How Can I Consider It All Joy When I Meet Trials?

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. (James 1:2-3)Every-trial-of-suffering-is-an-opportunity-to-grow-in-the-faith.

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, James is commanding his brothers and sisters in Christ to consider it all joy whenever they face trials. You might ask, “How can I obey that command?” Well, in order to obey that command, you need to be convinced by the following three basic truths:

  1. God is the one who ultimately gives you trials. God is absolutely sovereign. He is in control of everything. Nothing happens to you without His perception, permission, and purpose. Are you convinced of this reality that whatever trials you have today came from God himself?
  1. God gives you trials in order to test your faith: “the testing of your faith” (v. 3). God does not test us arbitrarily. He tests us with a purpose. His purpose is to examine the genuineness of our faith.
  1. The testing of your faith is eventually for your good: “the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (v. 3). God tests your faith in order to purify it. He uses sufferings to sanctify you—to conform you to the image of his Son Jesus Christ.

Now, unless you are persuaded by these three fundamental truths, you cannot indeed consider it pure joy whenever you face trials.  You cannot sing with Horatio Spafford, “It is well with my soul.” Perhaps you are familiar with the story behind this hymn. In 1871 Spafford lost his only son. Then two years later, he lost all of his four daughters. His four daughters drowned in a shipwreck. Only his wife survived. Yet, listen to his hymn:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Or, according to the original manuscript, it is not to say, but to know. Hence, “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know. It is well, it is well, with my soul.” This emphasis on knowledge echoes what James writes in verse 3: “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” We need to know, not just say, that God is ultimately the one who sends trials to our lives, that he is giving us trials in order to examine our faith, and that at the end all the testing of our faith is for our good. Verse 2 of Spafford’s hymn continues:

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul

Here the hymn writer makes the gospel of Christ as his supreme source of comfort. Let’s admit that singing this hymn in the midst of a great trial is difficult. How can you ever sing, “It is well with my soul,” when you lost all your children? How can you pray, “May the name of the Lord be praised,” when your doctor comes to you and says, “I’m sorry. You only have a few months to live”? In and of ourselves, we cannot. But with God’s help, we can. That’s why James adds, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God.”

Here’s the point of James. God is our teacher and we are in his classroom. God wants us to learn. Part of learning is testing. That test comes to us in various forms. Some tests are easy; some are extremely difficult. Perhaps this past week, as you were driving, one of your tires deflated. That was a trial! However, that was easy to fix. But, what if your physician informs you that you have cancer? Or, what if you are told that you will lose your house or your job? These tests are very difficult to take. That’s why, James declares, “If any of you lacks wisdom [to deal with your trial], let him ask God” (v. 5).

Note, however, that when James states, “If any of you lacks wisdom,” he is not suggesting that some of his readers are wise enough to take their tests without God’s wisdom! By this expression, James is exhorting his audience in a pastoral way. He is giving them the opportunity to examine themselves in order for them to realize their great need of God’s wisdom in the hour of trial.

Perhaps you are in a difficult situation right now and you do not know what to do, why don’t you ask wisdom from God to help you.

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Affliction Suffering

Six Truths about Sickness

You will experience sickness at some point in your life. You might have a bad cold, fever, incurable disease, chronic ailment, or terminal illness like cancer. And since sickness is a part of our existence, understanding it properly is of great importance. Therefore, in this post we will examine what the Bible teaches about illness.A-mother-with-a-sick-chil-001

1. Sickness is a consequence of original sin; and in this sense, sickness is a punishment from God for sin.

In Genesis 2:17 God commanded Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for in the day that he eats of it he shall surely die. Adam disobeyed God. And the moment he sinned, his body started dying. His body became subject to illness. God punished Adam for his sin. If Adam had not sinned, there would be no death, there would be no sickness.

Hence the presence of sickness shows the reality of sin in this world. Sickness exists because sin does. In the new heaven and new earth there will be no sickness because there will be no sin (Rev. 21:4). Sickness is a sad reminder of the fall of Adam, our federal representative. It is one of the effects of original sin.

 

2. Your sickness may be a consequence of your personal sin; and in this sense, your sickness is a chastisement from the Lord.

