Must We Stay Under Trials?
|Copyright © 2005 - All rights retained by author|
|Written by: C. W. Booth|
God is love. God is not a sadist for He does not enjoy watching men suffer. God is not a masochist for He does not enjoy being grieved by sinful men. God is not a hedonist for He has not ordained that He only experience uninterrupted pleasure, though He had the power to ordain perfect bliss for Himself had He desired to do so. God is love. God is motivated by that love.
Yet, God in His infinite wisdom as the Heavenly Father, has chosen disciplines and trials for us that are designed to help us grow in faith and endurance (James 1:3, Hebrews 12:6). These are not pleasant, and are often deemed by us to be the darkest times of our human lives. Such times are brought upon us by a loving God who is intent on growing us into conformity to the image of His Son--for this reason He says trials are for our good (Romans 8:28.29).
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; (Romans 8:28,29)
Since trials are brought upon us by a loving and all-knowing God with the intent to conform us to the image of His Son, is it ever proper to pray, "Father, please remove me from this trial"?
Relief from Pain, or, Becoming a Quitter?
Trials and discipline help us grow into conformity with the image of Christ. Seeking an escape from trials presents us with the moral question, "Is my escape from being under the weight of a trial a blessed relief, or, is it quitting on God and losing the benefit of the intended lesson?"
Moral questions must be addressed from Scripture and never from personal opinion. Preferably, any moral question should be answered by an explicit passage of Scripture that expressly states the answer. For example, to the moral question, "Is it a sin to steal a loaf of bread if I am hungry?" we find the answer numerous times in Scripture--stealing in general is a sin (Exodus 20:15), stealing food is a sin (Proverbs 6:31), but stealing to satisfy hunger is less heinous than other sins such as adultery (Proverbs 6:30).
If a moral question is not directly answered in so many words from Scripture, then it may be answered by means of examples or general principles. Extreme caution must be exercised when citing example or principle from Scripture. Not only must the example match the situation and moral question very closely, but Scripture must indicate whether the actions taken in the biblical example are endorsed by God or not. Many times historical figures in the Bible do immoral things which are not expressly condemned by God at the time; it would be devastating to follow such examples as if they are principles of righteous action when they are not.
When Jesus is recorded as having done something, we can be certain that His actions were righteous. Jesus never sinned, never violated the Law, and never did anything contrary to His Fatherís will. Therefore, when seeking examples and principles, Jesus makes an excellent point of reference.
Regarding whether it is right or wrong to pray to be released from under the weight of a trial, there are both explicit statements from Scripture and biblical examples/principles from which to draw.
Persecution for oneís faith in Christ is a widespread trial many believers must endure. In some instances it is not possible to either avoid or shorten the trial, as many Chinese believers have found. However, there are times when God actually expects His saved ones to avoid or shorten such trials.
"Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes. (Matthew 10:16-23)
Here is an explicit command of the Lord, when persecuted in one city, if possible, flee from it to the next city. Persecution, then, is a trial which we have both the directive and authority from God to flee.
Note however, once a city has been fled and a believer finds himself in the next city, his duty to preach the gospel of Christ resumes. Fleeing from persecution does not mean fleeing from being a witness of Christ.
Perhaps one has become a slave. Onesimus was the legal slave of a man named Philemon, back in the Apostle Paulís day. Onesimus illegally escaped, was caught and imprisoned with Paul, and through Paulís witness, believed in Christ. Paul sent Onesimus back to his slavery because it was the law of the day and we are obligated to obey such governmental institutions (1 Peter 2:13,14). In our modern age almost all countries have outlawed slavery, so being compelled into slavery is a trial only inflicted by evil men who are operating outside legal boundaries. Is it necessary to remain under the weight of such a trial?
Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called. Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord's freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ's slave. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. (1 Corinthians 7:20-23)
We have seen that Scripture permits, even commands, believers to seek to avoid or shorten the trials of persecution and slavery, when ethically and legally possible. But what of trials of health and medicine?
No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments. (1 Timothy 5:23)
Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. (James 5:14-16)
"But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.' Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands?" And he said, "The one who showed mercy toward him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do the same." (Luke 10:33-37)
In fact, the Scriptures are simply replete with calls for prayer and appeals to God for relief from the trials of illness and injury. Jesus commanded that when we have the opportunity, we must also care for the sick and injured, for this is what He meant when He said, "Go and do the same."
Trials of health, slavery, and persecution have clear commands from Scripture: avoid or shorten these trials if you have the legal and ethical means to do so, while always praying to God for relief. Surely a pattern is emerging with regard to trials and suffering.
Throughout biblical history we find examples of holy men beseeching God for relief from trials. They do not demand relief, but they humbly ask, perhaps even beg. Such examples are unambiguous in their demonstration that these men are doing what is good and proper.
Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He said to them, "My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me." And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will." And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, "So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, "My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done." (Matthew 26:36-42)
And He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by. And He was saying, "Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will." (Mark 14:35-36)
saying, "Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done." Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. (Luke 22:42-44)
Three other examples include:
Jesus Himself taught through parables that we ought to cry to God day and night for justice in such areas as legal protection (Luke 18:1-8). Other Scriptures indicate that God will meet our need for food and clothing though due to our trials we do not have the means to buy either one, if we but pray.
He has regarded the prayer of the destitute and has not despised their prayer. (Psalm 102:17)
God is the very one who provides relief for the faithful. If we do not have Him as a refuge in the day of our distress, we are in truth utterly lost.
God brings upon us trials and disciplines for the purpose of causing us to grow and mature into images of His perfect Son. The truth is, there is nothing we can do to circumvent Godís plan for us (Job 42:2). If He has ordained a trial for our good, nothing we actually do or say will remove us from that trial, with the possible exception of prayer, should God accept our prayers of petition as a mercy upon us.
Therefore, knowing God will fulfill all His purposes, goals, and objectives, the actions we take to deal with trials and suffering and to bring them to a righteous conclusion as quickly as possible are part of Godís design. Are you sick, seek medical attention and pray to God for relief. Are you being persecuted for your faith in Christ, pray and flee. Seek to do the godly thing, always pray (for if we do not pray we should not expect God to work on our behalf -- James 4:2,3), and apply the wisdom granted by God to withdraw oneself from trials as God provides the opportunity to do so.
In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance. For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers. Prescribe and teach these things. (1 Timothy 4:6-11)