A little while back I had one of those days. The first guy I delivered to answered the door wearing only his boxer-briefs. Not exactly a pleasant sight. A little while later, I delivered to a hotel room, and the guy apparently thought we would take longer than we did, because I caught him in the shower. In fact, I was about to leave when he opened the door covered only in soap and one of those too small hotel towels. As I walked back to my car I thought, “So that’s how it’s going to go today, huh? Well, if I have to deliver to undressed people, why can’t they at least be attractive women instead of dudes?” Then, before I could even chide myself for that thought, I remembered the last thing I prayed for before I began my day. I prayed that God would protect me from temptation. He sure answered that one with a resounding YES! There was NO temptation involved in what I saw that day, let me tell you. It wasn’t exactly pleasant, nor was it what I had in mind, but God did protect me from temptation that day.
That reminded me that sometimes God does things for our own good that isn’t exactly pleasant at the moment. An example would be James 1:2-4:
“Count it all joy, my brethren, when you fall into manifold temptations knowing that the proving of your faith works patience. And let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing.”
The only way to receive patience is to go through trials. You don’t get callouses on your hands without first getting blisters and you don’t get patience/steadfastness without going through trials. A Christian can’t be complete or perfect as God wants him without patience. This is why James says that trials should be met with rejoicing: they are the only path to being a complete Christian. But they are not pleasant at the time.
The best passage to explain what I am talking about is in Hebrews 12. The anonymous writer is explaining that God will chastise His children as necessary to make them better. He uses earthly fathers as an example, saying we still honor our dads even though they chastised us as they saw fit, so we should surely honor God during chastisement since He actually knows what He is doing and is doing it specifically for our good. He sums it up with this:
Heb. 12:11 “All chastening seems for the present to be not joyous but grievous; yet afterward it yields peaceable fruit unto them that have been exercised thereby, even the fruit of righteousness.”
God, in His perfect wisdom and perfect love, will send us trials and tribulations and chastisements to cause us to grow into perfection. The plan is for our good, but boy, does it not feel good when we are going through it! Chastening is never pleasant when it happens. Grievous is a good description. It is for our ultimate good, though, and if we have faith that God truly loves us, we should count it all joy when those chastenings come. They prove that God is still not done with us. That He thinks we are worth the effort, present evidence to the contrary.
We often cite Romans 8:28 (“we know that to them that love God all things work together for good”) but do we understand it? It doesn’t mean we will always be happy here on Earth. It means that God is making sure things work out best for us, i.e. that we get to Heaven to be with Him. Combine Rom. 8:28 with Heb. 12:11 and we understand that, while the present chastening may not be fun, the end result will “work together for good”. This destroys the idea that some have that “God wants me to be happy.” You know, when you show them in the scriptures that they aren’t living their lives right, that according to God’s word, not my judgments, they are sinning and they say, “I know, but God would want me to be happy,” it is as if their happiness outweighs the eternal word of God. I think, based on James 1:2-4, Hebrews 12:4-11, and Romans 8:28 among other passages, that God doesn’t care a whit whether we are happy on this planet or not. Look at the list of the heroes of faith at the end of Hebrews 11 and tell me how many of them seemed happy. God wants us to be joyous in eternity. God wants us to be glorified with Him in eternity. God wants to commune with us in eternity. If it takes unhappiness, if it takes trials, tribulations, chastenings, and sacrifices (and delivering pizza to nearly naked men) to accomplish that, then so be it.
I hope God grants me the strength of faith to be able to count it joy when trials come, because I’d much rather be unhappy for 70 years or so and joyous in eternity than ecstatic in this life and in Hell for eternity.