As we each go through life, heartache, fear, failure, and uncertainty seem to color the vast majority of our existence. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the trouble that we go through, and discouragement taints our vision. Uncertainty abounds, and we feel powerless to alter the downward spiral despite our greatest efforts. We grope around in the darkness for something solid on which to lay our hands. Hallelujah! Praise God!
I know that those are not the first words that come to mind for most of us, and I do not say them to mock individual struggles. I say them because we are in God’s workshop, and that is reason to rejoice! God is using the anxiety and pain we feel in life to mold our character after that of Christ! Just as gold must be refined in the fires to eliminate impurities and be transformed into the purest form, so we are in the fires to be purified.
There are two places we can choose between to have our characters altered and refined. Satan has his own workshop we call the world. He is ever ready to victimize any unsuspecting person to his fires. God’s workshop is always open for those who choose to be fashioned after Jesus. He does not force anyone to enter, but gently invites. Satan will discreetly demolish conscience and discretion and allow us a feigned sense of security and contentedness. He will hone our tendencies toward conceit and anger and self justification, slowly obliterating any trace of God-given character with which we may be gifted. In Christ’s workshop, our hardships will be used to sharpen our awareness of His character and give us trust in His arm and strength to endure for Him. He will remove our inborn tendencies toward selfishness and pride, and will instill in us His strength to endure the wiles of the devil through Jesus Christ. Satan will do anything in his power to keep us far away from Christ’s workshop. He is the source of all pain. God is not the one who inflicts sorrow. We can give in to the devil and allow him to accomplish his end by becoming discouraged, angry, bitter, and laying the blame for our troubles at God’s feet. On the other hand, we can give our grief to God and allow Him to use the misery we are dealt to teach us to lean on Him, to trust Him in every circumstance. We can learn to set self aside and have faith that God will care for our every need. Matthew 6:30 promises His care for us. “Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” We live in a world of sin. We will suffer. Do we want to suffer Satan’s atrocities and allow him to wear on our hearts, or do we wish to set our burdens down at the feet of a loving Saviour and permit Him to use those troubles to create a character acceptable to Him?
Do not become discouraged believing that you should always be able to rejoice in hardship. We are human and will become downtrodden at times. However, there is not a need to stay there. The way we look at circumstances in our lives can make an immense difference in how we feel about them. God has promised us that we do not struggle in vain; rather, there is a divine purpose for all our anguish. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.” And though we suffer, we are not alone. Christ has trod the same path ahead of us and He is there to encourage and strengthen. Ellen White, in a letter to her children, says, “Christ bore the test of character in our behalf that we might bear this test in our own behalf through the divine strength He has brought to us.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 3, 100. Isaiah 43:2 tells us, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flames kindle upon thee.” We will most assuredly walk through the waters and fires, yet God promises His presence and that there will be no lasting detriment.
Though we may make the choice to ask God to shape us, there is usually the question of why we must go through such intense turmoil to be fashioned after Him. It is a common question with a very basic answer. Adam and Eve chose not to trust God. The moment their choice was made, they gave Satan dominion over them and all the earth. Sin has been inborn into each of us since that time, just as gold contains impurities in its raw form. The devil will go to great lengths to keep us from a personal relationship with God. It is the nature of sin, our tendency against Christ’s character, which requires us to be refined in the flames of life. There is no method to extract the impurities of any existing thing without drastic measures. Water must be boiled, gold melted, diamonds must be cut, and people must be tried. We still use the same modus operandi as Adam and Eve did when they sinned against God: skepticism, self-centeredness, and pride. Satan ensures that every human is born with these things in their minds and hearts. The horrible things that happen to us in life are a direct result of a sinful nature and are dealt by the devil’s hand.
