When God Uses Our Trials to Teach Us: Part 1

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I pray over the topics I write about for each month, and I felt I needed to look further into “trials” for October, or the troubles and afflictions we face in life. I wasn’t sure what direction I should go with the subject, so I decided to start by looking up the definition of “trials” in a Bible dictionary and go from there. However, the funny thing is that when I looked up “trials” in the Bible dictionary, I found a short statement about judicial trials (as in a judge and a person who is convicted of a crime!), rather than the kind of trials I was thinking of.

So I changed up my search tactic and instead looked under “affliction.” And, the heading yielded me a better result. A definite direction began to unfold as I read through the heading and also came across a passage in my notes (which I’ve shared below).

As I’ve written before about pain and the troubles we encounter in this life, I wasn’t entirely naïve on what the Bible says about the topic. We can have afflictions in this life because we live in a fallen world or as consequences for our sin. In addition, the Bible talks about evil spirits and Satan afflicting us. However, there is another reason that we can suffer trials in our life, and that is because God allows them or even orchestrates them for our instruction.

This, of course, is not a popular idea. We have a hard time wrapping our heads around the idea that God allows certain situations and suffering for our instruction. However, if you press in for a moment with me, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the beauty of this idea and the goodness of a God who loves us so much that He teaches us and draws us back to Himself when we stray.

Psalm 119:71, 75-76 says: “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees … I know, Lord, that your laws are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant.”

A few ideas we can take away:

1. Affliction teaches us God’s lessons.

The psalmist notes that it was beneficial and good that he was afflicted. While we generally associate affliction with the negative, the writer of this psalm does the opposite and says that affliction can be good — not that the trying events themselves are good, but the outcome of the events. Hebrews 12:11 says it a different way, saying, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” God orchestrates at times just the right heat in our lives to bring about a desired result: that we might learn His decrees.

Affliction is the teacher that teaches us through our experiences what God wants us to learn. Along these same lines, in the Treasury of David Commentary it says this: “Very little is to be learned without affliction. If we would be scholars we must be sufferers. As the Latins say, ‘Experientia docet’, experience teaches. There is no royal road to learning the royal statues; God’s commands are best read by eyes wet with tears.”

It is one thing to read about an idea in a book, but another thing entirely to learn it through experience. In fact, the New Testament consistently uses the word “know,” in verses such as John 8:32, that translates in the Greek as “ginosko,” or knowledge through personal experience. To truly understand God’s commands, we can’t just read about them. God allows us to understand these precepts through our experiences as believers, and the lessons He teaches are often though personal pain and difficult circumstances. I have heard it say that God’s lessons come in hard packages.

I had my own experience with this when I was leaving my job to go a new direction, and I tried to bypass a few tasks that God wanted me to do. I ignored those nudges and focused instead on what I wanted to do — which was get into music. Yes, God had promised me that He was going to use me in music, but the way He was leading didn’t look like the right way to go. I didn’t see ignoring his small nudges as that big of a deal. But He did!

In response to my refusal to do what He said, He orchestrated some very tough situations in my life that were so difficult and humiliating that I literally spent every Sunday weeping at the altar, asking Him in desperation to take the pain away. He did take me out of that situation when I chose to go the way He wanted me to go and learned that I had to trust Him, rather than in my own strength and plans. I also learned during that time that God wanted me to remove an addiction from my life that I didn’t even know I had! (Check out the podcast episode at the top of this post to hear the story.)

2. Affliction encourages us to obey in future situations.

Not only does affliction teach us God’s ways, affliction encourages us to obey. As in the story I shared, the tough situation I went through not only taught me an important lesson in the moment about trust, but is one that encouraged me to make it a point to obey Him right away, rather than wait for affliction to teach me.

I view Scripture now as the lifeline it is and try to learn as much as I can and use Scriptural knowledge to guide my life so that I can avoid learning through God’s discipline of me. Earlier in Psalms 119:67, the same writer says, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.” In other words, his past afflictions served to motivate him to stay on the straight and narrow because he remembered his past painful experiences that had come about because of his choices and did not want to repeat those.

