1 Peter 1:6-7, Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: 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.
Last time, I discussed the first reason why we may suffer: chastisement. Secondly, God may permit troubles to happen to us in order to prepare us for something. When God has a particularly great task set for a man or woman to perform, He usually tests them. So, one may have to pass through a certain trial because of some great task ahead God has planned for them. Think of any biblical character that had to endure such a trial. The first person that comes to mind for me is Jonah, whom I closely relate to. He was running from God’s calling to preach to Nineveh, and as we know he was swallowed by a great fish; and upon repentance and accepting his calling, God saved his life by having the great fish spit him out onto the land to fulfil his calling. Maybe a drastic example, but perhaps not as drastic as you might think. Consider any whales of doubt you might have in your life and what God is doing to bring you through those doubts.
Another example in Scripture that comes to mind is the near sacrifice of Isaac, when God told Abraham to sacrifice his only son. By faith, Abraham obeyed God, but at the last minute the Angel of the LORD stopped him and gave him a ram to be sacrificed (Genesis 22:1-19). This was a hugely Christological event. God stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son because his son’s sacrifice wouldn’t be enough to cover the sins of the world (not to mention the promise He made to Abraham). The only man capable of doing that was Jesus. What Abraham was incapable of doing with his son—what man is incapable of doing for himself—God was already going to do that, and He accomplished it through Jesus Christ. And as we know, Abraham’s descendants became the great nation of Israel, which includes all Christians of all time; and his faith has been an exemplary faith of obedience and receiving his inheritance from God (Hebrews 11:8). So let’s have faith like Abraham by putting our complete trust in God and letting Him take control of our situations, our ultimate trust being in our promised inheritance (Ephesians 1:11; Colossians 3:23-24; Hebrews 9:15).
I’ll use an example from my only life of this testing—this preparation, which makes me relate to Jonah. Ever since I was 18, I felt the inward call to be a pastor. At 19 I enlisted in the Army with plans to become a chaplain until I discovered the requirements to become a chaplain made it necessary for me to get out of the Army and get a degree first. So, that was my plan, until I got injured during my last few months in the Army. I got out of the Army in February 2013 and started my first semester of college the following fall. All was well, until September 2014 when I suddenly began doubting my call. Actually, I was doubting myself and my abilities to be an effective pastor. I felt my introverted personality made me unfit to be a pastor since virtually all pastors I know are extremely outgoing, and I doubted my ability to manage whatever church I’d serve at as a non-profit business both on the people aspect as well as the finances. So, at the end of the semester I left the Pre-Seminary programme and started to study business—marketing, accounting, and human resources. In spite of studying in this new field, I still felt a strong urge to study the biblical languages and to write about the Gospel on my old blog. As I continued doing that, I continued my job as an academic tutor for Greek I-IV and Old Testament. Multiple times, new students I tutored would ask me, “Are you going to be a pastor?” They didn’t know what I was studying, so I replied, “No, not anymore. I’m studying business.” To which they each replied, “Oh, well, you would make a really good pastor.”
As I thought on those observations from several students and as I continued to write about the Gospel on my old blog, the more I thought about being a pastor. To keep the story short, during the early 2016 spring semester, suddenly there was a certain night as I was lying in bed while praying when I literally could not imagine being anything else other than a pastor. I was unable to sleep because I kept thinking about the honour of bringing Word and Sacrament to God’s people and proclaiming the Gospel to the lost. The next day was a Monday, and I went to my academic advisor and re-entered the Pre-Seminary programme. Ironically, the abilities I doubted myself of doing—managing the church as a non-profit business both with the people and the finances—I learnt how to do adequately after studying business. Even though the Devil planted these doubts within me, God still used the circumstances to teach me certain knowledge in order to be more confident in the skills He’s given me and He taught me to trust Him more. At the core of it, I wasn’t trusting God to use the skills He’s given me to be a good pastor in the future; I was trusting myself. In spite of the Devil’s schemes, God used these experiences to better prepare me for being the pastor He has called me to be.
God knows what’s best for us and what we need to experience in order to get us where He wants us to be. “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). As our Heavenly Father, God may see the need for trials and prescribe the necessary tools that are destined to make us grow in Him for our own good. As I ran from my pastoral calling like Jonah ran from his prophetic calling, God used my desire to help people to study human resources to acquire the knowledge on how to manage people within an organisation as well as taking accounting classes required for an HR degree to also acquire the knowledge on how to manage finances. And He used certain people in my life to make it obvious to me that He has called me to be a pastor. If your suffering is not because of chastisement or sin, it may be that God is preparing you for a greater task ahead. This is not easy to discern. I didn’t realise God was preparing me to become a better pastor until a couple months after I re-entered the Pre-Seminary programme, which was over a year and a half after leaving the programme. Be patient, and trust God.
Stay tuned for next time when I discuss the last of three possible reasons why we may suffer: because of sin.