Throughout history, God's people have experienced many persecutions and tribulations. God's children often experience severe trials and tests! Why? Do you know why a loving Creator has decreed that all of His children must go through their share of fiery trials? Read and understand this. Trials are a vital part in developing spiritual character.
Many Christians fail to realize that trials and tribulations — unpleasant though they may be at the time — are really blessings in disguise! You need to understand why our loving Father has ordained that all His children must experience a number of temptations and trials. God Almighty has deliberately designed the begettal and birth of a child in this life to be a type — an exact picture — of the spiritual begettal and birth which the child of God must experience before he can be born into His family. We were born into this world under terrific pressure! In childbirth, both mother and baby usually experience much stress and strain, as well as a certain amount of physical pain. This is an exact type of the spiritual birth. Jesus Christ said to Nicodemus: "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). What are the very beginning steps toward salvation? 1) Repentance, 2) baptism, and 3) the receiving of God's precious Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). But — after our real conversion and baptism — we must continue to "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ" (II Pet. 3:18). The apostle Peter revealed how this growing must take place: "As newborn babes; desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby" (I Pet. 2:2). After repentance, baptism and the receiving of God's Holy Spirit, we must continue the vitally important process of spiritual growth in the womb of the Church, so we can someday be born into God's family. We can only continue to grow spiritually if we steadfastly keep drinking in our daily supply of God's living waters — His Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39; Isa. 55:1). We continue to receive our daily portion of God's Holy Spirit if we continually feed on the Word of God. "It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God" (Luke 4:4). The words of God Almighty as recorded in the Bible are life-giving and will nourish us — if we regularly receive them into our very innermost being! Christ said, "It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life" (John 6:63). If we mix prayer and fasting with our daily study of God's Word, we receive a rich supply of spiritual food which will nourish us to full spiritual maturity. After safely completing a full term — usually much longer than the nine months required for physical birth — of growth in the womb of the Church, we will then finally be ready to be born into God's spiritual family. Can you now see how the spiritual birth, like a human birth, is usually preceded by a most difficult period of stress and strain?
Stress and Strain Are Necessary
Jesus Christ, our High Priest, doesn't want us to be relaxed Christians! God does not want us to go to sleep on the job (Matt. 25:5). "Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light" (Eph. 5:14). Jesus Christ will reject any who remain lukewarm (Rev. 3:15-16). We can only be born into the Kingdom of God under stress and strain — under pressure! You need to understand why this is necessary, and also why God permits us to be sorely tried at times! King David, a man after God's own heart, will have a very high position of rulership in the Kingdom of God. He will be king over all Israel (Ezek. 37:24; Hosea 3:5; Jer. 30:9). In order to qualify for this high position of responsibility and service in God's Kingdom, David first had to suffer many trials, persecutions and afflictions. His life was, in fact, full of tribulations. He understood that God's people must experience many trials and tests in this life: "Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all" (Ps.34:19). David made some very serious mistakes in his life and had to be afflicted by God to learn his lesson — the lesson that sin never pays! In a moment of weakness, David yielded to the terrible sin of lust. He gave in to his carnal urge and committed adultery with Bathsheba. Then, when she had conceived an illegitimate child by him, he sought to cover his sin by devious means. When this failed, he connived to bring about the death of Bathsheba's husband Uriah. He had him put in the hottest part of the battle where he would be certain to be killed by the Ammonites (II Sam. 11). But is God a respecter of persons? Would He turn a blind eye to David's sin? "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Gal. 6:7). God sent Nathan to point out David's terrible sin to him (II Sam. 12). David bitterly repented of this grievous sin (II Sam. 12; Ps. 51). Nevertheless, God Almighty showed that he must reap what he had sown. What would his punishment be? He would have perpetual war from that day forward! God also afflicted David through sickness, and through taking the life of the very child which he had begotten in adultery! This was a very high price to pay for sin — but this was God's way of bringing David to his senses! Did David know why God had afflicted him? Certainly! "Before I was afflicted I went astray [I sinned]: but now have I kept thy word" (Ps. 119:67). He then freely confessed that God was righteous in punishing him: "It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes" (Ps. 119:71).
