How to Handle Trials and Challenges
In my opinion, one of the best challenges to address this subject is this: “What happens if sinful thoughts run through my head? Jesus did tell us that if you lust in your heart, you commit adultery, or if you hate in your heart, you commit murder.” Amen, He did say that. But notice that Jesus did not say, “If a lustful or hateful thought runs through your mind, you have committed adultery or murder.” This is important because it seems to be a stumbling point for a lot of people. Think about it like this: the fact you don’t even enjoy the thoughts that sometimes race through your mind is evident enough that your heart has been changed. Read that last sentence again until you understand it. There is a huge difference between a thought passing through your mind that you deliberately and quickly reject versus meditating on lustful or hateful thoughts and placing them on your heart. Remember that there used to be a time in your life when those thoughts would settle on your heart and you wouldn’t even blink an eye! Just the fact that those thoughts bother you now reveals that your heart has been changed!
Also, remember this: just because the serpent succeeded in tricking Eve into eating the fruit in the garden does not mean that the serpent has stopped whispering in our ears. So if you have a nasty thought passing through your mind that you want nothing to do with, odds are, something is whispering to you and trying to get you to believe that you are something that you’re not! Jesus said, “A stranger’s voice my sheep will not follow” (John 10:5). Notice that He doesn’t say we won’t hear the stranger’s voice, just that we won’t follow it. Always remember when you hear the stranger’s voice to submit to God, resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7). How do you submit to God? You declare the truth, because the truth sets you free. Start thanking God (out loud) that He has changed you and that you are a completely new person who is completely free from sin. By doing this, you are confessing with your mouth that you believe Him and His word rather than the words of a stranger. And don’t stop submitting to God until the stranger’s voice is good and gone!
So let’s say that a day comes when you do find that you made a mistake. Let’s say that you forgot to submit to God in the moment that you needed to, you committed a sin, and God, through the conviction of the Holy Spirit, told you that you sinned. Remember that this is possible for believers (see 1 John 2:2 and 1 John 5:16–17); it’s just highly unlikely and very rare among mature believers. God wants us to have the correct response in this situation, so how should we respond at that time if it comes?
First of all, I want to tell you what the devil is going to say to you in the intensity of that moment. You’ll hear something along these lines: “You see! You’re still just a screwup. You haven’t been changed at all or else you never would have sinned in the first place. How can you believe that you are actually righteous and perfect when you go and do something like that? You’re never going to be what God expects you to be. You failed Him, you failed yourself, and you failed the people around you. You are nothing but a failure.” Pretty harsh, huh?
Know that there are several things that the devil loves for you to focus on in order to trap you further, so you’ll hear some twisted combination of these negative emotions coming from him at any chance he can get: guilt, shame, discouragement, condemnation, fear, and especially doubt. How do I know that these negative emotions are often fed to us by the devil? Because the devil is the accuser of the brethren and literally accuses us before God day and night (Revelation 12:10), and I am not ignorant of his devices (2 Corinthians 2:11). Besides, God wants us to have nothing to do with these types of responses if He has convicted us of sin. Check out these verses:
- “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” Romans 8:1.
- “For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame’” Romans 10:11.
- “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives” Hebrews 12:5–6.
- “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” 2 Timothy 1:7.
- “For he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” James 1:6–8.
The Lord wants our focus to continue to remain on one thing and one thing alone in the middle of these testing times: Him. We are not meant to get ashamed and go cover ourselves up with fig leaves and hide like Adam and Eve did! We are to come to our loving Father completely exposed, confessing our sin, and allow Him to wrap His loving arms around us and embrace us with His never-end-ing forgiveness. We are meant to regret our actions but our regret should produce godly sorrow, not the sorrow of the world, so that repentance will be produced, leading to salvation, and we can be cleared of this matter forever (see 2 Corinthians 7:8–12). We are to fall on His mercy and grace and allow Him, the God of hope, to fill us with all joy and peace in believing that we may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).
With this hope, we can look up to heaven, to the face of God in the middle of our correction and express sincere thankfulness. We can actually thank the Father in the face of our sin for being loving enough to teach us. We can thank Jesus that His blood washed away this sin the second it happened, and we can thank God for the wise insight that He has given us about that sin so that in the future, we may walk in greater wisdom and will never fall into that sin again! I sincerely urge you to thank God in these moments. Thank Him that He is faithful, that He has made us righteous, and that He will always keep us in righteousness. This is the most humble and raw form of worship that we can offer our God, and I promise you, it pleases Him greatly. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in every-thing give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18).