“God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.” (John Piper)
I appreciate this quote because it reminds us of our limited perspective. We simply cannot see all that God is doing. But even above blind spots, we have capacity issues. Not only is God doing more than we can see, but he is also doing more than we can fathom. Therefore the first steps in Christian humility have to be in the path revealed by God’s Word. In it, we are given a divine intel briefing that helps us to know what’s going on.
Take the current pandemic, for example. If I had a buck for every time someone postulated as to what God was doing in this situation, we’d be making our church budget. There are mysteries here that we simply do not know. But there are things revealed that we do know.
Amid this current trial, we don’t know all of the things God is doing (the 9,997 things, for example), but we do know of at least three. As you and I encounter various trials, we know that God is doing these three things in our lives. In James 1:2-4, we find how what a surprising servant trials are in the hand of God.
God Is Purifying Our Faith
James writes that trials test our faith (James 1:3a). The testing here has to do with a purifying or proving process. The apostle Peter brings out the nuance of the Word with a bit more texture:
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Pet. 1:6-7)
The parallel is clear, trials purify our faith like fire purifies gold or other metals. Doug Moo, in his commentary on James, writes, “The difficulties of life are intended by God to refine our faith: heating it in the crucible of suffering so that impurities might be refined away and so that it might become pure and valuable before the Lord.”
To make the point further, James’s point isn’t so much about verifying the presence of faith, but testing the already present faith and making it stronger. This is what trials do.
As we lift our eyes over the horizon of self-quarantines and our ears over the continuous news reports, we hear the Word of God speak personally and practically to us.
What is God doing during the trial of the Coronavirus? He is purifying the faith of this people.
God Is Creating Endurance
When we become a Christian, we aren’t instantly zapped with maturity. Instead, God uses the sweaty and painful work sanctification to mold and make us like Jesus. Trials then produce the spiritual fortitude, the endurance that God uses to make us persevere in him.
The other day I went out for a run. While I was motivated by getting outside, enjoying the sun, and getting some fresh air, my actual goal was to get some exercise. As I got going, I felt faster. I remember thinking that I’ve improved since my last run. Then I made a right and suddenly felt a bit slower. It was harder. What happened? I turned into the wind. What was previously at my back was now in my face.
This brings up a question: were the wind and hills good for me? I guess it depends on my objective. If I was trying not to sweat, then no, they weren’t. But, if I was trying to get faster and build endurance, then they most certainly were good. It depends on the objective.
This is like trials. God brings the stiff-headwinds of adversity and the hills of difficulty in our lives to build endurance. He aims to make us more and more like Jesus. This takes work. And it takes the shape of trials. Sanctification takes place in the context of pushing through adversity. Crushing the head of Satan under our feet is hard work (Rom. 16:20). God uses trials to make us more endure.
The current circumstances bring some stiff headwinds, don’t they? Most things in life are made more difficult. Plans are canceled. Finances are drying up. People are ill. Future plans are in doubt. Lifestyles are being restricted. Church ministry has radically changed. This is difficult.
What is God doing in the midst of this trial? He is building endurance in his people.
God Is Maturing His People
According to James, this brings about maturity. God uses these trials to make us more like Jesus. Think about it: perfection comes at the end. And God means to get his people to the end. So how does he do it? One tool in the divine toolbox is a trial. These various trials push us more and more into Christ.
In a couple of other passages in the New Testament, we see this reflected.
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope (Rom. 5:3–4)
Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. (2 Thess. 1:4)
Notice how Paul pivots off the suffering to praise God. He is worshiping while they are suffering. This would be strange if we didn’t have this crucial piece of information: God is using difficulty for our good. Hard does not mean bad. In fact, in many cases, it means blessing.
What is God doing in the midst of this trial? He is maturing his people.
When God Answers our Prayers with Trials
Sometimes we pray and ask God to grow us and make us more like Jesus. Then to our surprise, we find ourselves neck-deep in a trial. So we pray and ask God to take it away. But what if it was God who brought the trial as the answer to our prayer for growth? John Newton’s hymn I Asked the Lord is appropriate to consider here:
I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.
‘Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.
I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once He’d answer my request;
And by His love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.
Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.
Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.
Lord, why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?
“‘Tis in this way, the Lord replied,
I answer prayer for grace and faith.
These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’ st find thy all in Me.”
God is not only doing more than we can see; he is doing more than we can fathom. But of the infinite number of things God is doing, we can be sure that amid trials, he is doing these three things in our lives: he is purifying our faith, creating endurance, and he’s maturing us. For this reason, we can count it all joy when we encounter various trials (James 1:2).