Seeing Behind Trials

(Note: In order to understand this talk properly, it is important that you turn to the scriptures mentioned and find out exactly what they say).

The Lord Jesus tells us in His Word (ROMANS 8:28) that all things work together for our good. Yet He also shows us that at various times all will suffer tribulations and persecutions – ACTS 14:22, 2 TIMOTHY 3:12. Sometimes things may seem not to be working for the good – it looks like something has ‘gone wrong’ and the mind gets into turmoil and worries. We call such occasions times of trials – but we must understand what is really going on.

God has left us for a short while in bodies of flesh and blood in order to teach us to rely completely on him – 2 CORINTHIANS 4:7. In due time Jesus will return and we shall be changed – PHILIPPIANS 3:21, 1 CORINTHIANS 15:52. Meanwhile we are still compassed about with infirmities – and are earnestly desiring the day when these will be stripped away: 2 CORINTHIANS 5:4, ROMANS 8:23. This burden on us causes all the stresses which we call trials: we know that the old man is dead, but the old man doesn’t, so it has to be constantly mortified or deadened. When we neglect to let the Lord do this, an apparition of the dead flesh rises up and fleshly desires begin to conflict with the will of God for us. We are told that whatever the flesh wants or lusts after is contrary to God’s will (GALATIANS 5:17), so rather than making provision for fleshly lusts (ROMANS 13:14) we ought to regard them as our deadly enemies – 1 PETER 2:11! And it is these things that are responsible for many if not most of the trials that we come upon.

JAMES 4:1-3   “From whence come wars and fightings (conflicts) among you (or in you)? Come they not hence, even of your lusts (pleasures) that war in your members? (Are you struggling in yourself about something? Could it be because of this?) Ye lust (set your heart on something), and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.” (A common sort of trial. Suppose you want something and haven’t got it: have you asked God about it? Are you sure it’s His will and not your flesh? Are you waiting on Him for it or are you pushing after it yourself, not minding whose toes you tread on?) Or suppose you have asked, and don’t receive – “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts (pleasures).”

These verses pin down the source of many of our ‘problems’. When there is some sort of conflict, in fact, we ought to examine ourselves and look to see where our flesh is involved:

JAMES 1:13-14   “Let no man say when he is tempted (or tried), I am tempted of ‘God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.”

This is God’s Word! Whenever any one of us is in a trial it is because somewhere something of flesh has crept in and trapped us for the moment. Don’t blame God! Deliver yourself quickly, for see the end in verse 15! Don’t take any trial lightly or try to brush it off without considering what God is trying to show you in it.

Further to this, when circumstances seem to be stacked against us or when the flesh rises up we sometimes say that Satan is attacking us, or some such thing. This needs to be very carefully examined in the light of the Word. Certainly we have an adversary, the devil, who is seeking to devour each one of us (1 PETER 5:8). The very word ‘devil’ means ‘accuser’ or ‘slanderer’, as does his name Satan in Hebrew. And certainly he does from time to time snatch people out of our midst, seducing them from the Lord’s ways (1 TIMOTHY 4:1 and 1 TIMOTHY 5:15, etc). He even has his ministers appearing to work within the church (2 CORINTHIANS 11:13-15), people whose heart Satan has filled with wickedness (LUKE 22:3, ACTS 5:3). But the fact that these people do eventually leave or are put out of the church by God shows us that they never truly belonged (1 JOHN 2:19); they are tares among the wheat  (MATTHEW 13:24-26) sown by the devil (MATTHEW 13:38-39), and will be manifest in the end of this world on the last day (MATTHEW 13:40-42). Those who love God have nothing to fear from Him, for we are not ignorant of Satan’s devices (2 CORINTHIANS 2:11).

However even those who follow the Lord are sometimes attacked by Satan. On one occasion he hindered Paul (1 THESSALONIANS 2:18); in another place Paul testifies that a messenger of Satan buffeted him (2 CORINTHIANS 12:7) We are told that all of us are wrestling against spiritual beings, principalities and powers, wicked spirits in heavenly places – and that we need all God’s armour to withstand them (EPHESIANS 6:10-13). Yet we are also told to thank God who has given us the victory over our enemies in Jesus (1 CORINTHIANS 15:57; ROMANS 8:37). Jesus Himself has given us power (exousia – authority) over all the power (dunamis – strength, energy) of the enemy – LUKE 10:19 – and He says NOTHING SHALL BY ANY MEANS HURT YOU.

