Let’s face it: 2020 has been hard.
From a global pandemic to relational isolation to never-ending political unrest (and everything in between), this past year has brought with it unexpected amounts of warfare.
To minimize the adversity is pointless. To belittle the struggle is unwise. And to discourage the natural outpouring of tear-filled grief is, quite frankly, unbiblical.
Now, this is not to promote ingratitude, self-pity, or hopelessness in the life of a believer but rather to highlight the scriptural reality that weeping is both natural and appropriate when grief is present (Romans 12:15, John 11:35).
Spiritual stoicism is deadly poison to the souls of God’s children, and a perpetual dulling of God-given emotions breeds apathy. So, if you needed permission to cry out to God today without feeling guilty, weak, or burdensome for doing so, there it is. (And if you need more convincing, take a look at the Psalms. David wasn’t afraid to express his honest emotions with God, and we shouldn’t be either.) God cares for you, and He is an ever-present Help in times of trouble.
You see, casting our cares (this includes our despair, sadness, and grief, by the way) upon God is actually an act of submission. It is good, and it is right. In fact, Peter’s command in 1 Peter 5:6-7 is not merely to cast our cares but rather to humble ourselves first. Bringing our fears, worries, doubts, and struggles to God is a natural outpouring of humility—a liberation from the chains of self-reliance and obstinate self-sufficiency. True strength is found in our reliance upon God, not upon feigned stability or superficial fantasies of perfection.
The Christian life is never (and will never be) free from trials, pain, and hurt.
But friends, that’s the beauty of it.
If we’re not careful, we can turn the year 2020 into a mystical bundle of pain, stress, and hurt without recognizing that difficulty is not relegated to a mere year . . . it’s just life.
Certainly, 2020 has brought with it an abnormal amount of challenges, trials, and pain; but when the clock strikes midnight on January 1, 2021, the sinfulness, the depravity, and the daily struggles of this fallen world will not have magically disappeared.
As James writes in what has now become my my most favorite passage of Scripture, “My brethren count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1:2-4).
Now, this isn’t a Bible study, so I’ll resist the urge to break down the word meanings, throw in some context, and provide a list of practical applications moving forward (that was supposed to be a joke . . . you can laugh), but from this verse, I do learn three things:
1.) Trials are inevitable.
Notice that James doesn’t say “if” but rather “when.” If you’re a believer, I’d lovingly encourage you to buckle up and armor up, because you will face trials in this life. They’re inescapable, but that’s okay. Each season of trial and testing has been ordained by God for the purpose of sanctification—the believer’s growth in Christ-likeness—and because of this, we can count even the darkest of trials as joy (John 15:20, 2 Timothy 3:12, John 16:33, Acts 14:22, 1 Peter 5:10) .
2.) Trials are sovereignly designed by God to expose, strengthen, and purify a believer’s faith.
Just as gold is purified through the fire, a believer is purified through the trying seasons of life. In fact, the act of God permitting trials in the lives of His children is based in perfect love, because it is often amidst seasons of great difficulty that the Lord humbles, purifies, and grows the Christian. Trials make us more like Christ, so they will always be worth the pain.
3.) Trials work patience and patience cultivates perfection.
Now, before you think I’m getting all Wesleyan on you (Yes, that was supposed to be a theology joke. No, it probably was not funny.), this is not to imply that a believer will reach a place of sinless perfection on this side of Heaven. What James is saying, however, is that the trials of a believer’s life are designed to bring results–to breed maturity, to cultivate steadfastness, and to enjoy true dependence upon God. There is great purpose amidst seasons of purification, as God shapes His children into who they were called to be.
If you’re in a season of intense struggle or if you’re simply experiencing the natural repercussions of being a Christian in a fallen, post-modern world, my advice remains the same: Stay strong and keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, friend.
Pandemics, economic crises, and political upheaval aside, this past year has been exceptionally challenging for me on a personal level.
There have been many nights when I have cried myself to sleep, and countless mornings when I didn’t want to get out of bed—moments when my heart has been heavy and my spirit quite low.
There have been ongoing battles with depression, anxiety, and weariness and numerous prayers when the only words I could utter were “Father, please fight for me. Please give me strength. I need your help.”
To be quite frank with you? There have been many occasions when I came very close to giving up . . . on everything.
I won’t paint a picture that I haven’t struggled, because I have.
I’ve grown frustrated.
I’ve questioned God.
I’ve grown weary.
I’ve cried . . . a lot.
And unfortunately, I’ve failed . . . a lot, too.
Looking back, has this year been hard? Sure.
But is God still good? Absolutely.
Through this year, I have learned that I can run to God as I would a Father, because He really does care for me—He really does love me (Romans 8).
Through this year, I have learned that I am nothing apart from Christ—we all must be emptied of ourselves in order to recognize our utter dependence upon God, and though I have a long road ahead of me, this year has given me a healthy dose of humility, and for that, I am grateful.
Through this year, I have learned that the Gospel radically changes everything—it seeps into every nuance of who we are and becomes our lifelines, our heartbeat. It is no mere spiritual platitude that is accepted once and then ignored for the remainder of one’s life but rather the very essence of what shapes us more into the image of Christ each and every day. Believers need to be reminded of the Gospel, too . . . and boy, is it beautiful.
Through this year, I have learned that God is faithful, even when we’re not. He truly is a very present Help in times of trouble–He is near, and He is good. (Oh, and His Word is alive and sharper than any double-edged sword, too–by the way.)
Ultimately, through this year, God has shaped me in ways that no mountaintop experience ever could—and though it’s been hard, I don’t believe I would change it for the world.
So, trials—hard times, tough days, rough seasons?
Count them all joy, fellow believer.
I know it may be difficult now, but this season of testing is producing patience and cultivating spiritual maturity in you. Your trial has the potential to mold you more into the image of your Savior, and for that, it is a great blessing, indeed.
So, when difficult seasons come our way (and mark my words, they will come), instead of asking “why” . . . let’s try to ask “how.”
How can this trial make me more into the image of Christ?
So, as I close this (rather long-winded) mess of jumbled thoughts, I urge you to stay strong, stay consistent, and stay hopeful.
Fight the good fight.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus.
And just take it—one day, one minute, one second—at a time.
God is good, and He is faithful.
He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved (Ps. 55:22).