Thursday, October 16, 2014

Rocky Path to Christian Maturity

Challenges of Life

Occasionally I find myself challenged by something in life. The Bible calls such challenges, “trials.” On such occasions, I like to think of myself as the kind of guy who rises to the challenge, overcoming adversity and problems by strength of character and will.

Sadly, the way I like to think of myself is hardly the truth. Truth is, I try to wiggle out of the challenge first and foremost. Show me the problem; and I’ll show you how a true professional escapes the reality of having to deal with it. Denial and busyness help me to avoid most every trial.

If the wiggling doesn't work, I get frustrated by the problem, and perhaps anyone else standing around. Why me? Why now? Not fair! This is all your fault! (And yes, I mean you.) I let myself believe that God isn't letting me go through a trial; He’s trying to tell me that my location isn't ideal. I don’t need to change [cough!], the problem is environmental. I’m not the problem, everything around me is. Perhaps a change of scenery will help me around the actual trial.

If I finally realize, despite my best efforts, that I have to address the problem, and that the problem is in me; I quickly get overwhelmed by the task at hand. I just don’t think that I can do it. It’s too hard. I’m too tired. I got better things to do. You know the drill.

Then I decide to fix it. I face the music. Finally, I come to the end of myself. I make the decision. I’m gonna change.

I don’t actually do anything about it, I just decide that I’m ready to fix this thing, and then go take a metaphorical nap. (Yep, I’m going to start working out again. There, that feels better. Now, to catch up on some Facebook…)

The last stage is to actually fix the problem, address the issue, or grow up. And, instead of waltzing my way through; I find myself grotesquely lurching from pothole to pothole, falling into every pit along the way, and generally making a mess of everything.

Sometimes, I see the thing through; solely on the grace of God.

As I look behind me, I can see the road of my life littered with countless failures. I can see the ruined opportunities, the half-successes, and the occasional still-standing monuments to vain striving. I can see the giant holes in the ground that I have nearly broken my neck falling into, and perhaps pieces of me are still lying around at the bottom. Unfortunately, there are also people I hurt along the way, as I desperately tried to claw my way out.

Trials! Are you Crazy!

You could see why a guy like me would question the sanity of God, when He decides to put me through a trial. God, is my struggling and stumbling just that enjoyable for You?

I commiserate with any reader who grids their teeth a little as James 1:2 is read: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds...” It feels like most of my testing just makes me look like an idiot. Yipee.

I think we have the right to ask of God, “Why would you put me through something that we all know I’m not very good at?”

Could it be that God’s primary aim is not making me look good?

Changing the Picture

If we read just another verse, a new picture begins to form. “Count it all joy, by brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing.(James 1:2-4)”

The undisciplined Christian life is not a Christian life at all.

“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. (Hebrews 12:7)”

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.(James 1:12)” As it turns out, the trials make us people of endurance; steadfast and unmoved by storms.

Trials indeed are a pit. It seems that God has pushed us headlong into them. But, when a pit is filled with His grace, it becomes a bathing place. We are washed over by His Spirit, grace, and unending love and peace. Not a bad place to be. Honestly, I’d rather be in a warm bath than walking around.

Occasionally, God brings someone else along and into the same pit, and we have the opportunity to help them see that it isn't a pit at all, it’s a Grace-bath.

The trials aren't about God getting mad at our behavior, and trying to bring correction; they are about moving through really hard situations with us. Perhaps James 4:7-8 says it best, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.”

I think our trials are less about getting stronger (though certainly they can do that), and more about getting closer to God, and further from evil. I’m only stumbling around from pothole to pothole, pit to pit, because I forget that Jesus is next to me all along. In remembering that; I am able to walk with Him. Perhaps He is lurching alongside me, laughing at how crazy we both must look: me for the wobbly knees, and He for matching me step for step, insisting that I lean on Him. The hard trial is seen through by the extra closeness of Christ.

No trials, no desperate need for Jesus. Simple as that.

If we indeed desire God earnestly, then we find joy in the hard places of life: they give a deeper intimacy with God. God is not a meanie. He is not looking to lay us low out of spite. He is looking to create hard situations that we walk through together. He gives more grace, not less. While my past may be littered with failures, it is also flooded with the grace of God, and the strength of Christ. When I get stuck in a pit of trouble, He is sure to pour in His grace until I am floating in it.

And There’s the Key

The actual maturation process that God calls us to is not something that can be accomplished. It isn't something to check off a list. Wait. Let me repeat.

Christian maturity is not something we can do.

Christian maturity is something that we discover in the process of succeeding and failing, as long as we are doing it with Jesus. Christian maturity isn't so much about how good we are at life; how good we are at not sinning, or how easily we walk along life’s road. It’s more about clinging to Jesus Christ. The trials God puts in our life are not to make us better at doing hard things, they are to make us closer with Him. When we get closer to Him, and rely on Him more; we certainly get better at doing hard things.

Now I think we can come to the same conclusion: failure isn't failure when you do it with God. Success isn't success if you do it without Him. Trials are for needing God more, not needing Him less. So, we consider the discipline of growing up a real pleasure, as it brings us closer to Christ’s grace and peace. And for goodness sake, if you are stuck in a pit of trouble, pray (and have others pray) that God would turn it into a Grace bath.


Casey said...

"God, is my struggling and stumbling just that enjoyable for You?" I have thought the same thing MANY times and I actually can now giggle at that because if my trial can bring joy to God, than I should enjoy it too! It's a little twisted to think like that but then again, look at the source.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting perspective on God. Overall I agree with your "big idea" but some of your assumptions about God seem a little off to me.
I am not denying the fact that God may put us through trials, but are you saying every trial is from God? Are you suggesting that God puts us through the struggles every time? Are you saying this is how God grows us? Or are you saying that God puts us through some struggles so that we may cling to him during the times real "stuff" hits the fan?


Palmer said...

My primary text is the book of James here. I borrow a bit from Hebrews. The distinction that I don't deal with here is the difference between "trail" and "temptation" though both are the same in the Greek. The nuance, found especially in James, is that trials are what God puts you through (as He is the perfect Giver) and temptations are what we put ourselves through.

I didn't say that God puts us through every trial (I'm sure we could discuss it, I just didn't make the claim this go-around), I did say that He is with us through it all. The point of any trial is to bring us closer to God, conformed to Christ's character, and moving deeper into grace. When the real "stuff" hits the fan, we can be sure that God is still there, and still jealously yearning for us.

Palmer said...

I'm not sure I would say that our trials or suffering bring joy to God. When our response is to lean closer into Him, that brings Him joy. The picture of God laughing at my mistakes was my attempt at sarcasm :)

Anonymous said...

Great response, I like your distinction between trials and temptations.

Even though you didn't say specifically that God puts us through every trial, it felt like you were insinuating that. Thank you for clarifying that. How would you recognize the difference between God putting someone through a trial or something else?


Palmer said...


James is pretty clear. Trials lead to life, meekness, helping the oppressed, and righteousness. Temptation leads to anger, filthiness, wickedness, evil, sin, and death. So the first way to see the difference is by recognizing the fruits.

Secondly, we can see a difference in where the problem comes from. Is this an outside event, or an inside desire? Suffering from a car accident is a trial. Feeling worthless because you got caught up in your favorite sin is a result of temptation.

Lastly, we can rely on the Holy Spirit to confirm our suspicions. If your Christian conscience is being violated, then you are a victim of temptation. If your conscience is clear, and yet you feel pain, it is a trail.