When I find myself in times of trouble

John Cassian (360-435) wrote that times of trouble come to the Christian from three causes: as a result of that Christian’s sin, as an attack from Satan, and as testing from the Lord. Regretfully, Cassian did not offer any clues how to discern which of these three is the result of any particular trouble. Moreover, he did not address the likelihood that a trouble may come from two of these causes or even from all three at once.

The best defense against the first source of trouble is a life of continual repentance and faith. Repentance is not a practice that can be accomplished once and concluded; repentance is an ongoing condition, a continual element in the Christian life. In his model prayer, Jesus taught his followers to pray “forgive us our trespasses” immediately after praying “give us this day our daily bread.” Like our need for food, our need for forgiveness comes each day. Each day we sin and need a Savior; each day our Savior is present for us, removing all our sins by his work. Each day we turn to him in faith, trusting his promises. Each day he keeps his promises. Therefore, if trouble should come because of our sin, the work of Christ removes that sin and ends that trouble. Our daily repentance and faith assures us that any trouble we have is not a result of our sins—because those sins are already forgiven and forgotten by God. Our daily repentance and faith assures us that any trouble we face must be an attack from Satan (or from the sinful world around us) or a test from the Lord, or (most likely) both at once.

In today’s world, tests are seen as examinations in school, exercises in which the teacher discovers how much each student has learned. God does not have to test us in this way; he already knows what we believe and the strength of that faith. The origin of the idea of testing, and its meaning in Biblical times, comes from refineries. Metals are tested by enduring heat: impurities are burned away, so that the surviving metal is more pure. So God permits Satan and the sinful world to test his people, putting us through the heat to purify our faith. God does not test us because he hates us, and God does not test us because he doubts us; God tests us to strengthen us and to purify our love for him.

Job was tested by Satan. Satan was permitted to strip away Job’s wealth and to kill Job’s children. He then was permitted to strike Job with a disease along the order of chicken pox or shingles. Job’s wife told him to reject God, but Job continued to trust God. Job’s three friends visited Job and sat with him in silence. (Their presence during his trouble was supportive friendship, a model that should be imitated.) Job endured depression, part of the test, and Job spoke about his problems. His friends tried to answer his questions, becoming part of his affliction and part of his test. They told Job that God does not make mistakes, that Job deserved whatever was happening to him, and that Job could end his trouble by identifying his sin, repenting, returning to God, and trusting God. Even in his depression, even in his questions, Job had not stopped trusting God. He rejected the suggestion of his friends that he deserved to suffer. In the end, God vindicated Job, telling his friends that they were wrong, but offering to forgive their sin against God when Job interceded for them.

God never answered Job’s questions about why Job was suffering. God did not tell Job that Job was being attacked by Satan (although God’s allegory of Leviathan, the sea monster, was a huge hint about Satan and his opposition to Job). Following the test of Satan’s attack, God restored Job’s wealth, giving him twice as property as he had lost. Ten more children were born to Job. They did not replace the ten children who had died; Job was now the father of twenty children—ten alive with him on earth, and ten alive with God in Paradise, waiting for the resurrection.

Job suffered, even though he did not deserve to suffer. His troubles were not caused by his sins; his sins were removed by his Redeemer and could not bring trouble to Job. Job became a picture of the Redeemer, of God’s Son Jesus Christ. Jesus also would suffer without deserving to suffer. He would endure the cross, not because of his own sins (for Jesus never sinned); he would endure the cross on behalf of all the sinners of the world, including Job, his children, his wife, and his friends.

In times of trouble, Christians can be pictures of Jesus, as Job was a picture of Jesus. We accept trouble, not because we deserve it, but because we are living on a battlefield. Satan and the sinful world attack the children of light. We respond by trusting God, the Source of life and light. Instead of examining ourselves to see what we have done to deserve trouble, we repent of our sins and trust God’s promises that all our sins have been removed. Testing strengthens us, burning away impurities, drawing us closer to God. Whatever hardship or loss we endure, we can use it to remind ourselves of the cross of Christ and the victory he has already won on our behalf. J.

Tomorrow

“Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34).

I am tempted to skip this verse, or to try to separate it from the beautiful promise of Jesus that we need not be anxious, that we can be like birds and flowers, safe in the hands of the Lord. The glorious crescendo of seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness, coupled with the guarantee, “and all these things will be added to you,” seems like a fitting conclusion to the Lord’s admonition not to worry. I would be happy to stop at that promise. It seems wrong, somehow, for Jesus to talk about the trouble of each day. That mention of daily trouble seems cold, almost cynical, after we have been told not to be anxious.

But in this sin-polluted world, every day has trouble. The same Lord who promised blessings on the poor in spirit and on those who hunger and thirst for righteousness also spoke blessings on those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. While we strive to imitate Jesus, our very efforts will bring forth enemies whom we are commanded to love. Christians have faced arrest, imprisonment, torture, and execution for the sake of Christ and is Gospel. Communist governments and Muslim governments have forced Christians to endure hunger, thirst, nakedness, homelessness, and disease—even while Christians in other parts of the world were laboring to send food and water and other necessities to their fellow believers in Christ.

As we try to lift our spirits and praise God, other concerns weight on our minds—the needs of our fellow Christians, and our own needs as well. We need daily bread. We sin every day and need God’s forgiveness every day. Other sinners harm us every day, and we must forgive them every day. Every day we are tempted to sin. Every day we are confronted with evil. Every day we need God’s gifts, his forgiveness, his leading, and his deliverance. We cannot live two or three days at a time, which is good, because one day with all its problems is enough for us to bear.

Therefore, we do not pray about yesterday’s bread. We received it yesterday and thanked God for it yesterday: now it is time for us to move on. We do not worry about tomorrow’s bread. Tomorrow is not here yet; we will ask God for the things we need tomorrow when we get there. We pray for daily bread today. Likewise, we do not pray that God would forgive yesterday’s sins. We prayed about them yesterday, and we are confident that those sins are already forgiven. We do not pray about tomorrow’s sins. We hope that we will not sin tomorrow, but when we do sin, we will ask for forgiveness then. We pray today that God would forgive the sins we committed today. In the same way, we forgave yesterday the sins committed against us yesterday. We have no need to think today about the sins that might be committed against us tomorrow. We seek help from God to forgive the sins committed against us today. We ask God to lead us today. We ask God to rescue us from evil today. Yesterday is over and will not be changed; tomorrow is still in the hands of God. Today is the only day we need to consider today.

This manner of living one day at a time does not require us to ignore all other days. We remember God’s blessings of the past, the things he did for us earlier, with joy and thanksgiving. We anticipate the future with joy, looking forward to the blessings God has promised. We make plans for the future—unlike the birds, we sow and reap and store in barns. Jesus tells us not to be anxious. Let tomorrow come with its problems, but do not worry about those problems today. Allow faith to be a daily exercise, not something limited to the past or to the future.

All his life Jesus knew that the cross was coming. He did not weaken himself by being anxious about it every day. Only when the hour of his Passion arrived did Jesus spend time in prayer wrestling with the reality of the cross. Until the day of his suffering came, Jesus was content to live each day on its own terms, dealing with the challenges of that one day. Now he gives each of us sufficient strength for each day. If we borrow trouble from other days, we weaken ourselves. “Tomorrow will be anxious for itself,” Jesus says. We have enough to keep ourselves busy today. J.