The zealous apostle Paul also understood the absolute necessity of God's people going through tribulation in this world in order to purify them. He exhorted the disciples "to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). He solemnly warned the evangelist Timothy: "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (II Tim. 3:12). Paul will certainly have a very high position in the Kingdom of God. The many trials which he endured fully qualified him to receive a position of great responsibility. Have you ever carefully noticed just how much this dynamic apostle suffered and endured for Christ's sake? "Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches" (II Cor. 11:23-28). In addition to these trials, Paul revealed that he had certain physical infirmities which Jesus Christ had refused to heal — in order to keep Paul humble — so he would look to Christ and glory in God, rather than in what he had done (II Cor. 12:1-9). Paul concluded: "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong" (II Cor. 12:10).
The Fiery Trial
Did the apostle Peter believe the lot of a Christian would be an easy one? No! He revealed that the faith of the Christian must sometimes be sorely tried: " Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That 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. 1:6-7). This same apostle was also inspired to give the following warning: "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy" (I Pet. 4:12-13). Christ's exemplary life — especially during the three and one half years of His earthly ministry — was not a life of idleness and ease but a life filled with constant trials of every sort! He was continually opposed, persecuted, slandered, criticized, and was finally crucified by the very people whom He loved — loved so much that He was willing to die for them! Yes, Christ knew what real tribulation was. "In the world ye shall have tribulation," said Jesus, "but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Many Bible prophecies reveal that the peoples of America, Britain and the British Commonwealth (modern Israel) have become terribly enmeshed in loathsome sins (Hosea 4:1-3; Jer. 30:11-15). God also shows that He will correct and chastise Israel because of her sins. "And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity, and the water of affliction, yet shall not thy teachers be removed into a corner any more, but thine eyes shall see thy teachers" (Isa. 30:20). Why will God so severely afflict Israel? Because He loves Israel and wants our people to turn from their mounting sins! There are various ways in which God tries us. God tried and tested Abraham by commanding him to offer up his son Isaac. Abraham had to be willing to give up his only true, legitimate son in order to obey his Creator and receive God's incredible promises. Actually, God didn't want Abraham to slay his son. He only wanted to test Abraham to see if he loved Him, his Creator, more than anything else (Gen. 22). How does God try and test us? How does He learn what is really in our heart? We have already seen that God sometimes afflicts us in order to humble us or teach us an important lesson (Ps. 119:71; II Cor. 12:7-10).
God Chastens Us in Love
Yes, God Almighty has to chasten all of His sons and daughters — just as we have to correct our children: "And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth" (Heb. 12:5-6). The apostle Paul then goes on to show that if we "endure chastening," God will deal with us as with sons. But if we will not receive this loving correction, then what does God call us? He bluntly calls us spiritual "bastards"! We are not really God's sons at all but are merely pretending to be His sons. Does godly chastisement cause us to bear good fruit? Notice why God chastens us. "Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby" (verse 11). God has ordained that this life will not be an easy life — for a very good reason. He knows that if we have no severe trials and tests we become spiritually soft and flabby! A comfortable man is a complacent man. A comfortable man doesn't want to change — doesn't want to alter the status quo! Why should he? He is quite happy to let things continue as they are. Why change when everything seems to be going along so very smoothly? God Almighty knows that we 'need trials to stir us to action — to stir us up enough to overcome our spiritual lethargy! God promises a special blessing on those who steadfastly resist and overcome temptations: "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised — to them that love him" (James 1:12).
