I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Matthew 25:36
There is a common perception in the world today that faith in Jesus Christ will exempt us from the trials and hardships of life, especially those associated with our health, our happiness, and our prosperity. Then when people buy into this concept and discover all together too soon that their prayers will not always turn back the hostility of a world who thinks Christians are bigoted and strange, they become disappointed and feel disillusioned.
In his book Who Switched the Price Tags? Tony Campolo tells of an incident when someone broke into a store and changed the price tags on merchandise, and I'm thinking that someone has been messing with the message and has switched the price tags when it comes to telling people that suffering is part of the package. Everyone won't appreciate what you stand for and what you believe in.
Peter addressed this issue in the first letter which bears his name, and he says that the believer's response is not fighting fire with fire but rather to rejoice because the Spirit of glory and of Christ rests on you. Jesus said that we are to rejoice when people persecute us and say all manner of evil against us, because they persecuted the prophets before, as well.
A hostile world is out there, but the issue is, how do we respond? Do we fight fire with fire? Or do we rise above the trials and difficulties with strength which others don't have?
Peter advised, "To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps... When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead he trusted himself to him who judges justly" (1Peter 2:21,23).
When times of difficulty come for you, there are promises which accompany them which we seldom remember.
First, times of difficulty are accompanied by the promise of His presence. Jesus said, "In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). He also promised, "I will be with you always..." (Matthew 28:20). Would you be more comfortable with surgery if you knew that the hand of the doctor was in the hand of a living Savior who guided the doctor's hand?
Furthermore, the trials which come to us also come with the promise of His protection. Peter again wrote that we are "shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials" (1 Peter 1:6-7).
"Father filtered" is the way one person expressed the belief that nothing can happen to us apart from the will and protection of our Father – which means He goes with us through the fiery trial.
There is also the promise of His purging or cleansing. In spite of the fact that we would rather avoid times of difficulty, good always comes out of them. Peter talked about our faith as gold which is put into the furnace and refined, but he said that our faith will never perish and gold will.
Amy Carmichael used to tell of the village goldsmith who would take ore and put it over a clay tile, occasionally raking off the impurities. "How do you know when the ore is ready?" His reply: "When I can see the reflection of my face in the ore." So is it with the trials that produce the imprint of our Father's face in our lives.
Most of us, myself included, would just as soon skip the fire, but it is all part of the process which God uses to refine us and to demonstrate His power in our lives. The fiery trial produces the presence and purity of God in our lives, which the world can never understand.
Resource reading: Jeremiah 31: 1-7