Today’s reading, especially vss. 2-4, really goes against the flow of American thought, doesn’t it? American Christianity, having imbibed some of the surrounding culture, tends to see hardships in life as an anomaly, not the norm. If there’s a problem, we need to fix it ASAP.
Please don’t misunderstand me. If someone is in physical hardship and we’ve the means to help them, the default setting is to help them, and that’s a noble motive. Under most circumstances we need to work as the Body of Christ to help those in need. However, this is something I picked up from Oswald Chambers’s classic My Utmost For His Highest: Sometimes we succumb to the temptation to be an “amateur Holy Spirit” in someone’s life. We see someone in need, and without seeking the Spirit’s wisdom, we rush forward to solve their problem without considering that the Lord might be putting them through this for a specific purpose.
A couple of years ago right after skimming the book of Job I got into the subject of suffering, and I listed no less than eight reasons why bad things might happen to us. When a Christian suffers major loss, we need to keep in mind some key truths: 1) If you define “punishment” as getting what someone deserves, then a Christian’s sufferings are never punishment. There’s no direct correlation between what I deserve from God and what I get from God. Salvation means I’ll never get what I really deserve from God. However, 2) The Lord can and will afflict a Christian who’s indulging in an unrepentant sinful lifestyle as part of his discipline. This can be up to and including physical death. 3) Sometimes when a believer is faithfully following the Lord, God can sometimes bring suffering into his life as part of a refining process. That’s what today’s passage is talking about. But before a Christian starts thinking about #3, he needs to prayerfully eliminate # 2 as a possibility. See here if you’re interested in more on how to do this.
What verses 2-4 mean is that I need to consciously change my attitude towards suffering. When I suffer loss, I need to consider it an occasion for celebration. Wow. That’s pretty counterintuitive, isn’t it? But let’s be clear. It’s not the suffering itself that should be cause for joy. It’s the results of it. When I choose to focus on God’s truth and goodness, then his testing of my faith can produce perseverance. It can make me stronger. How so? By making me consciously depend on my Lord. As Spurgeon put it, “Happy storm that wrecks a man on such a rock as this!” As I stop depending on my own puny strength and call upon the Lord Almighty to supply his power and resources for my needs, I learn to trust him, to wait on his timing.
But I have to make some decisions. None of this is automatic, which is why he’s talking in the imperative mood rather than the declarative mood. You must choose to look at your trials in a certain way. Then you must choose to let what God’s doing finish its work. Don’t be impatient. Don’t try to rush the process. Refining metal in heat does two things: 1) It certifies that the metal is what people say it is, and 2) It purifies the metal so that any dross or impurities can be removed from it. That’s what his refining does to us.
Does this mean that if you see a way out that you shouldn’t take it? No. If you can legitimately get out from under it, then do so. But seek his wisdom and guidance first.
That brings us to the rest of today’s passage, one of my favorite promises in the entire Bible. But we need to be careful here. Don’t forget context! I believe that when we ask the Lord for wisdom in any area of life, that’s a great thing. If you’re making any type of major decisions, it’s always a good idea to consult him. But the promise in verse 5 specifically relates to seeking his wisdom while we’re in the midst of our trials. It’s not a blanket promise for any area of life.
On seeking his wisdom during our trials, here are some notes:
· Keep in mind that biblical wisdom is practical. It’s not philosophical answers to life’s esoteric mysteries. It doesn’t deal much with theological debates such as theodicy. Biblical wisdom tells us how to handle life’s curve balls in the here and now.
· When we come to him, he’s generous in giving to us. He doesn’t dole out what we need by the eyedropper. No, he superabundantly gives us supernatural wisdom to give us the insight and strength we need to make it through the storm we’re in.
· I love the description of his generosity and grace: He gives us what we need “without finding fault.” Why would he find fault with us when we come to him? Because we tend to come to him last instead of first when we have problems. We go to our friends, Dear Abby, and anyone else under the sun before we seek the face of the only One who can truly help us. When we come to him last instead of first (after discovering the futility of going to anyone else), he’d have every right to chastise us. How stupid of us to go to anyone else first! But no. He’s the “compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”
· When he promises something, we need to ask for it without doubting. How much clearer could James be here? If you half-heartedly ask something from the Lord which he’s already promised, don’t expect to get anything from him. Don’t be like a wave of the sea, carried here and there by the winds of emotion and the zeitgeist of the day. Grab onto the Rock of Ages and don’t let go.
Now before I go, I have to post a disclaimer. I know that there are undoubtedly a lot of people who read this who’ve gone through a lot tougher time than I have. I’ve had my hardships in life, but I’m sure it wouldn’t take long to find someone who’s suffered a lot more. But my background has nothing to do with the truthfulness of God’s word.
If you’ll put these principles in practice, it’ll go easier on you. He promises that, not me. And I’d really recommend that if you’re not going through an especially tough time right now, that you make these decisions to focus on God’s truth and seek his wisdom now, not when the storm hits. It’s really hard to make clear decisions when you’ve been hit by a body blow unexpectedly. In this vein I really can't recommend highly enough Jerry Bridges's Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts.
Let’s make the decision right now that when we suffer loss, we’re going to go to our Lord about it, seek his face, seek his wisdom, and seek his strength. When we do that, he promises that what we’ll need will be given to us. Count on it.
Lord Jesus, you’re the wisdom of God made flesh. When I’m seeking wisdom, I’m really seeking you. Give me a heart that seeks after you, both in good times and in bad. Please.