Nine Benefits of Trials

As dads, we all experience trials of some kind, whether it’s the repetitive, tiring work of helping raise a house full of littles (like Nathan wrote about last week), the juggling act of being a responsible homeschool dad, or the challenging job of wisely loving and releasing older children as they spread their wings and step out from under your leadership.

It’s tempting to wish life would be easier, or that our responsibilities weren’t so challenging. But the fact is, God says suffering and trials are good for us in many ways.

Nine Benefits of Trials - Tree and road in the fog

Here are nine reasons from Scripture that trials and suffering are actually beneficial. Whatever difficulties you might be facing, God’s Word has encouragement for you:

1. Trials cause us to depend more on God, and less on ourselves.

“For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself… But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” (2 Cor. 1:8-10) See also Phil. 4:13, 4:19, 1 Cor. 2:5, and Ps. 84:11.

2. If we endure hardships faithfully, it brings glory to God.

“Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 2:3) See also 2 Cor. 6:2-10 and 2 Thess. 1:4.

3. Trials allow us to see God’s power and love more clearly as He works in our lives.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (1 Cor. 12:9) See also Isa. 43:2 and 2 Cor. 9:8.

4. Trials can draw us closer to Christ, who suffered for us, and help us learn from His example.

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” (Heb 12:3) See also 2 Cor. 5:15 and 13:4.

5. Trials keep us humble.

“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.” (2 Cor. 12:7) See also Dt. 8:2 and Dan. 4:37.

6. Trials teach us endurance.

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance…” (Rom. 5:3) See also Jas. 1:2-4.

7. Trials can lead us to repentance and to greater sanctification.

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Heb. 12:11) See also 2 Chron. 6:36-39.

8. Experiencing trials prepares us to comfort others who experience trials.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Cor. 1:3-4)

9. Suffering hardship in the name of Christ brings eternal rewards.

“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (2 Tim 4:6-8)

No matter what kind of hardships we face, God is with us, sovereignly using the situation to accomplish His purposes. Nothing can separate us from His love. And that should inspire us to persevere, knowing that in Christ we can overcome every hardship that comes our way.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? …No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Rom 8:35, 37)

 

Daniel Forster is married to Katelyn, father to two girls and two boys, and the manager of Doorposts Publishing near Portland, Oregon. Those callings occupy most of his time at the moment, but he also enjoys reading, writing, playing the fiddle, working outdoors, and traveling. Daniel graduated from homeschooling in 2002, and he’s excited about raising his own children in the ways of the Lord. He is the author of Because You Are Strong: A Study of Godly Strength for Young Men.

What does your son mean when says “I’m sorry?”

repentanceThere is no better theological learning environment than the family.  It is in the context of family that you see the truest picture of your son’s heart, and therefore have the best opportunity to speak life-transforming, Christ-exalting truths to his heart.  And, since it is the Holy Spirit who ultimately superintends our growth and maturity (Gal 3:1-3), it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a seminary degree, or you are just learning all of this stuff yourself; you, dad, can and should be a tool of theological growth in the life of your son.

After the nation of Israel is freed from slavery (Exodus) and makes the journey through the wilderness to the land God promised to give them (Leviticus-Deuteronomy), Joshua tells us the story of Israel taking over the land.  But they failed to obey God and did not drive out all the people living there.  The book of Judges depicts a repetitive cycle of what follows as Israel lives in the land along side those people, a cycle of Israel abandoning God and sinning, God allowing them to be conquered, the people crying out to God for deliverance, God raising up a judge to deliver them from their enemies, the people obeying as long as the judge lived- but when the judge died, the people go right back to their evil ways.

In Judges 6, we again see this cycle of sin– one of these cycles of sin we see a glimpse of the life of the nation of Israel that provides a great backdrop to teach your sons the difference between repentance and regret.

“The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years.” Judges 6:1 (ESV)

This time was worse than any other time.  Usually their oppressors would come in, collect some tribute, impose their political will on the Israelites, but life generally continued.  The Midianites, however, were a different kind of bad guy.  They were a bunch of marauding nomads that liked to ride in on their fast camels, and decimate everything you had, taking it all and leaving absolutely nothing (6:5).  It was so bad that the people had left their homes and were living like a bunch of animals in the mountains (6:2).

The result? “And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the Lord.” Judges 6:6 (ESV).

