When I pray, I usually pray to Jesus.
“Why?” you ask. It’s because I can clearly see Jesus in my mind’s eye when I pray. I can see Him as a person with a personality, someone with whom I can relate. I’ve seen all the Jesus movies and have read the Gospel accounts in Scripture, so I can easily visualize Jesus the man, Jesus the person, Jesus as my friend, when I pray.
With God the Father, it gets a bit more difficult to form a mental picture of Him when I pray. In the Old Testament He’s revealed as fire and smoke and loud thunder and lightning flashing all around Mt. Sinai. He’s somewhat scary, but I pray to Him nonetheless. Why? Because in the New Testament Jesus calls Him Father and reveals a deeper, personal, more intimate side of the Father that was previously unknown. So for me as a father, I can comfortably pray to Him as my Father, the perfect Father, the only Father, as my Father in heaven (Matt. 6:9).
But when it comes to the Holy Spirit, things get even more murky. How can I visualize and relate to the Holy Spirit when I pray? When I think of Him I don’t view Him as a person like Jesus or the Father. Do you? He’s more like a gentle breeze or a soft breath or some power or force or energy emanating from the Father or the Son, as an extension of themselves. He’s something invisible or Someone I can’t see yet I’m fully aware of the effects of His presence. He’s much like the wind. I can hear and feel the wind blowing and I know it’s there and it’s powerful and uncontrollable and sometimes frightening, but I can’t see the wind with my eyes or hold the wind in my hands or touch the wind with my fingers.
So it is with the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, I never truly relate to the Holy Spirit in prayer. More often than not I find myself asking Him to give me power to pray to the Father and the Son. And when He does and I experience His presence in my prayers, I never thank Him for His presence. I thank the Father and the Son for giving me the “power” or “anointing” or “presence” of the Holy Spirit, like He’s some tangible, tradeable commodity, but I never thank the Holy Spirit for giving Himself to me.
And why is that?
Would the Holy Spirit Please Reveal Himself
Could it be I’ve eagerly embraced some false teachings about Him in the church I attend and the seminary from which I graduated? Or, maybe I’m just afraid of Him and what He may do in my life? Or, is it because I don’t want to end up like others who are self-proclaimed Holy Spirit fanatics and head off to “healing crusades” to be slain in the Spirit by some charlatan with a Rolex watch and a bad haircut?
Or, could it simply be I don’t know the Holy Spirit as well as I think I know Jesus and have denied, in my mind and in my theology, the reality of His personhood and His personality? Maybe I’ve made Him into a non-person, an entity, a thing. And by my lack of intimate knowledge of Him and my lack of desire to get to know Him more, I have relegated Him to the status of some second-class impersonal force coming from God and not as God Himself. He is the name of something I want from the Father, a power or force or energy, to do the will of God in my life, but I have not viewed Him as co-equal with the Father and the Son even though I theologically believe Him to be so in my mind and doctrine.
In other words, I want what the Holy Spirit has to give me. I want what He possesses. I want the gifts He has to bring, the gifts of the Spirit. And yet, sadly, at the same time, I don’t want the Giver of those very gifts. It’s like I tell Him, “Empty your pockets and put all you have on the table and walk away. I’m only interested in what you have to give me and not in who you are.”
And that just breaks my heart. Does it yours?
Who is the Holy Spirit to You?
Have you even felt the same about the Holy Spirit? Have you, maybe through misinformation or apathy or neglect or fear, treated Him as something less than God Himself? Have you, like me, disrespected the very One who lives inside us as the “Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance” in Him? (Eph. 1:13-14).
Have you ever thanked Him for the things He has done in your life? Or, like me, do you reserve your thanks for the Father and Son and treat the Spirit like an orphaned, second-place, also-ran?
If so, there’s so much we need to learn about the third Person in the Godhead. There’s so much Jesus wants us to know about Him. In fact, Jesus said it was better for us if He physically left this earth and returned to the Father (John 16:7). Why? Because if He did, He would send the One we ignore the most to be with us and in us forever (John 14:16). The Spirit of Truth. The Holy Spirit.
