“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. . . . In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
~ I Peter 4:12 and 1:6,7 (NIV)
To illustrate the point I finished with last week regarding the way circumstances in our lives shape us, I’d like to share a personal story.
Some years ago when one of our sons was a sophomore in high school, he was a member of the basketball team. He went to every practice and hustled so much that the coach would point him out to the rest of the team and say that he wished he had more players like him. But for some reason, when the team qualified for the State playoffs the coach decided to replace our son with a freshman and informed him that he’d have to sit on the bench in street clothes during the playoff game. To make matters worse, our son wasn’t even mentioned when they announced the names of the players over the loudspeaker before the big game at Bramlage Coliseum. It was as if he wasn’t even a member of the team, despite the fact that he had contributed to the team’s success throughout the season.
As a mother, it broke my heart to see the pain in our son’s eyes after he suffered such a devastating disappointment. Then one morning I was sitting at the kitchen table with my Bible and I said a prayer asking God to show me something that would provide comfort. I kid you not; when I flipped open my Bible, my eyes fell on the following verses:
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but [only] one receives the prize? So run [your race] that you may lay hold [of the prize] and make it yours. Now every athlete who goes into training conducts himself temperately and restricts himself in all things. They do it to win a wreath that will soon wither, but we [do it to receive a crown of eternal blessedness] that cannot wither.”
~ I Corinthians 9:25 (Amplified)
Now that may not seem like a big deal to you, but to me it was a very personal miracle. The verses spoke to my heart in such a significant way and immediately helped to ease the pain and sadness I felt for our son. And when I shared it with him, it helped him, too. Those verses put everything into perspective by reminding us that even though it’s fun to compete in sports and win, none of that is nearly as important as playing the game of life to win the ultimate prize that lasts for all eternity – Heaven.
“In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.”
~ John 14:2
And the best part is that Jesus already won the prize for us when he sacrificed His life on the cross for all of our sins. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Catholic or Presbyterian, Baptist or Lutheran – the price has been paid, the victory has been won. To claim our prize, all we have to do is believe in Him and accept the forgiveness of our sins.
“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’”
~ John 11:25-26
In conclusion, if we’ll put our trust in God during times of difficulty, sorrow and disappointment, He will provide the grace, strength and wisdom we need to persevere.
“Trials are not enemies of faith but rather opportunities to prove God's faithfulness.”
Then the process of going through those times will stretch us and make us stronger so we’ll be in a little better “shape” for the next trial.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”
~ James 1:2-4, 12 (NIV)