The way He has done this is wonderfully simple. The devil works through sin and death, sin being the sting of death, death the wages of sin. Whoever sins is of the devil – they’re his people (1 JOHN 3:8), but in that same verse we are told that Jesus manifested for one reason – to destroy the works of the devil. And HEBREWS 2:14 tells us how – through death! Because Jesus has died and risen again we know there is nothing to fear in physical death – so Satan no longer binds us (verse 15); death has no more dominion over us (ROM 6:9). The hour that Jesus died was the hour in which Satan was judged and cast out of heaven (JOHN 12:23,31). Now Jesus has been raised from the dead by the glory of the Father and is seated at His right hand, with all principalities and powers, including Satan, under His feet (1 PETER 3:22, EPHESIANS 1:20-23). And of course God’s Word shows us so clearly that in baptism we partook of exactly that same death, and that we live exactly that same resurrection life in heavenly places (EPHESIANS 2:1-6; ROMANS 6:3-13). So all devils are under our feet (LUKE 9:1). By dying with Jesus WE HAVE CROSSED THE LINE WHERE SATAN’S POWER ENDS – he can kill the body but do no more, so we need not fear him (LUKE 12:4). We have been born again as new creatures in Jesus, nothing to do with Satan – so HE CANNOT TOUCH US (1 JOHN 5:18)! This is God’s Word – don’t argue! Sure enough he attacks, but if we believe God, that faith (=believing) will quench all his darts (EPHESIANS 6:16). If we resist him, he flees (JAMES 4:7). So whenever Satan looks like ‘having a go’ at you, just ask the Lord to rebuke him. (N.B. JUDE 9, 2 PETER 2:11 – don’t rail at him yourself, but be sure to use Jesus’ name only!).

And yet the Word shows us clearly that Satan does do things to the faithful in the church – REVELATION 2:10, 2 CORINTHIANS 12:7, etc. Does this change anything? No, it doesn’t. If a Christian dies, or if his house is burnt down or his car smashed, or if his mind rebels and is troubled, it is fair to say that Satan is doing it. But – this is where the title of this piece comes in – it is vital to see what is going on ‘behind the scenes‘. Paul’s thorn in his flesh was given to him – by whom? Who was behind it? Could it ever happened if the Father did not want it to? Of course Paul didn’t like it at the time (‘no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous’), but when he cried out to the Father concerning it, he was shown just to trust in Jesus, so that he finally took pleasure in the buffetings, for Jesus’ sake (2 CORINTHIANS 12:10). Even in the Old Testament Satan was only allowed to afflict Job with God’s permission, and that was when he could appear before God in heaven and accuse God’s own people, which is just not possible now (REVELATION 12:10-11). So Satan is completely overcome as far as we are concerned; he is working havoc in the world for the time being (REVELATION 12:12), but has no part in us. The Father is keeping us by His own power – Satan can’t even pluck a hair from us without the Father’s will – so DON’T fear Satan, but DO fear God! (LUKE 12:4-5).

When you are going through a trial get your eyes off Satan and the physical symptoms of the problem, and get them onto Jesus and your Father. Your walk has been ordained before the world began – so run it with patience and look to Jesus (HEBREWS 12:1-2). See that all that is happening is that your Father is chastening or instructing you – that He does it because He loves you – that even if it seems unpleasant now it is working on your good – and lift up your hands to God in humble thanks (HEBREWS 12:5-12). The very fact that we call such times ‘trials’ means we ought to understand that the Father is trying us, like He did with Abraham – He is bringing these things upon us IN LOVE, and He will bring us through it (PSALM 66:10-12; ISAIAH 43:1-2). He is purging us so we can bring forth more fruit (JOHN 15:2). But be careful: He tells us, when we are being tried, not to say that God is doing it, for that will cause complacency and stop us from looking for the fleshly source of the problem. If we do examine ourselves each moment these purgings will not be necessary; when they are, God is instructing us in love – but don’t blame Him for the source of it! Sure enough Satan works in these things, so that we can’t actually say God is doing it, and yet He is in another sense – He’s behind it all, working  out His will, using Satan only as a means to fulfil His pleasure in us. So be glad and rejoice! JAMES 1:12, DANIEL 12:10 -  the wise will understand what is happening. When circumstances seem to be against us, more and more we learn to ignore them and just let the Father work out His will. Truly we glory in tribulations – not boasting about them or exalting them, but rather: in tribulations, we glory – in God, of course (1 CORINTHIANS 1:31). We know that we are learning to be patient: ROMANS 5:3. And we need patience: HEBREWS 10:36.

