“Blessed is the one who endures trials, because when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Sometimes life is hard. I’ll preach a funeral service today for a good and godly man. This will be the third funeral I’ve been a part of in the last two weeks. That’s three mourning families. Two were guys for whom you could have said, “It was their time,” (although that never makes the loss sting any less). One makes you want to rage against the injustice of a broken world. Sometimes life is hard. How do we handle it?
Each of these deaths can be seen as a trial of a kind, but for these families, the real trial came long before the last two weeks. One man was attacked by his bull…at 79. Joe was a man’s man, but a godly man’s man. Then a bull decided it didn’t want to go where Joe was trying to take him. He survived the encounter (the same can’t be said for the bull which ended up in a barbecue somewhere), but spent a full year in hospitals and rehab facilities. Some of them weren’t close to home. And when he got home he was never close to where he was before the attack happened. For two more years his family longsufferingly cared for him. That was the trial. His passing was a hard gift.
Another man, Tom, was a community fixture. He served for 17 years as the much beloved principal at the local high school. This was after he had served as the head football coach and the principal of the local elementary school. This is a small town. The local schools are the center of life for many, many folks. And there was Tom at the center of it all. He stayed actively involved after he retired. He was a sweet, kind, gentle, genuine man who loved everybody he came across. Then his mind started to go. His wife died a year ago and he still called for her almost every day. His family loved him dearly and cared for him amazingly well, but they lost him well before this past Sunday morning. That was the trial.
The other young man was only 27. He hadn’t even lived long enough to be in the prime of his life yet. But then Jesse got meningitis. He was reduced to almost nothing. Doctors argued his family should give up. His courageous wife stayed resolutely by his side every step of the way. Then, when it was time to take him home because he was actually improving against all medical odds, she lovingly and adamantly insisted that she would be taking him home, not to a facility somewhere. Then he was gone. That whole ordeal was and is the trial.
Sometimes life is hard.
It’s hard in other ways as well. We could talk about persecution. Financial pressures. Interpersonal relationships. Personal demons. Sometimes life is hard. And God lets us face it.
Sometimes we find out why, but often we don’t. Yet what do we do? Well, there are really only two paths forward: Give up, or go on. Giving up is often a tempting option when we are in the thick of the mess. We’re tired of fighting. We’re tired of facing resistance at every turn. We’re just tired. We could just give up and throw in the towel.
And yet what would that gain? Giving up is the coward’s way out. There is no courage in it. And it is selfish too. Just because we give up doesn’t mean the problems have disappeared. They’ll merely become someone else’s burden instead.
No, the only reasonable option is to go on. Yet how we go on matters. Do we go on broken, hollowly trudging forward, numb to the rest of life’s ebb and flow? Or do we rise up and let ourselves become stronger for the trial, better able to weather the storms that will yet blow up in our way because that’s how life works?
The better choice seems obvious, but that doesn’t make it easy. But we have help. The same God who has allowed us to face a trial won’t ever leave us alone in it. And He won’t leave us alone to recover from it either. The author of Hebrews suggests that such trials are allowed because our God is working to grow in us something good. He is growing in us a spirit of righteousness that trusts more in Him than in anything else…including ourselves. If we will let Him do His good work in us by leaning in His direction, trusting in His promises, and faithfully attending to His commands, what we have ahead of us is life; sweet and eternal life.
In fact, James calls such folks blessed. Worthy of praise. Supremely happy. And you can get proof on that too. Just talk to some of them. Have a conversation with someone who has taken this path through a season of trials. They’ll tell you that while they wouldn’t want to live through that season a second time, they are grateful for it. They are grateful for what it accomplished in them and who they are on this side of it. They are grateful that their God allowed them to face it and carried them through it. They are filled with life that isn’t accessible by any other means.
Sometimes life is hard.
But that hard doesn’t have to be our undoing. It can merely be a new pathway forward to a future that is better than we had ever imagined it could be. Trials will come. Endure them with your eyes firmly fixed on Christ. There you will find not only the way forward, but the path that leads to life.