Saturday, May 1, 2010

Perseverance: Gaining a Proper Perspective on Trials and Tribulations


Persevering through trials and tribulations is something that we must all do:
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4)

But a problem arises when we fall back into the lessons of those who have taught us a lie, through either the error of man's understanding or by listening to evil.
We know, or we should know, that we are to no longer walk as the un-regenerated also walk, who in the futility of their mind, are darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart. If you do not approach the trials and tribulations in which you find yourself with a proper attitude and perspective, then Satan will win the battle and gain victory. In defeat, you will have failed to exult in your heritage, and you will become callous and open the door to opportunities to fall further into sin (Ephesians 4:17-18)
It Begins with Knowing Who You Are
It all begins with our attitude and our perspective, both of which are formed by our knowledge of God and our belief and our trust of who we are in Christ.
For example, if you are a born again believer and you are in a church wherein the pastor refers you and other Christians simply as "sinners saved by grace", or you view yourself as "just a sinner saved by grace", then in the former case you need to find a new church, and in the latter case, you need to re-read your Bible and learn who you are in Christ. Christians are not just sinners saved by grace, Christians are Saints. If you believe you're just a sinner saved by grace, then you'll act like a sinner.
Understanding The Law of Being
There is a law called the Law of Being. For example, one is either male or female. There are dogs and there are cats, fish and birds. Each one has a given state of being. A fish can no more live and act like a bird than a dog can sharpen it's claws like a cat.
Satan understands the Law of Being and he uses it against you.
It's All About What you Believe
He knows that what ever you believe, you will become: "for as he thinks within himself, so he is" (Proverbs 23:7) and "whosoever believes in Him {Jesus} shall not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). I imagine that the Proverbs reference you were expecting, but the John 3:16 took you off guard. Why? Because you've never made the connection between faith in Jesus, faith in God's word and believing truth as a mechanism responsible for changing who and what you are.
Whenever possible, Satan will use circumstances and lies to alter your belief system. For if he can change your mind regarding the Word of God, or change your mind regarding who you are in Christ, then he has altered your belief system. And by changing your belief system, your actions, attitudes and responses to the trials in which you find yourself will be altered to match the desires of evil, instead of the desires of Jesus Christ.
The Word of God says that when we encounter various trials and tribulations, that we should consider it it all joy, because the testing of our faith will produce endurance (James 1:3). How do you consider a trial of cancer as joy? How do you consider a trial of unemployment as joy? And what about this endurance clause? Does this mean we're just supposed to suck it up and bear the burden of God's sovereignty?
The Proper Perspective
In the face of trials and tribulations, many Christians are quick, and rightly so, to quote Romans 8:28:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

Have you ever asked yourself the question, "what are these good things that God has for me?"
You probably have, but maybe you didn't give it much thought. Instead, your mind went back to the circumstances in which you found yourself. You did exactly what you've been taught to do: focus on your problems and take them to God for remediation. You've been taught to lay everything at the cross, because if anyone is in trouble, they are to pray (James 5:13). And the people who have emphasized this truth to you are exactly right. God said it, we believe it, and that settles it.
And yes, I'm fully aware of the counter colloquialism, "God said it, that settles it." It's a nice counter platitude, but it's only half true, for if you do not believe what God says, then you have believed a lie. And when you believe a lie, you practice self deception. When God says it, you must believe it, otherwise it's not settled in your heart and mind.
But I'm not talking about taking things to God in prayer or popular colloquialisms.
What I'm addressing is your perspective of your circumstances. What I'm addressing is your beliefs regarding God in your circumstances.
If you approach your circumstances improperly, if you maintain an improper belief system regarding the attitude of God towards you through your circumstances, then you will loose that which is to be gained through your trials and tribulations. Furthermore, if you have an improper self image of who you are in Christ, then you will posses an improper understanding of how God views you through your trials and tribulations, and you will miss the entirety of the double blessing God has for you through your trial.
The Knowledge of God and the Partaking of The Divine Nature
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.(2 Peter 1:2-4)

Let's put a couple key concepts together and see what God is excited about doing in us through trials:
"... so that by {the promises} you may become partakers of the divine nature ..."

"... knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing ..."

