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TRIALS TO OPPORTUNITIES
Dale D. Meredith
University Baptist Church
Getzville, NY
December 3, 2017

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Good News Bible, The Bible in Today’s English Version, copyright ©1976 by American Bible Society. Used by permission.

OLD TESTAMENT READING.

Daniel 1:1-21(Only excerpts are listed here. You may want to read the entire chapter.)

1 In the third year that Jehoiakim was king of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia attacked Jerusalem … He took some prisoners back with him to the temple of his gods in Babylon … The king ordered Ashpenaz, his chief official, to select from among the Israelite exiles some young men of the royal family and of the noble families. … Ashpenaz was to teach them to read and write the Babylonian language. ... they were to be given the same food and wine as the members of the royal court. After three years of this training they were to appear before the king. 6 Among those chosen were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.

8 Daniel made up his mind not to let himself become ritually unclean by eating the food and drinking the wine of the royal court, so he asked [for only] vegetables to eat and water to drink. … the guard let them continue to eat vegetables instead of what the king provided.

17 God gave the four young men knowledge and skill in literature and philosophy. In addition, he gave Daniel skill in interpreting visions and dreams.

18 At the end of the three years set by the king … Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah impressed him more than any of the others. So they became members of the king’s court. ... Daniel remained at the royal court until Cyrus, the emperor of Persia, conquered Babylonia.

NEW TESTAMENT READING

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

7 But to keep me from being puffed up with pride because of the many wonderful things I saw, I was given a painful physical ailment, which acts as Satan’s messenger to beat me and keep me from being proud. 8 Three times I prayed to the Lord about this and asked him to take it away. 9 But his answer was: “My grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak.” I am most happy then, to be proud of my weaknesses, in order to feel the protection of Christ’s power over me. 10 I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

INTRODUCTION: We want to be happy. However, people and things keep getting in the way of our happiness. This is to be expected. Jesus told us in John 16:33b (RSV), "In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."  The word for tribulation (ESV, KJV, NASB, RSV) has also been translated as trouble (NEB, NIV, Phillips) and suffering (GNT). The Merriam-Webster Dictionary (2004) defines tribulation as distress or suffering resulting from oppression or persecution, or a trying experience. It has synonyms of trial, affliction, cross, and ordeal. Jesus didn’t say you may have trials and tribulations. He said you have trials and tribulation. They are a reality about which we cannot control.

But just two weeks ago we read in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 that God wants us to “Be joyful always.” How can you be joyful or happy while experiencing trials and tribulations? There are two things you must remember. First, you are not alone. In Hebrews 13:5b, God said, “I will never leave you; I will never abandon you.” That means that no matter what happens God is with you. Even when you are experiencing trials and tribulations, He goes through them with you. He helps, encourages, strengthens, and guides you as He goes through the trials and tribulations with you.

Second, you cannot control everything you encounter in this world. you can only control your attitude and behavior. Therefore, you must remember that your attitude and behavior when you experience the trials and tribulation will determine how happy you will be. That is easy to say, but what can you do to control your attitude and behavior? Let us examine the two examples from our readings this morning for clues about how to control our attitudes and behavior during trials, tribulations, and suffering.

DANIEL: Our Old Testament reading was about a young man of a prominent family in Jerusalem who was on his way to becoming a leader of the Jews. The Babylonians conquered Judah and took him as captive some 700 miles to Babylon. There he was separated from his family and community of fellow Jews. He and three other young Jews were chosen to be trained to serve in the king’s court. They were required to learn to read and write a new language, learn the new legal system, learn the religion and customs of the new country, and learn to live like the Babylonians. There appears to be major things getting in the way of Daniel being happy.

Daniel could have become sad, depressed, refused to do his homework and failed out of the training or he could have decided that he had no choice but to forget his old customs and religion and to completely change to fit in by becoming like the Babylonians in every way. Instead, Daniel chose a third way. He chose to maintain his faith in God and be happy.

He did two things to maintain his faith in God. He chose to maintain a diet that allowed him to be faithful in obeying God. The Babylonians, as many nations did, would eat meat from sacrifices offered to their gods. Like the Israelites, part of the sacrifice would be burned on the altar and the rest would be eaten (Leviticus 7:16-21). They would also eat meat of animals that the Jews were not to eat (Leviticus 11). Daniel requested to be allowed to eat only vegetables. Thus, he would not be concerned about where the meat came from and he would not violate God’s laws. This did not require any more work or special favor from his captors. He also maintained his devotion, or private worship, time. Several years after arriving in Babylon, it is recorded in Daniel 6:10 that, “In an upstairs room of his house there were windows that faced toward Jerusalem. There, just as he had always done, he knelt down at the open window and prayed to God three times a day.” Daniel remembered God was with him and he sought guidance and strength from God daily.

Daniel also chose to study to learn the new material required by his new position. He approached the study with a positive attitude. God was pleased with Daniel’s attitude and behavior and gave him special ability to advise the king concerning both religious and administrative matters. Daniel turned his trials and tribulations into opportunities to serve God and enjoy a long and happy career. Lessons from Daniel include:

1.Daniel remembered God was with him and found a way to be true to God.
2.Daniel chose to have a positive attitude and excelled in learning the material for the new position.
3.Daniel was honest and served God and the king.
4.Daniel turned his trials and tribulations into opportunities to serve God and enjoyed a long, happy career.