So join with me as we discover the personality and personhood of the God who lives inside us?
And just who is that God? It’s not the Father. He’s sitting on His throne in heaven. And it’s not Jesus. For He is now seated at the right hand of the Father interceding for us (Romans 8:34). No, the One who lives inside of us and guides and directs us is none other than the very One we choose to keep at a distance, in the safe-zone, at arms reach, and out of our personal space.
And His name is the Helper, the Comforter, the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit— God Himself.
The Scripture teaches us that we will become just like what we worship. If we worship the world, we become like the world. If we worship self or conceit or greed, we will become selfish, conceited and greedy.
Think about it. Is the world harsh and unforgiving? Of course. And we will also become harsh and unforgiving if we worship the world. Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?
Psalm 135:15-18 tells us we will be like the idols we worship. We will become just like the things we trust. Consider the following:
The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They (the idols) have mouths, but they do not speak; eyes they have, but they do not see; they have ears, but they do not hear; nor is there any breath in their mouths. Those who make them are like them; so is everyone who trusts in them (Psalm 135:15-18).
As David Murray puts it:
- If we worship supermodels, we’ll become vain and self-centered.
- If we worship football players, we’ll become aggressive, bombastic, and women-demeaning.
- If we worship actors and singers, we’ll become foul-mouthed, immoral, and sad.
- If we worship corporate America, or the dollar, we’ll become greedy, oppressive, and materialistic
- If we worship academia, the pursuit of degrees, letters, titles, etc., we’ll become proud, arrogant, condescending, and conceited.
Why? Because we’ll become just like what we worship, good or bad. It’s a truth that’s always true.
“So, does that truth also apply to Jesus?” Absolutely. And that’s the good news.
When we worship Jesus, we become more and more like Him. We reflect His glory (2 Cor. 3:18), we will bear His fruit (John 15:8), and we’ll walk as He walked (1 John 2:6). And isn’t that the point of the Christian life? To be more like the One we love?
Consider carefully where you place your affections. Why? Because “friendship with the world is enmity (or, hatred) with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
And nobody in their right mind would want to willingly make themselves an enemy of God, right? So keep your heart open and soft for only One— and His name is Jesus.
One of the most glorious pictures of our Lord Jesus is found in the first chapter of Colossians. Here, in these few words, Jesus is revealed as God Himself. He is the imprint, the exact representation, the perfect image of the invisible God. Jesus is presented as the Preeminent One, the “firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15).
But what does that mean? What are the specific implications of these verses? And what impact does it have for me today?
Theologically or Devotionally?
Do you mean theologically? Or do you mean devotionally? Let me explain.
Sometimes, actually most of the time, I tend to look at things from a theological vantage point and not a devotional one. For example, when I view a passage of Scripture theologically I am wanting to know what it says and what it means. I want to define the original words and terms in the passage and I want to make sure I understand them in their proper contextual meaning. I then want to make sure my understanding of the truths of a passage fits within the framework of the other truths expressed elsewhere in Scripture on the same subject. It’s pretty much an intellectual study whereby I cognitively hope to comprehend new truths or understand old truths in a new way. And when I am done, I now intellectually know something new. Or I know something I already knew— better. Either way, it’s academic at best. Why? Because I may, or may not, be changed by what I have just learned. God’s Word may remain stuck in my mind as just theology and never be allowed to move down into the core of my being, into my soul, my heart, to the place where I live and feel and believe and trust. It remains lodged in my head, and not my heart. After all, theology is defined as “the study of God.” And the operative word is study. Academic. Mental. Sterile. Non-emotional. Simply the acquiring of knowledge and data and facts.
Is there Something I’m Missing?
But when I view a passage devotionally, I’m asking a whole new set of questions of God and the text. And those questions have to do with me personally. They may sound something like this:
“I believe that Jesus is God. But how can I become more like Him by just knowing that fact? Is there something I’m missing?”
“I understand the “just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17). But I’m not sure what faith really looks like. And how can I have more faith? (Luke 17:5). How can I be more like my Lord and trust in Him like He trusted in His Father? Is there something I’m missing?”
