When Trials Come

Notice that the title of this post says “when” not “if.” Maybe this will be a newsflash for some of you (but I highly doubt it): Christians will face trials.

Even the apostle James says, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy” (James 1:2). Wait, trials are “an opportunity for great joy”? How can that be?!

→ Trials teach us lessons that we can learn in no other way! ←

How much more mature, and wise, and empathetic would we become if instead of trying to get out of the trials that come our way, we would instead see what we could get out of that trial!

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love. (Romans 5:3-5)

“When trials come we can try to get out of them, or we can learn to get something out of them.”

—Craig T. Owens

So the next time a trial comes your way, ask the Holy Spirit to show you what lessons you can learn by going through the trial.

Thursdays With Spurgeon—Following The Prompting

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Following The Prompting

     I once while preaching at New Park Street Chapel. I had passed happily through all the early parts of divine service on the Sabbath evening and was giving out the hymn before the sermon. I opened the Bible to find the text, which I had carefully studied as the topic of discourse, when, on the opposite page, another passage of Scripture sprang upon me like a lion from a thicket with vastly more power then I had felt when considering the text that I had chosen. The people were singing and I was sighing. I was in a strait between two, and my mind hung as in the balances. I was naturally desirous to run in the track that I had carefully planned, but the other text would take no refusal and seemed to tug at my skirts, crying, “No, no, you must preach from me! God would have you follow me.” I deliberated within myself as to my duty, for I would neither be fanatical nor unbelieving, and at last I thought within myself, Well, I should like to preach the sermon that I have prepared, and it is a great risk to run to strike out a new line of thought, but as this text constrains me, it may be of the Lord, and therefore I will venture upon it, come what may.

     I had brought myself into great difficulty by obeying what I thought to be a divine impulse, and I felt comparatively easy about it, believing that God would help me and knowing that I could at least close the service should there be nothing more to be said. I had no need to deliberate, for in one moment we were in total darkness. The gas had gone out…. Having no manuscript, I could speak just as well in the dark as in the light…. When the lamps were lit again, I saw before me an audience as rapt and subdued as ever a man beheld in his life. … Thus, providence befriended me. I cast myself upon God, and His arrangements quenched the light at the proper time for me. Some may ridicule, but I adore; others may even censure, but I rejoice.

From The Autobiography of Charles Spurgeon

God can speak to pastors as clearly in his or her sermon preparation time as He can in the very moments before the sermon begins. The key is our obedience to follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit. 

Spurgeon would never advocate that preachers “wing it” every time they step into the pulpit. His own life showed a man of diligent study of the Scripture. But neither would Spurgeon say that preachers have to stick to their prepared remarks no matter what. What I think he would say is: Trust God when you’re studying for a sermon, and trust God when you’re delivering a sermon. Allow the Spirit to change your course at any moment. 

Is this a bit nerve-wracking? Spurgeon would say, “Yes, only when deliberating whether to strike out on the new course.” But notice how once he obeyed that prompting, he felt completely at ease.

Spurgeon also reminds us, “I do not see why a man cannot speak extemporaneously upon a subject that he fully understands. Any tradesman, well versed in his line of business, could explain it without needing to retire for meditation, and surely I ought to be equally familiar with the first principles of our holy faith. I ought not to feel at a loss when called upon to speak upon topics that constitute the daily bread of my soul.”

Uphill Or Downhill?

…And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice (Philippians 1:18).

Paul is in prison, yet he tells his friends that he is choosing to rejoice. Wow! 

Not only that, but this same imprisoned man also reminds his friends to…

  • … let their joy in Jesus overflow 
  • … conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ
  • … continue to have a servant’s attitude like Jesus
  • … don’t give in to complaining or arguing 
  • … look out for the interests of other people 
  • … rejoice in the Lord
  • … don’t rest on their laurels
  • … forget the past and press on toward the future 

John Maxwell has noted that most people have uphill dreams but downhill habits. That is definitely not a winning combination! 

Paul is making his friends aware of the possible downhill habits that may hold them back from their uphill dreams, and using himself as an example. This first step—awareness—is vital if we are going to break free of the things that are pulling us away from our God-given dreams. 

Solomon wrote, “The path of life leads UPWARD for the prudent to keep them from GOING DOWN to the realm of the dead” (Proverbs 15:24). 

Being prudent is saying, “I’m always on the lookout for what’s best.” 

None of us can go UP by ignoring our downhill habits, or even trying to coast through life. The only way to achieve our uphill dreams is to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal our downhill habits so that we can make a plan to turn those around. 

