I read a sermon recently in which the preacher observed that Christians seem to experience a greater portion of discouragement than their pagan neighbors. He claimed that God uses those discouraging circumstances to teach us absolute reliance on Him.
I have no misery scale to quantify whose life is the hardest or who gets the most discouragement sent their way. In the end, such comparisons are folly. But the main idea rings true: the Lord will continually challenge our spiritual status quo so we might know Him better.
Peter tells us bluntly not to be “surprised by the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing” (1 Peter 4:12). These trials often catch us unprepared. I am often surprised when life becomes difficult: How could that happen? Yes, sometimes it does seem unbelievable, but Peter entreats believers to “wise up” a little. We shouldn’t think that “some strange thing is happening to us,” even when crazy ordeals arise (1 Peter 4:12).
In this world, no work of God is completed without some measure of resistance from the Obstructor in Chief, Lucifer. God allows these trials, because they hone our faith in God’s power, our trust in His character and our reliance on His love. It is beautifully ironic that the pressure brought to bear by Lucifer becomes in the Hands of God the tool by which He molds us increasingly into His image.
Peter puts these trials in context: “to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation” (1 Peter 4:13). Here lies the triumph of the surrendered soul. Out of the “fiery ordeal” rises a spirit of courage, or encouragement, rather than defeat and discouragement.
Courage and discouragement are similar in one way only: they are both contagious. We each have to decide on a daily basis if we will be an agent of courage or despair when it comes to the “fiery trials” of life. I’m not advocating a flippant, Panglossian attitude toward suffering. Jesus wept. He momentarily despaired. But He also triumphed — and His triumph is our triumph; it is the contagious hope and reality of the Gospel that propels us through our own trials with purpose, compassion, and endurance.
That overcoming spirit of the Gospel is one we should foster in one another. An encouraging personal letter, phone call, text, or visit from a friend can go a long way in helping to hold up the hands of faith that may be growing weary. Even Moses needed his Aaron and Hur.
As believers we should all make it a life calling to “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Not only will our friends be strengthened, but we will find our own souls buoyed up along with theirs as we become preachers of truth to our own hearts as well.
I deeply appreciate the many friends who have prayed for me and my family through life’s trials. Your courage has strengthened me to continue in a spirit of hope rather than despair. If you’re reading this now, thank you for your encouraging presence in my life.
I will close with these words from Charles Spurgeon, who reminds us of the ultimate reason we can have courage in spite of suffering, pain, and discouragement:
“You never met an old salt, down by the sea, who was in trouble because the tide had been ebbing out for hours. No! He waits confidently for the turn of the tide, and it comes in due time. Yonder rock has been uncovered during the last half-hour, and if the sea continues to ebb out for weeks, there will be no water in the English Channel, and the French will walk over from Cherbourg. Nobody talks in that childish way, for such an ebb will never come.
“Nor will we speak as though the gospel would be routed, and eternal truth driven out of the land. We serve an almighty Master … If our Lord does but stamp His foot, He can win for Himself all the nations of the earth against heathenism, and Mohammedanism, and Agnosticism, and Modern-thought, and every other foul error. Who is he that can harm us if we follow Jesus? How can His cause be defeated? At His will, converts will flock to His truth as numerous as the sands of the sea … Wherefore be of good courage, and go on your way singing [and preaching!]:
“The winds of hell have blownThe world its hate hath shown,
Yet it is not o’erthrown.
Hallelujah for the Cross!
It shall never suffer loss!
The Lord of hosts is with us,
the God of Jacob is our refuge
From “An All Round Ministry,” pp. 395–396)