The Gift of Trials

2020 Messages

What trials are you experiencing in life right now? If you aren’t careful, you might miss out on what God wants to do in and through you during this season. Tyler Briggs, Watermark's Fort Worth Campus Pastor, teaches through James 1:2-5, teaching us that trials are a gift because they are God’s mean of growing us.

Tyler BriggsApr 19, 2020

Discussing and Applying the Sermon

  • What are your trials revealing about the impurities in your faith?
  • How might God be trying to grow you through these trials?
  • What wisdom from God’s Word needs to be applied for guidance?


What trials are you experiencing in life right now? If you aren’t careful, you might miss out on what God wants to do in and through you during this season. Tyler Briggs, Watermark's Fort Worth Campus Pastor, teaches through James 1:2-5, teaching us that trials are a gift because they are God’s mean of growing us.

Key Takeaways

  • Trials are a gift because they reveal the true nature of our faith.
  • When things are going well, it’s really easy to say we trust God with our lips but operate in our own strength.
  • It’s painful to confront your own imperfections and failures but facing them head on—embracing heat and pressure—is the best way to grow. Trials are the most direct path to progress in our lives.
  • Trials are the training grounds for growth.
  • We grow most by walking through the valleys in life, not mountain top experiences.
  • Trying to get out of trials as fast as you can will stunt your growth. You will miss out on what God wants to teach you. Don’t seek to flee, submit.
  • Growth in the midst of trials won’t come automatically…it will take effort on your part.
  • God wants to guide you as He grows you through trials.
  • If you lack guidance in life it’s because you are not looking and asking God for it.

Good morning, Watermark, and all of those who may be tuning in with us this morning. I'm grateful to be with you. Being in the middle of all this COVID-19 stuff and shelter in place has got me thinking, like, "I didn't ask for this. Why is this going on?" But even more so, it has made me think back to other things that have happened in my life where I received something I didn't want and, at the end of it, ended up being grateful for it.

I think that could end up being the case here, but just that question I thought was intriguing, so I posted it on social media this week, and the responses were outstanding. Some of you, trying to be a little funny, I think, responded, like, your spouse or your kids, which was a good little joke. One gal put one gift she received this Christmas was a pair of pajamas she didn't want, but in the midst of shelter in place, it's what she has worn every single day, and she's loving it. Things like that.

Others were more of the serious nature. One guy put down he was really grateful, looking back on it, for a DWI he received, because his life was heading in a really bad direction, and that DWI served as his wake-up call to begin to change the trajectory of his life. Another couple put on there that one thing they never asked for that they've ended up being so grateful for was their son who has Down syndrome. They said that boy has taught them more about love and the sanctity of life and the value of every single person that they would not go back and change one single chromosome in his body.

The one that probably stands out most to me is one I've gotten to witness because it's within my family. It's with my older brother. He and his wife have nine kids…four biological, five adopted. They're an amazing family, but they're going through a little bit of a rough time right now that I don't think they would have desired. Right as COVID-19 hit and the shelter-in-place orders came through, all nine of their kids instantly became homeschooled. So, full house all the time and the challenges that would come with that.

Then on top of that, their house caught on fire a few weeks ago. Luckily, it didn't burn down. It was able to be contained, but what that has forced them to do is they are now living, all 11 of them, in two camper trailers in their driveway as the house is remediated. I was talking to my brother, and I was like, "Man, how are you doing this? That sounds miserable." He said, "It's actually quite the opposite."

He said, "We've actually become very grateful for this trial we find ourselves in, because it has helped remind us of what truly matters. It has given us an opportunity as a family to spend a lot of time together, to create some shared memories, and then also to put our attention back on what matters most and take care of some things we've been neglecting for a while." He said, "So really, as hard as it is, we see it as a gift."

That's what I want us to talk about this morning. Across the globe, everyone in some shape or form is affected by what's happening with the coronavirus and the trial it has created, and what I want you to know and I think what God's Word would tell us is that trials are a gift. If we have a right perspective about them, we will view them with joy and gratitude and thankfulness, because God uses trials to do something in us.

Trials are a gift, and they're a gift because they are God's means for growing us. So, we are going to spend some time this morning looking at James 1:2-5 where God clearly lays out for us why trials are a gift, what the test of trials is, what he does through them, and then how he wants to guide us through those individual trials.