As we come to understand these ups and downs of our walk smooth themselves out and everything becomes steady and even – we walk as Jesus did, without fuss or panic, so that the people see not us but Him only (LUKE 3:5-6). This is because we are seeing only Jesus, remembering that on the Cross He took our infirmities and weaknesses, and all the things that chastise or trouble our peace (ISAIAH 53:4-5). Now He is at the right hand of God, interceding for us as our great high priest – He knows what it’s like to be tempted, but He stood fast through it all (MATTHEW 4:1-11; HEBREWS 4:15), so He knows how to help us (HEBREWS 2:17-18). He promises never to put upon us more than we can bear, and never to leave us without a way out (1 CORINTHIANS 10:13). So when some trial or other is on, don’t go around complaining or feeling miserable – nothing is happening but what the Father tells us will come, so we ought not to think it strange, but rather rejoice – 1 PETER 4:11-12 – because we are sharing in Christ’s own sufferings. And when we truly discern His body, that He indeed died for us, we truly cease from sin – Christ has suffered for us, and we arm ourselves with that same inner mind. What if the outward man perishes? Will you faint, when the Father tells you that the inner man is being renewed? Read 2 CORINTHIANS 4:15-18! Believe it – don’t even look at the trials, let alone boast of them or flaunt them around the assembly like battle scars – Jesus took it all; we don’t even see it, because we are dead – our only life is his. Yes, we do have it in earthen vessels (2 CORINTHIANS 4:7) – but only so as to force us to continually die to ourselves, so that Jesus’ life can be made manifest in us (2 CORINTHIANS 4:8-11). It all comes back to being quite dead: then God can strengthen us with His own POWER (COLOSSIANS 1:11). Remember that nothing will come upon you more than anyone else – the same afflictions that pressure you are applied to all your brethren in this world (1 PETER 5:9) – so resist them! After all, every moment is a trial, for God is surely watching our hearts every moment (JOB 7:18), so we ought not think ‘trials’ something strange. And above all, see that Jesus too was in all points tempted like you are – and now as He is, so are we (1 JOHN 4:17). He says be of good cheer – He has overcome the world! (JOHN 16:33).

Have another look at how Jesus walked – how we ought to be walking. We know that He was tried just like we are, but there are probably only three occasions in His whole life when it can be pinned down: in the wilderness (MATTHEW 4:1-11; MARK 1:12-13; LUKE 4:1-13), at Lazarus’ tomb (JOHN 11:33-38), and the few days before He died (JOHN 12:27; JOHN 13:21; LUKE 22:41-44 etc.) The rest of the time He spoke nothing of Himself: He didn’t walk around telling people how much the Father was ‘crunching’ Him or compare notes with His disciples; He just kept on doing the works of the Father. And it is so much easier for us because He has gone before – we have not yet resisted unto blood! So just commit it to Him – 1 PETER 4:19 and 2:21-23. He bore our sins and our sufferings (1 PETER 2:24 and 1 PETER 4:1) – so our flesh and its lusts is CRUCIFIED – no more to trouble us (GALATIANS 5:24).

Paul goes on to say: if we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit (GALATIANS 5:25) – walk in Christ (COLOSSIANS 2:6-7). We are complete in Him, meaning full – nothing is lacking (COLOSSIANS 2:10). It is prayed  that we will go on, and stand in Him, perfect (complete) and complete (full) in all the will of God. And in one direction the will of God is that we see that everything works  for our good, and so be thankful, no matter how our flesh appears to feel (1 THESSALONIANS 5:18). If we understand this – nothing can move us (PSALM 62:5-8; MATTHEW 7:24-25). Even if the whole earth is shaken – and it will be – we will not be troubled or afraid, simply because God is in our hearts, and nothing else matters (PSALM 46 – read the whole psalm!). So just BE STILL – rest in him: KNOW that He is God, and don’t argue or complain. Lift up the hands that hang down! If we don’t see it yet, the Lord will cause us to, in His own time – and meanwhile He will keep us (PSALM 138:7-8). Nothing else matters (PHILIPIANS 3:8-14,15-16). So we end up back in HEB 12 – read the whole chapter. Jesus has gone before – remember it! God is dealing with us as sons – sons of His love. See that He’s brought us to Zion, the holy mountain, and don’t rebel or fight against God. Don’t let unbelief corrupt your heart and make you look upon your flesh and its trials. We have a kingdom which cannot be moved – we can either turn against God, or be humble and accept His chastenings, and His grace that brings us through (JAMES 4:5-6). So LET US HAVE GRACE – let’s serve God in the way he wants, with reverence and godly fear.

What To Do In Trials

1 PETER 4:12 tells us not to be surprised or caught unawares when a trial comes upon us. Rather, verse 13 tells us to rejoice, because we are sharing in what Christ suffered for us. We ought to look to Jesus for an example: when tried He didn’t complain or grumble about it (ISAIAH 53:7; 1 PETER 2:22-23) but saw through to the end – HEBREWS 12:2 – so that He endured, despising the shame: it wasn’t worth the trouble of thinking about it, so clearly did He see the joy that was set before Him.

Jesus understood this so well that as we read through the Gospels concerning His sufferings it is quite easy to forget the extreme physical pain that He must have been in, so calm He seems and so controlled. Perhaps we learn more about the business of enduring trials from the Old Testament: JAMES 5:10 says ‘Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.’ Most of all, we can see this in David’s walk.

The first man whom God chose to be king of Israel was Saul, but because of his foolish disobedience God told him that his kingdom would be taken from him and given to another man after the Lord’s own heart (1 SAMUEL 13:13-14) . Eventually David was chosen and anointed for his calling (1 SAMUEL 16:1-13) – he was almost certainly still in his teens at the time, yet the Spirit of God came upon him immediately (1 SAMUEL 13:13): shortly after he killed the giant Goliath (1 SAMUEL 17). Meanwhile Saul was troubled by an evil spirit, sent by God (1 SAMUEL 16:14-15). The upshot of this was that Saul became jealous of David (1 SAMUEL 18:5-9) and many times sought to take David’s life (1 SAMUEL 18:10; 1 SAMUEL19:18), so that David had to flee for his life.

