The Field Trip of Trials

While not pleasant, trials give us the opportunity to connect with God intimately.

Psalm 119:65-72

When we were still in school, most of us probably preferred the hands-on learning of field trips to classroom lectures. A lot of adults, however, no doubt wish they could absorb life lessons from a book instead of from their own painful mistakes. But the truth is, there are some things we learn best through experience.

Some trials are the result of sin and can play a big corrective role in our lives. God might use them to draw our attention to unhealthy habits, attitudes, or activities we have tolerated or overlooked. No matter how trivial we may think a sin is, it should have no place in a believer’s life.

Or it could be that God is showing us something we need to release to Him—perhaps a relationship, goal, or ambition. And sometimes He calls us to exercise self-control so that we can pursue Him to a greater degree.

If we never had any troubles, we would continue in what’s comfortable, easy, and enjoyable but might end up missing God’s best for our life. That’s why the psalmist said, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, so that I may learn Your statutes” (Psalm 119::71). Any hardship that drives us to God and His Word is good for us. That’s because what we gain in knowing the Lord is worth so much more than all the wealth and fame the world can offer us.

Facing Life’s Unknowns

When we know and trust the Lord, we don’t have to fear change and uncertainty.

Hebrews 11:23-29

Moses knew what it was to live with uncertainty. He was born in Egypt at a time when the growing Hebrew population was seen as a threat. So to protect Moses, his family let others raise him. But then, as an adult, he had to flee his homeland.

Later, in a personal encounter with the Lord, Moses learned that he was God’s choice to be the Israelites’ leader. In this new role—one for which he felt woefully ill-equipped—he had to stand before Pharaoh and demand his people’s release. And as if that weren’t enough, he had to lead more than a million slaves—each of them depending on him—to the Promised Land.

Yet Moses steadfastly carried on. Scripture tells us he was able to persevere because of faith, which Hebrews 11:1 defines as “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (NIV). Moses had learned how to see “Him who is unseen” (Heb. 11:27). As a result, he was able to grasp the reality of the Lord’s character and promises. After encountering the Lord at the burning bush (Exodus 3:2), he understood his purpose was to rely on God and follow His plan.

Though Moses wasn’t perfect, the Scriptures commend him for walking by faith. From his example, we can learn how to persevere through life’s unknowns with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Cheerful Readiness

God offers mercy willingly and lavishly, not grudgingly—and we should do the same.

James 2:8-13

Today we conclude our four-part exploration of Romans 12:1-8 by looking at mercy, the last spiritual gift mentioned in Paul’s letter. This one is a bit more descriptive in the English translation: The apostle says that “one who shows mercy” is to do so “with cheerfulness” (v. 8). However, both words he uses here are far richer than the English language can convey.

The word for “showing mercy” is eleeó, which means “to show mercy as God defines it” or “as it accords with His truth.” That is, our goal should be to show mercy as God Himself would—lavishly and without hesitation. The term also conveys the idea of His “covenant loyalty” or “covenant love.” God loves us and shows mercy toward us even when we are unfaithful and disobedient, and even when we break His heart. We are likewise to demonstrate mercy even when people fall short of our expectations or hurt us.

Finally, the word translated as “cheerfulness”—hilarotés—means “not grudging” or “already won over, approving.” We should show mercy without having to be convinced, prodded, or talked into it. Rather, doing so should be our default setting. When we are working in the power of the Holy Spirit, mercy pours from us as effortlessly as water from a tap.

A Beautiful Simplicity

Our giving should reflect the generosity and grace of our Lord.

2 Corinthians 8:1-15

Today we return to Romans 12:8 to explore the next spiritual gift—generosity. As before, Paul’s directive is concise: “The one who gives” should do so “with generosity.” Our English translation may not seem to offer much guidance, but the Greek contains a beautiful visual we’d do well to examine.

The word Paul uses for “gives” is metadidómi, and it means precisely what we think it should—“to share, bestow, or give a share of.” But he tells us we should give “with generosity.” In some translations, “liberality” or “generously” is used, but that doesn’t quite get at the heart of what he’s trying to say. The Greek word is haplotés. We translate it as “simplicity, sincerity, purity, or graciousness,” but it literally means “not folded” or “not compounded or needlessly complex.” Imagine a bedsheet hanging on a laundry line—its wide, flat expanse drying in the afternoon sun is haplotés. Compare that to a fitted sheet, which is all seams, puckers, and corners and utterly impossible to fold neatly.

Paul is saying that our giving should be straightforward, not tied up in some complicated system of rules or justifications. We shouldn’t put elaborate stipulations on our generosity or run down a strict checklist to see if someone is “worthy.” Rather, we should simply give of what we have as the Holy Spirit leads.

Persuasion Through Love

Correction is best served with kindness, patience, and concern for the other person’s well-being.

2 Timothy 4:1-3

Yesterday, we saw what it means to serve others. Today, let’s look at another spiritual gift—and here, too, Paul offers a simple definition: He says we exhort “in the work of exhortation” (Romans 12:8). The word comes from the Greek term parakaleó, which means “to call to or for,” “to encourage,” and even “to beg or entreat.”

Perhaps the best way to grasp what this word means is to look at it in action. In verse 2 of today’s passage, for instance, Paul tells Timothy, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and exhort, with great patience and instruction.” Timothy was called to stay true to the faith and to teach others how to follow Christ.

