March 22

Trials are preparation, not punishment

Isaiah 46:9b-10a For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning….

James 1:2-3 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.

Ever get into the middle of a trial, and then immediately begin to wonder what you did wrong? Where did I sin? Was it over here, or over there, or with this person or that? Or maybe it’s because I wasn’t enough this or that. We try to make sense of things by looking for a direct connection from our past.

Of course, looking for spiritual explanations that make complete sense in this world is usually a futile exercise. Part of the problem is that since His ways are so much higher than ours, and His thoughts higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9) we instinctively know that we can’t really figure out all the reasons why we’re going through our trials. But a big part of the reason why we can’t make sense of things is because we keep looking to our pasts to explain what’s going on.

Think of Joseph in the Old Testament. Why was he sold by his brothers? Yes, he was prideful, but that’s a high price to pay. What did he do wrong when he was thrown into prison? Nothing—he was the victim there. What God ultimately had in mind was something much greater—creating a nation that affected millions and ultimately brought us the Messiah. Of course, he was brought very high in the process—number two person in the empire.

How about Job? What did he do wrong that led to such a trial? Scripture makes clear that his friends were wrong, and what he endured had nothing to do with what he did wrong. God was doing a profound work in Job, one he learned to embrace and appreciate. And millions have been encouraged since his words were written down.

The point is that many, perhaps most, of our trials are because of what God sees in our futures, not what we see in our pasts. Yes, we reap what we sow, but even that principle is tempered greatly by God’s grace and mercy. We sometimes make the mistake that we are being punished, when the Bible makes clear that we can’t be (I Peter 2:24, Isaiah 53:5, Romans 3:25-26), because He was punished for our sins.

We need to remember that the Lord sees the end from the beginning, and that means our lives as much as the universe. He knows where He is taking us, and many of what we call our trials are really His preparations for what He has for us in our futures here on earth—and perhaps even in the next life, too. We need training. We need to be prepared, and He knows best how to do that.

We can thank God in the midst of our trials because we know He is faithful, works everything together for good, and that we can’t be separated by those trials from His love for us (Romans 8:38-39). And we can also thank Him that He is wisely training and preparing us for our futures.

Have you ever been able to look back and have some sense of how God used things in your past for your good and the good of others? Try and remember that the next time you are in a trial. You might be reaping, you might be in the middle of a chastisement (Hebrews 12:5-6), but you also might be in the middle of an important preparation for your future.

Prayer: Lord, thank You that You see my whole life, and that You are a wise trainer who knows how to prepare us for our futures. Help me to really thank you in the middle of trials for all the right reasons—for your continued love and faithfulness, for your training me for my future, and for your ability to turn even a reaping or chastisement into good.

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