It’s Starting Again—Thinking Rightly about Trials

5 Oct 2016

It’s starting again! Yes, indeed it was. It was 9:00 am on Thursday, June 2, 2016. Summer was finally here, and with it, the 2016 NCHE conference. In a mere one and a half hours as we excitedly looked out the front window of our car, we would be checking into the hotel, ready for three days filled with hard work, great speakers, fun and fellowship.

But this year would be different. Our excitement was a bit tempered with a big dose of business reality. Due to construction delays, the convention center had informed us that the first floor vendor hall would not be ready in time for our conference. What? It wouldn’t be ready? But we had a contract! We had plans already drawn up on where each vendor would be located. We had already decided where and how we would conduct the teen activities and where we would assemble the graduates on Saturday afternoon before they lined up to walk into the big room and hear “Pomp and Circumstance.”

In short, we had our whole conference planned in every detail and now we get this news. Our detailed plans had been derailed. So, now we had to start over with all the same vendors and activities, but somehow adjust and adapt to half the space.

We had some questions to answer and actions to consider—fast. Why had this happened? What would we do? Where would we put the vendors? How would this impact the workshops and teen dance? What if it rained?

All of these questions and the accompanying emotions seemed valid in this situation. We didn’t want this to happen, but it had, and we had to take action, and more importantly, we wanted to honor the Lord in our actions and attitudes. Did God’s Word have instructions for us? We’ll see in a minute!

Step forward a week and a half. The 2016 NCHE Thrive! Conference was now in our rear view mirror, and my wife, Lorie, our youngest son, Peter, and I were finishing up three wonderful days at an incredible church retreat. We had been refreshed with great teaching and great fellowship. It was almost time for dinner, and Lorie had her taste buds ready for the fried chicken and a special strawberry pudding dessert. What a great finish that would be! After dinner, we would pack up and with bellies full, head home to get moving with our plans for the summer.

But something derailed our plans yet again. Lorie started having some significant chest pains and trouble breathing. She quietly expressed, “I can’t breathe really well right now. My chest hurts a little and my arm is tingling. Just let me lie down a few minutes, and I’ll be okay.” Well, actually, it wasn’t okay, but we had no idea just how not okay it really was.

A sweet nurse friend at the retreat thought it best for Lorie to go to the emergency room to be checked. Some bloodwork results convinced the doctor that Lorie should stay overnight for observation and a few more tests in the morning before going home.

It was now 1:15 am on Wednesday morning, June 15, 2016. As Lorie settled down to rest in her hospital bed, and I attempted getting comfortable in my hospital recliner, she reached up and started rubbing the side of her neck and arm and jaw. Moments later she called out to the nurse and uttered three words that would begin a string of unexpected events that would become a defining moment in the life of our family.

“It’s starting again!”

Within a few minutes the pain escalated throughout her chest as she described it, “someone has tied a rope around my chest and keeps pulling it tighter and tighter. “Within a few more minutes the pain had peaked, and her blood pressure had bottomed out.

The cardiologist arrived just in time, asked a bunch of questions and did a quick assessment of Lorie and the medical data before announcing to an already intense room filled with nurses, doctors and technicians, “This girl is having a heart attack, and she is in cardiogenic shock. If we don’t get her blood pressure back up, we will lose her!”

While I stood there and observed, I did not understand all the medical terms, but I did understand the intensity and urgency of all of medical folks taking care of my sweet wife of thirty years. I also understood Lorie’s tears and words as she begged them to please make the pain stop. What was happening? What did all these medical words mean? What did he mean when he said she was in cardio-something shock? What is a code blue? What do you desire of me at this time Lord?

All of these questions and the emotions that went with them seemed valid in this situation. We didn’t want this to happen, but it had, and I had to take action and, more importantly, I wanted to honor the Lord in my actions and attitude. It was very clear that this was serious and completely out of my hands. I did the only thing I knew to do and that was to go before my Heavenly Father and petition Him on behalf of my precious wife and our family. Was this real? Did His Word have instructions for me in this situation? We’ll see in a minute!

Now those were some very real and personal stories in my life in the last few months to set the stage for this article. But before we look to God’s Word for instructions, ask yourself, “What about me, what is starting again in my life? What happened or is happening to me that derailed my plans?” Are you getting ready to start another year of homeschooling, and you secretly wonder if you can really teach your kids well? Is it another health issue or financial issue that’s starting again? Is it a job loss or wayward child, a discouraged spouse or close friend? When you wake up in the morning, is your first thought, “Oh no, it’s starting again!” Whatever the it is, does God’s Word have instructions for you and me? We’ll see in a minute!

