result, is doing the most important thing with his life that he can. He might not be having much fun — he may not even be able to get out of his bed — but he is nonetheless doing the most important thing in life — growing in character toward God's Kingdom. Let's let our values be those of God who, through Peter, described the dignity that one who suffers much has in God's eyes, and should have in himself. For, "the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ" (I Pet. 1:7, Authorized Version). Surviving trials, be they mild or excruciating, with strength and determination and dignity may not be the highest priority of those in the world around us, but it is the high priority of our God and King for us. For by going through this suffering, we are building the righteous character that shall help us to survive. And with this character, we shall survive not only our spiritual trials now, and not merely prolong our physical life past the atomic woes that threaten this globe, but also survive into that blessed Kingdom where there shall be no tears or sorrow again.