But this time was different.  Every other time, the Israelites would call out and God sent a hero (3:9, 15; 4:3-4), someone who was able to free the people from the tyranny that they were suffering from.  This time, God doesn’t send a hero, he sends a prophet.  This prophet comes and doesn’t lead the people to military conquest over the Midianites, he preaches to them.  And you have to stop and ask, “Why would God give them a sermon when they wanted a savior?”  The answer is in the content of the sermon.  In verses 8-10a, the prophet tells the people all that God had done for them, his deliverance of them from slavery, his giving of the land to them, but in 10b, the prophet tells the people what they have done.  “But you have not obeyed my voice.”  Judges 6:10b (ESV).    You see, the people were filled with regret over their circumstances, but they had not repented.

There is a difference between regret and repentance.  Paul illustrates this difference in 2 Corinthians 7:10 (ESV), “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”  Regret is centered on the circumstances. Regret is the expression of your desire for the situation to be different, the pain to stop, the punishment to end, the suffering to subside.  Repentance is different than regret.  Repentance includes a desire not just for situational change but for heart change.  Repentance has more to do with others and less to do with us.  Repentance understands that there is damage to the relationship that needs to be healed.

So dad, when your son says, “I’m sorry,” what does he really mean?  Is he expressing regret or is he expressing repentance?  Does he know the difference?

 

Teaching Our Sons the Seriousness of Sin

Much of my conversation with my sons revolves around the gospel promises of God, and with good reason. I am completely convinced that the presence of righteousness or absence of sin in our lives is due to our belief or unbelief in the promises of God contained in the Bible. But there is a sense in which labeling sin only as “unbelief” seems a bit too harmless, a little bit too safe, and much too one dimensional; kind of like knowing that a daddy longlegs, while poisonous, doesn’t have fangs long enough to bite you (mythbusters has already disproven this). But sin is anything but harmless, is in no way safe nor one-dimensional, because Satan is none of those things. Satan is real and he is prowling around like a roaring lion doing all he can to devour you and your sons. But do your sons believe this? Do your sons believe that Satan is real and menacing and conniving and out to destroy them, or is their view of Satan more along the lines of an inept villain like the Evil Emperor Zurg or Shredder? This is the idea behind Paul’s plea to us in 2 Corinthians 2:11 to “not be ignorant of [Satan’s] schemes.”

Teaching-Our-Sons-The-Seriousness-Of-Sin

Over the past few days, I have been reading through Thomas Brooks’ Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, a book that is hundreds of years old but has a ton of present day application. More than anything, it is a great window into not only the schemes of Satan but also the remedies to fight against them.

Here are the first 5 schemes/devices:

  1. To present the bait and hook: “to hide the poison; to present the sweet, the pleasure and the profit that may flow in upon the soul by yielding to sin—and to hide from the soul the wrath and misery that will certainly follow the committing of sin.”
  2. To paint sin with virtue’s colors: “Satan knows that if he would present sin in its own nature and dress, the soul would rather fly from it than yield to it; and therefore he presents it unto us, not in its own proper colors—but painted and gilded over with the name and show of virtue… “
  3. By extenuating and lessening of sin: “Ah! says Satan, it is but a little pride, a little worldliness, a little uncleanliness, a little drunkenness, etc… you may commit it without any danger to your soul. It is but a little one; you may commit it, and yet your soul shall live.
  4. By presenting to the soul the best of men’s sins, and by hiding from the soul their virtues: by setting before the soul the adultery of David, the pride of Hezekiah, the impatience of Job, the drunkenness of Noah, the blasphemy of Peter, etc., and by hiding from the soul the tears, the sighs, the groans, the meltings, the humblings, and repenting of these precious souls.
  5. To present God to the soul as one made up all of mercy: “Oh! says Satan, you need not make a matter of sin, you need not be so fearful of sin… for God is a God of mercy… a God that delights in mercy… a God more prone to pardon his people than punish his people.”