How We Are Tried
What are some of the main ways in which we are afflicted? Ways by which we are caused to go to our knees to God in heartrending prayer? What are some of the trials which cause us to really cry out to God (as unto a merciful and loving Father) for help and strength to overcome our trials and tribulations? Persecution is one of the main ways by which God's people are drawn closer to Him. Physical necessities often cause God's people to have to go to Him in prayer. When we don't have the necessities of life (food, clothing, shelter), we are often brought to our knees before our heavenly Father. Weaknesses, physical infirmities and sickness are often the means by which God brings us back into line. When we are told that we may remain an invalid for the rest of our life, or when we know that we may actually die of an incurable disease (unless God miraculously heals us!), then this sobers us, brings us to our senses. Such a shock often causes us to get down on our knees in heartfelt prayer, beseeching our compassionate God for mercy — for health and healing (II Kings 20:1-7). Overpowering temptations are often the means by which we are brought to the realization of how weak and wretched our human nature is. Through strong and persistent temptations (fears, worries and anxieties; lust and covetousness; hatred and malice; envy and jealousies), we are often sent to the throne of grace for additional strength to overcome our wretched nature (Rom. 7:14-25). God has solemnly promised to deliver us from all of our temptations — if we will only rely upon Him. "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (I Cor. 10:13). When we really repent of our sins and turn from them, accepting the blood of Christ as the means by which our transgressions are washed away, then we are assured by God that sin will no longer rule over us — will no longer dominate our lives. God promises: "For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the [death penalty of the] law, but under grace [pardon]" (Rom. 6:14). Once we are forgiven our sins, God has solemnly promised that sin will no longer reign over us — will not control our lives! A true Christian must continually suffer hardships and temptations of every sort. But God will not let them overcome or defeat us as long as we steadfastly look to Him for complete deliverance: "For he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me" (Heb. 13:5-6). Is it God's will that His children be kept under a certain amount of pressure? He knows that we need to have continual trials, tribulations and persecutions in order to toughen us up spiritually — in order to show us how weak and helpless we are so that we will always look to Him and rely on Him for everything!
Pressure Is Essential
There are several analogies in the Bible — analogies which clearly show us why God permits us to have trials and tribulations. The Christian is compared to precious metals — gold or silver — which have to be put into a fiery furnace in order to burn away the dross and impurities. Also, gold and silver must become molten before they can be poured into a mold. This is true with the Christian. We must at least be heated to red-hot in order to be malleable enough to be easily bent and shaped by the hands of our faithful Creator (see I Pet. 1:7; 4:12; I Cor. 3:12-15). The Bible compares the saints to precious — jewels or precious stones (Mal. 3:17). Again, it is interesting to note that diamonds, rubies and other precious jewels can only be made under terrific heat and pressure! So it is with us. We must be subjected to the tremendous heat of our fiery trials and to the constant pressure of temptation, persecution and tribulation in order to become a precious jewel in the sight of God! God even compares His people to common clay in the hands of the Master Potter: "But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand" (Isa. 64:8). When in Egypt I was privileged to see a potter at work. The potter must first make sure the right amount of water is mixed with the clay so it will be pliable. God reveals that the Holy Spirit is the living water (John 7:37, 38) which will enable our adamant minds and hearts to voluntarily yield to God so He can mold and fashion us into the spiritual shape, image or character of His Son Jesus Christ. By using a very simple potter's wheel an experienced potter is able to quickly and expertly make beautiful pieces of pottery — cups, plates, bowls, vases, waterpots and jars of every description. But, after the potter molds the clay into the desired shape, he must then bake the pottery in a fiery furnace. It is in the fiery furnace that the clay takes the permanent shape, into which the potter has molded it. So it is with the Christian. Is it not in the furnace of affliction that God Almighty sets (or fixes) us in the particular shape (or character) He would have us take for all eternity?
