Real saints are living enigmas, misunderstood by the world and other saints, and sometimes by themselves. For example, how can anyone explain the itching, dissatisfied feeling a Christian experiences when he is not being tried? That dis-ease cannot be explained satisfactorily to the flesh, yet it is true that real believers are not long comfortable without burdens. Some time ago a friend related to me some of the trials he was facing. He said something to the effect that “I can’t say that I enjoy trials; but on the other hand, I’m uncomfortable without them. I just sort of feel worthless if I’m not in trials.”
That is the view of a saint who has experienced the hand of God enough to know that no burden is too great to be borne and that its purpose is good. First, we have the Lord as our yokefellow to bear it with us; and second, we reap the blessings that accompany the godly enduring of trials. The response is similar to the attitude of many toward their work. Few of us love our occupations one hundred percent of the time: we look forward to getting off in the evening, and we look forward to weekends and to vacations. Yet, give us more than a week or two of vacation time, give us the prospect of an early retirement filled with endless days of pointless and profitless activity, and we become restless.
We find dramatic, if grizzly, parallels in the animal kingdom. Rats must gnaw virtually incessantly day and night because their teeth grow so rapidly that, it they are not constantly being ground down by gnawing, they will curve and grow upward through the roof of the mouth and pierce the rat’s brain, killing him. Similarly, sharks must remain in perpetual motion in order to obtain the oxygen they need for survival: to stop moving is to die. And though neither so graphic or vicious, our system is made in a similar fashion. We are designed with the ability and need to accomplish something. Inactivity and unproductivity make us worthless and eventually destroy us. Unproductivity is a contributing factor in the early deaths of many retirees. No longer productive, they feel useless; hence, they shrivel up and die.
The same holds true in the spiritual realm. Paul rejoices: “we also exult in our tribulations” (Rom. 5:3). Trials and burdens are the stuff out of which spiritual growth and blessing are formed. They exercise us spiritually, causing us to produce. Notice that Paul does not say that he is happy when he has trials; he says, rather, that he “exults” in them. He is not entirely comfortable without them because he realizes that he is designed for them and that he must have battles in order to have victories. We do not receive the victor’s crown for sitting in our recliners: victory does not merely imply battle, it demands it. For that reason, Paul could say that he gloried in tribulation. You see, he had been taught personally by the Lord during three years of isolation in the Arabian Desert, and later he had been caught up to the third heaven. He had experienced a foretaste of eternal fellowship with the Lord, and having had that, no battle was too hot for him. In fact, the greater the struggle, the more likely was Paul to be found at its center. He appreciated the opportunity to glorify the Lord and the promise of blessing to follow.
While trials may not make us happy (in the sense of being gleeful and carefree), they do cause us to glory—to exult in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. For “if we endure, we will also reign with Him” (II Tim. 2:12a). As Paul prayed: “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Phil. 3:10). To suffer for the Lord is to enjoy fellowship with Him. He suffered for us in order to bring us salvation. We suffer for Him in order to honor Him and to enter into deeper fellowship and communion with Him. We never suffer equally, of course, but what we endure joyfully has a bearing on our eternal reward. Our Bridegroom gives His Bride opportunity to suffer during time in order to increase our blessing throughout eternity. He longs for a Bride who understands His love for us and can reciprocate that love to some small degree. The light afflictions endured here prepare us to share in that eternal blessing. Let us glory in tribulation for Christ’s sake and for ours.
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