If I am serving God, shouldn’t God make my life easier, not harder?
I have always wanted my life to glorify God—to live a life that shows God’s infinite power and worth so that he gets all the praise, not me. In fact, this was the main reason I went into missions. The Bible is filled with stories of people who God used to show his power. Reading these stories, my heart says “Lord, use me for your glory, show your power through me!” Maybe you can relate.
But there is something I missed (or maybe I secretly hoped that I would be the exception): when God used people to show his power, did he use comfort or trials? The answer is trials—God’s most used tool.
Think about the stories from the Bible of people God used. He entrusted Job, Joseph, Daniel, Moses, David, Isaiah, Paul and many others with major trials. Most of the people we remember faced great trials. In fact, we remember them because of how they faced their trials. Had they never faced a major trial, we probably wouldn’t know their name.
This has massive implications on our life if we desire to be used by God for his glory. Last time I checked, the Trinity hasn’t announced a change in strategy. God still uses trials. God still uses storms.
So my reality check was this: If I want to be used by God for his glory, I must be prepared for trials. God entrusts us with trials. Lots of them. Paul said that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
Do you want to be used by God? It’s worth it, but it isn’t easy. If we want to be used by God for his glory, we will be entrusted with trials.
Why does God use trials so often?
Because of what they do. Below are some perspective changers that God has encouraged me with while facing trials. If you have the courage to follow God wherever he leads, these perspectives will be more than head knowledge. They will embed themselves deep in your heart because at times you will cling to them like a drowning sailor clings to a life raft. Storms will come, but these truths will keep you afloat.
Trials are part of God’s work
God never says, “Oops.” (My Bible professor used to always say this.) God is in control of the trials. God is not on his throne wringing his hands as he waits for the outcome of events. Even if I can’t see how, I can be confident that God is working for his glory. This helps me to stop worrying about how things are going to work out. My heart is peaceful when I remember that God promises to work for his glory and our eternal good.
Pain is not without purpose. “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10). “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28).
Trials put God’s power on display
When God allows me to step into a trial, he may be getting ready to work for his glory. Historically, this is how God prefers to work. Remember Gideon? He started off with an army one-fifth the size of the Midianites—and then God made the odds even worse.
God uses trials to show that he alone deserves the credit. Trials make it clear to the world that I am not in control. Everyone can see that I don’t have the ability or strength to overcome the problem. Therefore, when God works he gets all the glory, not me.
Trials prepare me for service (even little trials).
Here is the bad news. When God works in a big way, it often involves one of his servants facing a big trial. So we need to be ready for big storms and trials. How can we be prepared? Little trials.
I want God to trust me with his big tasks, but God doesn’t give us the big tasks without testing us in the little things. Every trial God sends, even our daily frustrations are meant to test us and grow us stronger. If I want God to use me for big things, I must pass the little tests. If I don’t pass the little tests, why should I expect God to trust me with greater things?
As I look back over the last decade serving in Africa, God has continually used trials. If I wasn’t in one, I was getting ready to begin one. Much like our physical body grows stronger through the trials of exercise, our soul grows stronger through the trials of life. Without trials our body and soul become weak. Seth Godin says, “Soldiers realize that it’s war that makes generals.”
Trials sanctify me
I don’t always handle trials well. (I think one of the reasons God moved me to Africa was to teach me how impatient I really am.) When things don’t go as planned, traffic is endless, ministries struggle, paperwork abounds or health suffers; I realize just how impatient I am.
The trials don’t cause me to sin by being impatient, angry or complaining, they simply reveal what is inside. If you cap a volcano the lava will blow out the side. If you try to cap your anger by not getting upset at your kids, it will probably blow out in another area like yelling at your dog or getting mad at other drivers. Trials reveal weaknesses. They reveal our inner sin. Only once I see my sin can I allow God to work inside of me. The greatest battle is the one that is inside of me. Because of this, God’s trials have been his greatest instrument of growth in my life.
Trials make me depend on God
God uses trials to turn my dependence fully on him. He wants me to cling to him and find peace in him alone. The greatest battle that is waged each day for the glory of God is not the one around me, it is the one in me. My sinful heart doesn’t want to relinquish control. Trials are God’s tool to break my dependence on self so that I will trust in him alone.
Trials and weaknesses keep me from embezzling God’s glory. They make it clear that God alone deserves the recognition and honor.
Trials show others that God is dependable
As I go through trials, others are watching. They are watching to see if I respond in faith. Having peace in the midst of comfort is normal. Having peace in the midst of trials is not. Trials give me an opportunity to speak about the hope that I have. If I complain or have a bad attitude when facing trials, I forfeit my opportunity to speak of the greatness God!
God entrusts us with trials so that we can be a light. Let’s not waste these opportunities.
Trials show us and others that God is infinitely valuable
As I go through trials or loss with peace and joy, others are watching. They are watching to see if I respond in joy. When I have joy in the midst of loss, it shows the world that Jesus is better.
Unfortunately, joy in the midst of loss is not my default setting. I think my default is complaining, self-pity and seeking sympathy. So, before I respond in joy God has to teach me that Jesus is better than anything this world has to offer. He teaches through trials and loss that He alone is my treasure and great reward.
This doesn’t mean I laugh it off. Loss hurts, a lot. But my joy is in something that cannot be shaken. We can feel incredible loss and unshakable joy in God at the same time.
Even if we lose everything, God is still enough. Through tears we can say with Job, “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
Trials are an opportunity for reward
God entrusts me with trials as a gift. If I respond to the trials in faith and holiness, I can have joy in the fact that I am storing up rewards in heaven. If I respond to the trials with fear or complaining, I miss the opportunity for reward.
Trials may be spiritual warfare
A few years ago when we opened the AIDS Care Home in South Africa we came under attack. On opening day, Heather came down with mono, which lasted a year, and soon I began suffering from debilitating migraines. Later, Heather needed a serious tumor removed, and we had a demon possessed worker and patients (one even attacked Heather). Crazy stuff.
But I am a little slow. It took another missionary and a Zulu pastor to point out that we may be facing spiritual warfare. For some reason, we Westerners are often slow to consider spiritual warfare (at least I was). When my life and ministry are carrying the gospel into the dark places of this world, I am entering Satan’s strongholds. He won’t go down without a fight.
I don’t need to fear, because Satan is like a dog on God’s leash. He can only do what God allows (remember Job). God may allow Satan to harm me (or even kill me), but it always has a purpose and it is always for my eternal good. When trials come, I must keep my eyes on God, but I need to be aware of Satan’s tactics “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11).
Satan wants to discourage us so that we give up. He will attack our health, our family’s health, and will send a myriad of trials to take us out of the fight. Don’t let him. Keep your eyes on God. If you are getting bombarded with trials, take heart, it may be because Satan is not happy with your life and ministry!
Trials may be for discipline
Start with the heart. Even though this is listed last, I always start with examining my heart. God often uses trials or sicknesses to get our attention and reveal sin. As a loving Father, he wants to restore us to fellowship with him.
in bible God messages and says “[Do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Hebrews 12:5-6).
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24)