Plain and simple: we all go through trials in our life. Recently after an overseas trip I had a series of three illnesses that hit one after another. It didn’t seem to let up and it actually got me down a bit. Pain has a way of doing that… it knocks us down and relentlessly reminds us with every breath that we are utterly dependent on God. For every breath. Through years of wilderness experiences, and from writing a book on wilderness theology, I know in my head that instead of being surprised by trials, I should expect them. But that gets “tested” in the lab of real life, and we find out once again, in real time, if we are believing that in theory or in practice.
Gareth Gilkeson of Rend Collective once remarked, “God is the God miracles, and the God of trials.” So true. In the midst of suffering we wonder, “What is this for?”, “I didn’t sign up for this?” What am I to do with these disorienting feelings that trials bring on? Well, there are no pat answers, of course, but one thing that Bible helps us understand is that God has purposes in trials.
YOUR TRIALS EXPOSE UNBELIEF & PROMOTE TRUE BELIEF
Trials expose unbelief and promote real, deeper, more satisfying belief. Time and again, story after story in the Bible, belief was shown to be true or false in the wilderness. Trials are an instrument to expose who we fear more: God or man. By removing familiarity, God uses trials to deepen our resilience in the face of disappointment and disorientation. Trials and tests expand our comfort zones and keep us humble.
Following Jesus Christ is not a walk in the park all of the time. We all have rough edges that need to be rubbed off. Each of us have sinful tendencies that are at odds with the desires of the Spirit. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak the Bible teaches us. (Mark 14:32-42) As we look at the theme of trials or testing in the Scriptures, it becomes strikingly obvious the wilderness is a favorite place for God to get our attention. The Father is clearly after our fidelity to him. Through the trials of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai we learn that when his people persevered and trusted him, they were blessed. When they believed him (even when the physical situation seemed like he was absent) it showed their covenant relationship with him was true, not conditional.
WE MAY FEEL ABANDONED, BUT TRIALS ARE MEANT TO DRAW US NEARER TO GOD
God intentionally tests us through various forms of resistance to establish our integrity. Through the process we learn he is the One who sets the terms of discipleship, not us. When pushed, we might want to push back at God, but in his perfect wisdom he questions and stretches us in such a way that draws us nearer to him rather than causing us to run away. Job, Sarah, Abraham, Peter, and Paul are all prime examples of those who have learned obedience through suffering. Each went through a process of disorientation and re-orientation in the wilderness. As God adds the salve of grace to the struggle of our trials, he miraculously raises up servants who can transform nations.
Whether you are going through a trial of illness, relational strain, workplace stress, emotional pain, or vocational discontentment… all of these are opportunities to expose the fickleness of our unbelief and to promote the root stimulator of true covenant faith. The writer of Hebrews defines faith as:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. -Hebrews 11:1
JOURNAL QUESTIONS & A WILDERNESS CHALLENGE
- What specifically is an area of suffering, testing, or trial that I am walking through right now?
- How is God using this to show me where my faith is fickle… where I am flatly, and honestly unbelieving or untrusting of him in this area of life?
- In what ways might God be using this trial to forge stronger, more genuine, satisfying faith in me?
- Wilderness Challenge:
- Try going outdoors and doing a challenging hike, climb, or an overnight solitude experience. Sometimes through self-imposing an adventurous challenge or trial, we expose ourselves to space where God will work in our soul and mind in new ways. As we intentionally spend time in the wilderness, we can do this with the anticipation that by placing ourselves at a crossroads between trial and solitude with God, he will meet us and surprise us with his presence in that place.
- If you would like more guidance or strategies to experience closeness with God through time in the wilderness, I invite you to read my book, Christian Outdoor Leadership. It provides a game plan for using time in God’s creation for spiritual growth.
- 4 WAYS TO USE THE BOOK OF JOB AS OUTDOOR MINISTRY CURRICULUM