“I acknowledge the Holy Spirit as the third Person in the Trinity. I got that. But Who is He and how does He live in my life? How can I please Him and how can I keep from grieving Him? (Eph. 4:30). How do I turn my life over to the Holy Spirit and how do I let Him live through me? Is there something I’m missing?”
These are the “so what?” questions, the “how does that help me get through today?” questions, the never-ending “why?” questions. They are the questions we all asked in Algebra class in High School but never got an answer. “Uh, teacher. Why do I have to study this stuff? I’m never gonna have to use it. Geez. What’s the big deal?”
The Doctrine of the Trinity. Important? Yes. But why?
The Doctrine of Man. Important? Very much so. But why?
The Doctrine of the Atonement. Important? Absolutely. But why?
The Doctrine of the Church. Important. You bet. But why?
While I don’t, in any way, want to downplay the vital importance of understanding correct doctrine and theology (1 Tim. 4:16), I do want to point us to the opposite side of the continuum. I want to focus on the devotional meaning of the passage. I want for us to experience, deep down in the depth of our soul, where we live and breathe, what this says about our Lord and what that means for each of us on a day-to-day basis.
One and the Same
So, let’s put on our devotional hats and dig deep into Colossians. And pray, before we even being, that the Holy Spirit will guide us into a fuller understanding of Christ and we will see Him, maybe for the first time, in living color and not just in black and white.
Colossians 1:15 – He (Jesus) is the image (or, exact representation, the imprint, likeness, icon) of the invisible God (or, that which cannot be seen by the physical eye), the firstborn (or, preeminent) over all creation (or, that which is formed, created from nothing).
Let that single verse sink in for a moment. Then read it again. Slowly. Out loud. Can you begin to feel what our Lord is saying about Himself?
Jesus said that He, Christ, the One who walked on the water (Matt. 14:22-33), who broke bread with His disciples in the upper room (Matt. 26:26), who held little children in His arms (Mark 10:16)— He, Jesus, is the exact representation, the perfect replica, He is the “image of the invisible God.” He is the exact likeness of His Father, and our Father— God. He said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). How? Because “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30). Jesus is the “express image of His person” (Heb. 1:3). In other words, all that God is, Jesus is, and all that Jesus is, God is.
But what does that mean for me today? How does that fact help me love Him more?
Simply this, God has chosen to reveal Himself to us in the person of Jesus. It was His choice, mind you, and not something we earned or deserved ourselves. Remember, He didn’t have to reveal Himself to us at all. It was a profound gift of grace that He wants to have anything to do with us since we’ve all “sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). So when you see Jesus, you’ve seen the Father (John 14:9). If you want to know what the Father is like, look to Jesus. They’re one and the same. “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30). So when you’re alone, discouraged, and faced with your dark night of the soul and wonder aloud, Is God loving?— ask yourself this, Is Jesus loving? Yes. Then so is God. Or, will God forgive me for all I’ve done wrong? Would Jesus? Yes. Then so would God. Why? Because they are one and the same. When you see Jesus, you see the Father (John 14:9). When Jesus forgives, the Father forgives. When you pray to Jesus, you are, in effect, praying to the Father. They’re exactly the same. Jesus is the exact representation, the perfect replica, the express image, of the Father (Heb. 1:3).
So rejoice! For as much as you love and know and understand Jesus, you also know and love and understand the Father, the “invisible God” (Col. 1:15) the Great, I Am” (Ex. 3:14).
But the verse continues by saying that Jesus is “the firstborn over all creation.” What does that mean? What does being the firstborn imply?
First, the word does not mean, in this context, being chronologically born first as we would understand it today. It doesn’t mean Jesus was the first one born to a family of other brothers and sisters. No, the word refers to position or rank. It means preeminence. It denotes an exalted position, one “high and lifted up” (Isa. 6:1). It means a place of priority and sovereignty. In other words, Jesus is the firstborn, the preeminent, the One having priority. Jesus has the position and rank of sovereignty over all that was created or that ever will be created. He’s Number One. There’s no one greater than Jesus. Ever. Anywhere. At any time. There’s no one worthy of more honor, more glory, more praise, or more love. And Jesus, the “firstborn over all creation” (Col. 1:15)— that’s over the heavens and the earth, the sun, moon, and stars, the angelic realm, all life, you and me, everything!— this Jesus has chosen to reveal Himself to us, to fallen humanity, and to call us His friends (John 15:15). That fact alone should take your breath away. It does mine.
