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LIFE ISSUES

My heart and ears are tuned into the words of the Apostle Peter in a new way these days because he knew what he is talking about when he speaks of the trials of faith. He is one who has "been there, done that" so I want to learn as much as I can from his experience.

There was a time in Peter's life when he went through a trial of faith the likes of which I doubt that I could handle. Out of that experience (in part, at least) he wrote the following,

               "There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold - though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honour on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world".(1 Peter 1/7-8).

So what can I/we learn from this man whose faith was put under enormous pressure and who may not have come through that test had not Jesus interceded for him. What began as a trial of faith could easily have become a crisis of faith. There have been numerous times during my Christian journey when I have passed through a trial or testing of my faith. [And by the way, don't you just love those brothers and sisters who can't wait to tell you that God will not permit us to be tested beyond what we are able to handle? Sometimes I have replied with "I passed that point3 weeks ago"!!­]

So why are such trials a necessary part of being a growing, maturing disciple?

1.  Actually, the key to answering that question is in the question itself: "....being a growing, maturing disciple". The purpose of such trials is to show that our faith is genuine....the real deal.

Faith is the currency of the Kingdom of God. It's through the activity of faith that the Kingdom of God advances in our own lives and through our lives into the wider world.

But there is a pretend faith that might be likened to a currency that is counterfeit.  It's not the real deal and, therefore, it needs to be exposed so that it cannot corrupt the economy of God's Kingdom. If counterfeit money floods this world's economy it will create havoc and render our value systems worthless. So how can we tell the difference between the real faith and the counterfeit faith. The difference can only be determined by "the trial of faith".

2. Our faith is much more precious than mere gold. Precious to whom? I suspect the answer here is precious to God. Why would He allow such trials in our lives if they weren't intended to achieve something of incredible value. Notice the disdain with which Peter treats that which is so valuable to those outside the Kingdom of God - mere  gold!! You know, now that I stop to think about it,   I have never consciously thought of my faith in God as something that is precious to Him.

3. Faith does not become strong, mature and effective through ways of ease, comfort and complacency. The mighty oak didn't get that way because it was protected from the strong winds. Gold becomes valuable only after it is put through the refining fires and the "dross" is removed.

[Incidentally, I wonder why Peter didn't use the example of the sifting of wheat and the removal of the "chaff". It was that  example Jesus used when He told Peter that he was about to undergo such a sifting. (Luke 22). Then again, maybe that particular example was a bit too close to the bone, as we say]

Peter speaks about suffering quite a lot in this letter but there is one particular section that sums up this whole discussion.

               Dear friends, don't be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead be very glad - for these trials make you partners with Christ in His suffering so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing His glory when it is revealed to all  the world.  (1 Peter 4/12-13)

Those who are regular readers of "Barney" will know that, at this point in my life, I am writing from within one of these trials of faith. My wife is dying of Motor Neurone Disease. It seems like every day our faith is being challenged.

Psalm 42 was written from within a trial of faith. The enemies of the psalmist taunted him saying "Where is your God" (vs. 3, 10).  For us, it is as if this disease is taunting us, challenging the goodness of our God, maligning His presence and power to heal.

Psalm 73 was written by a person undergoing a trial of faith. Referring to his test of faith, the author said, "But as for me, I almost lost my footing. My feet were slipping and I was almost gone". (v.2)  How many believers can identify with that description? While Bev and I are not there, I have no difficulty in understanding how someone could come to the edge of such a theological precipice.

Yet to maintain a balance here, it is important to read on in both those Psalms and to see how their questioning was resolved and what the trial ultimately produced in their lives.

 Listen to what the author of Psalm 42 has to say about his response to the "faith struggle"

               "Why am I so discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will  praise Him  again, my Saviour and My God"  

He was not "out of the woods" at that point but his very conviction is proof of his refined, emerging faith.

Listen to how the author of Psalm 73 describes the outcome if his trial:

               'Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth.
               My health may fail and my spirit may grow weak. 
But God remains the strength of my heart.  He is mine forever.

 Surely such a relational love outcome would make the trial worthwhile? Or easier to cope with, at least??

Consider the example of Jesus

"Because of the joy awaiting Him (the outcome), He endured the Cross (the trial) disregarding the shame (the attitude). Now He is seated in the place of honour besides God's throne"- (the end result).  (Hebrews 12/2)

I am not meaning to downgrade, discount or minimize your trial or test of faith. No one (least of all me) has the qualifications to tell you how to respond to your trial or test of faith. God alone is qualified to speak into your life. It is our privilege to walk with you to whatever degree you include us.

 

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