How Trials Can Make You Better . . . Or Worst

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation” (Romans 5:3-4).

A living dog is better than a dead lion. Or another way of putting it: better to be hopeful through trials than to give up in despair. Life is full of suffering and no matter the complaints and demands, one will always face some level of suffering. To suffer well is noble - it works as a refiners fire and brings out the best in all of us when we accept responsibility and do what we can to make life better. This sort of attitude contradicts the nagging, juvenile, entitlement temperament that’s obviously prevalent amidst most of the West. This temperament is selfishly concerned with fulfilling base desires, generally dislikes family, associates little with others who are truly in need, treats God as a genie, and is particularly demanding on client privileges, regardless of the cost to others; that is, the temperament is spoiled. It thinks it a lion but is dead inside.

Suffering isn’t to be handled tyrannically. The Apostle Paul offers a brilliant alternative (and one that he practiced, too). Here’s one way of understanding it:

Notice that a hopeful disposition is earned through enduring trials and is predicated on a strong character. The confident individual, cheerful and full of bright potential, has weathered the storms of yesterday through steady self-discipline, for endurance is a hard choice and requires mastery over the wayward desires of immediate gratification. Patience rather than haste has accompanied and, as Thomas Aquinas pointed out, has also strengthened the individual through the temptations of despair. Being shielded from adversity doesn’t garner a capable personality. In fact, it causes an arrested development in which responsibility is relinquished for a youthful character, charming but hardly self-governing. The despairing soul lacks purpose, has a tough time keeping friends, is unreliable, constantly waivers, and like an afternoon sunbeam, vanishes quickly behind the solid stance of an old oak.

One last word: the trials of life were never to be suffered alone. Before sin entered the world, God said, “it is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18a). This was before the days of suffering when all was right in the Garden of Eden. So if we weren’t meant to be alone then, well, we’re certainly not meant to be alone now. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, “two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.” God made you and I to live life with others, and that includes the hard times. And oh, by the way, when you put your faith in God, He’s always with you. You’re never alone when you’ve got God. He can give you the endurance needed for any trial.

“So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

Upgrade Your Soul

“Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live” (Romans 8:12-13).

Imagine owning a smartphone that has a dysfunctional operating system. Most times you’re able to turn it on and sometimes you can access contacts and receive text messages; though, each message is garbled beyond recognition and is considered a mystery. Most apps are nearly impossible to access, but when you’re able to finally open up, say, Facebook, you rejoice and try and tell others, unable because all of your messages fail to send. Such a smartphone would hardly be carried in your pocket and would most likely end up with other technological artifacts: in the trash, in a museum or in the hands of a few collectors.  

Unfortunately, our spiritual operating system is akin to the above example and is in desperate need of an upgrade. Most of us have a foundation in Christ but have failed to take a dedicated initiative to pursue an active, life giving faith. We’ve pursued careers, education, investments, physical activities, health, family, entertainment, and other quests, but have for too long neglected our souls. 2 Peter 1:5-7 recommends to “make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.” Peter then goes on to say that “the more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But those who fail to develop in this way are shortsighted or blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their old sins” (2 Peter 1:7-9).

In other words, if you’re not growing in your faith then you’re reverting back to bad habits and sinful ways that are both destructive and guilt inducing. To guard against this and have a functional spiritual operating system, you and I must constantly rely on the Holy Spirit when pursuing the spiritual disciplines of soul care like prayer, worship and study. Our motives ought to be comprised a cautionary stance to repel backsliding and a ready engagement to follow in the ways of God. We are not to live in the shadows of fear, anxiety, stress, depression, nihilism, and the like - all of which hamper our souls and ultimately destroy us when left unchecked. Instead, and to begin with, we are to take small steps forward by praying daily for God’s guidance, strength and peace; we are to regularly engage in devotions by reading the Bible for ourselves; and we are to worship weekly in a church with others.  

Upgrade your soul today. Begin by praying this simple prayer: 

Lord Jesus, please forgive me of all my sins and help me to better follow and rely on you this day. Thank you for your mercy and thank you for your strength. Upgrade my soul so I may be like you and reflect you to others.

Next, begin reading through the Gospel of John. Start by reading a chapter a day. Reflect on each chapter by answering this question: What is God saying to you through your readings?

Finally, go to church. I know, it's difficult. You don't get along with everyone and you've got other hangups as well. But if you hang in there and go, God can us your faithfulness to upgrade your soul.

Jesus loves you and wants to see the best in you. Take these steps of faith in a consistent way and you will experience a soul upgrade.