IFE HAS THIS UNCANNY WAY OF GOING ALONG SMOOTHLY FOR A SEASON, then out of nowhere erupting into a crisis of volcanic proportions. It’s like going from zero to 60 in one second flat. You wake up in the morning and all is right with the world, but by afternoon you’re reeling and rocking from a sucker punch delivered by life. OK, I know I dropped a lot of metaphors, but you get my point.
I hate to admit it, but I’ve engaged from time to time in the fruitless exercise of trying to anticipate where my next major trial is coming from. I know it sounds crazy, even unspiritual, but come on, we’ve all done it. Will it be something in my family? Will it be my job, my finances, the kids, my health? Fill in the blank. But what typically happens is we get hit from a place where we least expect it.
When Peter wrote in his first letter: “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), I’ve struggled with that. Because try as I may, I’m more often than not, well, surprised. And that’s exactly what happened to me a few days ago.
I had just come off a great weekend, preceded by a wonderful week of incredibly productive meetings. Some things I’d hoped would happen in the organization I have the honor of leading were finally beginning to take shape. My family was doing well; financially we were relatively stable, my health was solid (of course, I could always stand to lose some pounds), and life was moving at a pace that was comfortable. On top of that, I was having some of my best times with God in my morning devotions—ever. Life was going along pretty well.
Then, in the midst of blue skies, a storm blew in unexpectedly, packing gale force winds. And just like that I found myself in full-blown crises. Now, I’ve written on these kinds of episodes previously, but something happened this time that had not occurred before.
What happened is that I didn’t panic, but was at total peace notwithstanding. Of course I wished circumstances were better, but this time around it wasn’t about the trial, but God Himself. Let’s take that a bit deeper.
I have discovered through painful experience that it’s in the exclusive territory of fiery trial that God ushers us into the secret places of the Most High where He reveals aspects of Himself that He would not reveal at any other place. This entering into the secret place cannot be accessed if we prematurely exit seasons of trial. Why? Because we “leave on the table” a perspective about God and His dealings with us that He can only teach us in the fire.
What happens to most of us when we go through trial is that we weep, whine, and wail to such a degree that God more often than not concludes the trial prematurely, because any value we could have received from it is lost upon us. And on coming out we typically misread what happened. Yes, we came through, but we didn’t grow through.
In the trial God was trying to say “Look at Me.” But we couldn’t because we were fixated on the trial itself and the unpleasantness of it all.
So here’s what I’ve learned in the many seasons of trial I’ve been in and out of through the decades: There comes a precise point in the midst of the trial that we begin to delight in the trial and what God is doing with us while we’re in there. I’ve learned the value through the years of not rushing out of trial, but staying in, seeking release only when God says so.
I, like most people, have a distaste for trials, at least going in. But the longer I’m in I’ve literally come to enjoy a level of fellowship with God where at some point the trial becomes unexpectedly joyous.
This is what I think Paul meant when he wrote about the “fellowship of sharing in [Christ’s] sufferings” (Phil. 3:10). It is this strange but wonderful kind of fellowship that is only obtainable during seasons of trial.