On a typical work day, I eat breakfast in the car. Lest you think I’m trying to spoon oatmeal from a bowl or wipe the powdered sugar that falls from from a donut off of my shirt, I have found a cereal that has large pieces, and lends itself to being eaten with one hand. After pouring about half a box into a quart-size, resealable plastic bag (enough for several days), I can comfortably get my breakfast without looking down or taking my hands off of the steering wheel. (Still, even though my car has an automatic transmission, leaving me one hand free, I admit that I’m no public safety video.)
However, after a few days, when I’m on the last serving of cereal from a given bag, I’m typically down to mostly crumbs. Here, a little science trick comes in handy: by shaking the bag at an angle, the contents sort themselves out. Crumbs tend to fall to the bottom corner of the bag, while the intact pieces of cereal (which were previously buried and hidden) work their way to the top, ready to be eaten as a final snack. I’m not skilled enough to try and pour the crumbs into my mouth while driving, but I can fish out the remainder of the larger pieces.
This works with other materials, as well. A rock can be made to surface from a collection of smaller pebbles, for instance. However you may use it, this principle is a handy way to get larger objects to surface and drive smaller objects to the bottom of the mix.
Not to anthropomorphize too much, but I suspect that some things don’t want to be shaken up, even if the result is favorable. I know that I don’t like it when my life is jostled around. It’s uncomfortable and causes pieces of my life to get all mixed up from what I’m used to. In the end, though, God often shows me (or those around me) something new that had been hidden.
The author James in the Bible points out the good things that can come from our trials: those times when we may feel like elements of our lives that served as a strong support are being shifted and moved around.
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
James 1:2-4 NLT
For those who are going through trials, we may call out to God, “I don’t want to develop my endurance! I was doing just fine, before. Couldn’t I just live in my current state of being ‘good enough’?”
God knows that we need to be better, though. Just as bread must be kneaded to get the right texture in the finished product, or cake batter must be beaten with a mixer to distribute the ingredients uniformly, we’re unlikely to become strong enough to be effective if we don’t have to work through times in our life where things get scrambled and turned upside down.
However, in these cases, the stress and disruption caused by trials don’t necessarily create something that isn’t there. I can shake a bag of cereal all day, but if it only contains crumbs, I’m not going to find any more bite-sized pieces to eat. In the same way, challenges in our lives just bring to the surface what is already there. Yes, we may build up endurance if we have a kernel of faith, but if we haven’t built our lives on the unshakable foundation of following Jesus’ instructions (see Matthew 7:24-25), we shouldn’t expect positive results to surface, even during the natural sorting process that trials bring.
In this passage below, Peter points out that our faith is shown and tested – not necessarily created – in trials.
So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.
1 Peter 1:6-7 NLT
(See also 1 Corinthians 3:12-15.)
A seed of faith in our hearts may be strengthened when it holds up under trials, and tragedies may point us to our need to obtain help from Someone greater than ourselves; however, trials typically show us what we are already made of.
So, I don’t wish trials on you, but if you love God, I can be confident that they are ultimately working for good. Look forward to the end product, and hang in there for the duration. Watch to see what – from the depths of your heart – comes to the surface in these circumstances. Then, depending on whether what you find is good or bad, invest in the right foundation so that – next time – the product of your trials will be even better.