3409265You never promised me a Rose Garden You never said it would be easy You never promised me a leisure lifetime You only said you’d never leave me? [‘Rose Garden’ Stevie Nicks]

Change my heart O God, make it ever true, Change my heart O God, may I be like you.[‘Change My Heart O God’ Eddie Espinosa]

I received news from two friends during the week. They were both going through very rough patches in their work. Trouble is their difficulties arose out of decisions they had made that they believed were God’s will.

These were friends who took their faith seriously. They had agonized over their decisions. They had prayed, sought godly counsel, checked their motives. They had decided by the book. And now they were going through very tough times.

What happened? Had they heard God wrong? They were good friends. I empathized with their pain as best I could. I prayed for them. But I have also come to terms that just because we are walking in God’s will is no guarantee that we won’t be going through stormy waters. That is because God’s overall agenda for our lives is that we grow in maturity.

Here is a passage that I have preached on often and remember sometimes:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. [James 1: 2-4 TNIV]

This is one of those passages that causes people to doubt the sanity of Christians. Passages like this may lead people to think that Christians are a bunch of masochistic loonies. Pure joy? Trials? Hello?

A closer look at the passage will show that James is not hot about the trials as such. His focus is on the potential of what trials can do for us. Painful trials are tests of our faith. (Did we hear God right? Does He care? Why bother?) A tested faith produces perseverance because it requires it. And the end result of perseverance is what God most desires for us — maturity.

God has been consistent about His no.1 agenda for us. Romans 8: 29-30 tells us:

“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

Conformed to the image of Jesus. Christlike maturity. That is priority 1 for us where God is concerned. Not our success. Nor our comfort.

Which is not to say that there won’t be seasons in our lives that He gives us both comfort and recognizable success.

But God never forgets His primary agenda for us. That we continue to grow in Christ likeness. And unfortunately, we often learn better in pain than in pleasure.

I guess the only way we can rejoice in the face of trials is if our agenda is aligned with God’s. Only if we desire the same thing that God desires, our growth in Christ likeness, can we truly embrace the trials of our lives.

I’ll be the first to confess that this is not easy. I learnt this truth kicking and screaming. I am still learning. There is a part of us that shuns pain and seeks harmony. God says that His shalom will be forthcoming but that we will taste His shalom in its fullness only in the new heavens and the new earth (Revelation 21, 22).

In the meantime school is in session. We are to learn our lessons of holiness from the stuff of life, both the good stuff and the bad stuff. There will be no shortcuts. Shalom on tap is only for when school is over.

Of course sometimes we ask why the lessons are so hard. And even if school is not over, surely we are overdue for a recess. But then we discover that the Teacher is not bound to give us any explanations. He only says: “Trust me.”

But He also offers help. The same passage in James that talks about joy in the face of trials also contains this promise:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” [James 1:5]

We will need all the help we can get to be able to view trials as God views them. And God knows we need help. Hence this promise of generously given wisdom.

In a knowledge saturated world, wisdom is in short supply. We know so much about so many things. But we do not know what life is all about. And we do not know the value of the trials in our life. We need wisdom. And God will give it if we ask.

Some of us are tough students. We may end up sojourning for awhile in a far off land before we come to our senses (Luke 15: 11-32). But when we do we find the Waiting Father waiting for us with open arms.

Life in a fallen world is tough, tougher for some of us than for others. But it is never meaningless. Because God is always at work in our lives moulding and building us into what we should be.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” [Romans 8:28 TNIV]

He calls us to cooperate with Him in His spiritual pedagogy. And He calls us to trust Him. Especially in the tough times.

Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan