by Matthew C. Harrison
What is the purpose of trials in the Christian life? So often the afflictions of sin, death and the devil are multiplied in the lives of Christians! Should we expect this? Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (JOHN 15:18). It is also true that Christians often become more sensitive to their sins and shortcomings when they study what God’s Word says about how serious their sins and shortcomings really are.
Trials are actually part of a trilogy that really embeds faith in Christ deep in our being.
Martin Luther took his cue from King David in Psalm 119. Luther writes: “There you will find three rules, amply represented throughout the whole Psalm. They are Oratio [Prayer]; Meditatio [Meditation on God’s Word] and Tentatio [Trials]” (Luther’s Works, vol. 34, page 285).
…trials pull it all together and drive us into Christ’s blessed life, death, resurrection and life eternal, come what may.
“Firstly, you should know that the holy Scriptures constitute a book which turns the wisdom of all other books into foolishness. Not one book teaches eternal life except this one alone,” Luther wrote. “Kneel down in your little room [MATT. 6:6] and pray to God with real humility and earnestness, that he through his dear Son may give you his Holy Spirit, who will enlighten you, lead you, and give you understanding. Thus you see how David keeps praying … ‘Teach me, Lord instruct me, lead me, show me.’” Such prayer is vital, and Luther knew that our prayers are most sure when we are praying as the Scriptures show us how to pray.
2. Meditation on God’s Word.
“Secondly, you should meditate, that is, not only in your heart, but also externally, by actually repeating and comparing oral speech and literal words of the book, reading and rereading them with diligent attention and reflection, so that you may see what the Holy Spirit means by them. And take care that you do not grow weary or think that you have done enough when you have read, heard and spoken them once or twice, and that you then have complete understanding. You will never be a particularly good theologian if you do that, for you will be like untimely fruit which falls to the ground before it is half ripe. … Thus you see in this same Psalm how David constantly boasts that he will talk, meditate, speak, sing, hear, read, by day and night and always, about nothing except God’s Word and commandments. For God will not give you his Spirit without the external Word; so take your cue from that. His command to write, preach, read, hear, sing, speak, etc., outwardly was not in vain.”
“Thirdly, there is tentatio, Anfechtung [trials, spiritual attack]. This is the touchstone, which teaches you not only to know and understand, but also to experience how right, how true, how sweet, how lovely, how mighty, how comforting God’s Word is, wisdom beyond all wisdom. … For as soon as God’s Word takes root and grows in you, the devil will harry you, and will make a real doctor of you, and by his assaults will teach you to seek and love God’s Word.”
Amen and Amen! If we did not have trials, we wouldn’t pray much and wouldn’t seek out God’s Word much. But the trials pull it all together and drive us into Christ’s blessed life, death, resurrection and life eternal, come what may.
The Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison is president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.