Why would Jesus, the exalted One, choose to stoop down and reveal Himself to something of so little worth and value as me? Or you, for that matter? Why would He do that? What does He gain? Where’s the payoff for Him?
And then He goes a step further and calls us His friends (John 15:15). Really? Jesus considers me His friend. Why? Being a friend of someone opens one up to the threat of betrayal and hurt and rejection. We’ve all suffered that from our own friends, haven’t we? So why would Jesus expose Himself to me, or you, like that? He’s sovereign and knows all things. Nothing gets past Him. He knows what I am and what I’m capable of and what a terrible, fickle and unfaithful friend I could prove to be (John 2:25). And He knows about you too. What type of friend are you committed to be to Him?
Jesus, who is the exact image of God the Father, has chosen to become a man like me in order that I may become like Him. He put on flesh so I may someday put on immortality (1 Cor. 15:54). He took my nature and replaced it with His nature so I would become the “image of the glory of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18). Just think, what Jesus was to the Father, the “express image of His person” (Heb. 1:3), He wants to be with me and you (Rom. 8:29). He offers us sonship, to be joint heirs with Him as the firstborn, the One who inherits all from the Father (Rom. 8:16-17). And He did all this for us for no other reason than the “good pleasure of His will” (Eph. 1:5,9). Or, to put it bluntly, because He wanted to.
But as overwhelming as all this may seem, there’s something even more amazing.
Christ Has Longings
Jesus, as God Himself, doesn’t have needs. How could He? For to have needs would imply that He is lacking something that must be supplied by someone else. For Jesus to have needs or longings or desires means He was incapable of being all-powerful and all-sufficient. Somehow, He comes up lacking. And God cannot lack anything.
But Jesus does say in His Word that He has a desire. And the object of that desire should again, take your breath away. Why? Because the object of Christ’s desires and longings is— you. That’s right, Jesus longs for those He loves and those He redeemed. Look at what Jesus said in His last prayer before the cross:
“Father, I desire (or, will, wish, purpose, seek, crave) that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, (why) that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).
Did you read His words? Do you see what the longing, the desire, the craving of our Lord is? It’s for you and me to be with Him in heaven, where He is. And why would He want us with Him? Jesus said, “that they may behold My glory” (John 17:24). Jesus wants us, His friends, to come to His home that He is preparing for us (John 14:2) to behold His glory given Him by His Father. That’s an honor reserved for only the closest of family. And Jesus offers it to you and me.
Again, why? Because He wanted to. Because He felt like it. Because it made Him happy. Because He could. Just think, we are “chosen in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4) for no other reason than Christ wanted us to be with Him where He is (John 17:24).
That’s how much we are loved and chosen in Him.
What Do I Do Now?
So, tell me what problems you have that compare to this blessing? Tell me what you lack in this life compared to what you already possess in Him? You are the Almighty, Sovereign, Eternal God’s friend (John 15:15). You are His chosen child (Rom. 8:16-17), His special possession (1 Cor. 16:19-20). You have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Himself (1 Pet. 1:18-19).
That’s who you are. And we have only looked at one verse, Colossians 1:15. Take a look at what else is in store for us:
Colossians 1:16-17 – For by (or, through) Him (Jesus) all things (or, the whole, in totality, all without exception, the entire, absolutely all, each and every one) were created (or, to produce from nothing) that are in (or, at, with the primary idea of rest) heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.
But we’ll look at these verses next time.
Sometimes in our lives, when we least expect it, God has a tendency to show up and interrupt what we’re doing. Now we know He’s sovereign in all things and is “in His heavens and does what He pleases” (Ps. 115:3), yet often we view His interruptions as an inconvenience, or as an annoying set of circumstances, or as some frustrating event, or just really bad timing. But God, as God, has the right to interrupt our lives and our petty little schedules and plans anytime He wants. In fact, we should welcome His interruptions.
