Do you remember dodge ball, the childhood game that filled many hours of playground time as a kid? They tell me its been banned in many school systems. “It’s too competitive,” they say or “too dangerous.” To that, I say, “Baloney!” As if the rest of life isn’t competitive and somehow a playground ball thrown by an 8 year old can equate to a “dangerous” item. Any way, that’s a topic for another day.
Dodge ball is a great game. Lots of action, lots of involvement from everyone in the game. The sole purpose of the game–as the name suggests–is to avoid the balls thrown at you by players on either end. The victor? The one person who can avoid all of the throws aimed at him till the very end.
It’s interesting to me that many of us live life the same way. Too many of us believe that the “victors” in life are the ones who can “dodge” all the troubles thrown at them. If we can avoid bankruptcy…divorce…sickness…pain, if we can avoid the broken hearts and the broken dreams, we will emerge as champions.
The Bible says differently. It sounds funny to say it but the Bible tells us that avoiding the trials of life shouldn’t be our ultimate goal. Now, don’t make any mistake. It also doesn’t say the counter to that. It doesn’t tell you to seek out pain or trouble. Well, let’s just show you what it says (and this verse is one of many regarding this subject):
Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. James 1:2-4 HCSB
There are several things we have to notice about this verse. First, the verse says “consider it a joy” not “enjoy it.” Enjoying implies that it is a pleasurable experience, some kind of delight for those who participate in a trial. That’s just crazy. What it’s really saying is that when the trouble comes you can still have joy in the midst of those moments. Yes, there will be frustrations, sadness, anger–all God-given emotions. But over all of these, there is the opportunity for joy in knowing that God can use these situations in our life.
Second, notice that it says “when” not “if.” Trials will come. An old pastor once said, “In this life you are either on your way into a trial, in the midst of a trial or just coming out of one.” That’s the nature of this life. I once heard it illustrated this way. If you built your house on a firing range, you would expect that eventually your home would be struck by bullets. It’s inevitable. As long as you and I live on this fallen earth with all of its problems, we will run the risk of being touched by some kind of pain brought on by its fallen state. Just know that trials will happen.
Thirdly, your trials are never wasted if –that two letter word is BIG here–if you trust God. (If you don’t trust God or don’t even consider Him a reality, all bets are off). You see, there are different causes for our trials. Some are brought on or allowed by God to develop our faith. Others are made because we “live on the firing range”. A third cause (and probably the biggest one) is our own poor choices. If you smoke all your life, don’t be surprised when the doctor mentions “cancer.” If you cheat on your spouse, don’t be shocked when the divorce papers come to your desk. Now, irregardless of the origin of your trial, God can and will use it. Romans 8:28 is a powerful voice of promise. In it, Paul reminds us that “for those who trust God” (there is that contingency again) that every thing has the potential to be a tool of God in our life through which He can bring good.
Finally, know this, He is up to something with your character. I’ve said this 1000 times and will say it 1000 more (especially as long as I am raising teenagers). This life is not about our comfort and convenience. It’s about the development of our character (thank you, Rick Warren, for that reminder). The verse above says that it is through trials that you and I have our character developed. God is using these difficult moments to make you complete, to perfect in you the likeness of Christ that He desires for all of us. This is the source of our joy. Every trial I endure insures I am coming closer to the likeness of Jesus. That’s a very good thing, no matter what I go through.
Remember, life is not a game of dodge ball. While we don’t seek the trials, we don’t spend our energy trying to avoid the persecution that can perfect us. God can and will use those things to make you into the child He desires. Take joy in knowing that when the trials come, you can be guaranteed of two things: God is working and His presence with you in the midst of the storm is guaranteed. You simply must trust Him.