We know how David reacted to all this because of many psalms which he wrote down, recorded for us in God’s Word. Such a one is PSALM 59, the title of which is something like ‘To the chief musician: do not destroy! A golden psalm of David, (written) when Saul sent, and they watched the house to kill him!’ What did David do at that time? He cried out to God, to awake and deliver him (PSALM 59:1,5): he trusted in God’s protection (PSALM 59:9-10) and sang thanksgiving to Him, knowing that he truly would be kept and delivered (PSALM 59:16-17). This is surely a provocative example to us not to panic or be afraid when trials come upon us, even if they seek our life.

But that was just the beginning! Saul found out where David was (1 SAMUEL 19:19), so that he had to move on: he went first to Nob, where the tabernacle was (1 SAMUEL 21:1-6), but even there he was spied upon (1 SAMUEL 21:7), so that he had to arm himself and flee to the Philistines (1 SAMUEL 21:8-10). Naturally he was not exactly welcome there – he had slain them in their tens of thousands! So the Philistines took him (1 SAMUEL 21:11-12), and David was sore afraid. But at that time he still cried out to God (PSALM 56 – ‘A golden psalm of David, when the Philistines took him in Gath’). His testimony was of God’s saving power: “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee ... I will not fear what flesh can do unto me ... this I know; for God is for me...” And of course the Lord provided a way of escape: David pretended to be mad, and the Philistines would have nothing to do with him (1 SAMUEL 21:13-15). And the Psalm that belongs here – PSALM 34! “I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth ...” Read the whole psalm; be edified by David’s great and marvellous faith. “The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles ... Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all ... none of them that trust in him shall be desolate.”

But of course even when David had escaped from the Philistines he was still a wanted man in Israel. So he first went and hid in a cave (1 SAMUEL 22:1), when he wrote PSALM 142: ‘An instructive psalm of David: a prayer when he was in the cave.’ He tells how he cried out to the Lord in distress, when no man could be trusted. He poured out his soul before God. And the result was immediate: four hundred men of Israel came to his aid (1 SAMUEL 22:2). Afterwards the prophet Gad told him to leave the cave, so he went into the wilderness of Judah (1 SAMUEL 22:5). The psalm that he wrote here is PSALM 63. Consider the situation: it must be months, possibly years, that he has been running for his life from Saul. All this time he has been crying out to God to deliver him from his enemies. And as yet nothing seems to happen: he has gone from one near escape to another, and now he has to move on again. Would you be cast down under such circumstances? Are you cast down when your prayers seem not to be answered at first? David wasn’t. “O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee in the sanctuary.” All David does is reach out and praise God with all his heart: “Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name.” Others might have been grumbling or complaining or dissatisfied – David certainly was not; he knew that God has heard and that was enough. “My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips: when I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches. Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice. My soul followeth hard after thee: thy right hand upholdeth me ...”

For many more years David continued to live in caves and wildernesses for fear of Saul. Meanwhile Saul was becoming more and more desperate: when he heard from Doeg that David had been with Ahimelech the priest (1 SAMUEL 21:1-7), he sent Doeg to slaughter the whole company of priests: only one escaped and fled to be with David (1 SAMUEL 22:9-23). David wrote a psalm against Doeg at this time (PSALM 52). After this David continued to flee from place to place, each time only one step ahead of Saul (1 SAMUEL 23), each time almost betrayed into his hands by the men of the place (e.g. 1 SAMUEL 19-21, which was the occasion for PSALM 54). The climax came at En-gedi, when David was hiding again in a cave. Saul happened to step into that very cave to relieve himself (1 SAMUEL 24:1-3). David’s men wanted to kill Saul while he was close and undefended, but David knew that was not God’s will. Instead when Saul had left the cave David showed himself and what had happened, and put Saul (his father-in-law) to shame before his army (1 SAMUEL 24:4-22). Saul was completely broken, and left off hunting after David for a season. David wrote PSALM 57.

But even there it did not end: Saul again turned against David and almost the same thing happened (1 SAMUEL 26). Later David returned to Gath and made a league with Achish: soon after Achish and the Philistines slew Saul and his sons on Mount Gilboa. Only then, at thirty years of age, did David have rest, and it was another seven years before all of Israel acknowledged him as King (2 SAMUEL 5:4-5).  Thus for something like ten years, possibly more, he had been forced to dwell in caves, fearing for his life, wandering from place to place, hunted like an animal – certainly not a light trial. Yet his own psalms show us that at all times he trusted in God, never doubting that He would bring him through and give him the kingdom He had promised. As David’s trial went on, so his faith and his patience grew.