Often He interrupts because we’ve grown cold, apathetic, lifeless, or lukewarm in our relationship with Him. These interruptions serve as a well-timed wake-up call to get our focus back on the eternal and important and off of what is temporary and insignificant. Sometimes He decides to break into our mundane existence, our stagnated spiritual life of ease and comfort and self-centeredness, to speak truth to us in a way that will forever change our future. And when that happens, we should joyfully embrace these interruptions as loving gifts from a loving Father, and not as something to fear or dread.
Let me give you just a few examples.
One day Israel no longer wanted God to be their King but instead wanted to be like all the other nations and have a king like they had (1 Sam. 8:5-9). So they rejected God and chose for themselves a man who looked the part of a king— a man of outward strong stature, a man with handsome features, an attractive man, a movie star type of man. They chose Saul to be their king: “Long live the king!” (1 Sam. 10:24). But what they didn’t know was that the “Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).
Saul was not the king the Lord wanted and, in the course of time, committed sins so grievous that God said: “I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments” (1 Sam. 15:10). So the prophet Samuel brought word to Saul that God “has rejected you from being king” (1 Sam. 15:23) and that the party was just about over. The die was cast, Saul was on his way out. All that was necessary was to anoint the new king of Israel.
Unaware of all this political drama in Jerusalem, there was a young boy who was faithfully tending his father’s sheep on the backside of a remote hill in a forgotten desert far away from anything good that was happening in the world. He was the youngest of eight sons born to a man named Jesse. One day that young boy was called home to stand before the prophet of God, Samuel, who was there to anoint the new king of Israel. Samuel had gone through the seven older brothers of this young man, one by one, repeating the same words, “The Lord has not chosen this one”. But when young David was presented before the mighty prophet he was declared to be the new king of Israel. Samuel said, “Arise, anoint him; for this is the one” (1 Sam. 16:12). David was now God’s anointed king, His choice among all the people on the face of the earth.
What an incredible interruption.
From that moment on, David’s life was forever changed. This young shepherd boy was now destined to bravely face breathtaking highs and heart wrenching lows he would have never had the opportunity to experience tending his father’s flock. Once God interrupted David’s life with Himself he discovered the joy of indescribable intimacy with the Lord as well as the shameful pain of public sin that we still talk about today. His faith was challenged on a battlefield facing a nine foot giant named Goliath (1 Sam. 17) and his very call from God and confirmation by Samuel was rejected by the current king of Israel, Saul, who sought to take his life. By embracing God’s interruption David was driven into the wilderness to live like a vagabond and was forced to act like a crazed madman drooling saliva in the presence of his own enemies (1 Sam. 21:13). And for a time, it seemed God’s interruption only produced pain and suffering in David’s life.
But we know the rest of the story, don’t we?
We know King David was called a “man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14) and we also know the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, traced His earthly lineage through King David (Matt. 1:1). We also know of the blessed promise given David that his throne would be established forever (2 Sam. 7:13-16).
Such are the blessings of an interrupted life.
Are you interested? Would you like your life to be interrupted like David’s?
We also know of a man named Saul, later changed to Paul, from the town of Tarsus, who was a rising star among the Jewish intelligentsia of his day. So committed to putting this Jesus cult down, he personally requested and was given authority from the High Priest in Jerusalem to travel to surrounding areas and bring back in chains those who claimed the name of Christ. One day, around noon, on his way to Damascus, God interrupted his life.
God spoke to him from a blinding light and said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” To which Saul responded in awe and fear, “Who are you, Lord?” And the One who interrupted his life said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:3-5).
From that point on Saul, or Paul as we know him today, was a changed man. He spent the rest of his life living for something and Someone greater than himself. Nearing the time of his death, Paul summed up his life by saying, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). He was determined to know nothing but “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). And this man, this ordinary man with an interrupted life, was given revelations of the Lord God that simply boggle the mind. He was taken up into Paradise, the third heaven, and “heard inexpressible words which are not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Cor. 12:2-4).
