Are you heading into a threatening storm? Is the course you're on heading for rocks and shoals? As we travel, we are becoming aware that significant portions of our subscribers are going through serious trials and "dark times."
As most of our regular readers know, Nan and I have been blessed with a life-changing valley. We were "sitting on top of the world": the fruits of a 30-year career in high-technology ventures had left us with substantial assets and a life of adventure and excitement.
However, we allowed ourselves to get overextended, and the Lord used a series of setbacks to redirect our entire lives to where He wanted us to be.
The Flight of the Phoenix
Our venture development firm, The Phoenix Group International, specializing in acquiring and repairing troubled technology assets, was named after the bird of the fable which rose from its ashes. (We should have done more homework: the Phoenix legend is about a mythical bird that burned every 500 years.)
Through a bizarre series of events, we succeeded in signing an $8 billion joint venture with the Soviet Union to provide personal computers to their 143,000 schools. (We later discovered that 16 companies from 7 countries had been competing for this. If I had known that earlier, we wouldn't have had the guts to undertake a proposal!)
As the USSR began to unravel, our venture began to run into difficulties of several kinds. Our real mistake was the result of our personal arrogance: I attempted to prop up the venture, and the corporation, personally.
(My Jewish friends have explained to me what a guarantor is: he's "a schmuck with a pen.")1
We went down in flames: the venture, the corporation, and our own situation personally. We ultimately went through personal bankruptcy. The grinding mill of these events not only crushed our financial assets, it crushed our very identities.
In a short summary article, there isn't the opportunity to recount the many priceless lessons of those dark times. But it is important to note that Romans 8:28 was still operative:
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.
Probably the three most important words are first three: "And we know..." It is the confidence in this commitment that sees you through the deepest of valleys.
There are two major errors we can make regarding trials: The first mistake is the failure to anticipate trials. Jesus suffered trials. Jesus promised us trials.2 All the apostles suffered trials. Trials are an expected part of the Christian life. And, like all storms, preparation can be critical in successfully enduring them.
A second mistake is to harbor a morbid fear of trials. Remember 1 Corinthians 10:13:
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
Why Do Christians Have Trials?
The trials in our lives present many opportunities: Here are just a few:3
- To glorify God (Daniel 3:16-18, 24-25);
- Discipline for known sin (Hebrews 12:5-11; James 4:17; Romans 14:23; 1 John 1:9);
- To prevent us from falling into sin (1 Peter 4:1-2);
- To keep us from pride. Paul was kept from pride by his "thorn in the flesh" (2 Corinthians 12:7-10);4
- To build faith (1 Peter 1:6-7);5
- To cause growth (Romans 5:3-5);6
- To teach obedience and discipline (Acts 9:15-16; Philippians 4:11-13);
- To equip us to comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:3-4);
- To prove the reality of Christ in us (2 Corinthians 4:7-11);
- For testimony to the angels (Job 1:8; Ephesians 3:8-11; 1 Peter 1:12).
As we encounter serious trials, we need to remember Job. The secret to the Book of Job is to maintain the divine viewpoint. When we read this earliest of books, realize that, as a reader, we have the advantage of the conversation between God and Satan in Chapter 1. (Job didn't.)
Paul certainly knew sufferings.7 And he regarded them as opportunities. This is why James could sincerely admonish us to "count it all joy."8 We need to remember that we are in a "boot camp" for heaven:
And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
(You and I cannot begin to imagine what this really means. Compare that to your wildest dreams on this earth...!)
But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. 1 Cor 2:9 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. Romans 8:18
And, as Paul develops in the eighth chapter of his letter to the believers in Rome, he climaxes with the greatest tour d'force in the Scriptures: Romans 8:31-39. Read it and apply it.
If you are going through a major trial, drop us a note so that we can pray for you. And recognize that it may be the prelude to the greatest adventure of all!
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Nan and I have attempted to summarize the major lessons we have learned personally in a briefing pack, Weathering the Storm. It includes an exposition of Paul's shipwreck in Acts 27, which God repeatedly pointed us to during our own "Night Season." This briefing pack also attempts to deal with our bankruptcy, the betrayals, the earthquakes, and the other turbulence which disrupted our path.
These experiences have, of course, also led to the publication of our book, Faith in the Night Seasons, which has proven so remarkably effective for many who are going through their own dark times.