Certainly, we can’t avoid every challenging circumstance with our obedience. And we will fail at times even when we try to get it right. We sometimes will unknowingly bring consequences in our lives with our actions or we will simply face problems because of the world we live in. Or, God might allow trials not because of anything we have done but for our strengthening and the building of our faith. In addition, we may actually face troubles because others see our faith and persecute us for it. However, if we have been taught a certain lesson in an area (say, trust), we can learn the lesson and not fall into the same trap of self-reliance in the future.

When I was preparing to be a teacher, I had to observe at a middle school. In my observation of a classroom one week, I observed a mother who followed her son around for a few days at school. She sat behind him in class, walked behind him in the hall, and sat near him at lunch. When I asked about this mother, the teacher told me the boy’s mama was coming to school for a few days to help inspire her wayward son to clean his act up.

This mama loved her son so much she was willing to let him got through some humiliation in order to help him make the choices he needed to make to turn away from his bad attitude and laziness. You better believe that this boy learned his lesson. And whenever he felt tempted to slide back into his former habits, he remembered the sting of his mama following him around and decided against it.

That’s what God does with us: He lets us fall into some challenging circumstances when we choose to go our own way, but He doesn’t leave us there. He uses those experiences, if we let Him, to give us a desire and zeal to know His Word and His precepts — so that we don’t fall into those same ones again because of our ignorance.

Conclusion:

The trials we go through not only teach us and encourage us to learn God’s Word, they also make us more like Christ if we let them do their work. Our natural reaction is often to get so angry at what we’re going through that we don’t press into what God would have us learn, but afflictions rub against our hard edges and soften us into a more beautiful version of ourselves.

I read about this in a devotional once, but there is a beach in California called Pebble Beach that has the most beautiful polished stones. People flock there to collect the rocks. The reason the rocks are so polished there is because they are exposed to harsh waves. Nearby, in a quiet cove, people do not go to gather the rocks because the cove has protected the rocks there so that they are rough and less beautiful — as they have never had the chance to be worn down by the pounding surf.

If we have been walking with Christ awhile, we can look back and see those places in our lives that were hard in the moment but yielded fruit — either because we learned an important spiritual lesson through our trial, we came out of the trial with more compassion and love for others, or we experienced a closeness to Jesus that we never had before because we turned to Him in the midst of it.

Stay tuned to next week’s post and podcast episode as we dive into Part 2 to conclude this article. We will talk about how we can trust the faithfulness of God in our trials and what we can do when we’re in a challenging circumstance.

 Afflictions are among the most precious means of grace. They are entirely under the direction of God. They may be endlessly varied, and adapted to the case of every individual … Among those things for which good men have most occasion for thankfulness are afflictions; and when we lie down on the bed of death, and look over life and the divine dealings with us through life, as the glories of heaven are about to open upon us, we shall feel that among the chiefest mercies of God are those dealings of his holy hand, trying at the time, which kept us from going astray, or which recalled us when we had wandered from him — and ‘that in our life, now closing, there has not been one trial too much.’ ”– Albert Barnes, theologian and minister

” ‘I had never known,’ said Martin Luther’s wife, ‘what such and such things meant, in such and such psalms, such complaints and workings of spirit; I had never understood the practice of Christian duties, had not God brought me under some affliction.’ It is very true that God’s rod is as the schoolmaster’s pointer to the child, pointing out the letter, that he may the better take notice of it; thus he points out to us many good lessons which we should never otherwise have learned.” — From John Spencer’s “Things New and Old,” qtd. in The Treasury of David

Related Resources:

Co-host Suzy Lolley is back with us this month on the podcast! So good to have her with us! Check out the podcast episode above the article if you’d like to hear us talk over the points of the post.

Want to hear your other articles in podcast form? Check out our podcast archive for all of our episodes.

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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Dealing With the Challenges That Come With Change

Beulah Girl April May 2016 (9)

Not long ago, I started a new job. Well, in truth, it’s not new, really. I just transferred to a new location. Same job, different building. Same job, different colleagues. Same job, different challenges. So, the same but different.

Anyone else out there dealing with different right now?

Change can bring tremendous blessing, but it can also bring tremendous anxiety. I can testify to this, and I suspect others can give the same declaration with similar confidence. Change is a part of life, but it does, more often than not, come with a roller coaster of emotions.

Different can be scary. And when different begins to present challenges, you start to second guess your decision to embrace change in the first place. Even though it may have clearly been the right decision to embrace this difference, these doubts can be painful.

Beulah Girl April May 2016 (10)

And so much comfort in life comes from the predictability of routine, the familiar people that surround us, and our everyday environment, so when one of those things (or all of them) changes, we can suddenly feel disabled. It’s as if we’re toddlers struggling to learn how to walk again. Tripping over our own feet. Stumbling over unfamiliar territory. Wondering if there is something, anything, nearby we can hold on to that would help guide our way.

Moving away from home? Changing jobs? Making a life-changing decision like staying home with the kids? Or homeschooling? Searching for a new church home?

What is your change — your different — that is seemingly pressing in on you?

During this challenging time in my life right now, this time of transition, my biggest struggle is with finding a new rhythm. I’m trying to relax and enjoy my new surroundings, but everything feels so awkward, so foreign. It’s distressing and wearisome.

Recently, I read a devotion in Becoming More Than a Good Bible Study Girl, by Lysa Terkeurst, that took a closer look at Exodus 27:20, and it gave me hope. In this chapter of Exodus, God is instructing the Israelites on how to build the altar of burnt offering. The passage reads: “Command the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the light so that the lamps may be kept burning.”

Terkeurst makes the following observation: “Isn’t it interesting that the olive branch is often seen as a symbol of peace? And yet in order to get what’s most valuable from the fruit of this tree, there is a lot of pounding, crushing and pressing that is required. Those words don’t usually go hand in hand with peace.”

There is a great truth in her words: A greater good is often found on the other side of pressing times in our lives. As Terkeurst points out later in her devotion, Jesus is an excellent example of this truth: “In order for Him to truly be ‘the light of the world,’ the prophecy of his beating, death and resurrection had to be fulfilled. His greatest hardship became our greatest hope.”

When we feel that God has asked us to make a change, and we are obedient to that prompting, it can be hard, trying. We may feel as if we are being pounded and crushed. However, after time passes, we are sure to reap a harvest of joy from our submission — whether it’s in this life or the next.

 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)

Meditating on this truth found throughout the Bible helps me when situations threaten to overcome me.

The knowledge that these present trials can be used for future good helps me get out of bed every morning. Just taking time to remember that everything turns out all right in the end brings me great comfort.

He is in control. He is on His throne. He works all things for the good of those that love Him.

During your quiet time today, thank God for what He is doing in your life. Take time to let His peace, that surpasses all understanding, wash over you.

I have come to a place where I can thank God for my new job — and all its new challenges. After being reminded by God’s Word that the hottest fires bring forth desirable things in my life, I can approach Him now with thanksgiving in my heart. Because now I realize that difficult is only temporary, and God has so much He can do through it.

Will you join me in praising Him for your new change? Trust me. It helps.

 

Jamie Wills

Jamie Wills

Jamie is a high school English teacher, wife and mom. She is a marathon runner and writes regularly in her spare time on miscarriage, running, spirituality and everyday life on her blog -- posting things that God shows her that she doesn't want to forget, or "forget-me-nots." Jamie holds a master's degree in education and sponsors speech and debate at the high school level. Jamie is the mother of three children -- two beautiful daughters, Beth and Hannah; as well as Angel, a baby she lost in August of 2010. She currently resides in Georgia with her family.

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