In James 5:14-15 the author asks, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him…And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” Here it is possible that the person is sick because of particular sin in his life. Writing to the Corinthian church, Paul proclaims,

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died (1 Cor. 11:27-30).

Notice the connection between sickness and sin here. Many members of the Corinthian church are sick because of their sin regarding the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper.

It is therefore possible that God has given you infirmity in order to chastise you (Heb. 12:6). Perhaps it is a consequence of your irresponsible care of your body (e.g. bad diet). Nevertheless, in this context, affliction comes to us from the loving hand of God. Affliction is like a rod that God uses to bring back his wandering sheep to the fold.

 

3. Your sickness may not be a consequence of your personal sin; and in this sense, your sickness is a test from the Lord.

The word “if” in James 5:15 also allows the possibility that the sick person has not committed sins and in this way his sickness is not a result of his personal sin. Job is an excellent example of this truth (Job 2:4-7).

Sickness became an instrument in the hand of God to mold Job into the person that God wanted him to be. Sickness became a blessing for Job, for it brought him closer to God. The wheelchair- bound Joni Eareckson Tada once declared, “Suffering provides the gym equipment on which my faith can be exercised.”

 

4. Sickness can be a consequence of the personal sin of another person.

2 Samuel 12:15 tells us that “the Lord afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he became sick.” David’s child died as a result of his sin concerning Bathsheba and Uriah. David committed adultery and murder. It is thus possible for a child to suffer the consequence of his parents’ sins. It is possible that your child is sick because of your sin.

 

5. Sickness can neither be a consequence of our personal sin, nor a consequence of the personal sin of another person. In this sense, sickness is simply a demonstration of God’s absolute sovereignty.  

Remember the man born blind in John 9:1-3. In that passage the disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus replied, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” No one sinned. God is simply practicing his absolute prerogative to do whatever pleases him. And his purpose in doing this is to display His sovereignty—to remind us that we do not control our health. He does!

 

6. Sickness comes to us from God ultimately for His glory and for our good.

In John 11 when Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Whatever kind of sickness you have, pray that through it God may be glorified.

While sickness is for God’s glory, it is also for our good. Paul notes in 2 Corinthians 12:7, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh…to keep me from becoming conceited.” In short, God has given Paul “a thorn in the flesh” in order to keep him from the sin of pride.

Maybe God has given you that illness that you have in order to keep you from pride. And God may not heal you in order that you may learn more to depend on his grace (2 Cor. 12:9). Once you have learned the lesson, you can sing with the psalmist, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (Psalm 119:71).

 

Note: This post is based on my sermon entitled “Theology of Sickness.”

Affliction Death Sanctification Sickness Suffering

Songs of Suffering and Sanctification: The Hymnody of Anne Steele

This paper will examine the life and work of one of the greatest hymn writers whose heritage makes her a product of this movement, Anne Steele. Her family roots grow from the Dissenting tradition; Steele was a Particular Baptists of the eighteenth century. After a brief biographical sketch, her hymns will be examined as a source for better understanding her theology and experience, both personally and as a part of the Particular Baptist denomination. Specifically, the themes of biblical authority, personal conversion, and suffering and the sovereignty of God will each be considered in Steele’s life and compositions. Through evaluation of her biography and works, Steele’s spirituality can serve as an example to other believers seeking to cultivate and maintain their own personal piety.

 

The article is by Jake Porter, Senior Pastor of Mont Belvieu First Baptist Church, Texas, and a Ph.D. student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.

Click here, to continue reading his article.

Anne Steele Hymns Sanctification Spirituality Suffering

An Interview with Roger D. Duke about his co-edited book Venture All for God: Piety in the Writings of John Bunyan. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2011, 194 pp., paperback.

Thank you so much for your willingness to be interviewed. As an admirer of John Bunyan, I am pleased to see a new book on Bunyan that especially highlights his spirituality.

Here are some of my questions for you about your co-edited work:

 

  1. The book focuses on the piety of Bunyan. What do you exactly mean by the word piety, especially since the term is rarely used today? Is this term different from the word spirituality? Also, what is central to Bunyan’s piety?    

Piety– We mean by piety, something very similar to the Free Merriam-Webster (online) Dictionary meanings: 1) The quality or state of being pious: a) fidelity to natural obligations (as to religions or God), b) dutifulness in religion, i.e. devotion to a religion or religious ideals, 2) an act of inspired by piety, 3) a conventional belief or standard such as orthodoxy.