The Word of God compares the true Christian to a spiritual soldier for Christ: "Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (II Tim. 2:3). Before a raw recruit can really become a good soldier, he must first take an intensive course which will toughen him up for the battles ahead. The best soldiers have always been those who have been toughened and hardened by being subjected to hard work, exercise and discipline. So it is with the Christian. He must submit himself willingly to his Captain, Jesus Christ, and must voluntarily endure hardness — persecution, deprivation, tribulation and severe temptation — if he ever expects to become a good soldier for Jesus Christ. And must not he put on all of the spiritual armor mentioned in the sixth chapter of Ephesians — the breastplate of righteousness, shield of faith, helmet of salvation, sword of the Word of God, and all the other pieces that make up the complete spiritual armor of a Christian? We are commanded: "Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil" (Eph. 6:11). God Almighty knows that we tend to get flabby, spiritually speaking, when things go too smoothly: We tend to let down in our prayer, Bible study and fasting when we have very few trials, problems or persecutions. God would like to see us prosper and be in health (III John 2), but He will even deny us these blessings if He knows that we need to suffer deprivation, affliction or persecution in order to cause us to really look to Him as our Provider and our Deliverer from all our trials. Jesus Christ will reject anyone who remains in a lukewarm condition (Rev. 3:15-16). He doesn't want to see us become spiritually drowsy — insensitive to our Creator's wishes. God doesn't want us to be spiritual drones.
Spiritual Exercise Is Vital
God Almighty knows that it is only through the spiritual exercise of problems, trials, tests, persecutions, temptations and tribulations that we develop real spiritual sinews and strength. If one doesn't actually tire himself with a certain amount of strenuous daily exercise, he can't develop his body to its optimum and remain in the best physical health. So it is spiritually. If we don't daily exercise our spiritual faculties by overcoming and solving our spiritual problems, trials and hardships, then we will not remain in very good spiritual shape. We will then become spiritually weak and flabby. God doesn't want that to happen! Whether we like it or not, this is the type of life our loving Father has ordained that we must lead. It is only those who constantly overcome who will make it into the Kingdom of God (Rev. 2,3). Only those who exert themselves enough to hang on for dear life — to endure unto, the very end — will be saved. "But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved" (Matt. 24:13). We came into this world under terrific stress and strain — under pressure and anguish — and we will not be born into the Kingdom of God unless and until we have proven that we can withstand the pressures and strains of the everyday trials, tribulations, persecutions and temptations of this world.
"If Any Man Draw Back"
But, regrettably, some prefer to give up and quit — to turn back! What does God think of these quitters? If we willfully, deliberately sin against God, we will never receive forgiveness (Heb. 10:25-31). "Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him" (Heb. 10:38). Yes, some are not willing to really fight, to endure, to labor, struggle and strive in order to make it into the Kingdom of God. Christ showed that we must really strain if we wish to make it into His Kingdom. "Strive [struggle and strain] to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able" (Luke 13 :24). Furthermore, Christ revealed that it is only those who are so fervent in their desire to make It into God's Kingdom that they are willing to be "violent" with themselves who actually make it (Matt. 11:12).
Trouble Is Certain, But...
The truth of the matter is that we are going to have trials and tribulations whether we obey God or not. Job declared:. "Man is born unto trouble, as the sparks' fly upward" (Job 5:7). Yes, we will have troubles whether or not we obey God. But if we obey Him, He will give us the needed wisdom and strength to overcome all our trials and temptations (I Cor. 10:13). Hardships, trials and persecutions are certain to befall all who live an upright, godly life. But these tribulations are all designed by a loving Creator to teach us to go to Him daily — completely trusting in Him for our every need, including deliverance from all our sore trials. God declares: "If thou faint in the day of adversity [hardship] thy strength is small" (Prov. 24:10). An all-wise, loving Creator God has deliberately designed life in such a way as to include many trials and afflictions. The Almighty even goes out of His way to rebuke and chasten us — in love — to keep us on the straight and narrow path. Knowing this, should we not earnestly desire God's correction? You need to learn to desire — and even pray daily for — chastisement from the hand of God! "Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty" (Job 5:17). Don't ever forget that God corrects us for our good — because He loves us and longs to share with us the eternal inheritance of co-ownership and co-rulership of the whole universe. Can you now clearly see how trials, temptations, pressures and hardships have been put here as a blessing in disguise? These tribulations assist us in building the kind of perfect, godly character that we need to possess throughout all eternity. Thank God for the blessing of these trials! It is through them that we develop godly character!