It’s not fun to be corrected—or to do the correcting. But sometimes it’s necessary. How those words are delivered is just as essential as what’s said. That’s where parakaleó comes in. It’s as if Paul is telling Timothy, “Say what needs saying, but do it in a way that encourages your brothers and sisters. Speak kindly to them, call them away from sin, and invite them back to God’s grace.”

An exhorter, in short, is someone who persuades lovingly—who reproves with an eye toward the other person’s spiritual good. It’s a high calling indeed and an invaluable service to the church as a whole.

The Act of Serving

If you want to serve others but don’t know how, just listen to the Holy Spirit’s gentle prompts.

Romans 12:1-8

Spiritual gifts assessments are popular for good reason—learning about ourselves is interesting, especially when it comes to our role in the church. In today’s passage, however, Paul says we shouldn’t just know our gifts; we must “use them properly” (Romans 12:6, emphasis added). So let’s spend the next four days looking at a few that he mentions, beginning with service.

The apostle, whose writing can be somewhat verbose, tells us the proper way to serve is “in the act of serving” (Romans 12:7). That may not seem like much to go on, but there’s a beauty in the precision of his statement. He’s saying there aren’t fancy rules to abide by when helping others—the proper way to serve is simply to serve.

The Greek term Paul uses to mean “service” offers some clarity. At its most basic level, diakonia (from which we get the word “deacon”) means “waiting tables.” It refers to the idea of “active service, done with a willing attitude.” Furthermore, New Testament writers often use it in conjunction with the Greek term pístis (Romans 12:6), which means “faith, trust, or confidence.”

What does this mean for us? We’re to help willingly and in faith, knowing the Holy Spirit empowers us. He will tell us what must be done and how. All we need to do is follow His lead and pitch in whenever and wherever we’re called. It’s as simple as that!

The Believer’s Impact

Ask God to help you make your days count for eternity.

Matthew 28:19-20

The Lord has given us talents and abilities so that we can serve Him and make a difference in our circle of influence, no matter its size.

To maximize our impact, we must develop a lifestyle of prayer, because talking to God is essential for effective ministry. Conversation with Him prepares our mind for communicating to others—the simplest words can have amazing results when He directs. And the Lord has also promised to respond to our requests according to His perfect will.

Our Father wants us to use our spiritual gifts to bless others. So let’s keep in mind that acts of service can speak clearly of His love and compassion. As we become salt and light, God will expand our sphere of influence beyond what we could imagine.

Pray, “Lord, I give You control over my life so You can affect others through my words and actions. Make my days count for eternity however You choose—do not let me waste them. Live Your life through me in such a way that many recognize their need for You. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

Shining Light in Our Circle of Influence

Is there someone you can serve and encourage today?

John 12:35-36

Jesus, the Light of the World, told us—His followers—to be light as well. We are to shine so that people will be drawn to the One who dwells within us.

Light shines most effectively when it’s not hidden. As Christians, we should be transparent about our faith and dependence on the Lord. Who we are in private must match who we are in public. Eliminating sinful habits and practices will brighten our testimony for Jesus. Light reveals what’s in the darkness as well as what is missing. The Holy Spirit will use our actions to shine truth into others’ lives and reveal their need for the Savior.

Light also serves to guide and to warn. As we obey the Lord’s leading, we will be able to help others understand who God is and how much He loves them. We also can function as lanterns to warn people of the dangers along their path. Finally, our interactions are to bring warmth through an encouraging attitude and servant-like actions.

In order to have a strong impact, we must reflect the light of God’s Son. Growing in Christlikeness is the key. Become intentional about shining your light wherever you are—especially in your home, workplace, and community.

How Comforters Are Created

God never wastes anything—He often calls us to use our pain to minister to others.

2 Corinthians 1:1-7

Job asked a challenging question during his time of suffering: “Shall we actually accept good from God but not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10). Even hardship has a place in the Lord’s plan.

We can find great solace in Paul’s words about our loving God, who “comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction” (2 Cor. 1:4). Think about the kind of people you seek out when you feel hurt. You want someone who has felt your pain, right? A person who’s walked the path we find ourselves on can understand our suffering and provide wise counsel. According to the apostle, passing through a “valley experience” prepares us to be a blessing and encouragement to those who must go through something similar later. What’s required is that we accept the adversity He has placed in our way and choose to learn from the situation.

God is the Lord of our life, and He has the right to use us as comforters and encouragers to those in our sphere of influence. As His servants, we must be willing to receive whatever training is necessary to complete His will, including times when it hurts. Even in suffering, we can trust that He loves us and has a plan and purpose for our life.

The Question of Inerrancy

Do you believe that all of the Bible is true?

2 Timothy 3:14-17

Have you ever wondered about the supposed inconsistencies critics point out in the Bible? Such things might leave you questioning how to tell what’s truly God’s Word and what isn’t. The answer is simple: God is the final authority. The Sovereign of the universe had no trouble keeping His Word pure. As 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and beneficial.”

Reading the Bible as a whole document reveals that each part is consistent with every other. God allowed for writers’ differences in viewpoint and background, which at times can give the appearance of discrepancy. But further study always reveals how the various parts fit together. Consider, for example, the gospels’ different angles on a story. Writing to Jewish people, Matthew emphasizes history and the fulfillment of messianic prophecy. John tells a love story about a Savior willing to die for the world. While both authors traveled in Jesus’ company, their perspectives differed. Yet in the fundamentals, they and the other two writers are consistent.

It is critical for believers to trust in the inerrancy of the Scriptures. A flawed book could only be the product of man’s hand, but the Bible is the authoritative Word of God. His Spirit did the talking, no matter whose hand wrote the message.