Truly it is our belief that Bunyan was an orthodox Christian who was a totally devoted follower of our Lord Jesus Christ. One of the main purposes of our contribution to this Reformation Heritage Books series was the belief that Bunyan was one who demonstrated true piety towards God because of persecution in such a politically turbulent time. This is demonstrated by the extracted works in the second half of the volume.

Spirituality-Please allow me an anecdotal observation on this concept of spirituality. I have been in the classroom teaching World Religions for about fourteen years. There is spirituality in all of the major world religions. That is, there is a sense that most devotees have a sense of the “other” or the “divine” or a sense in which there is a spiritual realm or world beyond ours.

What I talk about in my classes, for I teach classes with person from all of the world religions in them, is that we are all spiritual.  We have a sense that there is a higher and better in humanity than the animal kingdom. This entire discussion is “teased out” under the Image of God Christian concept. Then I bring to the discussion that we are all made intrinsically to worship. And that we all do worship something or someone. But generally the object of our affection ends up looking like us, or something that can be seen with the eyes, or fashioned with our hands, or can be held in our hands. There is a sense in which “spirituality” has seen a recent revival. But it is not a Christian spirituality. This small Bunyan contribution, we believe, speaks to that.

What is central to Bunyan’s piety: Here I am speaking for myself alone. It seems to me that Bunyan was overwhelmingly concerned with being “right with God” and then “having an assurance” of that right standing with God. When one does just a cursory reading of his Grace Abounding this is so very easily seen. Secondly, the persecution of the non-conformist of his day put him in a position where he had to decide personally whether or not to pay the price for his convictions even to the point of spending years in imprison. This time of persecution defined and deepened, from my perspective, his deeply pious commitment to Christ and to preach his Gospel at whatever it might cost him.

 

Note: Roger D. Duke, a professor at Union University, would like to inform his readers that his answers do not necessarily speak for his co-editor Dr. Phil A. Newton.

To continue reading the interview, click here.

 

Interview John Bunyan Piety Puritan Puritan piety Spirituality Suffering

A Book Review of D. A. Carson’s How Long, O Lord Reflections on Suffering & Evil

“The truth of the matter is that all we have to do is live long enough, and we will suffer,” declares D. A. Carson (16). How true! Indeed, suffering is part of life. Yet, despite this plain truth most Christians are still surprised when they face suffering. Sometimes, some of us are so shocked to suffer that we start doubting God’s goodness. Worst of all, unbelievers question God’s very existence because of the presence of evil. It is of out this concern that Carson penned his book How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering & Evil.

 

To keep reading my review, click here.

Book Review Evil Suffering

Significance of Suffering in the Study of First Peter

This article will briefly show how the subject of suffering is significant in the study of First Peter. Though not all commentators agree, it will be argued that suffering functions as the controlling theme in the book—that is, suffering is the main motif around which the contents of the epistle revolve. At the end, some implications of this scrutiny will be given for Christians, especially for their suffering.

 

To continue reading the article, see Brian Najapfour, “Significance of Suffering in the Study of First Peter,” Puritan Reformed Journal 1, no. 2 (2009): 23-31.

First Peter Puritan Reformed Journal Suffering

A Summary of John Piper’s “To Live Upon God that Is Invisible: Suffering and Service in the Life of John Bunyan”

The phrase—“to live upon God that is invisible” in the title came from John Bunyan’s (1628-1688) own mouth. He said that after reading 2 Corinthians 1:9: “But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead.” Here Bunyan realized that if ever he would suffer rightly, he must first consider himself dead to anything precious to him in this world which includes his very own loved ones; and second, he must live upon God that is invisible, which means for him to endure sufferings he must focus on things that have eternal value. Such a realization became Bunyan’s passion throughout his life. With God’s help, after Bunyan became a believer, he had endeavored to serve the invisible God faithfully even in the midst of his sufferings. This attitude is what John Piper wants to promote among Christians, especially among pastors.

 

Click here to read the entire paper.

Note: Piper’s “To Live Upon God that Is Invisible: Suffering and Service in the Life of John Bunyan” was a paper he delivered at the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors, 1999.

John Bunyan Puritan Suffering