Such are the blessings of an interrupted life.
Again, are you interested? Would you like God to interrupt your life like He did Paul’s?
I’m reminded of a young, teenage woman who was approached by a godly man who greatly desired to take her as his wife. She was a good daughter to her father and she was faithful to her Lord. She was chaste, a virgin, modest in her dress, righteous in her conduct— she was literally everything a young woman should strive to be and the kind of daughter every father hopes and prays for. A man named Joseph, well known in their town, respectable and God-fearing, had come and paid the bride price for her and was patiently dreaming of the day when he would be able to return and take her to be with him as his cherished, beloved bride. But this young woman’s life was about to be interrupted by a vision from the angel Gabriel, the messenger of the Lord.
One day, as Mary was going about her duties, God interrupted her life. An angel came to her and said, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” (Luke 1:28). Mary was more than a little surprised. She was greatly troubled and probably in shock. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus” (Luke 1:30-31).
Mary, seeing the natural impossibility of this, said, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:34-25).
What Will You Do With Your Interruption?
And now please understand this: When God chooses to interrupt a life, like David’s, like Saul’s, like Mary’s, and like yours, we always have a choice. We can choose to accept His interruption and all that goes with it, good or bad. Or, we can choose to reject His interruption and walk away. “Thanks for the offer God, but I think I’ll pass this time. Check back with me later.” God never forces His will on anyone. He offers us the blessing of His interruption and the choice to obey and accept or to reject and walk away is always in our own hands. It’s our call, our decision.
This is exactly what was presented to Mary.
With her future dark and uncertain, with no hope of Joseph or her parents or anyone for that matter believing her incredible story, with no means of physical support for her and her new child, and with the ever-looming danger and threat of her death by stoning, Mary nevertheless said in bold, courageous faith, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
And the world has never been the same.
So what about you? Are you praying for God to interrupt your life? Or, has God already tried to interrupt your life and you rejected His invitation? The greatest blessing a Christian can ever experience is God’s divine interruption into one’s life. God’s interruption means He wants to speak new truth to us, to lead us in a new direction, to infuse new purpose and meaning into our very lives. It’s a profound blessing, a gift of grace.
God’s interruption means we’re not forgotten, we’re not forsaken, we’re not simply an afterthought or a footnote in the pages of His glorious dealings with mankind. But God’s interruption means He has chosen you, and me, to do something specifically designed by Him and for Him.
Don’t be afraid of His divine interruptions. Do not fear them. But pray for them, ask for them, long for them, beg for them.
A Final Warning
But understand this, as Jesus warned those who haphazardly wanted to follow Him to “count the cost” (Luke 14:28), there’s also a great cost to be paid when God interrupts your life. It may mean, and it usually does, that He will compel you to go into “all the world” (Mark 16:15) to do and say things to people you never thought possible. He will usually move you out of your ease and comfort zone and into an area where you’ll be forced to trust Him, and Him alone, and not your own strengths (2. Cor. 12:10). Words like, “I feel uncomfortable doing this” or “this isn’t my gift” or “I wasn’t trained for this” or “I didn’t sign up for this” will be banished from your vocabulary. New words and phrases will emerge from your lips like, “Thank you, Jesus, for using me this way because I know that in my weakness I am strong when I rely on You. I praise You for what You have accomplished through me. It’s all You, Lord.”
Are you ready?
Are you ready for 2015 to be a year of life-changing interruptions from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?
Then get ready. For your life is about to change.
One of the most troubling questions I get asked as a pastor is this: “Why do Christians suffer trials and tribulations?” Or, to put it another way, “Why is all this bad stuff happening to me? What did I do to deserve this?”
The easy answer is found in James 1:2-4 where it says:
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
But realizing that someday, somehow, in the sweet bye-and-bye, when all this pain and suffering and misery is over, you will become “perfect and complete” in Him often rings shallow while you are in the midst of the flames of your fiery trial. When people are suffering they need more than simple platitudes or mini-sermons or one verse, knee-jerk theology— they need truth. They need something to help them make sense of their impossible situation. They need something more than Romans 8:28. They need the long, detailed, answer to their question.