Of course, now you are thinking, “I picked up this GREENHOUSE to be encouraged, and this guy just took me the other direction. I did not want to think about all those negative things he just brought up.” But wait. Before you turn the page or, worse yet, throw the magazine on the table and vow to cancel your NCHE membership, be assured that the sole purpose of this article is to encourage you in the great adventure of life and the great adventure of homeschooling. But sometimes to be encouraged means that we have to change our thinking about things that seem to be all negative. We have to do what I call thinking rightly.

You see, what I shared above are real stories to get you thinking about trials. That’s right, trials. A mentor once told me that every person you talk to is going through one or more trials, whether they share it with you or not. Whether physical, mental, emotional, financial, spiritual or other, we are all constantly walking through trials. Some of us will respond to those trials in the flesh and get angry and fretful and some will respond in faith. How we respond to trials will reveal what we know and truly believe about God. Some of us will be crushed and fall to our knees before Christ, and some will just be crushed1. So let’s ask the question again, does God’s Word have instructions for me in this situation. The great news is a resounding answer of yes it does!

As God has graciously allowed Lorie and me to walk through many flavors of trials throughout our marriage, we have counseled with those wiser than us and have intently studied God’s Word to better understand. While your trials may be different from ours, I trust that many of the things the Lord has taught you along the way will encourage you and your family, as you walk through the trials of life God provides for you. So here is some food for thought from Kirkland’s Korner; I hope it blesses you like it has us.

We were recently having lunch with our friends and mentors Hank and Shelia Erwin, whom many of you got to hear and meet at the NCHE conference. As we discussed the topic of trials, Hank shared a few thoughts that grabbed me and refocused me back to God’s Word. He made these two statements:

  1. In the Bible, when God wants to build a man, He always takes him to the desert or some type of desert experience.

  2. Trials are what God uses to mature us spiritually and make us more like Him. We will have divine trials until we die. The key is how we think about trials and how we understand them in light of God’s Word. According to God’s Word, trials are good, and our thinking about them should be thankfulness that God is using them to make us “complete and not lacking anything.”

Wow!” I thought, “I think he may be right. Look at what God did with these men:

  • Moses was in the desert for forty years as God prepared him to lead the children of Israel for forty years.

  • David was in the desert and other trials for at least fourteen years after being anointed King while God prepared him to be king of a nation.

  • Daniel was in the lion’s den, and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were in the furnace as God was building them.

  • Elijah lived in the desert under a small tree getting fed by ravens as God built him for the showdown at Mt. Carmel.

  • Joseph spent over eleven years as a slave and in prison as God built him to lead Egypt through a terrible famine.

  • Paul had a desert experience for three years as God built him to become a great missionary.

If God used the desert to build these great men of the Bible, it makes sense that He will use it to build us as well. When God takes you to the desert, don’t grumble and complain; ask Him why He has you there and how He wants to build you while you are there (Philippians 2:13-16). None of those men knew what was ahead and why they were going through these trials, but God did, and God wants us to trust Him in the middle of the desert.

We must remember that there are no accidents with God! All that happens in our life as believers is sifted through His Omnipotent, loving hands. In fact, according to one commentary2, early manuscripts of Romans 8:28 record this verse as, “and we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him...”

His second statement was right out of James 1. In the NIV, this reads, “Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

What does this mean? Well here are some thoughts from my studies.

First of all, what is a trial as discussed here? The Greek word connotes trouble or something that breaks the pattern of peace, comfort, joy and happiness in someone’s life. The verb form means “to put someone or something to the test, with the purpose of discovering that person’s nature or that thing’s quality.”3 So, the kind of trial this passage is referring to is not a temptation and is not a result of sin. It is divine and intentional with a specific desired outcome in our lives.

I can assure you that both of the trials above broke the pattern of peace in the lives of all involved and certainly tested our nature. A test is hard. Sometimes it hurts terribly. When a military recruit goes to basic training, it is very hard, and it puts that individual to the test. Part of thinking rightly about trials is to understand that just because it is hard does not mean it is bad. All of the men mentioned above went through hard things with a divine and intentional purpose attached to each trial.