Please bear in mind that, though it is essential for us to go through tribulation, it is by no means what God originally intended for us. God wanted us to learn through the joy of exploration and to grow in Him through daily communion with the Father. Yet, many tend to blame God for the despondency experienced at the hand of Satan. Though they realize that the devil is at the core of their suffering, they stand obstinately asserting that God could prevent the difficulty. He could, but would we truly, in our heart of hearts, wish Him to? Our purpose on earth is to perfect our characters for Heaven. How are we to accomplish this if there is no fire to remove our infirmities? We are sinful beings; sin is innate to us. God wants to eradicate this so that we may spend eternity with Him. In light of this, would we really wish to go through life unable to walk with Christ because of our evil natures? Or would we prefer to consent to the refinery so that God can rid us of our defects and we can live with Him? A common proverb says, “Short term pain, long term pleasure.” What is a lifetime of pain compared to an eternity of perfect peace and joy?
God warns us that the path of Christianity is one of hardship and toil. Matthew 7:13, 14 points this out clearly: “Enter ye in at the strait gate; for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Satan is going to try to win at all costs, even to end our lives. Had God no plan, this would be an insuperable trial. But with each tragedy in our lives, we have been promised that God can work it to His glory. Joan of Arc was one of those who dedicated her life to Christ for His work. She lived during the Hundred Year War between England and France. The English had for some time been warring with France over control of the country. Already they had a portion of Northern France and interspersed loyalties in villages further south. A treaty was drawn between the French and English, The Peace of Troyes, giving the English king the power to rule France. No provision was given, however, for the death of both the French and the English kings. The French Dauphin and the English prince both were vying for the crown, and Joan was called in the midst of this to lead France to victory against the English and see to the coronation of the Dauphin, Charles v11. Notwithstanding the great difficulty and the insults directed toward her, Joan, at the age of 17, was made General of the French army and turned the military into a formidable force. And on July 17, 1429, the Dauphin was coroneted. Not long after, she was captured by her own people, the French Burundians, who did not wish to see war with England, and was burned at the stake as a witch and heretic on May 30, 1431. Satan did not win through Joan’s murder though. The loyal Frenchmen, enraged by her execution, eventually eradicated the disloyal in France and drove England to respect the borders of their country. Yes, Joan lost her life for obedience to God’s calling, yet because she chose to obey, she was a significant force that led to the freedom of France from England. Satan tried to thwart God’s plan by killing His servant, and yet even through Joan’s death God was able to make a triumphant victory to cause His will to prevail. So it is with all of us. The devil can bring his greatest attacks against us, he can create as much pain as he is capable of, and yet God will use it to His end. We can take great comfort in that promise.
We are all soldiers, as Joan was. We are fighting in the war that dwarfs all wars: the great controversy between Christ and Satan. No soldier can undergo the fierceness of battle without conditioning. Here is where, once again, we choose whose workshop we are in; who will condition us for the battle. Satan will work his wiles on everyone to coerce them into battle against God. He will use force and brutality in our lives to accomplish this end. But God can use the vicious acts of the devil as conditioning tools to strengthen our trust and will for Him. They are the weights by which we gain spiritual muscle, if we so choose. Without this strength there is no possibility of our raising the Christian banner. For, just as the flag bearers in the great American wars, those who carry the banner of Christ are specifically targeted by the enemy. Without the development of our spiritual stamina, we would be no match for the battle. The test of faith outfits us to stand against doubt, the test of love helps us to eradicate hate, and the test of truth illuminates error. These are our weapons of war. We must be trained and sculpted with spiritual muscle. The Bible puts it like this: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Ephesians 6:12–17.
Just as those beacons of purpose waved the colors in all the great battles of our nation, those who take a stand against the prince of darkness shall become primary targets in his scope. When we choose the life of Christ, fear is struck into the heart of Satan. He wants no one to know Jesus. The greatest injury we can inflict on the devil is to live our lives in a way that it is pleasing to our Creator. Satan knows better than to waste time with those who are already in his snare. There is no point in waging war on territory already obtained. His special attention, his wiles, sophistry, hatred, and fear are for any soldier of God, his mortal enemy. This in itself can be great comfort, though we are the center of such intense animosity. Knowing that the devil trembles before us because we are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit allows us to call upon the power of the Holy Spirit to counteract the blows hurled at us by Satan.