Clearly there are things we lack, James 1 teaches us that. And clearly there are things which God is working into us, those being the aspects of His Divine nature; 2 Peter teaches us that.
When we focus on the trial, we don't see the work God wants to perform, we don't see the Grace of God working His Divine nature into us. By focusing on the trial, we focus on the negative. By focusing on the negative, we give strength to that which would defeat us.
What God wants to impart into us is the positive.
As a man thinks in his heart ...
If you believe that your trial is God punishing you for your sin, then you have made two errors. The first error is to believe that the sacrifice of Jesus the Messiah was an insufficient redemption and an insufficient judgment of sin, that you must some how bear and pay for your sin through the punishment of trials.
The second error is related to the first: you believe that God is beating your sin nature out of you.
It's Not About Beating Out Your Sin Nature
Trials are not about what God is trying to push out of you. Read that again.
Trials are about God imparting His Divine nature into you.
But we have problem, and it goes like this: as being redeemed creatures, we still possess memories, patterns and habits of the old man, Adam. But as being new creatures, we are not bound to those old patterns. The Apostle Paul struggled with the old man, and he summarized it like this:
But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can't keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don't have what it takes. I can will it, but I can't do it. I decide to do good, but I don't really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don't result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.
It happens so regularly that it's predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God's commands, but it's pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
I've tried everything and nothing helps. I'm at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn't that the real question?
The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.
So, trials and tribulations are not about God beating you down to push out your sin nature. For, how can a person who has a new nature, a new life, who is no longer dead be made any more un-dead or any more alive than they currently are?
We have a new nature, we are a new creature.
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:7)

Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Romans 6:4-7)
Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:7)

... in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus ... for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household (Ephesians 2:2-6, 18-19)

It's About your Heritage
So, if God is not beating our sin out of us, then what exactly is He doing? Seeing that we tend to function in the old man, though being a new creature, God is at work making us Christ like through an on-going process called sanctification.
For this is the will of God, your sanctification ... (1 Thessalonians 4:3)

What you need a to do is change how you view the trials which present themselves in your life. In order to help us do that, we must first understand our heritage:
"No weapon that is formed against you will prosper; and every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their vindication is from Me," declares the LORD. (Isaiah 54:17)

Your heritage is to stand against evil, to stand against condemnation. Your heritage is to condemn false accusation (evil against you) as wrong. Your heritage is to watch the vindication of God on your behalf.
Your enemy stands against you, your enemy accuses you:
And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, ... "Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. "And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. (Revelation 12:9-11)

Therefore when you are in the midst of a trial, you must stand against the enemy and reject the lie that there can be no good thing come from the trial. You must reject the notion that God is punishing or chastising you on behalf of His righteousness because of your sin. And in doing these things, you are condemning the enemy and the evil beset against you, and you are acquiring God's perspective of who you are in Christ, and who you are in the trial.
Ask The Key Question
What you need to do in the midst of the trial is ask God this question: "What are the blessings you have for me in this trial?"
Change Your Perspective
Is God your stronghold? Yes. But only if you allow Him to be your stronghold. If you focus on the trial and the evil that is besetting you, then you are not in your stronghold. If you fail to hope in God, then you cannot enter the stronghold of God. What you need to do is change your attitude: instead of focusing on the bad, focus on the good that God has in store for you. Set your mind on things above not on things below. Ask God about His double blessing that He has in store for you.
The Law of the Double Blessing
Return to the stronghold, O prisoners who have the hope; this very day I am declaring that I will restore double to you ... (Zechariah 9:12)

Every time the enemy knocks you back, God has a double blessing in store for you. The first blessing that God has for you in the midst of an attack from the enemy, is to restore back to where you were before the attack. The second blessing that God has for you is to move you forward past the place you were when the attack occurred.
But then, you may ask, why do I have to go through the same trials over and over again? Because God has a lot of blessing left over that you didn't get the first time. God isn't sitting in heaven thinking, "this is fun, lets smack her down some more", but rather He is saying to you, "you didn't get all of the blessing I had for you the last time. I want you to have all of the blessing I have in store for you."
'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’ (Jeremiah 29:11)

But if you refuse to see or believe that God can restore you and bless you through the trials you find yourself in, then you have defined for yourself the truth of your existence in that trial.
Read the story of the Demoniac of Gadarenes. Was there another blessing available for the people Gadarenes? Could not Jesus Christ have richly enhanced their spiritual condition, healed their diseases and taught them the Word of God? Of course He could have. But what happened instead? They had an improper perspective based upon the trial of loosing their heard of swine. In focusing on the negative, they missed the positive blessing Christ could have provided.
Conclusion
How you view your trials and tribulations is purely your choice. But when you stand against evil and choose not to yield, then you are embarking upon the process of seeking God and asking Him about how to obtain freedom, and you are knocking on His door.
So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him? (Luke 11:9-13)

If you persist in a negative perspective regarding your trial, then you will miss the double blessing God has for you. And eventually, you'll repeat the trial. But if you instead view the trial as a mechanism by which the blessings of God are poured into your life, then you can enter through faith the valley of the shadow of death, and walk out with the experience and the knowledge of who God really is in your life.

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