Lesson 1 - Growing Closer to God through Trials

Let's face it. Life is hard sometimes. I don't mean the superficial hard, I mean REALLY hard. Maybe you are like me and it seems when things go wrong, they ALL go wrong. As the saying goes, "when it rains, it pours." When life isn't going my way the LAST thing I want to hear is someone say, "everything will be OK," or "don't worry, it will all work out." When we are suffering those words seem empty and belittling,..... but most of the time they are true. Maybe the trick is WHEN we chose to say those things to one another. Maybe we should let each other know that everything is going to be OK, when everything is already OK, before the trials come.. Weird? Not really. When our lives are going well, we should enjoy that time, but also prepare for times when things may not be bright. Use the strength of comfort to prepare for the hard times.

When you think of suffering it is hard not to think of Job. He lost almost everything dear to him. He received terrible advice, and yet he remained faithful. I might also remember he asked God some questions, and God explained to him how Heaven's plan is so much bigger than who we are and what we want from life. In Job 38:4 God begins His questioning of Job with "Where were you..." I love this. It lets us know God has always been, and I haven't. The next few chapters show the power and planning of God. He is in control and He makes that plain. Wait! If God was in control all the way back then, then His is still in control now right? Of course!

So then this questions always comes next, "If God is good, and He is in control, why do bad things happen?" Actually, there are many reasons why God ALLOWS bad things to happen. In this lesson, we will look at one of them. We will find out that God allows us to be tested so our faith can be made stronger and we can grow closer to him through trials.

Growing Closer to God through Trials

James 1:2-4
2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

That's right. We should be happy that bad times happen. Why? Because they produce patience. We are proven and molded and hardened by them. Since we know they are coming, we should be prepared for trials. Being aware of the possibility of future trials helps us in several ways:

a. It gives us time to think of weakness we have so we can get stronger in those areas.
b. It allows us to find good friends who will be there for us during bad times.
c. It helps us mentally prepare for suffering.
d. It allows us to make up our mind about matters of faith when we have clear judgment.

When we are tested we learn one of the most valuable lessons, patience. Patience is hard to learn because we are so... impatient. However, there is nothing so humbling as having things not go our way and feeling helpless to change them. Each time you pass through a period life this, you will grow stronger. If you stay focused on God your faith will grow as well. Notice what James says about this, that it makes you perfect, complete, and lacking nothing. Of course, there is also the possibility you could leave God during a tough time. This is why it is important to know about temptation and set your mind on things above (Romans 12:16) so you can weather the storms of life.

James 1:5-8
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

We seem to have no problem asking God for things we want. However, remember Solomon? He was allowed to ask God for whatever he wanted. He chose wisely, when he chose wisdom. In this passage James tells us that we should boldly ask God for wisdom and He will give us all we need. I don't know about you, but I should do this more! When we ask God for the ability to make good choices, we will find our lives much easier. Let's face it. Most of the time we are in a bad situation, we put ourselves there (or at least played a big part in putting ourselves there).

James 1:12-13
12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.

When we face a temptation and overcome it, we have achieved a victory over Satan! We have also shown ourselves we have the strength to make the right choices in life and this strength will grow each time we make it through a temptation. When we fall into the trap of sin, we can come back to the Lord and learn from that as well. Verse 13 lets us know God will never tempt us. Too many people blame God for the evil in their lives, but He is never its source. 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us God places limits on the temptations we face so that there is always a way out of them. This should bring us all comfort and assurance, but it is still up to each of us to find that way.

James 1:14-18
14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.
16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. 18 Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.

So lets be honest, we sin because we want to. The passage explains it perfectly:

a. drawn away by his own desires and enticed - We WANT it!
b. when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin - We act on our desires because we WANT to!
c. and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death - We find ourselves separated from God and then we blame Him?! That is not honest reasoning.

As humans, we must know we are weak and will have hard times in our lives. However, these times can prove our faith and make us strong if we are prepared and can overcome them. It is up to each of us to realize that God is unmovable in His love for us. He wants us to overcome trials and grow closer to Him. He is willing to accept us, if we are willing to accept Him on His good and perfect terms.