In the book of Acts we are told that “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Why is it so important that we have tribulation in our life?
What is tribulation anyway? The word “tribulation” comes from the Greek word thlipsis, which means a “pressing, pressing together, pressure…oppression, affliction, tribulation, distress, straits” (Strong’s Online Concordance #2347). According to Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary “tribulation” means “distress or suffering resulting from oppression or persecution; also a trying experience <the trials and tribulations of starting a new business>.” It is through these trying experiences, these many trials, this pressure, that we draw closer to God and Christ, and that is why it is so important!
We all face trials in our lives, and they are very different for each of us; there are some small trials that we face each day that we think we can handle by ourselves, and then there are others that tend to loom over us like giants. All of these trials serve the same purpose—to bring us closer to God. It is imperative that we keep God involved in our trials because He is the one who will ultimately bring us through them. After all, we are His jewels (Malachi 3:17), His precious stones, and it requires a great deal of pressure to make a jewel.
A giant of a trial
What do we do when we are faced with giant trials? There is a story in the Bible that illustrates the actions we need to take to reach a favorable conclusion to our major trials, and that is the story of David and Goliath. Through this story we can learn what we must do. We must…do our part, and leave the rest in God’s hands!
Take a close look at the story of David and Goliath and see how David faced this giant trial and overcame it. The story is found in 1 Samuel 17:32-51. It is an impressive story, but I would like to focus on the main things that David did in preparing to face Goliath.
In verse 32, we see David’s attitude towards this trial. It is a mindset that we need to have as we face our trials. “Let no man’s heart fail because of him,” David said, speaking of Goliath. As we face our trials, we must do so with courage, not fearing but being confident of the outcome (verses 33-36).
The next verse shows us why David was so courageous and confident. “The LORD, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” David knew that it was ultimately God who would deliver him from this trial, but he still had a part to play in that deliverance. King Saul attempted to supply David with what he thought he would need by offering him his armor, but David responded, “I cannot go with these; for I have not proved them” (verses 39, King James Version).
What David needed was not something that was man-made, but something that he had used before. It was tried and tested, and he knew it would be sufficient to get the job done. Next we see just what David did to prepare to face this giant trial in his life. “Then he took his staff in his hand; and he chose for himself five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in a shepherd’s bag, in a pouch which he had, and his sling in his hand. And he drew near to the Philistine” (verse 40). I would like to take a look at these five smooth stones (in a metaphorical sense) to see what they mean for us in helping us to face our trials today.
David did not just pick any type of rock from the ground. He chose them carefully. He knew they would have to fly through the air towards the giant. If the stones were flat, they would resist the wind and might not strike the target at all. You will remember that these stones were taken from the brook. They were smooth and aerodynamically sound because the water was constantly moving over them. God tells us that His Holy Spirit is like water (John 7:37-39). So the five smooth stones that we pick up must be immersed in the Spirit of God. This will make them smooth and effective in dealing with our trials.
Considering David’s example, let’s take a look at “five smooth stones” that we can take up that will help us deal with our lives, circumstances and trials.
The first “stone” we should consider is prayer. Prayer is so very important in facing a trial. Prayer is an opportunity to take our problems to God and ask Him for His help. Notice the actions of King Hezekiah of Israel when he faced a giant trial. He had received a letter from another king indicating that Israel was about to be attacked and destroyed. We can read the story in 2 Kings 19:14-20:
“And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the LORD, and spread it before the LORD. Then Hezekiah prayed before the LORD, and said: ‘O LORD God of Israel, the One who dwells between the cherubim, You are God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Incline Your ear, O LORD, and hear; open Your eyes, O LORD, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to reproach the living God.
“‘Truly, LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands, and have cast their gods into the fire; for they were not gods, but the work of men’s hands—wood and stone. Therefore they destroyed them. Now therefore, O LORD our God, I pray, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the LORD God, You alone.’
“Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD God of Israel: “Because you have prayed to Me against Sennacherib king of Assyria, I have heard.”’”
We can see that Hezekiah took his problem and laid it before God, and God responded. Prayer is a way of communicating our problems to God. It shows that we recognize that we have a problem that we cannot handle on our own. We realize we need God’s help. Prayer is our opportunity to humble ourselves before God and seek His help.
