“So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” (1 Peter 1:6-7)
Faith is an interesting thing. In fact, everything comes down to faith. Even if a person believes in nothing, that still requires faith. In the Christian life, faith is essential…so essential that God says you cannot please Him without it. But how do you know if your faith is real? The longer I live, the more I realize that many people approach God like they do a business relationship. Some say, “Okay God, I’m going to make an investment in you, and as long as you deliver, everything will be okay and I will keep investing in you. But, if you don’t deliver in a way that benefits me, I will just take my business elsewhere.” I’m convinced many approach God like this and therefore, there are many who get disappointed with God, because when He does not do what they think He ought to, they just don’t understand and often just wash their hands of “God” and try to move on to something else that might better need their immediate needs or provide a quicker return for their investment.
Jesus talked about people like this when He said, “The went out from us because they were not of us.” In other words, when the heat got turned up or when things did not go as they thought, they defected…they abandoned their “faith.” So, again, how do you know if your faith is real? Well, there are several ways, but one of the surest ways, is when your faith is tested. You find out what you believe when you walk through a storm! But, those that truly believe, even though they will struggle, they will never quit. They might get low and have serious doubts and real questions, but if the Spirit of God is in them, then “He who began a good work IN them will be faithful to bring it to completion.” So, true believers will no doubt struggle at times and even seriously doubt and question things, but they will never jump ship because the Spirit helps them and will see that they persevere. So, suffering and trial are some of the greatest indicators of what kind of faith a person has, as well as a revealer as to whether or not a person even has any faith.
This is why Jesus said that there will be MANY who stand before Him one day in absolute shock when He says, “Depart from Me, I never knew you.” These are people who will say, “But Lord, look at all I did for You…in Your name…and now You are telling me that You don’t know me?” It’s as if they say, “I made an investment in You and now, You, better deliver.”
You see, the problem is this…and hear this…it is possible to do A LOT of stuff for the Lord without actually truly believing in Him. Many can talk a big game spiritually…they have an impressive spiritual report card…their attendance might be perfect…but deep in their heart, they have never truly believed in Jesus and trusted Him with all things. Instead, they went through life viewing God as their personal genie or investment manager, and in their heart, there wasn’t true love and devotion to Him. This is why one of my favorite verse is Nahum 1:7, “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He KNOWS those who trust in Him.” You see, our trust in the Lord cannot be conditional…we can’t say, “God, I will love You IF…” The heart of a true believer says, “I love You PERIOD.” Now, let me be clear, God does give us promises that we can take to the bank…He promises His presence, His peace, His strength, and many other things, and perhaps most importantly, He does guarantee eternity with Him for those who have truly trusted in Him. So, God does promise many things and He is 100% faithful…but our love for Him and our faith in Him, has to be pure…without strings or conditions…and the way God often reveals things about our faith and purifies our faith, is through suffering.
This is what I have been learning these past 2 years…and I will tell you, my faith had been tested in an incredibly painful way. On September 1, 2013, when Trey stepped into eternity, I thought I was prepared for that…but I wasn’t. Yes, God was with us on that day and His grace was very present in our weakness…but Trey’s death rocked me to the core. I found myself not wanting me to live and even questioning God’s plan. I was sinking in despair. I knew I had to go on, but I didn’t want to. I knew my family and church needed me, but at times, I didn’t care. I was in true emotional anguish…pain in a terribly significant way. I just didn’t understand. Oh, I knew all the right things to say and had lots of great debates with myself…but at the end of the day, my faith was significantly being tested.
Now, to those who really know me, they knew I was still believing, but my faith was just very weak and struggling. It wasn’t absent, but it was shaken. To others, who might have been observing from the outside, I’m sure there were times they wondered if I was going to come out of such despair. Thankfully, I have some true friends who didn’t judge me or scold me, but rather just loved, encouraged and prayed for me. I will never forget those who stayed with me through it all and knew where I really was. There will always be people who say ridiculous things to people in their grief, and I had some of those, but in my heart, I never truly stopped believing. You see, some people would rather a pastor just say and do the right things without them being honest in their struggle and confessing their difficulty to believe at times…well, that’s not the kind of pastor I am. I strive to be real and authentic and let people know that, yes, I struggle, but I’m not bowing down…I’ve been knocked down, but not out. And what’s not to miss in my journey is that I didn’t give up…I didn’t quit…I didn’t bow out, and I won’t!!!Yes, I have and still want to just check out sometimes, but I don’t! And do you know why? Because the Spirit of the living God lives in me and He is comforting me, teaching me, guiding me, convicting me, and helping me endure. I BELIEVE deeply in God and LOVE my Lord and Savior with all I have…and because He lives IN me, He will finish what He started. I’m just an imperfect person who has been and continues to be changed by The one, true, perfect God. He is patient with me and so gracious to me…and I praise Him for who He is and what He is doing.
You see, in some of my darkest days a few months ago, the absolute ONLY reason I could get out of bed was because I believed in a sovereign God who is in control of all things. There were days I couldn’t breath and didn’t want to breathe, and honestly, I still have those moments and days sometimes, but on those days, what keeps me going is a deep rooted belief that my God works ALL things together for my good and His glory. I remember praying over Trey one time and I said, “God, do with Trey what will bring You the most glory.” Emily looked at me and she said, “Do you mean that?” I said yes, but in my heart I was thinking, “Well surely what will bring God most glory will be Trey’s healing on earth.” I was wrong! God has and will continue to bring supreme glory to His name through Trey’s struggle, physical death, and inherited eternal life! Do I wish he were still here? EVERY SECOND OF EVERY DAY! And guess what? Trey is the real winner in all of this. He is completely healed and whole in every possible way and FREE from it all…he truly is a FREE MAN!!!
So…as hard as suffering is…according to the Word of God, a believer should expect it and surprisingly, even welcome it. Why? Because as the Scripture says, “Our light and momentary afflictions are producing for us an eternal weight of glory BEYOND ALL COMPREHENSION.” You see, suffering, when embraced with faith, really does two things: 1.) it conforms us more and more to the likeness of Christ, and 2.) it reminds us that this world is not all there is. Listen, all pain, suffering, sickness, etc., should be a reminder of how much we need Christ, because only through Christ will we ever be free of these things. As James said, “Blessed is the man who preserves under trial, for when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life, which God had promised to those who love Him.”
So, I realize I may not have handled everything perfectly over the last few months, but I can tell you, my faith is real and has never been more alive. I still grieve everday, but my grief is wrapped in a glorious hope. When I cry, I cry with hope! When I laugh, I laugh with hope! When, I remember, I remember with hope! When I face pressures and criticisms, I face those things with hope! When I experience victory and joy, I experience it with hope! My heart is filled with a glorious hope because I serve the one true God! I will end with a passage of Scripture that means a lot to me…but remember this…God knows those who trust in Him! Never forget that and never stop trusting Him!
“Not only that, but 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)