We live in a war-time environment (Eph 6:10ff) but often with a peace-time mentality. Dads, don’t let your sons grow up ignorant of Satan and his schemes. Teach them so that they, as Paul says, would, “no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes.” Ephesians 4:14 (NET) Teach them to believe in Satan’s existence; he is real and he is at work, scheming against the children of God. But know also that we serve a risen Savior who has already defeated Satan and freely gives us strength for the fight so that we, “may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” Ephesians 6:11 (NET)

3 Tools for Transforming The Heart of Your Boy (Part 2)

In Part 1, we started talking about our role as dads as heart-shapers of our sons and what we are trusting in as tools to shape and mold the hearts of our sons.  We talked about the failure of the “pull-up-your-bootstraps” approach and the tactic of the ever-popular manipulative guilt trip.  These are great forms of behavior modification that we can use to gain situational relief, and therefore make our own lives easier, but these tools won’t shape and mold a heart.  So what we are left with as a resource of heart transformation?

transforming boy

The Gospel

In Galatians 3:1-3, Paul is beside himself trying to figure how the Christ-followers in Galatia have screwed it up.  They are more than willing to admit that the Holy Spirit was necessary for them to become Christians, but somehow they have made the mistake of thinking that they were the primary agent of change when it came to their growth as Christians. Galatians 3:1–3 (ESV):

1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

Paul goes on to explain that it is the Gospel (the life, death, resurrection, and return of Christ) that holds the key, not just to initial change, but all the transformation that will happen in life.  As a dad, this means that the key to my son growing in his selfishness, is not me beating him over the head with what he should do, but showing him what he is not believing about the Gospel, that if he were to believe it, he would be more selfless.  The key to my son growing in courage, boldness, kindness, love, thankfulness is not me placing some huge guilt trip on him and shaming him into acting the right way, it is showing him the truths of the gospel, showing him what it means to be an adopted son of God and co-heir with Christ, and praying that the Spirit would use that truth to transform his heart.  Notice, I am not advocating some sort of free-grace, no responsibility type of position.  We have an obligation.  We have a duty.  But we need to remember that it is the Spirit who is the agent of change and we are simply a tool in his hand.

So dad, how have you been a tool today in the hand of the Spirit to transform your son’s life?  In what ways have you exposed your son or daughter to the truths of the Gospel with the hope and prayer that their hearts would be transformed as He convinces their hearts more of this Gospel truth?

Now, if you are reading this and feeling tinges of guilt or a building resolve to “do a better job” as a dad in this way, know that all of the above applies to us as dads as well.  The first step in rightly transforming the hearts of our sons is our own rightly motivated transformation… not actions motivated by guilt or mental resolve, but praying that the Spirit would raise up in you a desire to see the truth of the Gospel transform your son.  This is our joyful duty and hope as dads; that we, and our families, would be transformed by the truth of Jesus Christ.  This is my trust and confidence!

3 Tools For Transforming The Heart Of Your Boy (Part 1)

My oldest son is just a few weeks beyond turning 13.  As a dad who has spent a decade in youth ministry, there is part of me that feels ready and prepared, knowing the issues he is going to struggle with, the challenges he will face, and the strategies I can utilize to help him.  Yet there is another part of me that the word “inadequacy” can’t even begin to describe. I know my son is in the midst of change… all boys are, especially at this age.  So the fact that my son needs to grow has little to do with my constant seesaw between confidence and inadequacy.  In fact, more than the reality of change, the question that impacts my effectiveness as a dad is really, “What am I placing my trust and confidence in when it comes to the power available to transform  and mold my son?”

transforming boy

From what I can tell, there are primarily three tools that I have at my disposal as a dad as I seek to help nurture my son’s growth in a way that is more than just behavior modification:

 

  1. Will Power.  The “can-do” attitude is part of who we are as men.  There is no mountain too tall, no river too wide, no valley too deep that we can’t overcome (thanks to Diana Ross).  We as men think ourselves to be nearly invincible and in need of very little.  Especially when it comes to change.  If there is an area of weakness in our lives, all we need is a little discipline and we can fix it.  If there is a challenge in front of us, all we have to do is have some stick-to-it-iveness and we can plow through it.  “Just do it,” are the words rolling through our minds with the theme song of the A-Team as background music.  Will power is the motivation we offer when we try to convince our sons that they are good enough and smart enough and capable enough.  Will power is the motivation we appeal to when we remind our kids that they know what they need to do, now just make it happen.  Yet will power will ultimately not lead to any lasting transformation.  It may yield temporary results and short term gains, but it won’t transform a heart.
  2. Emotions.  In the midst of the rollercoaster that our sons are already on, appealing to their emotions is sometimes so easy and effective.  We appeal to their emotions when we correct them with phrases like, “stop crying like a girl,” or “act like a man.”  It is the appeal to emotions that lies behind, “you better do this or you will get punished.”  After all, who really wants to invite pain and suffering?  Emotions are the basis of our appeal when we attempt to motivation our sons by connecting their actions to our love and approval of them.  If the only time your son hears you say “I love you,” is when he scores a touchdown or goal or basket, is it any surprise that he becomes the most zealous athlete in the neighborhood?  The guilt trip may yield some short-term, circumstantial gains, but the heart will still fail to be transformed.

