From the Preacher’s Pen… Our look at several of God’s gifts to us continues. The gift of labor helps us to find value even as we grow and learn. Friendship teaches us to be a part of a team that we might accomplish more together than separately. The gift of money teaches us what we may accomplish in doing for and helping others rather than selfishly doing only for ourselves. The gift of family gives us a glimpse of the Heavenly relationship envisioned by God for His people. The gift of gratitude helps us to be truly thankful and enables us to count our blessings as we realize how rich and numerous they really are and the gift of laughter gives us a view of our God’s own real joy.
Now let’s look at a gift that seems completely wrong when we first see it, only to offer great blessings…
The Gift of Problems
James begins his brief letter with what seems an astounding claim: 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 complete result, so that you may be complete and whole, lacking in nothing.
There is an incredibly important lesson in this gift of God. To begin with, it challenges our concept of joy, happiness, and laughter until we remember that old formula that we looked at last week: he who laughs last, laughs best. We see that it is absolutely true with God and, with God’s gift of problems and trials, we learn how it can be true in our lives.
Let’s begin by considering our physical bodies and strength. There’s an old saying about exercise that says there is no gain without pain. Muscles strengthen and grow only by repair and replacement of old tissue. So there really is no gain without the pain.
In another sense, the same is true of learning. It takes effort, hard work to increase our knowledge and thus our value to both man and God. That last part, our value to God, is most important. Isaiah quotes God and reminds us that God’s people went into exile for their lack of knowledge (Isaiah 5:13). And Hosea was told even more bluntly that God’s people were destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6).
Clearly, without the problem, the difficulty of sincere effort to, as Paul puts it, diligently work hard we cannot be approved by God as those that are not ashamed because they accurately handle His word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).
Let’s go back to James’ claim that we began with. Problems, various trials can be a gift of God that helps us grow stronger. Endurance doesn’t come in a bottle or a pill. It requires much effort, but the result is the increase in strength that allows us to do and accomplish more.
Consider Paul’s lesson: Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)
More than just the simple endurance of being able to last longer under stress and strain, God gives us problems, tribulations and trials that we might grow our hope and faith.
In rehabilitation medicine, a patient is challenged, stressed in a very careful, methodical way to improve. We might jokingly suggest that the therapist is just sadistic, enjoying the pain of someone else. But the reality is that, done properly, this is a carefully administered training procedure that brings not just stability, but real gain in performance.
Another term used for all this is tough love. The concept is simple: only real love teaches the difficult lessons. Anything else is simply setting you up to fail. In the same way, God is not interested in tearing down and destroying us, His people. His gift is the gift of growing and maturing us that we might not only handle more difficulties in life but rather that we might have the strength to overcome, to win the battles we face with sin and Satan. His goal is to truly make us more than conquerors (cf. Romans 8:37).
Never forget that our problems and challenges are a loving gift from God. Without them, we would immediately be crushed by the first real threat from the Devil. Real love doesn’t just protect us from problems. Real love teaches us to be victors over the challenges that we face.
— Lester P. Bagley