We who have the spirit ought to learn form this how we ought to bear patiently the trials we encounter in our walks. David’s example shows us never to give up or to cave in, but rather to keep praying to God, believing that He had heard us and thanking Him for His deliverance. Whether you are being attacked from without, or pained in your body, or worried in your mind (or all three!), the approach is always the same:

-        Understand what the Scriptures say of your situation. You are dead (COLOSSIANS 3:3); Jesus lives in all His glory and power. You are with Him in heavenly places (EPHESIANS 2:6). The things that go on in your mind and your body are temporary, little things, of minor importance, and are working for your good (2 CORINTHIANS 4:17-18) – so KEEP YOUR EYES ON JESUS! (HEBREWS 12:1-2).

-        Jesus said ‘It is finished’, so it is (JOHN 19:30). God has given you the victory in Jesus (1 CORINTHIANS 15:57). Your problems with material things are solved (MATTHEW 6:33-34); your sicknesses are healed (1 PETER 2:24); your sorrows and pains are gone (REVELATION 21:4).

-        When the time comes, God will show you this and give you the faith to believe it. Faith means you have what you hoped for (HEBREWS 11:1). You know then that the problem or sickness or sorrow is completely gone and no longer exists.

-        In the meantime, while your mind may be still troubled or your body still in pain, then it is the time to be calling on the Lord, as David did. Pray to Him fervently to show you your deliverance in Jesus’ blood. Call upon Him, over and over again until He answers you (PSALM 31:1-2; PSALM 35:1-3,23; PSALM 55:1-3 etc. etc.). This is important: never give up! (LUKE 18:1). If you want to see your deliverance, be like the widow with the unjust judge (LUKE 18:2-8) or the man who wanted bread (LUKE 11:5-8). The kingdom of heaven permits forcefulness (MATTHEW 11:12) – and God commands us to command Him (ISAIAH 45:11)! So be bold – ask the Father in Jesus’ name, and He is bound to answer your prayers (JOHN 16:23). He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him (HEBREWS 11:6). Jesus says “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for everyone that asketh receiveth; and it shall be opened unto you: for everyone that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” (MATTHEW 7:7-8).

-        Soon one of two things will happen: either the trial will be taken away (the sickness healed, and so on), in which case you simply thank God and go on, or else the physical circumstances will remain but you will no longer be troubled by them, or in pain. At that point your mind is once again mortified; you know that God has heard your prayers (ISAIAH 65:24) and believe that in due time the answer will be manifested to all. There is nothing more you can do except sit quietly and wait, thanking God that your petition has been granted. Only beware that the adversary does not persuade you out of your confidence, telling you that perhaps nothing has happened after all. You must be diligent even at this stage in thanking God and praising Him (PSALM 40:1-3). Be sure to keep reminding Him of what has to be done – even though you know it has been done in Jesus.

This knowledge is the key to our peace of mind in our walks. We believe God’s Word – we believe that deliverance has come. We know that it has come – “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (JOHN 8:32)  

The Value of Trials

David occasionally asked God to try Him: PSALM 26:1-2; PSALM 139:23-24. Our brother James tells us: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations” (JAMES 1:2) Why? He goes on: “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.” (JAMES 1:3) In other words, when your faith is tried to be patient – and we need patience (HEBREWS 10:36). So trials are good, and useful.

Again, Paul tells us:

“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation (=pressure) worketh patience; And patience experience (=trial, practically the same word as JAMES 1:3); and experience, hope.” (ROMANS 5:3-4). So patience in its turn brings more trials, and the trials go on to work HOPE in us – we learn to rely more and more on Jesus and put all our hope in Him (COLOSSIANS 1:27) – which gets our eyes off the trials, of course.

An excellent way to look at the afflictions and tribulations that come upon us, and are often set before us in God’s Word, is as ‘trial’ in the sense of the refining of metals, in which some precious metal (silver or gold, for example) is melted so that the impurities (‘dross’) can be removed and the metal purified. This is what Jesus is doing with us:

“For thou, O God, hast proved us: thou hast tried us, as silver is tried.” (PSALM 66:10)

“The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold: but the LORD trieth the hearts.” (PROVERBS 17:3)

“Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” (ISAIAH 48:10)

“Therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts, Behold, I will melt them, and try them; for how shall I do for the daughter of my people?” (JEREMIAH 9:7)

The result is a bringing forth of more fruit (JOHN 15:2), the working in us of patience and of hope, the purifying of our faith, so that we may be better fitted to serve God:

“But who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness.” (MALACHI 3:2-3)

“Take away the dross from the silver, and there shall come forth a vessel for the finer.” (PROVERBS 25:4)

The finer (=refiner) is, of course, Jesus: as we are tried and purged by our Father we truly become vessels for Jesus, meet for His use, prepared unto every good work. So we certainly ought not to complain against God when He afflicts us with some light affliction! We simply take what comes, being content with whatever state we find ourselves in, for we know that our Father will keep us (ISAIAH 43:1-2). We can say the same as Job:

“But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” (JOB 23:10)

God tells us very clearly why He tries us:

“But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.” (1 CORINTHIANS 11:32)

 “...but he (chastens us) for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.” (HEBREWS 12:10)

We know that whatever happens God is faithful to promise (ISAIAH 43:1-2, 1 CORINTHIANS 10:13 and so on) – we are and shall be kept by His power (1 PETER 1:5) – so what follows?

“Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” (1 PETER 1:6-7). When gold is tried the finers are very careful to keep all the precious metal and to throw away only the dross. So how much more care will our Father take to see that our faith – which is much more precious – is not lost, that we will be kept, and come through the trial glorifying Him all the more!

It makes sense! ‘He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?’ (ROMANS 8:32). And of course this sometimes involves sorrow and heaviness – we ought not think this strange, but rejoice in it!

“Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peacable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” (HEBREWS 12:11)

Obviously the sort of sorrow in which we can rejoice before God is not longfaced grief! Truly Jesus carried our sorrows (ISAIAH 53:4), so there is no place for that sort of thing in our walks. But when God chastens us He often works godly sorrow in us – and that is a good thing: 2 CORINTHIANS 7:8-11. It produces results!

“Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.” (ECCLESIASTES 7:3)

“Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” (MATTHEW 5:4)

“They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” (PSALM 126:5-6)

So sorrow at times is a good thing, if after a godly sort. In fact ‘by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken’ (PROVERBS 15:13), which is exactly what God wants to see when He chastens us – PSALM 51:17. But then again, once this is done and we can see through the trial, we ought to be rejoicing in our heart (HEBREWS 12:11), and showing it to our brethren and to others (PROVERBS 15:13 again) – He says to put the sorrow away (ECCLESIASTES 11:10), for long faces in the assembly will offend others, especially the weaker ones. If need be we are in heaviness, but don’t thrust it onto someone else – even Paul was sorrowful yet always rejoicing (2 CORINTHIANS 6:10).

To emphasise the goodness and usefulness of afflictions and sorrows, have a look at what happened to the children of Israel after they took Jericho (JOSHUA 6). The LORD had worked a mighty victory indeed, because the people had obeyed Him and compassed the city as they were told. Nevertheless one man disobeyed and brought near disaster to the whole nation.

The Lord had said: “And the city shall be devoted, even it, and all that are therein, to the Lord: only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all that are with her in the house ... And ye, in any wise keep yourselves from the devoted thing, lest ye make yourselves devoted, when ye take of the devoted thing, and make the camp of Israel devoted, and trouble it...” (JOSHUA 6:17-19). Some explanation may be needed. Under various circumstances an object could become devoted to the LORD, for example a first born sheep or ox. Devoted things could never be redeemed or replaced; they belonged to God, and animals had to be offered up to Him. (LEVITICUS 27:28). In this case the whole city of Jericho, with everything in it, including the whole population apart from Rahab and her household, were to be devoted: this meant that every living soul had to be killed (LEVITICUS 27:29). Anyone who took anything devoted would himself become devoted, and so have to die (DEUTERONOMY 7:26). This is the law which is operating here.

And one man did transgress, Achan (JOSHUA 7:1). As a result the people were smitten and 36 lives were lost (JOSHUA 7:2-5) – and God left it in no doubt as to why: JOSHUA 7:6-13. As he had said, the whole people had become devoted, and the curse had to be put away from among them. In JOSHUA 7:16-19 God miraculously revealed who had transgressed, and Achan was slain – he had been devoted to God (JOSHUA 7:20-26). The place was called the Valley of Achor, or Trouble (JOSHUA 7:26). Afterwards God again fought for Israel (JOSHUA 8:1-2).

Notice first what it means to be one people: one man transgresses and the whole nation suffers. This is why in the body of Christ all must be dead to themselves and considering one another. Achan didn’t perish alone – JOSHUA 22:20. The same thing goes on today in the church – some fall, to try the others (DANIEL 11:35; 1 CORINTHIANS 11:19). The tares grow up with the wheat. This is another reason for our trials: those who love the world or themselves are removed, and those who love God are made purer and more fit for His use (ZECHARIAH 13:8-9). And that is what happened in JOSHUA 7 – from that day of apparent defeat the people went on to far greater things, the LORD doing the works and the people learning to fear Him. It happened in  ACTS 5 – as soon as the liars were removed, fear came upon all the church, and many signs and wonders were wrought. This is the same principle that works with each of us individually: the Lord tries us, brings us low, and then builds us up higher than we were before, richer in patience and other fruit. See, for example PSALM 107:23-30, and also PSALM 107:39-41 of the same psalm. Each one in his turn comes to his valley of Achor and is cleaned up, the dross taken away, the things that may be shaken removed. And if, in the trial, we look to Jesus, He will keep us (HEBREWS 12:1-2).

