I could hear it in his voice when I answered his call. My stomach tightened, as I prepared for the punch to the gut I feared was coming next. Then he said it, and my stomach did hurt. He had been laid off from his job again. Remarkably, his third layoff in the last year (twice from the same company). This unwelcome news sent us into a whirlwind of emotions and activity.
Even though we had been here before, this time was different. I struggled to make sense of the repetitive nature of these trials. Were we the Israelites circling the desert because of our disbelief or disobedience? Had we taken a wrong turn that brought this upon ourselves?
Maybe the question I was really asking was who could I blame for this pain and suffering? Was this our fault, or someone else’s? I knew this line of questioning wasn’t helpful, and it came dangerously close to doubting the goodness of God.
But if I could figure out what went wrong, we could fix it in the future, right? The record of our lives had a scratch on it, and I desperately wanted the needle to move. Clearly, losing your job three times in one year is not the norm, and this wasn’t a banner we flew proudly. But as I searched the archives of my memory and journal, all I could see was God’s faithfulness that had led us to this very place.
Trials as Medicine
It’s not that there wasn’t sin in our wake, or that we didn’t wish we could’ve done some things differently. But those lessons could only be known in hindsight. Without a satisfactory answer to my questions, I had to accept the paradoxical truth, that while God could have spared us this trial (Psalm 115:3), he was lovingly allowing it into our lives for our good and his glory (Genesis 50:20; Hebrews 12:11).
Seventeenth-century mathematician and theologian, Isaac Newton said, “Trials are medicines which our gracious and wise Physician prescribes because we need them, and he proportions the frequency and weight of them to what the case requires. Let us trust his skill and thank him for his prescription.”
If these trials were the medicine we needed, he was asking us to swallow a bitter pill. But even in the mixture of fear and faith, we knew he’d never break his promises. Heaven and earth would sooner pass away than he would break his Word (Matthew 24:35). So while we weren’t making any money, this was something we could bank on. Whatever medicine he said we needed, we wanted. It would be good for us, even if it hurt going down.
Same road, different lessons
Are you in a season of trials and testing? Have you felt confused and discouraged that you’re in the same place, learning what seems like similar lessons over again? Don’t be fooled by the familiarity of your surroundings. The desert landscape might be the same, but there are new lessons for you as you pass by here. From one weary sojourner to another, here’s what I’ve learned (and still learning) this time around:
Repent where necessary
Some trials are brought on as a consequence of our sins, and some are not. If you know of sin, repent of it, but if you’re not sure, ask God to reveal it to you. Some trials are specifically measured so that God’s glory might be put on a bigger display. Jesus told his disciples that a man who had been blind from birth wasn’t blind because of his sin, or his parents’, but so that the works of God might be displayed in his life (John 9).
Remember the past
Look back on your life and remember all the times God has faithfully provided and taken care of you. There are probably too many to count. If you’re not already keeping a journal, consider how documenting this trial might help you and others praise the Lord the next time trouble comes. We forget so much when we don’t write it down. Psalm 102:18 says, “Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord.”
Rehearse what’s true
In the song, Christ be Magnified, there’s a line that gets me every time. It says, “I won’t be formed by feelings, I’ll hold fast to what is true. If that puts me in the fire, I’ll rejoice ‘cause you’re there too.” Our culture is pulled in every direction by feelings, and therefore, can’t stand when trials and opposition come. Camp out with your Bible Concordance and look up verses around your area of doubt or weakness. Don’t let how you feel about your situation overrule what God’s word says is true about it.
Refresh your soul
When you’re in the whirlwind that accompanies a job loss, the tyranny of the urgent eats up a lot of your attention. It’s ironic that when you should have more time, being in the Word seems like a luxury of time you can’t afford. If you’re already in a pattern of regularly meeting with God, keep your appointment. If you haven’t established a habit already, there’s never been a better time to start. There’s a reason why Jesus calls himself the Bread of Life and Living Water. In order to survive, we need the spiritual nutrition only he provides.
Rejoice in your trials
It takes otherworldly grace to rejoice in our trials, but that’s exactly what God’s Word tells us to do. Trials that test our faith produce in us fruit we wouldn’t otherwise receive. James tells us the end result of our trials is that we might be made perfect and complete lacking nothing (James 1:4), and Paul tells us that suffering produces endurance, character, and hope (Romans 5:1-5). We don’t always love the packaging, but this is the fruit we want and need in our lives.
Counting this as joy
As I write, we’re living these lessons out in real time. Our situation has improved, but we’re still waiting. I still don’t understand why all these trips were necessary, but I do see the scenery changing outside, and for that, I’m thankful. I hope this third time will be the charm, but if we have to keep circling, we’ll trust that is part of his good and sovereign will for us.
If this trial’s been portioned out for me, I can know that my perfectly wise and all-knowing Heavenly Physician has his finger on the scale, and his eye on the clock, therefore, I can count this too as joy.
Sojourning with you,
P.S. If your trials have you circling in the desert, please let me know how I can pray for you. It would be my honor to do so.
P.P.S. If you want to begin a regular rhythm of Bible study, grab this free resource to start you on your holy leisure journey.