Do you crave spiritual growth? Do you long to mature in your faith? As Christians, we are called to aim for growth. We make efforts to grow closer to God by praying, reading our Bibles, attending church, etc. But what I find interesting is that the New Testament claims that true spiritual growth occurs when we endure trials. Can we grow by spending more time with God? Of course, we can! But truth be told, more growth happens in times of difficulty than any other time of our lives.
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. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. – Romans 5:3-5 (NLT)
- Relationships… We have many different types of relationships in our lives. Marriage, family, children, friends, neighbors, church buddies… even total strangers at the supermarket! God uses all of these relationships to teach us important life lessons and to help us grow in Him. Sometimes this growth comes in the form of encouragement. Someone says a kind word or prays with us during a difficult time. Or perhaps they challenge our thinking during a Bible study session. Other times, however, relational growth can be difficult. We encounter negativity or times when we are required to exercise an abundance of patience. In every relational moment, good or bad, God is working to produce spiritual growth in our lives.
Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. – Proverbs 27:17
- Spiritual warfare… As a Christian, spiritual battle is inevitable. The Bible says so. It may be subtle, little thoughts or temptations that fill our minds. Other times, spiritual warfare feels a lot like real warfare. We have to fight, and it’s exhausting. In both scenarios, however, God is using our battle against the enemy to produce spiritual growth in our faith. With each spiritual victory, we grow stronger.
- Physical hardships… I must be honest. Writing about physical hardships is difficult for me. I have close family members and friends who are currently struggling with chronic illnesses. Now I do not believe for one second that God sent them their illnesses, but I do believe that He allows nothing in our lives to go to waste. We live in a broken world and will still experience hardships because of it, but God is faithful. He is able to turn mourning into dancing… even in the midst of physical hardship.
- Emotional hardships… If you’ve ever suffered from sadness, anger, loneliness, or loss, you’ve suffered an emotional hardship. Much like a physical hardship, I do NOT believe God sends these things our way. In fact, I know that He cares deeply for our emotional needs. The Bible says that God remembers our tears. And keep in mind that one of His greatest promises for us as believers is a world where this kind of pain and suffering is no more. God longs to make us whole… inside and out. That being said, when we do experience emotional pain in this life, He is faithful to use it in our growth as we place our trust in Him.
You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. – Psalm 56:8 (NLT)
- Persecution… In the United States, we don’t suffer the same kind of persecution that they do elsewhere around the world. And in Paul’s day, it was literally everywhere. They were persecuted (even to the point of death) by the Jewish leaders as well as their own Roman government. But Paul’s attitude towards trials and persecution was one of hope. He saw it as an opportunity for growth.
I long to have the same attitude as Paul when it comes to enduring trials…
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. – James 1:2-4
If we are truly striving for growth in our lives, we will learn to embrace trials instead of run from them.
In many ways, embracing our trials is counterintuitive. How could it be possible for us to be thankful in difficult times? But this was Paul’s challenge to the new believers of the first century.
Embrace your trials. View them as opportunities for growth. And learn to rely on God in the midst of them. He will be faithful, and it will all be worth it.
*Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.