There have been times in my distant past when all I could do was feign a smile, shoo the kids outside to play, and then shut myself in the bedroom and cry. Nothing in life is as dominating and paralyzing as a sense of hopelessness.
Financial devastation. Family destruction. Betrayal. Loss of income. Health. Relational pressures.
In other writings, I have described these experiences as being hit by fire hoses from multiple directions. There is no way out. The water is painful, and we feel like we’re going to drown, or be blasted to pieces by the intensity of the spray. In this state, one is at the mercy of their anxieties.
In the midst of the onslaught, we fear waking up each morning, because we fully expect to be hit by yet another fire hose spray, and we do not believe we can take any more. Not financially, physically, or emotionally. We have hit the wall.
The Source of Our Trials – It’s Not God
As we endure our trials, some well-meaning brother or sister in Christ will often, with the best of intentions, say something like, “Well, God is just testing you, and he will not give you more than you are able to bear,” thus making a sideways reference to 1 Corinthians 10:13. Their intent is noble, an attempt to be helpful. Their theology is horrifyingly off-target.
With the blindness of Eliphas, Bildad, and Zophar (Job’s friends), our would-be comforters misidentify the source of our life-trials. Though we love them, we are tempted to cry out with Job, “What miserable comforters you all are!” (Job 16:2b, ISV).
Job’s friends were determined to extract from Job some hidden sin that had brought all of this destruction down upon him. They were convinced that God was punishing him. They could not have been more misguided or mistaken.
Both our well-meaning friends, and the friends of Job have made the same assumption – that God has brought this calamity upon us. In our friends’ case, they assume God is testing us, or teaching us through the fiery trials. In Job’s friends’ case, they assumed God was rebuking Job for some sin in his life.
Making assumptions about the activity of God is a dangerous game to play. It is much wiser to simply let God speak for himself. In the case of Job’s friends, they got a good tongue-lashing from God for their arrogant assumptions.
“My anger burns against you [Eliphaz] and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” – Job 42:7b, ESV
Similarly, if we examine the oft-misquoted 1 Corinthians 10:13, we see that what is called “testing” is really temptation. That tempting comes not from God, but from Satan, just as Job’s destruction came not from God, but from Satan.
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. – James 1:13, ESV
Our Response to the Trials – Stand Against Them
Consider this well-known passage:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. – Ephesians 6:10-11, ESV
The source of the schemes and troubles is not God. It is the devil. The strength is what God supplies – the strength to stand against those demonic schemes. To emphasize the point, the apostle Paul says it yet again just two verses later:
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. – Ephesians 6:13, ESV
Once again, we are exhorted to “stand against” the trial.
We see a number of truths in these two passages. We see that Satan is the source of the trouble, and God is the source of the strength. We also see that we are to stand firm against the trying circumstance. And finally, we see that standing against the trial involves putting on the whole armor of God, not just the helmet, or just the breastplate, or the greaves. We need the entire armor.
Rethinking Trials – Resist!
That brings me to what I believe is the most potent concept from this passage, a concept that I believe is often missed. We have a calling to resist evil, to resist the troubles brought by Satan, and to sometimes fight against them. Do not miss the fact that the apostle Paul brought military language to this discussion. As Warren Wiersbe noted, “Sooner or later every believer discovers that the Christian life is a battleground, not a playground.”
Furthermore, listen to the language of Jesus in his discussion with Peter.
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. – Matthew 16:18, ESV
The gates of hell are not anthropomorphized wooden planks, chasing believers all over the globe. The gates of hell are there for defensive purposes, and that means that the church is to be attacking!
Too often, we are encouraged to just endure our trials, to suck it up and bear with the struggle, knowing that we will be stronger on the other side. While it is undoubtedly true that we will be stronger on the other side, that does not mean I am forbidden to resist the trial or the temptation, or even to strike back at it.
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. – James 4:7, ESV
In contrast to the teaching from James above, I have been taught to submit to my trials. We submit to God, we submit to the trial, we submit to the pain, we submit to the financial agony. Submit – submit – submit. NO!
We are to submit to God and to resist the devil. And when we do resist him, bearing the full armor of God, he will flee from us.
By attributing the harsh realities of our lives to God, we are ascribing to him activities and principles that are contrary to his nature.
Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! – Matthew 7:9-11, ESV
It is absolutely true that God disciplines us (Hebrews 12:6), and that he refines the dross out of our lives (Psalm 66:10, 1 Peter 1:7), but God does this as a loving father, rather than as a cruel, harsh taskmaster.
The harshness in our lives, then, is the result of attacks from the enemy, an enemy that we are instructed to resist, rather than submit to.
It is important to develop an understanding of the character of God and the character of Satan in order to recognize the difference between a harsh attack on our spirit as opposed to a refining discipline or trial brought to us by a loving father.
When we identify the source of our harsh trials, we quickly note that they come not from our loving father, or from the person standing before us. These are spiritual attacks, and they are to be resisted with spiritual weaponry and battlements – truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, the word of God, and prayer (Ephesians 6:14-17).
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12, ESV
Stand firm, brothers and sisters. Resist! Fight back. Advance the kingdom of righteousness and truth.