So, without the “pull up your bootstraps” approach and the “let-me-make-you-feel-like-junk” (aka the guilt trip) tactic, what is left in your quiver as a dad?  Your most effective hope of all… but for that you need to check back for part two!

 

From The Fairway To The Freeway

We knew it was a gamble that we’d make it to South Bend, but we didn’t plan on breaking down right in the middle of the toll booth.

My family and I were on a 4600-mile loop through the upper Midwest and into central Canada, and when you take a trip like that with seven children, a box trailer, and an 11-year-old van, you expect to have some unscheduled adventures. This time, it was a failing alternator on a cold and blustery Saturday four days into our trip. As bothersome as a toll plaza breakdown may be, what made it worse was that we had just replaced that alternator two days before, in a truck stop parking lot in North Carolina.  We were about to meet our third and fourth tow truck operators within a week.

Occasionally I have to remind myself of a simple rule from the golf course– You play the ball where it lies.  On the course, it means that even when the ball has gone where you wish it hadn’t, the game goes on. You can complain and make excuses and point fingers all day, but eventually you either continue the game or give it up.  It’s better if all your drives are straight, long, and true, but sooner or later you’ll have to recover from a sand trap or some other hazard. Figuring out how to recover is part of the game.

From the Fairway to the Freeway

I find I have to apply this rule to my daily life on a regular basis. Being an engineer by training, I tend to analyze things to death, and sometimes I can get distracted trying to find the explanation (or fix the blame) for a problem. Granted, if a problem keeps repeating in your family, you do need to get to the bottom of it. If the family car always seems to have an empty gas tank after a certain teen borrows it, that’s a cause-and-effect problem which needs a remedy!

But more often, the important thing for the moment is not who’s at fault or even what went wrong, but rather, how we get past the immediate problem and keep moving forward. Sitting on display in an Indiana toll booth, I had to make some decisions. Maybe we made a mistake when we installed the first alternator; maybe there was a manufacturing defect in the new part; maybe something else entirely was at fault. The important point there on the outskirts of South Bend, though, was getting the van and trailer out of the traffic lane, and then repairing the alternator. And that’s what we did.

Later, we might look over what happened and whether it was something that could have been prevented then, or possibly some way to avoid it in the future.  At the point of the crisis, though, it’s time to play the ball where it lies. We dads need to keep that in mind ourselves, and we need to demonstrate it to our sons.

Freedom & Choices

One of the toughest jobs we face as parents can be balancing giving our children freedom and then setting parameters/boundaries. It can be especially challenging as they grow older into adolescence. Whether naturally or by force, responsibility is an inevitable fact of growing up. As the old saying goes, “With freedom comes responsibility.” So, how do I walk this line of knowing when and where and how much at the right level?

Let’s begin with a simple fact…God created mankind to be free (Gen. 1-2). Think back to Adam and Eve in the Garden: what made that environment free? To begin with, there had to be a choice. Thus, God set a limit on what they were allowed to have by introducing the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil into the Garden. Without the option of making a poor choice there could not have been absolute freedom. Furthermore, the purpose in God doing this was to express His unconditional love for them. God did not want robots—“do as you’re told”—He wanted authentic relationship that reflected the relationship found in the Triune God, one that was not based in fear or control. This is crucial in understanding our relationship with our loved ones, namely, our children. When considering this type of relationship some might question why God did such a thing to Adam and Eve. Did He set them up for failure? Why not place the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil right next to the Tree of Life to make the better choice more obvious…or place it far away, out of sight, so that it’s much more difficult to find? If I really cared about my beloved creation and wanted to prevent anything bad happening to them, that’s what I would have done, wouldn’t you?

This logical way of thinking determines much of how we parent as well. As parents we have a tendency to train our children in “serious” limitations so they will not sin. Sound familiar? I can think of the many ways in which I’ve parented out of fear of my boys making mistakes. Quite honestly, I think it’s a little tougher raising boys because they seem to push those limits earlier and more aggressively.

Freedom and Choices

With 3 boys in our home, God presents me with plenty of opportunities to practice this idea of giving choices and helping them with responsibility. My wife and I are constantly navigating the murky waters of protecting them, respecting their privacy, allowing consequences to their choices, and granting freedom for the sake of maturity. Having a 15 year old makes it even more challenging.