Check out these characteristics that Paul shares—

Downhill Habit              Uphill Habit
Complaining                    Rejoicing (4:4)
Selfishness                      Gentleness (4:5)
Worrying                         Praying (4:6a)
Grumbling                       Giving thanks (4:6b)
Fixing it myself                Giving it to God (4:6c)
Idle thoughts                   Thinking about my thinking (4:8)
Making my own way         Getting a mentor / partner (4:9)
Being discontent              Being content (4:11-12)
Trying to be self-made     Striving to be Christ-reliant (4:13)

A good prayer for all of us who have uphill dreams that we want to achieve—Holy Spirit, reveal to me my downhill habits. I acknowledge that I need Your help to see and break these habits. Then help me to replace them with Christ-honoring uphill habits that will allow me to achieve the purpose God has for my life.

Thursdays With Spurgeon—What God Is Doing In Depression

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

What God Is Doing In Depression

     This depression comes over me whenever the Lord is preparing a larger blessing for my ministry; the cloud is black before it breaks, and overshadows before it yields its deluge of mercy. Depression has now become to me as a prophet in rough clothing, a John the Baptist, heralding the nearer coming of my Lord’s richer benison. So have far better men found it. The scouring of the vessel has fitted it for the Master’s use. Immersion in suffering has preceded the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Fasting gives an appetite for the banquet. The Lord is revealed in the back side of the desert, while His servant keeps the sheep and waits in solitary awe. The wilderness is the way to Canaan. The low valley leads to the towering mountain. Defeat prepares for victory. The raven is sent forth before the dove. The darkest hour of the night precedes the day-dawn.

From The Autobiography of Charles Spurgeon

Spurgeon was known to have wrestled under the dark clouds of depression frequently throughout his life. As he noted above, “So have better men found it.” Many of us battle the dark waves of depression, myself included. 

But look at how Spurgeon came to see depression in a new light. He began to note that depression was actually the forerunner of a dawn of breakthrough. Think about how many notable people in the Scriptures went through dark valleys prior to God using them in previously unimaginable ways—men like Joseph, Moses, David, Elijah, Jeremiah, Peter, Saul (who would become Paul), and even Jesus Himself. 

The writer of Hebrews records that Jesus learned something during the dark night of His soul that He wouldn’t have learned any other way. Jesus saw God’s dawn coming, so He was able to continue to go through the darksome valley. 

Depression is a serious thing. If you are battling this darkness, there is freedom in admitting it. Spurgeon did, I have, and so have many others. Admit you need help, and then get help. Talking to your doctor or a Christian counselor may be a necessary component toward your healing. 

But in all that you do, please learn to do what these notable folks in the Bible did—and what Charles Spurgeon did: begin to see depression not as your permanent residence, but merely as a dark night that is preceding a glorious dawn! 

Interrupted But Not Discouraged

…I will…if the Lord permits… (1 Corinthians 16:5-7). 

Paul had a desire to visit certain cities to share the Gospel, so he made his plans. But he was careful to add, “if the Lord permits.” He knew from personal experience that God knows best the where and the when.

In fact, the first time Paul came to Macedonia, it was only after he had been blocked from his original plans—

They tried to go to certain regions of Asia, but they were prevented by the Holy Spirit (Acts 16:6).

They headed toward Bythinia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there (Acts 16:7).

While at Troas, Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia, so they concluded that God was calling them to preach there (Acts 16:9-10).

We must know that we know that God has green-lighted an opportunity for us. Where God opens opportunities, satan is sure to attack (1 Corinthians 16:9). We don’t want to then assume that the attack means that we are in the wrong place at the wrong time, or even in the right place at the wrong time.

Paul made his plans, but he also remained interruptible.

When God said, “Go!” Paul could endure any opposition because he was assured that God had called. And when God said, “No” Paul could rest peacefully because he was assured that God knew the best place at the best time.

The same principle is true for godly leaders today—

A mark of a godly leader is one who is interruptible without becoming discouraged.

