Earnest Byner will never forget the moment when he was about to score the tying touchdown in the 1987 AFC Championship Game and fumbled the ball instead. How can he? People like me bring it up from time to time (even though I have great admiration for his superlative football career). Not only that, the moment has been preserved for all time as it’s been dubbed famously, “The Fumble.” Nobody wants to fumble and lose a game like that. Nobody wants to fumble at all, Christians included. We don’t want to fumble, so to speak, when God gives us an opportunity to glorify Him even through a trial. How can we hang on to the ball and honor God even when we’re suffering in some way? Well, in a previous article, we talked about dealing with God; that’s first. But then, we have to do two other things.
The second thing we have to do is deal with self. Dealing with self is certainly connected to God and indeed to others. As we deal with God, He deals with our hearts. That’s when our walk with God is improved and we’re better able to deal with others as well. So, how do we deal with self in this context?
1) We have to examine our hearts. A mere change of behavior is not what God is after. Good behavior in a human sense doesn’t glorify God. Hypocrites behave to get praise for themselves. Only when we deal with our hearts will we then be able to behave in a way that glorifies God. It was Jesus who said, “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man” (Mk. 7:21-23).
When you’re in financial difficulty, do you think you deserve better? Has pride crept into your heart? Are you willing to sin against God to better your situation? Be careful of greed. Do you expect God to restore your financial status when you’ve learned what you think He wants you to learn? What if you never reach the financial heights you once held? Be careful of covetousness and a materialistic mindset. Do you grumble and complain about your circumstances? Do you carp about how others have mistreated you? Be careful of bitterness. Do you whine when you don’t get your way? Are you demanding of or short with nurses when you’re in a bit of pain or tired of being in the hospital? Do your friends seem not to want to be around you because you’ve become negative? These are heart issues and must be dealt with because they dishonor God and drag His Name through the mud before others.
And remember, God allows difficulties and perhaps complications to fall upon you so that you might see that there are some heart issues He wants you to work on. I have a friend who was so angry about his neighbor’s barking dog he was ready to kill it or move. I told him God put that dog next door to show him he had anger in his heart that needed to be cut out. If he had simply wallowed in his anger, continued to complain about the dog, he would have fumbled his opportunity to honor God. But in dealing with anger at the heart level, he put God’s glory on display.
2) We also have to straighten out our theology. Some people think that whenever bad things happen to them, they must have sin in their life and God must be punishing them. I have another friend who suffered a major financial upheaval. A mutual friend asked him one day what he had done to make God so mad at him. That’s bad theology. In the first place, under the New Covenant (as opposed to the Old), circumstances are never the sign of God’s blessing or cursing. All believers have every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph. 1:3). In the second place, all our sins were punished at the cross. God doesn’t punish believers.
Now, God does lovingly discipline His children as any good father would; the Lord chastens those whom He loves (Heb. 12:6). He does that to get us back on track when we’re in unrepentant sin.
But, not every trial is the result of God’s chastening. Sometimes God is showing us something more of Himself. The Lord allowed Lazarus to die because Mary and Martha knew that Jesus could heal him, but they didn’t know He was the Resurrection and the Life (Jn. 11:21-25). Some hardships are designed to prepare us for a great work God has for us. Trials are used by God to wean us from the world; give us a platform to comfort others; spread the gospel; and generally put His glory on display as we trust Him no matter what.
Owning a beach condo, a Lexus, or a membership at the Country Club doesn’t put God’s glory on display before a watching world; anyone can have those things. Suffering well for Christ magnifies His person and work.
And you know what? We have all kinds of troubles simply because we live in a cursed world and no one can walk in the rain without getting hit by a few drops (Jas. 1:2). Ultimately, God is conforming you to the image of His Son when adversity comes your way (Rom. 8:28-29).
If you don’t want to fumble away your surgery, that’s the second step: deal with yourself. Always, “count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (Jas. 1:2-4). When you do, you’ll not only grow in the Lord and get closer to Him, you’ll be comforted knowing that God is doing something wonderful in your life. And, you’ll be prepared to take the final step toward the goal line with the ball securely in place.
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