Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything. (James 1:2-4 NLT)
Are you a winter person? Over the years, I've learned that there are winter people and that there are summer people — some folks who prefer the cold and others that prefer the heat. I guess I'm one of those summer folks. I'm not big on cold weather. So as the first real hard winter chill has come and gone, I've had the opportunity to reflect on it a bit. I was surprised that there are some interesting similarities between handling a long, hard, cold spell, and dealing with periods of trial, temptation, and trouble.
Prepare for It
One of the keys to enduring a hard freeze and a period of really cold weather is to prepare for it appropriately. Make sure the outside spigots are covered and insulated. Check out the heating system so you know it is ready to handle the load. Provide cover and warmth for pets and tender plants. Locate the proper tires or tire chains if the roads are impassable. Fill up the pantry with food and the cars with fuel to make sure you aren't caught unprepared and left stranded.
While we usually can know in advance when very cold weather is approaching, our spiritual times of trial are a little more unpredictable. However, even though we don't know exactly when these tough times are going to come, we can be sure they will come. Spiritual preparation is crucial. Having a regular time to be with the Lord — a familiarity with prayer and Scripture — is essential. Jesus used his knowledge of both the heart of God and the will of God to help him through his time of testing. In addition, having supporting relationships with fellow believers is crucial to help us weather these times which are much harder to endure alone.
As the winter chill sets in, appropriate dress helps deal with the wind's bitter bite and the chill that infiltrates all the corners of our routine. Dressing in layers, having an appropriate coat, and wearing the right kinds of clothing close to our skin all make the winter chill bearable. Having the right shoes and gloves helps immensely. A good hat, cap, or hood helps the body retain much of its warmth that is lost if the head is uncovered. The cold isn't so cold when we dress appropriately.
Spiritual dress is equally important if we are to endure the bitter times of testing, trials, and troubles. The apostle Paul twice refers to this as spiritual armor - the dress we need to withstand, defend, and win our battles with the evil one. This spiritual dress is even more important for us than winter clothing if we are to survive Satan's chilling attacks.
Realize that this Time Will Pass
Winter isn't forever. The season of bitter chill will pass. Good things lie beyond the cold weather and the bleak landscapes. Spring awaits us. Life with all its beautiful colors will burst forth, bringing with it warmer temperatures, longer days, and different times.
Our spiritual times of chill also are not forever. As children of God, we're destined for better things — more glorious things. For most of us, a season of trials is over sooner than we feared and the joy returns to life leaving us with a renewed vigor and joy. Even when our physical circumstances don't change quickly, we know we have an eternal home with God that is without the bitterness of temptations, trials and troubles. The great reassurance we have in Christ is that good things and joyous times await us in our future.
Learn to Value the Good Tough Times Bring
As much as the winter chill can be hard to endure, it does bring good results. The hard cold of winter helps rid our world of pests and weeds. It forces us into periods of rest and retreat. It offers some of our trees and outdoor plants a time to grow in ways that are not readily seen, but desperately needed.
While we don't ever volunteer for spiritual times of temptation, trial, and trouble, these too, offer us the opportunity to grow in necessary ways. These times slow us down, make us depend more upon God, and strengthen us in ways the easy times and good days can't. When we realize that our task on earth is not to find ease and comfort, but instead to develop an enduring faith and a holy character, then we can welcome these times knowing that God is at work in us to make us more like him.
Even if you are a winter person, I hope that you can see the importance of these observations. Troubles will come. Satan will make sure temptations assault us at our most vulnerable times. Trials are a part of human living. However, if our heart is set on our Savior and our desire is to please him and become more like him, then even the chill of this unwanted time can be a time of blessing.
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to endure. And endurance develops strength of character in us, and character strengthens our confident expectation of salvation. And this expectation will not disappoint us. 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)