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Two Questions to Ask When Trials Come

By Graham Cooke

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We’ve all been in a situation where we had absolutely no idea what to do, or how to extricate ourselves. Usually we find ourselves with a sudden hankering to take one or two steps back to where we were before the problem arose. That rising panic and desperate wish to be somewhere else are key parts of the fight or flight reflex.

If we’re fortunate, we’re rarely if ever placed in a situation where the fight or flight reflex requires literal fight or flight, but our brain is trained to stimulate that response when stressed and afraid. Just because there are no giant animals trying to eat us and just because we don’t have rival tribes threatening to steal our spot by the river, so to speak. It doesn’t mean we don’t have problems.

So we may panic. We may fume and fuss. We may wish we were elsewhere and then, whether it’s an hour or a year later, we finally sit down and deal with matters. We may focus on the problem, and we sit within that problem, stewing over how to alter the circumstances so that we come out on top, or as close to on top as humanly possible. Every fiber of our being is devoted to sorting things out so that the problem goes away. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t work at all. Most of the time, it’s somewhere in-between.

Whatever the outcome, at the very least we’re left down a peg or two from where we started, whether it’s financially, emotionally, physically, or some horrible combination thereof. And we’re always absolutely, completely and thoroughly exhausted.

That’s because it’s hard work, sorting our lives out. And the worst thing is that difficult circumstances don’t just go away. They replace themselves on a regular basis, because it doesn’t matter how rich you are, how happy you are, how alienated and isolated you are from life and all its trials. Adversity is a beautiful part of life.

But it’s not our circumstances that define us, or even how we deal with each individual problem. No, what defines us as people, as the men and women that we want to be, is how we deal with adversity.

And what defines us, as Christians in a relationship with a loving Father, is how we how we approach adversity in faith.

In any circumstance, the best possible route for us to follow is that which leads us towards a deeper and upgraded relationship with God in the Spirit. Everything that God does is relational. Everything.

Upon the Day Of Pentecost, people were faced with a situation that had no precedent for them: the coming of the Holy Spirit in its fullness upon the apostles. The people observing this phenomenon were baffled, and more than a little scared, but the questions they asked were perfectly tuned to get the most out of their experience: “What does this mean?” and “What shall we do?”

When we reach moments of adversity, our first response must be to step back into God and ask, “What does this mean?”

The issue we’re presented with is just that: an issue. But the significance of that issue, within the context of how it affects our fellowship in the Kingdom, is something that will remain long after the issue itself has been settled in the world.

Focusing on the trial we’re facing doesn’t change the nature of the trial itself, and very often it will bring in negativity and unhelpful emotions that aren’t in any way connected to the relationship in the Spirit that we should be pursuing.

The fact is, as Christians, we don’t live in the world. We live in the Kingdom, and dealing with problems that arise in the world without involving the Kingdom means that we are stepping back into a person and a history that we are no longer a part of. We’re dead to that person, and frankly, we should leave grave robbing to Indiana Jones.

It’s crucial to ask God how our relationship with Him must develop as a consequence of the trial that afflicts us at that moment. Faith works by love, and it works best and easiest in the context of relationship.

If we’ve asked God “what does this mean?”, we should already be excited. The answer is that God has plans for us and for our fellowship with Him. Excitement is precisely the opposite of the feeling that adversity normally engenders in people. This is excellent! It means we’re on the right track. As we think about how God will use this situation to bring about something wonderful in our relationship with Him, our first reaction is to rejoice and give thanks. We’re already thinking brilliantly.

The second question—“what should we do?”—is the only possible question we can ask next.

It’s literally asking, “what’s next, Lord?”

At this point, the Spirit has us looking straight through adversity with a happy heart and walking forward with a spring in our step. It’s so far away from the floundering we’re used to in the world that you’d be forgiven for thinking that you weren’t drowning at all. And, of course, you’re not. Not anymore.

Here’s what ‘s great about “What does this mean?” and “What should we do?”

Both of these questions are open questions. Closed questions require a single answer, usually a yes or a no. Open questions allow for the answer to go into some detail. They express a desire to know more, rather than to simply confirm information we already hold or a bias we already possess. By opening ourselves to the Spirit in this way, we allow God to empower us as to the outcome of our circumstances. Focusing upon the outcome at the beginning of a situation fixes out hearts on that outcome. It becomes real to us, more real that whatever problem has arisen in our lives.

When God’s outcome for us is more real than the adversity we face, we’ve already defeated it.

Remember, remember, remember: every problem that we face isn’t about the trial and it isn’t about the problem. It’s about the relationship that we have and the relationship that we want with God.

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P.S. I’d be fascinated to hear your responses on this. What do you think God might be telling you through some of the trials in your life right now?


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