“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4
Joni Eareckson Tada, noted Christian speaker and. certainly one who has had a difficult time in life, writes about one of the harder aspects of being a devoted follower of Christ in this devotional on February 27, 2013:
Did you Know What You Were Getting Into?
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” 1 Peter 4:12
When you first became a Christian, did you realize what you were getting into? Did you read the fine print in the contract? God plainly spelled it out. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34); and “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him…” (Phillipians 1:29)
God made it clear that following Him would mean real hardship. Life is supposed to be difficult. More than that, it has been granted to us to suffer. Granted?
Suffer as a gift or a privilege? And what does “for His sake” mean? Problems are built into the Christian life for a privileged purpose. If we’re to follow Jesus, we have to follow Him to Calvary. That’s something God wants us to understand the moment we come to Christ. God also wants us to realize it’s a privilege to follow His Son this way. To follow Christ to the cross is to suffer “for His sake.”
When I first came to Christ, I sort-of-knew it meant suffering, but I had no idea it would involve paralysis. I was surprised at the painful trial at first, thinking something strange had happened to me. But now I praise God for this wheelchair. It has taken me down Calvary’s path. It’s the path to deep-down joy and peace.
Did you know what you were getting into when you became a believer? The question isn’t all that important now that you’ve signed up. What’s important is that you not be surprised at the fiery trial – it comes so that through it you might take up your cross and follow Jesus. It comes so you might find your life after you lose it. Fine print or no, it’s the deal.
My Thoughts On This:
Years before I felt called into ordained ministry, in the midst of a life crisis, I knew the Lord was present with me, but one day I felt strongly Him putting questions before me: “Are you angry? Do you feel “abused?” That was the word – abused! Even in my grief and suffering, I knew that God had not caused my circumstances. But I also knew that they could not have come about without His permissive will. I did not know why these things were happening to me at the time, but at no time did I feel angry at God and certainly not abused by Him! I knew that if I waited and persevered, consecrating the circumstances and myself to God, that He would get me through and redeem all things, bringing something worthwhile out of it. I affirmed my love and gratitude to God for His grace, provision, and protection in the trial in which I found myself.
Later the Lord would lead me to in depth study of the Beatitudes. I believe that I got to the place that I could affirm his words, “Blessed are you when you are persecuted for righteousness sake, for yours is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you, and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you….” and it was then that I had a clear view of His calling me into vocational healing ministry through counseling and spiritual formation. It was not a call to a martyr’s life, but to a life of faithful obedience no matter what.
Recently, I was in an emotionally stressful time in my ministry, feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of the challenges of confronting the culture, my own failings, and the reality of evil in “this present darkness”. Once again, I felt the Lord say to me, “If this is too hard, you don’t have to do it.” I was surprised, but again I affirmed my love for Him and my willingness to persevere through whatever came in order to be faithful to Him. Like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego I think we need the refining work of the fierce and firey trials to know ourselves and grow our ability to trust God so that He can use us even more mightily!
I am grateful for the contemporary example of Joni Eareckson Tada. I often feel as disabled as she is, though in different ways. And yet, as I observe her life and ministry, I am encouraged that God can equip even me for whatever His purpose includes.