Remember all of that chapter (HEBREWS 12). God deals with us as with sons. So many times we have rebelled and disobeyed, yet He has been merciful (LAMENTATIONS 3:22-23). At any time He could wipe us off the earth and cast us into hell fire – but instead He chastens or instructs us to keep His ways. It is good to be tried (LAMENTATIONS 3:24-30). Remember that it’s no fun for God to afflict us, any more than any other father – but He does it in love (LAMENTATIONS 3:31-36). So take it patiently. Take it thankfully. Even if you’re brought to the depths, or if the assembly is reduced to a tiny remnant, in that same place those who love God will be made to flourish – see ISAIAH 65:8-10. When God does chasten us, we know that He still loves us (HEBREWS 12:6-8). So each Valley of Achor becomes a turning-point, a valuable experience; a reason to trust God and keep on hoping in His mercy – and a cause for rejoicing: HOSEA 2:15. So, count it all joy (JAMES 1:2).

Probably the best summary of all this is PSALM 84. First, realize where we are – Mount Zion, in the house of God, in the sanctuary. We don’t want to be anywhere else! (PSALM 84:10, PSALM 27:4). And those that dwell there, PSALM 27:4 says are ALWAYS PRAISING GOD (PSALM 29:9 also) – no matter what happens! And who are these? Those whose strength is in God (PSALM 27:5). Those who have God’s ways in their hearts. The ones who, when they have to go through the Valley of Tears (Baca), make it a well – in other words they turn times of trial into something profitable and useful, something for which they can praise God from the heart. They take the chastening and learn. These ones, God says, go on, from strength to strength – they stand before the throne of God, blameless in His Son (PSALM 27:7). So let’s go on! Call on the Lord (PSALM 27:8-9). Tell Him you want to abide in Him for ever (PSALM 27:10). Understand that like a loving father He gives good things to His children, and will not hold back (PSALM 27:11, MATTHEW 7:11). Trust Him (MATTHEW 7:12).

Seeing Jesus

Before the foundation of the world our Father ordained a walk for us, and set it before us as a race to be run. So when we are being afflicted we ought to see it as part of the Father’s plan, and take it patiently, looking unto Jesus (HEBREWS 12:1-2), who endured the cross for us. The Father is chastening us so that He will not have to destroy us later with the rest of the world, including those false ‘sons’ of His who would not endure chastening. (1 CORINTHIANS 11:32; HEBREWS 12:8).

We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness (1 JOHN 5:19). So it is essential for their sake that we walk before them as shining lights, without rebuke, holding forth the Word of God as Jesus did (PHILIPPIANS 2:15-16; 1 JOHN 2:6). And as we have seen so clearly, this will only happen as we truly discern or judge thoroughly or judge through the body of Jesus to see that we, too, died and that all our life is now in Him (COLOSSIANS 3:3). We always bear about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh (2 CORINTHIANS 4:10). The people look upon us and see not ourselves but the light of the world (JOHN 8:12), Jesus. And so we will work the works of our Father as He performs it in us.

“And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us; and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.” (PSALM 90:17)

“Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee... and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light...” (ISAIAH 60:1-3)

We are really put into a corner here – Jesus said ‘If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not’ (JOHN 10:37), and we are no greater than He. We simply have no right to go out with His Gospel if we are not completely yielded to Him – we are obliged to walk as Jesus did. Just as Noah condemned the world by his faith (HEBREWS 11:7) so we, at a similar point in time, judge the world as we walk before them speaking the words and doing the works of our Father (JOHN 15:22-24). And we can’t do this on our own! Only as we yield ourselves to the hands of the potter will God be glorified in us (ISAIAH 64:6-8).

God tries to impress upon us the urgency of all this – all the time people are dying, without hope, until God’s children are fully manifested to the world. He himself WILL NOT REST until He has purified to Himself a people who will let His righteousness and His salvation shine forth like a brilliant flame, so that the people of the earth can see it clearly (ISAIAH 62:1-2; PSA 104:4). If we will not submit and be a part of all this, we will have to be removed – the time is too short (MATTHEW 3:10; JOHN 15:6). The time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God (1 PETER 4:17) – the plumbline is set, and will not be removed (AMOS 7:8). The Lord Jesus sits as a refiner and purifier over His church, gathering out the things that offend, purifying and strengthening those that remain faithful. This is why all are being tried – DANIEL 12:10. The wise will understand; the wicked won’t – which is one of the ways we can tell the difference (MALACHI 3:18). REVELATION 7:13-17 shows us the servants of God. They have come out of great tribulation, which has taught them to rely completely on Jesus’ blood and to see their position before God’s throne.

As we saw on the previous pages, this tribulation works for our good, like the purifying of silver or gold. Another way to look at it is as the threshing of wheat to remove the chaff:

“Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (MATTHEW 3:12)

It is made very clear that God knows who belongs to Him (2 TIMOTHY 2:19) and will not let any be tempted above what they can withstand (1 CORINTHIANS 10:13). We must trust that not one grain of wheat will be lost; only the chaff will be burned. He says this very clearly in another place, where He likens it to the sifting of dust from corn.

“For, lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth.” (AMOS 9:9)

So if we put our trust in God we will know that these tribulations work for our good – we count it all joy (JAMES 1:2).

