Monday, June 29, 2020

What is a Spiritual Journey: The Road of Trials

"Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”[a

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good." -1st Peter 4:12-19

We’ve been called to the adventure. We’re on our spiritual journey. Last week we talked about the moment of clarity, where we realize a profound truth, that God is real.

Now we come to the road of trials. We begin a process that is life long in which Christians, followers of Jesus go through trials and tribulations. And we’re going to look at four of the common trials that Christians will go through. But your trials will be your own, as you walk with Jesus. They are indeed unique.

The first trial, the trial of persistence. Will you keep going? It’s a beautiful summers day and you have the joy of Christ in you. And very suddenly the whole sky turns dark, and the rain starts pouring. The evil one begins fighting against you with all his might to stop you, to get you to turn back and go back to the plantation, the slave farm, of the world system as it is today. Go back to the house, go back to your old ways, go back to the bar, leave the church, and the enemy offers us, if you just turn back, I’ll make things easy on you. I’ll give you an easy life. But if you keep going with Jesus I’ll fight you with everything I have.

I had left a life of sin, and I knew early on that it was going to be tough. I felt depression, and anxiety overpowering me every day, but I kept going. Kept showing up at my job. Kept showing up at church. Somehow trying to fight to embrace a new life.

You achieve victory in this trial by doggedly continuing to show up, doggedly refusing to give up, over weeks, months, and years. The enemy is throwing it all at you, but you refuse to give up, you fight forward into the wind, into the rain, into the darkness, and stand firm. The trial of persistence.

The second trial, is the trial of temptation. The trial of temptation is when the evil one whispers to you, it won’t hurt, it won’t become a habit, there’s no slippery slope here. Just try a little. Just one night. It’ll be fine. The trial of temptation is when our old lives call back to us, come back! Get back over here. The beer calls us from the shelf at the supermarket. The cigarettes call us back. The desire to sexually act out comes at you. And you’re hurting, your in the trials. So you know it might make you feel better for a few hours. But you also know, the next morning, you’ll be twice as depressed, and even more broken. And that desire to do it again, will be even stronger. And ever compromise you make will lead to another compromise, and after a few weeks, then months, you’ve left the church, and you are back completely enslaved and trapped in your sin.

Does this sound familiar to anyone? But the enemy whispers to us, saying don’t worry, just once. Don’t worry, you can’t lose your salvation. So it doesn’t really matter! What a lie! If we allow sin to overtake us again, and die in that sin, we will not go to heaven, we will go to hell. You are called to live in purity.

How do we overcome the second trial? We resist the temptation of the evil one. We resist the temptation that comes from our own flesh. It’s not a sin to be tempted. It’s a sin if you indulge in it. So resist temptation. However, if you do succumb to the temptation of sin, and end up enslaved again to sin, which I know does happen for Christians from time to time, you’ve got to pray hard, and repent again. You can always turn from sin again. Jesus washes us clean anew, and we continue on our Christian journey spotless and blameless.

The third trial we face, the trial of the painful experience. An example would be someone close to us dies. A friendship falls apart. A relationship falls apart. Your car breaks down. You lose your job. You fall off your bike and break your arm. You get sick with the flu. These are the random, difficult experiences of life that come against us. We face COVID-19 crisis, would be another example of this. Just a general time of pain. We didn’t cause it, well, maybe we did, maybe we didn’t, but it happens. And we go through a time of painful reflection. This is where you’re sitting by the river just staring, thinking. When you spend time reading a book, and thinking. You talk with a close friend. And you suffer.

How to overcome the painful experience? Well, generally we go through the typical process of suffering and healing. First, we refuse to believe it’s really happening. The shock phase. Next, anger. We get angry about what happened. Bargaining, we try to find some way to stop it from happening. Depression, this is where we really process what happened in our minds. And then acceptance. We accept that it happened. We find a peaceful outlook on it. We are at peace with it. We’ve processed it, and it’s no longer that splinter in our mind driving us mad.

Fourth trial, the trial of apathy. This is usually when you’ve been on the journey a bit longer. You are studying God’s word, you pray, you go to bible study, you share your faith with others, and you volunteer at church. But over time you start to get tired of it. You start to get a little bored with it. That bright fire starts to die down a little bit. And a little bit more, and a bit more. And pretty soon you are becoming apathetic. You start to not care as much anymore. You start to drift a bit.

You overcome this trial by finding ways to re-invigorate your faith walk. Maybe you try something new. You delve deeper into prayer and fasting. You try a new form of evangelism. You watch some youtube sermons that really spark that fire anew. But probably more so you realize this dull period will pass, and you’ll be on fire again, so you simply wait it out, and keep showing up.

Fifth trial is the trial of pride. Ah yes pride, this is a very insidious trial. This trial whispers to us about how great we’re doing. This temptation puffs us up, and makes us think that we did it, not god. This is a dangerous long term trial, because it can happen slowly over months and years without realizing. And pretty soon we’re judging and condemning everyone around us. And we’ve become a religious pharisee, so puffed up with pride that we’ve become useless to God. Watch for this in your life. I watch for it in my life. It will destroy everything good in your ministry.

How do we overcome this trial? We get on our knees before God and confess it. We get low before God and declare that he is God, and we are unworthy servants, simply doing our duty. We humble ourselves. But there is another option, we continue to be prideful, then God will humble us. Through probably some pretty embarrassing moments.

These trials pop up time and again in our lives as believers, in different forms and ways along the journey. They’ll continue until we die and go into the next life. But you may be asking yourself, why? Why does God allow us, in fact lead us into trials and temptations?

Why does God put us through the first trial, the trial of persistence? God is building us. We are the clay, and he is the potter. Persistence builds character in us. What do they say about someone who quits, and give ups? It will become a pattern in their life. And they may spend the rest of their lives quitting everything they try. But if we establish a pattern of persistence, not giving up, we’ll go through our lives seeing things through.

Why the trial of temptation? I remember when I first tried drugs, it seemed harmless enough. But after a few months, I realized I’m desiring this every day. Every time we indulge the temptation, we give more power over to it, until it has us completely. But the same is also true of resisting temptation. Every time we successfully resist a temptation we gain more power to resist it in the future. To the point that years ago I couldn’t go an hour without obsessively thinking about drugs, today, I don’t think about it at all. God establishes in us a pattern of obedience and continues to build like a snowball rolling down a hill.

What about the trial of painful experience? There are two reasons, one when we go through a hard time it keeps us humble. It prevents us from going whacky prideful party animal. It makes us stop and reflect on what’s really important in life. Secondly, it gives us wisdom, so that if we lose a family member, and we meet someone who just lost a family member, we understand their pain and can minister to them in ways no one else can.

Why the trial of apathy? This trial challenges us to grow in our faith. Otherwise we might always sit in the same place, not really drawing closer to God. But apathy makes us search out new ways to draw closer to God and challenges us to be truly on fire for God’s word, sharing it with everyone we meet.

And why the trial of pride? Perhaps because of what happened when Lucifer became Satan. Lucifer became prideful, he was so beautiful, so beloved, that he became prideful, and decided, I’m so great, I’m going to become god. And he fell from all that love and beauty, to darkness and evil. And we face the same struggle as Christians, will we serve God, or serve ourselves? At the end of the day will we give God the credit, or try to take it for ourselves? When we humble ourselves, we show our true devotion to God. That is the way we must walk in.