Spiritually Speaking: Bitter or Better?

So spring is finally upon us, or I should say most of us–those of you still in a prison of snow piles maybe can’t relate yet.

Whatever your weather, we are almost a quarter of the way into 2017. Has it been a crazy quarter for you?

The vast majority of us start out a new year with a quick fire of high hopes and determined ambitions; we have a positive attitude, at least for the first few weeks.

Hopefully you haven’t had many major trials that have completely thrown you off your mental balance beam thus far. But just in case the new year has been a little slow-going for you, and it has been difficult to get motivated or find your groove up until now, keep reading.

Actually, even if you’re still on a happy new year’s high and have been floating through the past few months on a fluffy cloud, you should still keep reading.

Because, not to sound pessimistic, but trials are bound to happen this year no matter how well you end up grading it in the end.

As a weathered Christian knows well, trials come and go; we struggle through stages and tests, both great and small. None of us are exempt.

Like Psalm 34:19 (ESV) states, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”

Boston, Massachusetts

When faced with trials, it is likely God is trying to show us something. There could be an issue in our lives that is either hindering our walk with Him or our testimony to others.

Sometimes He has to break our pride in order to prove that He alone is capable of mending us.

Or, perhaps He just wants a better relationship with us–to be included in our daily routines and to hear our voices a bit more.

Adversity tends to make us more vocal with God, after all.

Whatever His intentions might be, those of us mature enough spiritually may ask God, “why am I going through this? What are You wanting me to learn?”

However, if we are all honest, those thoughts usually aren’t our first. Generally, when a hardship occurs, we are discouraged, gutted, and maybe even angry and not afraid to show it.

During a tough trial in my life a few years ago, I read an encouraging book called Just Enough Light For the Step I’m On, by Stormie Omartian (highly recommend it).

For the sake of time I’ll only share that the greatest thought that stuck with me from that reading is this: He wouldn’t put me through this if He didn’t know it would bring out His best in me.

Due to the situation, and the desperate state it put me in to seek answers and direction that really only Jesus could give, my heart was consistently prayerful. I knew deep down the Lord was with me; there was a peace in my soul even if my mind was laden with doubt and the rug of all my plans and dreams had been pulled out from under my feet.

Even though I did my best to stay positive and keep a sturdy smile, I still had my own little personal rain cloud, and it was often one poke away from bursting into tears.

I remember my heart quite literally aching; I was so confused and wondered why God wasn’t just coming to my rescue and changing the circumstances with the snap of His almighty fingers.

Sometimes God uses His hands by working His chisel and hammer on our lives instead, chipping off the character flaws and carving out His vision with deft precision—at least, this was my experience.

And, it hurt.

But I learned that it was OK to feel that way, to tell God I was in pain and that I didn’t particularly like, much less understand, what He was permitting to happen in my life.

That is, as long as I didn’t allow the trial to make me bitter toward Him or anyone else.

I learned that I needed to get pushed beyond my limit to find out how far my heart could stretch and have grace for others; I had to experience a heart-breaking dead-end to learn that God can blast a tunnel through a mountainside for me; I had to face opposition in order to really know what love is–and I’m talking perfect, Agape love–and how to demonstrate it.

Just like 1 Peter 1:7 (KJV) says, “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.”

The purpose of any trial is to refine our attitudes toward the Lord.

We have a choice to let misery, setbacks, and loss either harden us like steel or soften us like valuable gold, where we take the time to examine our hearts and allow the fire to burn away anything that isn’t like Christ.

In regards to trials, probably the most referred-to biblical character is Job. Everyone knows Job was tested worse than anyone besides Jesus.

One of my favorite accounts, however, is of Joseph. I mean, that kid had a tough time.

He was totally misunderstood, cast into a dark, desert pit, sold as a slave, and ended up in prison under a false accusation.

If anyone had a right to feel betrayed and abandoned by God, it was Joseph.

Roosevelt Row, downtown Phoenix, AZ

I’m sure he felt discouraged and struggled with doubt like the rest of us do sometimes.

However, he didn’t stop believing the Lord was going to fulfill His promises; he didn’t let his present state completely dash his hopes.

Joseph forced himself to see God in every situation he was (literally) thrown into, good or bad.

Instead of allowing his spirit to grow sour he stayed obedient and humble to the Lord’s will. In turn he was not only recognized by others as a man of God and given favor because of it, but eventually was made very prosperous.

He never would have been fit to rule over Egypt had his faith in Jehovah not been pushed to the limit and proven stable.

“And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not” Deuteronomy 8:2 (ESV).

At the time of my personal trial, it was hard to see the reason for it. Sure, I knew it was ultimately bringing me closer to Him, and that alone was a powerful, irreplaceable time. But I felt like there was more.

By God’s grace, and with time, I healed and overcame it. But it wasn’t until years later, when one of my closest friends went through a similar trial, that it hit me. I had needed to gain the insight by experience in order to give wise counsel down the road.

And if you’re wondering, it was worth it. Every tear, every night on my knees; I wouldn’t trade those moments for a smooth sea even if I could.

Anything of value comes at great price. Your character is the most precious commodity you can build while on this earth–it holds the weight of eternal value.

But it is not a gift, it’s something you can only earn through experience.

If you’re in a trial right now, ask yourself if you are letting it make you bitter or better. If it’s the prior, you’re only making it harder on yourself, and missing out on so many blessings and opportunities that come from just surrendering your will and giving in to God’s refining fire.

You have to trust that He does all things for our ultimate good–even if it seems unpleasant at the time.

He knows it hurts because He’s been through it before, too, but He’s only a whisper away to coach you through it and help you become a better person when it’s over.

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” Romans 8:28 (KJV).

Have a blessed rest of your week, folks!