The second important “stone” is fasting. This stone offers another way to demonstrate humility and show God that we need Him in our lives. At times there are problems that take more than prayer to overcome. Notice these words of Christ after the disciples had attempted unsuccessfully to cast out a demon. After Christ rebuked the demon so that it came out of the young boy, the disciples came to Jesus privately and asked, “Why could we not cast it out?” (Matthew 17:19). Jesus explained that “this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”
Likewise, there are occasions when we will face trials that require a time of fasting. Fasting is a tool that God gives us fighting spiritual battles. It reflects an attitude that acknowledges our need for God to provide the basic necessities of life, the food and water that we need to exist. As we afflict ourselves through fasting, we show that we rely on God for all of our needs. Some trials are just that big.
The third “stone” is Bible study. Every situation we face in life has already been faced by someone else. There is nothing new under the sun. The Bible tells us that Christ was tempted in all points, yet without sin. He faced all possible situations.
When we face trials, we can come up with all kinds of ways to solve the problems. But is our solution acceptable to both God and man? By diligently studying the Word of God, we can find the trial that we face and the solution to the trial, by reading the way the men and women of the Bible and Christ Himself faced their trials.
Studying the Word of God is not always easy. It’s not just reading a passage and saying, “Ah, I have found the answer.” No, “precept must be upon precept; precept upon precept: line upon line; line upon line; here a little, and there a little” (Isaiah 28:9-10). Very seldom will we find everything about a given subject in only one passage of the Bible. Bible study is something that also must done prayerfully, asking God to guide us by His Spirit into understanding and seeing the truth about any given situation (John 16:13; 1 Corinthians 2:9-11). By studying the Bible, we prepare ourselves to face our trial, and we just may find the answer that we seek (2 Timothy 3:14-16).
What follows the use of the first three stones is the fourth “stone,” meditation. This is not the type of meditation where one hums to try to take oneself into a spiritual consciousness. Rather, this is where one goes over a thought or idea again and again in one’s mind, sort of like a ruminant animal. A ruminant animal is one that chews the cud. It takes the food into its mouth, chews it and gets nutrients from it, and swallows it into its first stomach. Later on in the day, it regurgitates it back up into its mouth in the form of the cud and chews it again. This way the animal gets all the nutrients from the food it takes in.
This is the way we need to approach Bible study. To meditate is to take the time to go over what you have studied to get a deeper understanding of it. Again, it is something that should be guided by the Holy Spirit of God. God’s Spirit is a Spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). When facing a trial, we need a sound mind to make wise decisions. We should not decide in a rush, but after careful thought and consideration, after going over it again and again until we gain confidence in the solution. Only then should we put into action what we have learned from the Word of God.
And finally, a fifth “stone” to consider is service. Christ told us that He came to serve and not to be served. Serving should be done in balance. Notice this statement regarding Martha: “But Martha was distracted with much serving” (Luke 10:40). Service is an opportunity for us to get our mind off of ourselves and our problems and focus on someone else and their problems. Often when we see the problems that others are facing, our problem seems to pale in comparison.
We are admonished to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. At times we may need someone else to help us solve our problems or to face our trials, and we should be willing to serve our brothers when they face trials. Service, however, should not be done just so we can receive it back ourselves. We must serve with a sincere heart and mind.
Notice Luke 14:12-14: Then He also said to him who invited Him, “When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
The purpose of service is to reflect your character before God. It is always “better to give than to receive” and that is one aspect of the righteous character that God wants to see in our lives.
The importance of God’s help
The five smooth stones that David picked up and put in his bag were tried and true. He had confidence in them. Having used them before, he knew what the outcome would be. He did not just pick up one stone; he had four in reserve. What if the first stone David threw had missed the mark? He had to be ready to reload and try again, and so must we. As Christians, we cannot just throw one stone and think our problem is solved. We must be ready to throw them all at our problem. As was said earlier, we must do our part and leave the rest in God’s hands. This is so true for us, just as it was for David.
Once the stone left the sling, after David had done his part, it was God who guided that stone through the air to hit its mark. Though the stone was aerodynamically sound, cutting through the air without much resistance, a shift in the wind or a sudden move by the giant might have caused it to miss. It was God who took down Goliath. David was just a tool in God’s hand, and he realized it. Notice 1 Samuel 17:45-47:
“Then David said to the Philistine, ‘You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you. And this day I will give the carcasses of the camp of the Philistines to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. Then all this assembly shall know that the LORD does not save with sword and spear, for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hands.’”
We gain our victory for all the trials we face through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. He is the Stone that the builders rejected; he is our corner stone. Ultimately, we must take Christ into our lives to face our trials, and we will gain the victory over them, but we must do our part. So no matter what type of trial we face, we have a formula that will help us to face them. Pick up the five smooth stones of prayer, fasting, Bible study, meditation and service…and leave the rest in God’s hands.