So, for those of you in the midst of trials you don’t understand and didn’t deserve, let me give you the long answer to your question.
Why Do Christians (You and Me) Suffer Trials and Tribulations?
1. To Bring God Glory
As strange as it may seen, sometimes we go through trials and hard times for no other reason than to bring God glory. Just think about what Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego had to endure for the glory of God. It was only through their trials, their fiery trials, that King Nebuchadnezzar and his subjects caught a glimpse of the Lord Jesus. And it may have been this very event that led to the king’s salvation and faith declaration:
For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, “What have You done?” (Daniel 4:34-35).
And one verse later the King said:
“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down” (Daniel 4:37).
Remember, none of the glory given to God by Nebuchadnezzar would have happened unless Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego faced deadly trails for no fault of their own.
To read more about their trials, go to Daniel 3:8-30.
2. To Discipline and Chastise Us for Our Sins
That’s right, as uncomfortable as it makes us feel, sometimes God has to get our attention and discipline us, like we do our own children, when we sin and refuse to repent. Why does He do this? Because He is the perfect Father and He loves His children dearly, even more than we love our children.
Consider the following from Hebrews 12:5-11:
And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:
“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.”
If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Sometimes, when we wonder why God is allowing hard times to come our way, remember that “whom the Lord loves He chastens” just like we do to our own children. And be encouraged. After all, the Lord’s discipline means you are His child and that He loves you. That fact alone should put a light in our heart when all around us seems dark.
3. To Prevent Us From Sinning Again
This is kind of obvious. We discipline our children to keep them from doing wrong and the Lord does the same with us. When our children get spanked, or “suffer in the flesh” as Peter would say, they “cease from sin.” And the same is true for us as God’s children.
Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God (1 Peter 4:1-2).
4. To Keep Us From Pride
Pride is the first and foremost sin and the Lord hates pride (Prov. 8:13). That’s right, He hates it. Why? For one thing, Satan was cast out of heaven for pride (Isa. 14:12-15). Even someone like the Apostle Paul was prone to pride. So the Lord allowed him to suffer trials in order to keep him humble and to protect him from the encroaching sin of pride. It was God’s way of loving Paul, as strange as that may sound today. Read what Paul said about his suffering, his “thorn in the flesh”:
And lest I should be exalted above measure (pride) by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure (pride). Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
God’s answer to Paul’s prayer was, “No. What I have already given you is enough.” This is the Biblical cure for pride.
5. To Help Build Our Faith
Like precious metal, our faith grows stronger when it is tested in the fire. It’s during tough times, during sufferings and tribulations, that we see what we’re made of. Is our faith real? Are we truly committed to Him? Are we more than a fair weather disciple? Do we really believe what we tell others we believe? Yes, the genuineness of our faith becomes evident when we put it to the test. And trials help our tested faith grow stronger.
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-7).
6. To Help Our Faith Grow
Much like the previous reason, sufferings and trials also help our faith grow, not just in strength, but in quality and number. When we persevere under tough times, we have more faith. And more faith is a good thing, by the way. Jesus said if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, which is about the size of a pin prick on our finger, we could do incredible, unbelievable things (Matt. 17:20). So more faith is a good thing, something to be greatly desired. And more faith comes from using the faith we have to faithfully endure under trials and pain and suffering. The more faith we use, the more faith God will give us. You know, “No pain, No gain.”
And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, (why) knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:3-5).
In this situation, more is definitely better.
7. To Teach Us Discipline and Obedience
Like a coach on a football team or a personal trainer in a gym, the key to success to those we are training is discipline and obedience. We are to run the plays exactly like the coach demands. If not, “Run it again!” When our personal trainer tells us how many reps and how many sets we must do to complete the workout, we have to have discipline and obedience to the plan in order to see the results. Again, “No pain, No gain.”