Our sinful natures, the war that we are fighting at Christ’s side, the devil’s fear of Christians—these are all understandable reasons why life would be unpleasant, but there is one purpose that we can hold in our hearts as cause to rejoice: we need to feel our need for Christ. We would soon die for lack of water if not for feeling thirsty. The same principle applies with our need for a Savior. If we do not thirst for Him, why would we search for Him? And what is it that awakens us to the knowledge that we need God? It is always in our deprivation of a need that we know we are in want. Without trial there would be no need to trust God. If there were no pain we would not need the comfort of a Heavenly Father. Had God revealed all things to us, there would be no need for faith. So then where would we need God? When life is simple and all is going well, there is no test of character. When we go through life untried there is no attention paid to character. There is just as much necessity to develop a character after that of Christ, but the urgency is not felt. We do not see the need to work hard for something when we are perfectly content with what we have. God has given us trials to keep us constantly searching for Him and incessantly working for His character in our hearts. Though this is not an easy endeavor to undergo we can find joy in the goal that we are working to attain.
There is something beautiful and miraculous in our sorrows. It is through our tribulation that we see Jesus most clearly. It is not during the day that we see the innumerable stars, but at night. Likewise, it is not in times of tranquility that God’s love and purity are most visible, but in heartache and sorrow. Satan hurls trials at us in an attempt to force us away from God, just as he did with Job. The devil’s desire was to compel Job to curse God through the violence he brought to Job’s life. Come what may, Job’s fidelity to God was steadfast. God rewarded Job’s loyalty and blessed him doubly in the end. Satan’s designs on Job resulted in just the opposite effect of what he had hoped. Instead of separating the faithful servant from the Master, his attacks brought the two closer than before. In the same way, through unwavering devotion to our Lord, Satan’s devices can be used, not to tear us away, but rather, to fling us into the arms of our Father. In essence, the devil is then a springboard which drives us to Christ’s feet. Satan has a design, but that same design is used by Christ to a very different end. Through Jesus we can reverse the course of Satan’s weapons, and he is thus pierced with his own arrows. We have the privilege of trusting in a tender Father who will work with us on our behalf to turn the devil’s attacks into immense blessings. What greater blessing could there be than to be in the tender arms of Christ?
Before I close with you, I would like to leave you with one more thought. There is yet another purpose for our trials, one in which all created beings in all universes are involved. We are living out the great controversy to allow every being in every world to behold the infallibility of God’s law. Every world and created being is going to see His justice, mercy, love, and faithfulness. How would we know the true nature of Satan and our immense necessity of Christ if our lives were neatly packaged with a bow? No, we need to see the prince of darkness for what he truly is. Every being in every universe is bent toward earth and the harrowing struggle taking place here. Each must see the malevolence of the devil. God’s glory and power, His gentility and love, His integrity and purity are all made manifest alongside the diabolical sophistries of Satan. Through our distress God has an opportunity to demonstrate the immensity of His love and mercy.
“With sorrow and indignation the angels heard the choice made by the people and the sentence passed upon Christ. But they could not interfere; for in the great controversy between good and evil, Satan must be given every opportunity to develop his true character, that the heavenly universe and the race for whom Christ was giving His life might see the righteousness of God’s purposes. Those under the control of the enemy must be allowed to reveal the principles of his government.” Signs of the Times, March 28, 1900.
Though life is harrowing and agonizing we rest in the faith that God has each of us in the palm of His hand. He alone can turn the blows of the devil into showers of blessings on our behalf. It is obvious to all that Satan does not have our best interest at heart. There is no lasting reward in following his path. We are going to suffer regardless of which road we choose to traverse. In our anguish do we wish to be in the grip of Satan who wishes nothing other than the demise of all, or would we rather be in the arms of Christ and suffer for His good purpose? In whose workshop do you want to be?
Alicia Freedman works at Steps to Life as a part of the LandMarks team. She can be reached by e-mail at: email@example.com.