As I reflect on how God dealt with the possibility of Adam and Eve failing—and they failed…BIG TIME!—I realize a lesson for me in parenting my sons. If I’m afraid of sin, failure, mistakes, or poor choices in my sons, then I am prone to parent out of fear rather than love. I will tend to develop an expectation that they live a mistake-free life. In reality, the goal of this way of parenting is compliance and obedience without love and heart connection. It’s interesting to think how hard I work to eliminate poor choices in my sons’ lives, yet God actually introduced one in the Garden. What does this say about how I should view freedom, choice, and consequences in my daily life as a parent?

God had a plan for the failure of Adam and Eve—Jesus (Gen. 3:15). He brings peace and purpose to all situations, good or bad, clean or messy, success or failure. God uses our freedom to invoke trust, to take the ups and downs of life and cultivate a life of dependence on Him. His attitude towards our sin and failure is, “Yeah, you messed up…not good…and there’s a consequence. But, I love you, I’m here for you, and I need you to trust Me.” In his book Loving Our Kids On Purpose, Danny Silk says, “…at the heart of godly parenting is the conviction that the mistakes and failures of our children are not the enemy. The real enemy is bondage, and if we don’t teach our children how to walk in and handle freedom, they won’t know what to do with it.”

So, how are you handling the challenges of freedom, responsibility, choices, and consequences? Are you afraid of where your child might sin, fail, or make a poor decision? Where might you be too restrictive or controlling? Is it tough for you to allow your child to fail…in a safe and loving environment? Ask God to give you wisdom in the way you trust Him, so that you might guide your children in trusting you.

 

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Obedience Vs. Relationship

raising boys

We’re a hockey family. And a school yard-style, neighborhood version of the Stanley Cup happens in front of my house on a daily basis.  The other day my middle son came storming into the house, whimpering, sniffling, and plopping on the sofa with a huffin’ and puffin’ sound. He was MAD. Someone had done something to him he thought was not right and he was ready to explode.

I used to handle this several different ways…none of them really having any fruitful, meaningful, or lasting effect. Yelling, ignoring, playing judge & jury, overprotecting, or punishing everyone involved were epic fails.

obediencevsrelationship

I’ve learned that my reaction will do far more in setting the tone of what will follow than simply trying to get my son to behave in the way I want him to behave.  It’s taken many years, but here are a few things I’ve learned:

Learn to ASK  questions rather than make STATEMENTS—We parents are really good at “telling” our kids what we want them to do, how we want them to behave, and how we think they should react in conflict situations. But where’s the learning in that method for the child himself? When we ask questions, we are giving our children freedom to think, process, and consider the situation. By allowing them to have some of the control in the situation, we open the opportunity for them to  develop self-control. A more important reason is that when we ask questions we are bestowing respect to our children. We are connecting with their hearts. Our engagement with them says, “You have value, you matter, you are unique, and I’m interested in hearing what you have to say.” Above all else, we want them to consider the ramifications of their choices. Think about it: if we never allow our children the freedom to make some choices and then guide them through the consequences of those choices, why should we be shocked or disappointed when they’re older and they turn belligerent, rebellious, or incompetent in correct Biblical thinking?

As far as questions go…

Get in the habit of asking your child, “How does that make you feel?” It’s taken me a long time to discover the power in this question. We make choices based on how we’re feeling . Our feelings  and emotions come from what we’re thinking and believing. If I can understand how you’re feeling I have insight into what you’re thinking. Therefore, if you’re believing a lie it will affect your emotions, which will result in unhealthy behavior. Most parents begin with trying to correct or control behavior. This method might work sometimes, but it doesn’t address the heart of the matter. Right living (behavior) is a result of right thinking (beliefs). The Enemy seeks to attack us in our thinking. It is in our mind where the battle rages (Romans 12:2). As parents, our job is to nurture our children in right believing. Notice I said “nurture”, not order, control, manipulate, or punish them into obedience. I should know- I’ve ventured down these paths many times to no avail.

What about you? What’s your M.O.? Have you, like me, had occasions where you’ve gotten what you wanted from your child—obedience–but felt no heart connection? What is gained when we win the individual “battles” but lose the war? Next time your child finds himself in conflict ask the Holy Spirit to give you insight to ask and listen; to focus on how they’re feeling, not necessarily how they’re behaving; and to guide them through the choices and consequences that are available to them. Remember the goal–heart connection!

Chad Smith