The Lord did the same for Paul at the outset of his ministry. He told him in advance about the trials and suffering he would endure. Why? To teach Paul discipline and obedience, to hang tough, to keep his eye on the goal, the prize (1 Cor. 1:9), the finish line (2 Tim. 4:7) even when everything in him screamed, “I quit!” Same is true with us. Which is why the Lord often allows us to suffer unjustly— to teach us the value of discipline and obedience.
But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he (Paul) is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him (Paul) how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16).
8. To Equip Us to Comfort Others
God never wastes an experience, either good or bad. Whatever He allows us to go through is something He will later use to help others going through the same thing. If you have lost a loved one, only you can truly say to someone suffering the same fate, “I know how you feel.” And that empathy and comfort can only come from the depths of your own pain and the comfort you have received from Him. This is why, for the comfort of others, the Lord allows His children to suffer loss and pain and rejection. Because it is only through that suffering the comfort of the Lord can be shared with others.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, (why) that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
Remember, your scars allow you to minister to those with open wounds.
9. To Prove Jesus is Still Enough
Untested faith is just talk. We can’t say, “Jesus is all you need” unless we’ve been to the place where He is all you have. Only then can we confidently proclaim, like the Apostle Paul, “our momentary light affliction is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 7:11). Only then can we offer comfort to others by boldly saying, like Corrie ten Boom, “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.”
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
So then death is working in us, but life in you.
And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke,” we also believe and therefore speak, knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:7-11).
Imagine what it would be like to have the faith to refer to all your sufferings and pain as “light affliction” when compared to the eternal glory awaiting us. Now that’s living in the realm of heaven.
10. As a Testimony to the Angels
This has to be one of the strangest reasons the Lord allows us to go through trials. It’s like He uses our faith in Him, especially during dark times, to stick it in the face of the angels who rebelled and rejected the sovereign love of God. After all, it was God who brought Job to the attention of Satan. He was saying, in effect, “Satan, you blew it big time. Just look at Job. How I have blessed Job I would have also blessed you. But, you had other plans, didn’t you? Ah, your loss, loser.”
Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?” (Job 1:8).
And this is not limited to the Old Testament. In Ephesians Paul let’s us know that the grace of God given freely to fallen man, the “unsearchable riches of Christ” are being made known, literally stuck in the face of, the demonic realm. God is using us as His trophies of grace to shame those fallen angels who went their own way.
To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him (Ephesians 3:8-11).
In summary, we go full circle back to the beginning, back to the easy answer. We know why God has allowed His children, His chosen, to suffer, for a while, hardship and pain. But how are we to act? How are we to respond to others in the midst of our dark times? We are to know that the trials and tribulations we are currently experiencing are producing in us something only trials can produce. And that our Father, the Sovereign God, is doing this for us to make us perfect and complete in His sight (James 1:2-4).
We should praise Him for our current trials and joyfully embrace the next one.
After all, “No pain, No gain.”
How does the Word of God and the Holy Spirit work together to make us complete in Him? How do they interact? What is their relationship one to another? This is something I have often asked myself as I study His Word. Yes, I know the Spirit of God takes His Truth in His Word and energizes it, makes it come alive, real, to me. But is there more?
Today I read the following from a new book by JD Greear that perfectly summarizes the divine interaction of the Word and Spirit and I want to share that truth with you. Enjoy and be encouraged and blessed.
The Word is eternal and unchanging. The Spirit‘s direction is temporary and varied.
The Word gives us promises. The Spirit compels us to risk in certain situations.
The Word outlines the mission. The Spirit inspires a vision.
The Word sets the standards. The Spirit guides the operation.
The Word shows us the end game. The Spirit points to a starting place.
The Word sets our expectations. The Spirit inspires our dream.
The Word describes the character of God. The Spirit pulls us into His emotions.
The Word recounts God’s acts of salvation. The Spirit sheds abroad His love in our hearts.
The Word gives us the revelation. The Spirit illuminates the explanation.
The Word provides the content. The Spirit brings the convictions.
The Word helps us to know. The Spirit enables us to learn.
The Word commands us to hear. The Spirit empowers us to listen.
The Word commands us to obey. The Spirit beckons us to follow.
After all, Jesus said: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26).
The following is from Jesus Continued by JD Greear.