BY JORDAN MAYER
"It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes."
A few years back, I had a goal to learn how to ride a motorcycle. Having never been on a bike before, I signed up for a three-day safety course. The first day was devoted to classroom instruction with the second two days spent out in the parking lot practicing drills. The drills were meant to emulate the different situations you might encounter out on the road in the real world.
One of the drills involved a long straightaway followed by a sharp left-hand turn. The goal was to get the bike up into second gear (around 15-20 MPH) and then slow down before entering the turn. Given my conservative nature, I intentionally kept my speed down so I could cruise comfortably into the turn. My instructor, on the other hand, had me repeat the drill several times, pressing me to go a little bit faster. Finally, after repeated reminders, I gave the throttle a good twist. It was on this attempt that I knew my lack of speed would not be an issue! Before I knew it, I had reached the end of the straightaway and was already into the turn going way too fast.
In a car, a miscalculation in a turn can be easily remedied by a firm press of the brake pedal. You don't have to worry about things like "lean angle" and "gyroscopic forces" like you do on a vehicle with only two wheels. In the middle of the turn, I gave the front brake lever a hard squeeze and before I even had time to process, the bike and I were sliding across the pavement. Apart from a wounded pride as the rest of the class looked on, I came away with only a few minor scratches and some torn gloves and shirt sleeves.
If someone had asked me if I wanted a literal crash course in motorcycle braking and speed control, I would have said, "No thank you". If someone had asked me if it was a fun experience, I would question their definition of fun. And yet, the experience was immensely valuable because of the lessons it taught me.
I think the same is true with the trials we face in life.
I would love to say that the periods of rest and ease were also the times of greatest growth and development in my faith and trust in God. Sadly, that is not often the case. My tendency in these times is to think I need God less, that I seem to be managing pretty well on my own. But how quickly we come back to earth when hard times come. It is in these moments that we see how the trials we face can be the catalyst for learning and growth.
Wisdom would teach us that it's best to learn from the mistakes of others. While that is certainly true, we know by our nature that that is not often the reality. The reality is that our pride often prevents us from accepting truths at face value. Sometimes we need to learn the hard lessons. Sometimes we need to come to the end of ourselves to reach a new beginning with God. Sometimes we need trials. But can we honestly call them good?
Trials are not good by nature, they are good by design. This is what the Psalmist is getting at when he says it is good to be afflicted. It's uncomfortable, it hurts, but there is purpose in the pain. Before the trial, he strayed. But now that he's gone through it, he keeps God's Word (Psalm 119:67). It has drawn him closer to God and helped him better understand His Word. It is good because its purpose is good.
Romans 8:28 tells us, "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose".
Likewise in James, we are reminded of the faith-building properties of trials. It is the testing of our faith that produces steadfastness (James 1:3) and it is those who remain steadfast that are called "happy" or blessed (James 1:12).
While it's true that we won't often choose the trials we encounter, we can choose to trust in the God who allows them. We can trust that He is good and that He works all things for our good. We can thank Him for the lessons learned from bumps and bruises.