PAUL: The apostle Paul had many trials and tribulations. In 2 Corinthians 11:24-27 he stated, “24 Five times I was given the thirty-nine lashes by the Jews; 25 three times I was whipped by the Romans; and once I was stoned. I have been in three shipwrecks, and once I spent twenty-four hours in the water. 26 In my many travels I have been in danger from floods and from robbers, in danger from fellow Jews and from Gentiles; there have been dangers in the cities, dangers in the wilds, dangers on the high seas, and dangers from false friends. 27 There has been work and toil; often I have gone without sleep; I have been hungry and thirsty; I have often been without enough food, shelter, or clothing.” That is a firm example that Christians can expect to have trials and tribulations.  

In our New Testament this morning Paul described a painful physical aliment that he suffered. He never stated what the ailment was. He described his reaction to the ailment. He said he had prayed three times that God would remove the painful ailment. This is equivalent to saying that he prayed and prayed and prayed. He earnestly prayed for an extended time about this ailment. Evidently Paul was grieving. The problem must have hindered his work as a missionary. The loss of ability to effectively serve God would have been one of sorrow and loss for Paul. It would grieve Paul greatly.

Paul could do nothing to change the painful circumstances or situation. He could only pray and seek help in the situation. We would say he was grieving and waiting. He knew he was not alone, because he was seeking God’s help while in the situation and God was with him and the only one who could change the circumstances. Paul continued grieving and praying and asking God to remove the pain until God answered.

God answer was: “My grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak.” This is hard to accept. We want our happiness to be pain free. God’s answer was that the boundary conditions would not be changed. Paul would find his happiness while continuing to endure the pain that would always be with him. And, Paul accepted God’s answer. His response to God’s answer was: “I am most happy then, to be proud of my weaknesses, in order to feel the protection of Christ’s power over me. 10 I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties for Christ’s sake.” Years later, in 2 Timothy 4:6-7, Paul would write, “the time has come for me to leave this life. I have done my best in the race, I have run the full distance, and I have kept the faith.” God’s answer had enabled him to turn a major trial into an enduring opportunity for a life-time of happy service to God.

Lessons from Paul include:

1.Some trials and tribulations are intense, short-term trails such as floods or storms. You must be prepared to act and act suddenly.
2.Some trials can be painful and long-term trials.
3.Painful and long-term trials require a period of grieving and seeking God’s help.
4.God’s answer may not be what you want or expect.
5.You can be happy when you accept God’s answer.
6.God will help you turn trials and tribulations into opportunities to grow and serve Him.

LESSONS FOR US: First we know that we will all have trials and tribulations. No one is immune. Jesus told us we would, and the apostle Paul became the example that we will all have trials and tribulations. When we do have trials and tribulations we must remember that God is with us. He has promised to never leave us or abandon us (Hebrews 13:5). We are never alone, even when we have troubles. The next thing is to remember that the only things we can control are our attitude and behavior. There is no specific steps or order for how we approach the control of our attitude and behavior. Many of our trials and tribulations are small: we have a dead car battery and miss a meeting, we spill the breakfast cereal on the floor when we are in a hurry, we get an important phone call too late to assist someone looking for help. I have had all of those. In fact, I had two of them this week. When such trials occur, we can remain calm and follow usual procedures to get through the small “crisis.”

I know a man who lost both hands in an industrial accident when he was just beginning his career. He has mechanical hooks for hands. He can open and close them by the way he moves his shoulders to control straps across his back and down his arms. He told me that because of God’s help he was able to still have a good career, a good marriage and raise his children. He is now a resident at the nursing home where I lead the worship once a month. Friday after we had communion, he told me “God is still good.” He was able, with God’s help, to turn his trial into an opportunity to be happy.

Often when we experience a trial we need to take time to grieve and seek God’s help. A major loss such as a divorce, death of a loved one, an addiction of self or loved one, job loss, or failure in school or career can appear devastating. We need to do as Paul: grieve and seek God’s help in determining our next action. There is no time table or procedure that must be followed. We need to take the time necessary to obtain an answer as Paul did.

I know a person whose spouse died. He immediately married again to have help with the children and to be able to continue with his busy career. People thought they appeared to be a perfect match. However, there had been no time to grieve. He did not wait for an answer from God. He rushed and just tried to recreate the situation he had before the death. The marriage failed, he lost his position, and he still had no help with the children. After the marriage failed he took the time to grieve and seek God’s guidance. A few years later he married and had a good marriage. You cannot just rush out and replace a spouse, child, major loss, or replace a major failure with success like you were replacing a broken part on your car. A personal loss requires a time of grieving and seeking God’s help and guidance. You must grieve, pray, learn, and grow from the experience and wait for God’s answer. Then you should accept God’s answer. For example, it is often found that after the loss of a spouse you should not make major decisions or moves for a year to have time to go through the process of grieving, praying, growing and waiting to hear from God. Some may need less or more time, but everyone needs some time.

When you face a major trial, you need to make a commitment to grow, learn, mature, and become a better person. You can learn from others such as we did this morning from Daniel and Paul. You may know someone who has previously experienced a similar trial and came through the experience a better person. You may get to know the person and learn from that person. If you have had a trial and have become a better person, you can help others who are currently experiencing such a trial. That would be turning your trial into opportunities to help others.

As we experience trials and tribulations let us grow, learn, mature, and become a better person by turning our trials and tribulations into opportunities to serve God and one another. When you do, it will contribute to our happiness.