Rejoicing in Trials? Yes!

Circumstances do not bring joy, only Christ does. The Apostle Paul’s outlook on his own life was that it was not his own, that he was a servant of Jesus Christ first and foremost. He said that in his opening words to the Philippian church. Paul derives his joy from his identity as a servant, so that he does not look primarily to his circumstance, but to his fulfillment of his Master’s will. Endurance through trials is not a work of the flesh, but a work of the Spirit.

This is something that the world cannot understand at all. For a world without God, when suffering comes, they often seek the quickest route out. The world does not see any benefit for suffering and pain. As a matter of fact, when they see a Christian suffer, they can sometimes mock us, and ask where our God is. Why doesn’t he relieve our suffering when we have been so faithful to serve him?

Paul is helping the Philippian church to see that his imprisonment is not the worst thing that could happen to him. Discontentment is worse. Joylessness is worse.

In Philippians 1:15-18, Paul sat in a prison cell, yet was filled with joy in the continued preaching of the gospel. He was not bitter about the fact that he wanted to be out doing the work of the ministry. And he wasn’t bitter about those who were free, and used their freedom to preach the gospel, not to serve Christ, but to jab at Paul! Paul ended his thought in verse 18 with “in that I will rejoice.” Christ was being glorified. How could anything be better?

But as Paul thought for a second, he realized that there were reasons for continued rejoicing beyond just the present preaching of the Word. Let’s look at a few of these reasons that he laid out for rejoicing:

Rejoice in the Prayers of the Saints (v.19)

Paul writes how he can rejoice because he knows that the brothers and sisters in Philippi are praying for him. In Philippians 4:1 Paul has mentioned that he constantly kept the church in his prayers, and he is aware that they have done the same for him. This is a greater challenge in the church today because our society tends toward more and more isolation. We might see what you eat on Facebook or Instagram, and hear about how great your vacation was, but the real issues in our lives are kept hidden.

In general, we shouldn’t overshare. We need to be wise about what we say and to whom we say it. But in matters of praying for one another, we need to grow deeper without going into gossip or unnecessary details. The example we see from Paul was that he shared himself with the church. He shared his thoughts, his fears, his needs, and his weaknesses. This type of transparency allowed the church to better pray for him. And in this prayerfulness for one another, Paul could rejoice. He knew that the church was praying for him in his struggles and trials. And he prayed for their welfare as their spiritual father. But prayer is not all that was needed. He adds, “and…”

Rejoice in the Help of the Spirit (v. 19)

Paul’s joy was based upon much more than the faithful prayers of the saints in Philippi. Prayer is only as good as the God to whom we pray. The intercession of the saints must be accompanied by a movement of God. Our prayers shouldn’t stop until God answers one way or another. Paul knows that something will happen when the saints pray and the Spirit “helps.” This is really where Paul finds his assurance. His confidence comes with the working of the Lord.

The word “help” (ESV) is an unfortunate rendering because it seems such a weak word. The KJV’s “supply” is a little better, but still doesn’t give the best picture of the critical nature here. The Greek word epichoragia is a word that is used in Ephesians 4:16 to speak about a ligament that serves to support the body: “from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:16, ESV)

That is the kind of “help” the Spirit is. Without him, we are crippled spiritually. We cannot go on. He is that critical. The Spirit’s help is not like an assistant, whom we can do without. He is like a knee joint for a sprinter—invaluable. The reference to “the Spirit of Jesus Christ” means the Holy Spirit. He is the One who will bring about Paul’s “deliverance.”

But what sort of deliverance was Paul expecting? Some have thought that maybe this salvation is from his situation—temporal salvation; others have thought that it was spiritual. Perhaps Paul was thinking about the fact that whether he lived on and was freed or whether he died a martyr’s death, he would be saved. The Spirit of Jesus would deliver him from death, or deliver him from this life through death. Either way, Paul would be set free in some form or another.

Where we set our eyes changes what we see. If we set our eyes on Christ, we see hope. Christ delivers from the challenges we face today, and he has conquered our sin, winning for us salvation and eternal life. But when we put our eyes on our problems, on the circumstances that we are in the middle of, our vision is clouded. We can be given over to despair and hopelessness. Paul could have easily gone there as he sat in prison. But he knew he had good friends praying for him, and that the Spirit of Jesus was working it all out. He would get out of that prison, and either he would be reunited with his friends, or he would be safe in the arms of Jesus.

What about you? Are you trusting in the Lord to deliver you in your times of need? Have you forgotten the power of God? Stop trusting in your own strength. Stop seeking to be the answer to your own prayers. Depend upon the Lord’s strength. Why are you downcast? It is because you have placed your hopes in something other than the Lord. Hope in God. Finally, we need to…

Rejoice in Expected Courage (v. 20)

Paul is eager to see where the Lord is directing him. He knows the prayers are for his release, and he knows that the Spirit is at work, but the future is still unclear. When Paul says he has “eager expectation,” this idea pictures a person straining his neck to see what is ahead just around the bend. It is a great word. Paul isn’t dreading the future, he is embracing it. He is hopeful!

    So, what are the possibilities? He expects that whatever happens, he will not be ashamed. Why would he be? He is not a criminal. He is on trial for the gospel. He has no remorse in prison. He would do it all over again. He has glorified his Lord in his ministry.

Let me ask you, are you ready to meet the Lord today? Would you be ashamed of what you have accomplished in your short life on this planet? Are you banking on the next 10-20 years to make something of your life for Christ? That is borrowed time, my friends. It may never come. You need to put your life in order today. You don’t want to be lying in a hospital bed thinking about how ashamed you will be to face the Lord because your life was only a pursuit of personal desires.