This is part 39 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

Thursdays With Spurgeon—Struggling For Perfection

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Struggling For Perfection

     My own experience is a daily struggle with the evil within. I wish I could find in myself something friendly to grace. But hitherto I have searched my nature through and have found everything in rebellion against God. At one time, there comes the torpor of sloth, when one ought to be active every moment, having so much to do for God and for the souls of men, and so little time in which to do it. At another time, there comes the quickness of passion; when one should be calm and cool and play the Christian, bearing with patience whatever has to be endured, there come the unadvised word and the rash expression. Anon, I am troubled with conceit, the devilish whisper—I can call it no less—“How well you have done! How nobly you have played your part!” Then calls out distrust, foul and faithless, suggesting that God does not regulate the affairs of men and will not interpose on my behalf. Yet what would I not give if I might but be perfect! Sometimes I think that if God’s people mentioned in the Old and New Testaments had all been perfect, I should have despaired. But because they seem to have had just the kind of faults I grieve over in myself, I do not feel any more lenient toward my faults, but I do rejoice that I also may say with each of them, “The Lord will perfect that which concerns me.” He will most assuredly, beyond a doubt, bring to perfection my faith, my love, my hope, and every grace. He will perfect His own purposes. He will perfect His promises, He will perfect my body, and He will perfect my soul. … That day, however, I believe, shall not come until we enter into the joy of the Lord and are glorified together with Christ in heaven. Then, but not till then, shall He present us “faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 24).

From The Autobiography of Charles Spurgeon

I love that the Bible shows us imperfect people being loved by a perfect God. 

As Spurgeon said, it’s not that we should excuse our faults and imperfections by saying, “At least I’m not as bad as him,” but that we can say, “I’m grateful God’s grace reaches even me!” 

God is for you! He wants you to stand “faultless before the presence of His glory.” So right now—today!—the Holy Spirit wants to help you. Will you let Him? 

The Nearness Of God

I think too often we’re in too big of a hurry when we read the Bible. 

Think with me for a moment how much longer it takes to sing the lyrics of a heart-stirring song than it does to just say the words. The psalms were written as songs, and although the melodies that accompanied them have been lost to the pages of history, we would still do well to move more slowly and deliberately and passionately through these inspired songs. 

Let’s slowly consider Psalm 46 from four different perspectives…

First, as a pause from the noise. Selah can be used three different ways: (1) a pause to reflect; (2) a deep breath to crescendo into something bigger; or (3) a contrast between two very different things. There are three selahs in this psalm, and all of them call us to a pause from something noisy. To pause from…

    • natural upheavals—the earth gives way, the mountains fall, the waters roar, the mountains quake
    • political upheavals—nations are in an uproar, kingdoms fall 
    • religious upheavals—God has to serve the judgment of desolation, as He breaks the bow, shatters the spear, burns the shield

Selah/Pause from these upheavals and reflect—God is our refuge … the Lord Almighty is with us.

Second, notice the contrasts. The songwriter takes us to man’s mountains that fall and quake, but reminds us that THE mountain of God is our sure fortress. In the imagery of water, we see man’s attempts at refreshing that are roaring and foaming, but we also see God’s river that brings life and makes people glad. And look at how man’s use of power results in an uproar, but God makes wars to cease. 

Selah/Pause and reflect—aren’t God’s ways better than man’s ways? 

Third, notice the nearness of God. Twice the songwriter reminds us “The Lord Almighty is with us.” And then we hear God Himself speak to our anxiety-prone hearts, “Be still and know that I am God.” Those words “be still” can also mean “let go.” Let go of earthly things, negative voices, fears, trying to control events. If your hands are full of that, how can you grab onto God?! 

Selah/Pause and reflect—God is calling me to go—and stay—near to Him! 

Fourth, see how God’s peace and protection surrounds AND permeates me. In our Western literature, we are used to the climax—or the payoff—being at the end of the story. The story builds and then comes to a conclusion where the hero prevails. But in Hebrew poetry, the climax—or the payoff—is typically in the middle. So when we read Psalm 46, it’s tempting to say, “Hallelujah! Verse 11 says God is my fortress. That’s the climax, the payoff!” But really the payoff—the most important part—is the middle. In this psalm, that is verse 6. Everything else builds to this and radiates out from this. 

Read this psalm for yourself by reading the verses in this order: 6, 5, 7, 4, 8, 3, 9, 2, 10, 1, 11.

Selah/Pause and reflect—God is not only IN me, He also surrounds me. I’m invited to come close to Him because He is already in me. Nations rage, but His voice in my heart silences the upheaval. He is with me. He is the Most High Sovereign God that controls the outcome of all nations. Earth quakes and kingdoms rumble, but I will have no fear; I will be still and know He is God. He is my refuge, my strength, my help, my fortress! 

Don’t rush the reading of the Psalms. Slowly “sing” these inspired lyrics and listen to how the Holy Spirit will whisper to your heart. 

I’ll be continuing our series on the Selahs in the Psalms this Sunday, and I would love to have you join me. 

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