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. 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 uses people to show his power, he often does so through trial rather than comfort.
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 would not know their name.
This has massive implications for our life if we desire to be used by God for his glory. God does not change, and he still uses trials and storms to glorify himself in his people.
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 is worth it, but it is not easy. If we are to glorify God, 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 person to a floatation device. Storms will come, but these truths will keep you afloat.
1. Trials are part of God’s work.
My Bible professor often said, “God never says, ‘Oops.’” 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 cannot 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).
2. Trials put God’s power on display.
When God leads me into a trial, he is preparing to work for his glory. Historically, this is how God prefers to work. Gideon started off with an army one-fifth the size of the Midianites, and then God made the odds even worse:
“The LORD said to Gideon, ‘The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, “My own hand has saved me”’” (Judges 7:2).
Just as God used Gideon’s testing, so too God uses our 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 do not have the ability or strength to overcome the problem. Therefore, when God works he gets all the glory, not me.
3. Trials prepare me for service (even little trials).
When God works in a big way, it often involves one of his servants facing a big trial. 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 does not give us the big tasks without testing us in the small 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 do not 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 was not 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.”
“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).
4. Trials sanctify me.
I do not 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 do not go as planned, traffic is endless, ministries struggle, paperwork abounds, or health suffers, the opportunities for impatience are many.
The trials do not 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. God reveals my sin to me in order that I can be sanctified. 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.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).
5. Trials make me depend on God.
God uses trials to cause me to more fully depend 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 does not 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.
“God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God… as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:28-29, 31).
6. 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 comfort is normal. Having peace in 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 us not waste these opportunities.
“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:14-15).
7. 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 loss, it shows the world that Jesus is better.
Unfortunately, joy in the midst of loss is not my default setting. My default is complaining, self-pity, and seeking sympathy. 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 does not mean I laugh it off. Loss hurts deeply. 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).
“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25-26).
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength” (Habakkuk 3:17-19).
8. 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.
“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7).
9. 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).
Despite my experiences, 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 will not 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!
“Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” (Psalm 27:14).
“[H]e who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
10. Trials may be for discipline.
Even though this is listed last, I always start with examining my own 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.
“[D]o 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).
How can we endure with joy in trials?
How can we find peace in trials?
Through a changed perspective.
Peter walked on water during the storm because his eyes were on the King. When his eyes focused on the storm he sank. The storms and trials of life may rage, but perspective changes everything.
Are trials hard? Absolutely. But I would never trade any of my trials because of what God did through them.
God entrusts us with trials because he is using us for his glory. He is at work in us, through us and around us. Take courage. He is working.