Instead, Paul was anticipating having a lion’s heart to face whatever would happen. He expected to have “full courage” for whatever he faced. You see, if he was released from prison, his message of the risen Christ would be vindicated in many people’s eyes. And if he received the death penalty, then he expected to be filled with courage just as much. How? It had to do with how he had been as a servant. You see, Paul wasn’t only speaking about the courageous death he would face—courage as he faced the executioner.

Whether he lived or died was inconsequential. Eager expectation, hope, and courage marked Paul’s outlook. Paul’s lion-like boldness was based upon the salvation won for him at the cross and how he had remained faithful to his Master. Paul was ready to die well.

With heaven before us, what do we really need to fear? Jesus has conquered sin and death. Our best days are ahead of us. Christ is King! Let us have courage to face the uncertain future knowing that the face of Christ and eternal life is a certainty!

Pastor-Brothers, Be Strong and Very Courageous

“Moses My servant is dead; now therefore arise, cross this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them, to the sons of Israel.

(Joshua 1:2, NASB95)

Along with the headlines of a fallen Evangelical leader, Christian social media has also been alerted to the situation in Alberta, Canada, where Pastor James Coates has been arrested for refusing to submit to the unjust laws of the land. These laws require him to limit his church services to 15% capacity and stop serving our God with his responsibility to lead Christ’s Church. Currently Pastor Coates is in custody and will not be given bail unless he agrees not to hold services. The church was ordered to close in January and Pastor Coates was arrested and charged in early February. You can read the story from a Canadian news source here: (Global News), and see the official statement of Pastor Coates’ church here: (GraceLife Church). The aim of this post is not so much about Pastor Coates, but about the growing need for pastors to take up the courageous charge to lead in the face of growing adversity.

The times are changing. For Joshua, a new era began the moment Moses took his last breath (Joshua 1). To Joshua and the Israelites, the days must have looked very dark. But the Lord gave him and Israel courage as they looked to the future. What can we learn from God’s words to Joshua?

  1. Although we may lose key people and leaders, we will never lose God’s presence. Therefore, we take courage because God is always with us.
  2. We cling to the promise of our inheritance of a heavenly city, believing that God does not lie. Should we die in service to our God, we will be in the presence of the Lord.
  3. Just as no enemy could stand before Joshua and Israel, so too Jesus has told us that the gates of hell shall not prevail against his church.
  4. We are commanded to be strong and courageous, trusting in our God. The child of God seeks to obey even in the face of fear of the enemy and the unknown.
  5. As we follow Christ and move forward in faith and courage, the same message of walking by faith is communicated to our people and they too, gain courage in seeing our faithful obedience.

Whether it is governmental restrictions, personal attacks from the enemy, disgruntled members, destructive wolves or some other form of attack, be strong and courageous. Our God is with us.

One day, all of these challenges and threats will be a distant memory as we are gathered together worshipping the Lord God in his presence. Remember this future as you face these light, momentary afflictions. Jesus is coming soon!

The Blessed Refining Effect of Trials

The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.” (Proverbs 17:3)

Just as a crucible and a furnace are used to test the mixture of metals to bring the sludgy waste to the surface, so too the Lord uses adversity and trial to bring our sinful attitudes and actions to the surface to reveal our need for purification. This sanctifying process of being put through a trial is very hard and unpleasant, but is necessary if one wants to become purified. There is no shortcut to this process.

Sickness, disease, economic hardship, difficult relationship issues, and more all contribute to who we are as people. They shape us—sometimes for good, and sometimes for bad. For the Christian, trials and hardship are used by God to draw us closer to him and to show us those areas of our life that need spiritual attention. It is in these trials that we are forced to refocus and take account of the state of our heart. The problem is that sometimes we don’t take advantage of the lessons being taught, but instead we squander the opportunity that is afforded to us.

I remember two occasions when this was illustrated to me vividly. Both occasions were when loved ones were completely incapacitated by injury or illness. Lying on your back in a hospital has a way of getting your attention. For each of these people, it was a sobering time of contemplation. They were helpless and their forced stillness brought about a spiritual awareness of God’s presence. In those long days, the Lord did a work in their hearts, teaching lessons that each needed to hear, but couldn’t because of the busy noise of their everyday lives.

I learned this lesson myself when I too ended up in the emergency room, not on a pastoral visit, but as a patient. I was in excruciating pain and found that no matter what else may have been important before, everything stopped as my body screamed out for my attention. God was beginning his refining process with forcing me to look up to him.

Trials and difficulty are one way that the Lord clears our schedules and removes every other distractions so that he can whisper to our needs and speak to our heart. In these moments it is wise to listen.

Sometimes the trials of life don’t have the same effect. Instead of pointing them to God, they bring out the worst in people and shows what type of character that person truly is inside. They might be all shiny on the outside and look like “pure gold” to everyone when things go well, but a little heat applied through a trial might show a person to be only gold leaf over rusty tin.

The Coronavirus and the political issues on display every day in the news cycle, along with the normal wear and tear of life reveals the “stuff” people are made of. These trials and hardships put on display for all to see what is in their hearts. But instead of looking at your neighbor, I’d ask you to consider your own heart. What has the fire of these trials revealed to you about your own heart? Whatever it is, the Lord waits to hear from you. Go to him to thank him for the refining that he has brought through your trial. And then take some time to listen. He is not silent.