“But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord that we should not be condemned with the world.” (1 CORINTHIANS 11:32)

Jesus has suffered for us in the flesh (1 PETER 4:1) and carried our sorrows (ISAIAH 53:4). So don’t think it strange, but rather REJOICE – because we are partaking of Christ’s own sufferings: 1 PETER 4:12-13! What we seem to suffer, he has already been through for us. Arm yourself with this same mind! To those who continue Jesus has covenanted a kingdom (LUKE 22:28-30). In our tribulations the Father will be sifting and purifying us, keeping us by His power – whereas Satan would like to sift us to destroy us. But Jesus has prayed for us (LUKE 22:31-32). Even now He is interceding for us at God’s right hand, so that we need only look to Him for comfort and security. He has prayed that we might be one with Him (JOHN  17:20-21). So don’t faint: Even if your flesh literally perishes, you’ll still be saved; in any case the tribulations work for us ‘a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory’! It’s only for a few years, until the first resurrection. It’s only a light affliction. Read 2 CORINTHIANS 4:16-18. Don’t look at your flesh: look to Jesus, and let Him bring you through.   ROMANS 8:18.

Afflictions will trouble you as long as you see them as something painful or undesirable. Rather, see it as Paul did – something not affecting you yourself (the inner man) but only the outward man, the dead man of the flesh. Judge that if Jesus died for you, you are dead (2 CORINTHIANS 5:14). This means you have no life of your own (verse 15). Your life is hid with Christ (COLOSSIANS 3:3). Christ is your life (COLOSSIANS 3:4). To live is Christ (PHIlIPPIANS 1:21). You are crucified with Him (GALATIANS 2:20): nevertheless you live; yet not you, but Christ lives in you. You are nothing but a shell, a vessel filled with Jesus. The life you now live in the flesh is not yours; it is Jesus’ life. See yourself as a branch in Jesus the vine, a member of Jesus the body, and understand that apart from Him you are NOTHING (JOHN 15:5-6). Apart from Him you have no more life than a branch cut off a tree does. Unless we are living off His body and blood, we have no life in us (JOHN 6:53-57). Because He lives, we live also (JOHN 14:19). In Him we are made alive (1 CORINTHIANS 15:22). We live together with Him ( 1 THESSALONIANS 5:10).

Where does this leave any of us as individuals? What choice, what right do we have but to obey exactly every instruction that comes from Jesus, the head? As we walk our walks before Him we must each see ourselves and each other not as in the flesh, but as fellow-members, perhaps even fellow-cells of Jesus’ body (2 CORINTHIANS 5:16). Just as the different parts of your own body seem to act independently, but are controlled by your will, so the whole body of Christ functions in the world, not as many individuals but as one unit, co-ordinated by Jesus Himself through the moment-by-moment leading of His Spirit in each of us. It is held together in love by every member doing its part (EPHESIANS 4:16), so we must let nothing else intrude: we are entirely NEW CREATURES (2 CORINTHIANS 5:17). We owe it to Jesus to let Him walk in us, so that the world may see and believe. The time is short: it remains that the married ones be as if they weren’t, the ones who weep and the ones who rejoice as though they didn’t , and so on (1 CORINTHIANS 7:29-30). Every valley must be exalted and every mountain and hill made low (ISAIAH 40:4), so that ALL FLESH WILL SEE THE GLORY OF GOD (ISAIAH 40:5). Each one of us must forsake his own life, to save it in the last day (MATTHEW 16:24-25), daily dying the death of Jesus, so that His life may be manifest in our mortal flesh (2 CORINTHIANS 4:10-11). Do you understand the last desire and let Him take over? Are you living your life or His?

This will determine how you view the afflictions that come upon you. If you think of yourself as in the flesh, you will regard them as attacks on your person, and suffer. But if you regard them as light afflictions on the outer man only, as something remote from your own life in heavenly places, then  you have overcome! See the things in your flesh not as problems within you which you have to remove, but as attacks from outside which you have to resist, steadfast in the faith: that is what makes the difference. The gulf has been crossed – do you not know that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? So that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we  also should walk in newness of life – do you know it?  (ROMANS 6:3-4) Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord (ROMANS 6:11) – this is the only true way – this is eternal life.

What this amounts to is simply arming yourself with the mind of Christ, seeing things as He sees them. Or, if you prefer, discerning His body – seeing through and beyond death to what it means for us. Jesus is become the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the author and finisher of our faith. There is nothing else. There is no place for any of us to fit in beside Him; He is all  in all. So all that we can do is to fall at His feet as dead (REVELATION 1:17). And then – He will pick us up and say ‘Fear not’ – He will cause us to live His life. Jesus has life in Himself (JOHN 5:26), and the Father has given to Him the power to quicken whom He will (JOHN 5:23). This means you! How do we honour Jesus? JOHN 5:24:

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life...”

It is so simple! He says we are dead – believe it. He says we are new creatures – believe it.

“... and SHALL NOT COME INTO JUDGMENT; but is PASSED FROM DEATH UNTO LIFE.”

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (GALATIANS 2:20)

 

Compiled by Pentecost Revival Centre, Ballarat, Australia, approx. 1968-1972