Secondly, what is the purpose of a trial? The verse states it is for testing, which implies proof or proving. God brings such test to prove and increase the strength and quality of one’s faith and to demonstrate its validity.4 So, God brings us trials to show us where we really are on the faith meter and to “increase the strength and quality of our faith.”

The verse also states that the testing produces perseverance, which is defined as, “continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition.”5 Part of the picture here of perseverance is that of an individual underneath a heavy object straining to support the weight. When this happens, we generally want to get out from under the object as quickly as we can, but God challenges us to “abide under in the midst.” I am reminded of  2 Corinthians 12:7-10, where we see how God allowed a thorn in Paul’s flesh for a specific purpose and specific time in his life. Paul says God’s grace was sufficient (for his trial), and if it was sufficient for Him, it is for us also.

So the testing produces perseverance, and now the verse tells us that the perseverance must finish its work so we will be (spiritually) mature and complete (all the portions whole), not lacking anything.” Boom! There it is. Divine trials are a good thing, not bad. God want us to be spiritually mature and complete with no lack as He prepares us for eternity with Him.

Now, the first part of the verse, “consider it pure joy” makes sense. Thinking rightly means we understand that the purpose of trials, regardless of how hard or how much they hurt, is for our good and His glory. I can be joyful in the midst of trials when I understand the goal.

Yes. It’s starting again. As you begin another year of homeschooling or even your first year of homeschooling, be encouraged and be joyful. God will provide divine trials in your life and in the lives of your children. Yes, they may hurt, but He says He has a specific purpose for each one. The Bible encourages us to bring our thoughts captive. Don’t let Satan hijack your trial and make it a temptation for fear, anger, anxiety, fretfulness and distrust. Think rightly about trials and God promises the peace that passes all understanding.

God knows exactly where you are and where He wants to mature you. Stay under it for as long as God leads you. Pray, “Lord please don’t stop until you are done with me. I want to be mature in You and not lacking anything.” Ask the Lord to produce in you the fruit He is trying to produce. James 1:5-8 instructs us to ask Him for wisdom if we need it. Sometimes the trial is so intense that we are not even sure what to pray. Romans 8:23-27 gives us guidance for that. His Word also instructs us, “to give thanks in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord.” When we understand the goal, it is much easier to thank Him for trusting us with a trial.

I would also encourage us all to be sensitive to God’s hand on our children. He builds them the same way. Ask the Lord for wisdom, and do not be too quick to jump in and remove trials from your children. Sometimes as parents, we do not recognize the trial as a gift from the Lord to grow our children. Sometimes the Lord even gives parents trials for the benefit of our children so they can observe how we face trials, so they are prepared to walk through their own.

On the trials mentioned at the beginning of this article, I am proud to say that it was a joy to watch our conference director, Debbie Mason, and her hard-working team pray, encourage each other, put in long hours, adjust and adapt as needed and put together a successful conference that blessed many families all traveling on the road of this exciting adventure of homeschooling. It was hard, but I believe they definitely honored the Lord in both attitudes and actions throughout the process. We are all stronger as a board for having walked through this together, and I hope we all look more like Christ.

On the home front, Lorie is progressing well from a nine-hour and five-bypass surgery. This surgery was an unexpected answer to prayer as we have been praying for the Lord to show us what has been the culprit behind many of Lorie’s medical issues. God has also used this trial to build our faith in many areas. While the process has certainly been physically tough for Lorie, it has been a blessing to her and our family, and we have thanked the Lord for His provision. We also learned that because Lorie’s situation was so unique, at least two hospitals are now researching her case further, and one has asked to use it to share with other cardiologists who may then potentially save the lives of other patients.

So next time God trusts you with a trial, recognize it for what it is, think rightly about it and, as a result, consider it pure joy that God is growing you so that you will be complete, not lacking anything.

1   Shelia Erwin; Book of James Bible Study. Circa 1995

2, 3, 4   John MacArthur Bible Commentary

5   Webster Online Dictionary

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Comments

Flip Benham's picture

Great word John Kirkland!

Lorie's story is truly miraculous and amazing. You have powerfully wrapped words around a very difficult trial in the life of your family and in your walk with Jesus. The nation "Kirkland" has come forth as pure gold, refined in the fires of the great Refiner Himself.

How sweet to see such praise and glory brought to our Savior. He is worthy!