While every chapter in Lloyd-Jones’s book Spiritual Depression is good–so far we’ve looked at the introduction, fear and faith, and feelings–this chapter on trials was one that struck me as immensely applicable to us in our valley of chronic illness.
The key verse for his Chapter 16 is I Peter 1:6-7:
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Lloyd-Jones begins this chapter by pointing out the seeming contradiction in these verses–or rather, in the audience to whom these verses were written: suffering Christians who were both weighed down by trials and rejoicing at the same time. This is no contradiction, he writes, but one of the paradoxes of Christian living:
It is possible to feel the heaviness of a trial and still, also rejoice at the same time.
If this surprises you, Lloyd-Jones suggests you re-examine your view of Christianity. If we think Christians are supposed to be people who laugh and grin and skip their way through every day–trials included–singing “Happy am I!” then we have another think coming. Similarly, if we expect life to become a bed of roses after salvation, we’ll be sorely disappointed by reality.
Scripture never supports either of these views of Christianity, instead being perfectly honest with us about Christian living and its hardships. (Aren’t you thankful?) In fact, if a person isn’t experiencing hardship of some kind, it’s cause to wonder if this person is really a Christian at all.
How exactly to balance the heaviness we experience in this temporal life and the joy of the eternal life God has given us? Lloyd-Jones writes that it’s perfectly natural and expected for Christians to feel this sense of spiritual heaviness in response to trials–Christians are not and should not be immune to what happens around them. The problem begins when we allow this heaviness to overwhelm us, when it’s all we focus on and it gets the better of us.
The glory of the Christian life, according to the author, is not the absence of feeling but the Holy Spirit-enabled ability to rise above our feelings.
What is the cause of this heaviness, this grief of spirit for the Christians in Peter’s epistle and for us today? What Peter calls “trials.” For these believers, the trial was persecution: hardship financial, material, and emotional because of their relationship with Jesus Christ.
We may not experience outright persecution, but it’s okay–Peter still includes our different types of trials in the word “various” (translated in the King James as “manifold,” which means multi-formed and also describes God’s grace in I Peter 4:10).
The term is comprehensive, it means anything in this life that tends to trouble you, something that touches you in the most sensitive and delicate part of your being, in your heart, in your mind, the things that tend to cast you down.p 223
Does that sound like chronic illness to you? It’s one of the most accurate descriptions I’ve found!
So if you have a chronic illness, a chronic injury, or any kind of ongoing limitation to your health, this next section is for you as Lloyd-Jones gives us three principles from Peter’s teaching on how to “go on rejoicing in spite of the things that grieve us” (p 224).
1. The Reason for Trials
As Lloyd-Jones exposits, Peter’s phrase “if need be”–also translated “if such [season of trial] proves needful”–indicates that there is a purpose for our trials.
This purpose is the heartbeat of Peter’s doctrine, of the New Testament’s doctrine, and of the doctrine of all saints since. God appoints our trials–they are not random, not haphazard, and never a surprise to Him. They are part of His plan.
Why? Well, what is God’s purpose for our lives? Lloyd-Jones points to Romans 8:29: that we may be “conformed to the image of His Son,” Jesus. So God allows trials to make us more like Jesus. He uses trials to chastise us, to purify us from our sin. And He uses trials to prepare us, whether for future service or for greater trials (which, as Lloyd-Jones remarks, just shines of God’s love in giving us little trials to help prepare us for bigger trials–isn’t He so good?).
So we start with this great principle, that God sees and knows what is best for us and what is needful. We do not see, but God always does, and, as our Heavenly Father, He sees the need and He prescribes the appropriate trial which is destined for our good.p 226
2. The Character of Faith
The next principle from Peter’s epistle is the precious nature of our faith. As gold is refined by heat, so our faith is made purer by trials.
We walk by faith, the whole of our life is a matter of faith, and you see, says the apostle, this is so precious in the sight of God, it is so marvelous, it is so wonderful that God wants it to be absolutely pure.p 227
Our faith is refined not just because it’s so precious but also because it’s imperfect. Faith has different qualities, Lloyd-Jones writes, different degrees, and different sides. Our faith generally begins weak and tainted with a great deal of our fleshly tendencies. Each trial, however, can be used by God not just to take away those contaminants but also to develop certain aspects of our faith: trust, patience, hope, etc.
The character of our faith, being precious and in need of refinement, makes it a natural conclusion that we should pass through the fires of trials in order to purify this faith.
3. The Genuineness of Faith
The last principle that Lloyd-Jones draws from these verses is that trials are essential to show the genuineness of our faith.
What does that mean? Look at what Peter writes: “that the genuineness of your faith . . . may be found to praise, honor, and glory.” The King James Version uses the word “trial” for “genuineness” and refers to the attestation of our faith.
Peter’s word picture here is that of something undergoing a test to ascertain its quality and, after the test, receiving a certificate of genuineness. To translate this example into our experience, the way we endure trials certifies (or doesn’t certify) our faith. “Now these things are happening to you, says Peter, that the genuineness of your faith may be perfectly evident to all” (229).
Christians that fall away are no recommendation; those who start well but do not continue disgrace the faith. The thing that shows the difference between the spurious and the real is the capacity to stand the test.p 229
History–both in the Bible and in the two thousand years since–is full of saints who have demonstrated this genuine faith in their trials, men and women who “had trials, but they just stood on what they knew to be God’s truth without regard to the consequences, and they went on with their faith shining out gloriously” (229).
I don’t know about you, but that’s humbling to me! What are my trials accomplishing in my life? Are they revealing to those around me a faith that’s strong and stands beneath the pressure of difficulty, or a faith that’s weak and marks no difference between my life and the life of an unbeliever?
Lloyd-Jones concludes the chapter with three more words of encouragement from Peter’s writings:
1. Remember that this trial is only a season. Our trials don’t last forever! Yes, we will always experience the pain, brokenness, and suffering of our fallen world, but these times of God-ordained trial are not endless. Just as He brought the trial to us at the right time, so He’ll also take it from us at the right time.
2. Remember the things in which we rejoice. When we’re in a trial, it’s easy to see only the hardship and our own suffering. But this focus isn’t what gives us joy. Lloyd-Jones points us to verse 3 of I Peter 1, just a few verses before our key passage:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
Remind yourself of that and say: “Yes, these things are happening, these trials are falling around me thick and fast. They are coming from all directions, but I will not sit down and say ‘alas, alack’, I will stand up rather and say: ‘I know God is good, I know Christ died for me, I know I belong to God, I know my inheritance is in heaven, I cannot see it now but I know it is there, I know God is keeping it and that no one will ever take it out of His mighty hands’.”p 231
3. Remember the coming revelation of Jesus. Peter writes that the trial of our faith is so that it “may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” When Christ appears to collect His bride, and then when He judges us according to our works (II Cor 5:10), our suffering will be a thing of the past and our faith will be finally put on display for our Lord.
He will stand at that great day and look with a sense of satisfaction at Christian people, those whom He called. They have passed through great tribulation, but they have stood the test, they have not faltered, He will look at them and He will be proud of them.p 232
I’m looking forward to that day, aren’t you? When we’ll receive the reward for our faith and be ushered into God’s glory and begin eternity in the presence of our Savior–what a beautiful day to anticipate and to give us hope in the midst of our trial!
Do you recognize the reason for trials, the precious yet imperfect nature of our faith, the genuineness of this faith that God wants to prove and put on display? Is your faith standing strong in the valley of your trials? Will Jesus be proud of you in His great day?