Should We Avoid Trials?
These are challenging times we live in to say the least. I just learned July 15, 2020, that I have again been exposed to COVID-19. If I were hearing about a person being quarantined for the second time, I probably would have thought something crass like, “What is that guy doing?” or “Why is that guy putting himself at risk?”
The answer to both questions is my job. I and the other people who serve the government and a few other occupations must do our jobs. We’ve been trying to telework as much as possible. The good news is that the person with whom I came in contact was wearing a mask, and so was I. We made an effort to be socially distant, so all of us involved have a degree of confidence that these measures were enough to protect us. More importantly, we (both of us are believers in Christ) know that God’s will is always done.
And that statement brings up some interesting thoughts to ponder. If God’s will is always done, should we even bother? If God’s will is always done, should we ever be afraid?
The answer to the second question is simple: no. We shouldn’t be anxious (Philippians 4:6). God is sovereign. He rules over this world with a vision and wisdom that can’t be understood or reasoned out (Romans 11:33). This doesn’t mean we won’t face trials. If Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, God in the flesh, had to face persecution, humiliation, and death on a cross, we will absolutely face trials. All of us will die one day.
The reason, however, we should not be anxious is that because our ends on this earth are not our ends. Christ died but was raised again, without even seeing corruption (Acts 2:27). Those who believe in Christ will see bodily death, but, as Christ is, so shall we also be resurrected on the chosen day.
Still, this doesn’t mean we should needlessly put ourselves at risk. Putting ourselves in needless danger and saying, “I don’t need to worry because I’m Christian,” is nothing more than putting God to the test, which we should also never do (Deuteronomy 6:16). I went into work because that was my job. In faith I submitted to my boss as we should submit to those above us (Romans 13:1-7). But I wore a mask, and I kept my distance, which are also instructions we have in place at work.
The balance, I believe is walking in faith and wisdom. Too often I’ve heard people saying something like, “If God wants me to be sick, I’m going to be sick,” or “If God doesn’t want me to be sick, I won’t be.” Well, God’s will is sovereign, but God doesn’t want us testing him. He wants us to be good stewards of what He’s entrusted to us. Among those entrusted things are our lives and bodies.
So what happens when we are truly afraid? What happens when we know we’re not only going to be in danger, but we’re going to be hurt or harmed in some way?
I’m reading Acts 15-21 at the moment. I think there is an example to follow when walking by faith requires suffering. Regarding suffering, I do not affirm that walking by faith always requires suffering. I do, however, believe that those who walk by faith will at some point inevitably face suffering. In this case, Paul was planing to return to Jerusalem. He knew that’s what he had to do, and he knew he was going to be imprisoned and afflicted (Acts 20:22-23).
I see a few things to note that I hope to share with you as I face this trial.
First: When you truly believe what you are doing is what God wants, you must move forward even when there is risk. This was true of Paul who went to Jerusalem. This is true of the service member who goes into combat. This is true of the doctors who care for the ill. Only, in Paul’s case, there was no doubt of what he was going to face. He knew, if not exactly, he was going to suffer. The rest on this list only accept the increased risk. They have some hope that they will come through their trials unharmed. What matters is, they all move forward, doing what they know should be done.
I still think people should be cautious. Paul was an Apostle chosen by Christ. He received divine revelation. The rest of us don’t have that luxury. I’d advise anyone about to take a risk to seek guidance. The service member going into combat or the doctor in the hospital is doing their job. That, again, is a responsibility of their job, and a duty they must accept. These are simple situations, and we live in a much more complex world. I just want people to be aware that every time they think “this must be what God wants” isn’t actually always what God wants. For those more complex times, prayer and Bible study are important. Talking with pastors and mentors is important.
Second: When you truly believe what you are doing is what God wants, don’t complain. Paul did the opposite. He acknowledged the risk. He declared what he was facing, but he didn’t waiver. In stead, he said something truly powerful: “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself (Acts 20:24). He wanted to finish his course.
Paul prioritized doing what God wants above even his own life and well being. That’s an amazing concept! How could one be willing to do that unless they were filled with faith. Even if Paul were to be killed, he would have been called into Heaven and eternal glory. If these promises are assured us in the future, what catastrophe could possibly frighten us on this Earth?
I’m not suffering any symptoms. I feel fine. I honestly hope I’ve again been protected from this virus. But I’m worried. This chapter convicts me to set that worry aside. I have a long way to go in my walk of faith. My pastor has cancer, and he still works to study, preach, and teach the word of God. I want to lie in bed and eat soup if I have a cold. What this second observation does is convict me to keep walking, without complaint.
Third: When you truly believe what you are doing is what God wants, don’t change how you walk. In this segment of the book of Acts, we see Paul about to face pain, and maybe death. Who’d begrudge Paul a bit of distraction? Who’d be upset if he let a few things slip? We all have off days, right? But in this very segment, Paul declares his impending trial and walks without complaint. Then, he immediately goes back to what he’d been doing before. He teaches his disciples. He spends a measly two verses (two literal sentences) stating he’s about to go to Jerusalem and be afflicted. He says goodbye to his friends (verse 25). Then he offers testimony of what he had been doing (verses 26-28). Then he offers his teaching. He was a teacher before his trial came, and when his trail became imminent, he continued to be the man he was by the grace of God.
He does again offer more testimony about himself (verses 32-35), but I feel that was more in comparison to the the people Paul knew would try to take advantage of his absence by pulling people away.
This pattern repeated itself in Acts 21:10-14. I think the repetition of this pattern is important, especially when it comes one after another. (Repetition in the Bible should always demand closer study and contemplation.) Again, Paul walked forward in faith even after someone literally demonstrated how Paul would be bound (Acts 21:11). Again Paul doesn’t complain. In fact, he asks his friends to support him rather than mourn for him (verse 13). His friends even tried to convince him not to go, but he knew what he had to do. Even after a second, more vivid warning, Paul walked as he had been walking since he was called.
When I got the call to tell me I needed to quarantine again, I didn’t handle it as well as Paul. I didn’t handle it as poorly as others might (if I may indulge in a little self defense). But my heart was filled with worry for about two days. I prayed and talked to my wife. What changed was my perspective on the events leading up to the quarantine. I was doing my job, a job I love, a job God blessed me to have. My sons are always watching me (which should convict me far more than it currently does). How I handle this situation will be an example for them. How do I want them to handle trials? How do I want them to face going to school if that happens? I hope they’ll be more like Paul than I was.
I get tested on Monday, and until then I should walk as God calls me to walk. I should walk by faith, doing the things I know God wants me to do: Love my wife. Pray. Study the Word. Raise my sons in God’s discipline and instruction. Bear fruit. Be loving.
I hope these words help you when you face your trials.
For our panel: Why do people tend to forget God’s promises when trials arise? Does being anxious immediately imply a lack of salvation? What do we do when we’re anxious even when we know we shouldn’t be? How do we gain the courage to walk by faith and in accordance to God’s teaching when trials arrive? What are some other things we should do when we realize a trial (no matter how difficult) is coming?