It couldn't be more applicable as we find ourselves in this season where we had… Whatever was going on in your life already that was hard, let's just throw this on top of it. If you're like me, there has been a temptation through a lot of this to be a little bit bitter and frustrated. If we take that posture, if you take that posture, you're going to miss out on what God wants to do in and through you in this season.

So let's dive in and begin to look at what God's Word has to say about this. In James, chapter 1, we're going to go verses 2-5. We'll just start at the beginning of it. He says, _ "My brothers and sisters…" _ So he's writing to believers. _ "…consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance." _

We see here that trials are a test of our faith. What does that mean? Testing is to demonstrate or show the true value of something. For instance, whenever you're looking at a precious metal or looking at gold and you want to see, "How pure is this gold?" the refiner would put it in fire to expose the impurities that may exist within it and show what faults or impurities may exist in that precious metal.

What God is telling us this year is that trials are a gift because they reveal the true nature of our faith. Well, why should that be a gift to us? Here's what I know: when life is easy and everything is going well, it's really easy for us to say we trust God with our mouths but really operate in independence from him and allow idols to capture our hearts, where we become more concerned about other things than God, but because life is easy, the impurities in our faith don't expose themselves.

What that does is we start on this trajectory where we slowly begin to go through life and start to, over time, drift apart from dependence on God, drift apart from our relationship with him, and then all of a sudden, a trial comes in. It's this moment where our faith is tested, and it reveals in us what is lacking in our faith. Therefore, it reveals in us the things that are keeping us from experiencing all the life God would want us to experience.

So, trials are a gift because they reveal the true nature of our faith. The guys in our Community Group talk about it this way. There's a phrase we use with each other, and it's just the phrase heat and pressure. So we'll be catching up. Somebody asks the question, "Hey, how was your week?" or "How was your day?" and somebody may say, "Man, there has been a lot of heat and pressure this week" or "There has been a lot of heat and pressure today."

What we mean by that is we've been walking through a hard circumstance, and it has been challenging to us. Then really great conversation ensues after that, because we start to lean in and ask each other, "Well, how did you respond in that moment of heat and pressure? Where did you run to for relief in that moment of heat and pressure? What did your relationship look like with your wife when the house was chaotic and you were at your wit's end?"

As we do that and as we ask those questions, what we see… What I've come to learn about the testing of our faith is… How do we identify what those impurities are? We simply look at how we respond and where we run whenever those moments of heat and pressure, whenever that testing occurs. Look. It's hard. One of the hardest things about being tested in our faith is that it's painful to see our own imperfections. I can't stand it whenever I see my own failures and the way it affects me.

There have been two moments since this whole coronavirus thing has hit that my imperfections were revealed in a really painful way. Right now, for those of you who may not know, our Fort Worth Campus, as a by-product of multiplication and discipleship that has happened, will be launching to independence this summer, so we're working toward that. There's a lot of stuff to do, so there's this responsibility that I'm probably inappropriately carrying on my shoulders to lead us well through that.

Then this crisis time hits, and I'm like, "Okay. How do I lead our campus really well through this?" So I'm consumed a lot in my mind with what the right next things to do are, what people are thinking about my leadership. On two occasions, once with somebody on staff and once with my daughter, where they kind of invaded my space, my response to them was not one of kindness and gentleness, but because I was carrying this burden and trying to get through all of this, operating independently from God, I reacted in my flesh.

I kind of amped up and bowed up and was harsh with my words, and it damaged relationships around me, and it grieved me. It grieved me, because I know it didn't represent who I want to be, it didn't represent Christ in me, but at the same time it was a gift, because it showed me the gaps in my faith, the impurities in my faith.

Even still, having been walking with Jesus for a long time now, being on church staff for a long time now, I still struggle with wanting people to think well of me and drawing my worth from my reputation. I still struggle with a desire for control. These moments revealed to me that I still have work to do in preaching the gospel to myself and trusting God and depending on him when seasons of testing come through.

I don't know what it is for you, but my encouragement to you would be to think back so far over whatever it is you're going through, however this season has impacted you, be it a financial loss, be it illness, be it isolation and loneliness, whatever idols that has challenged for you, and say, "Okay, God. What are you revealing about my faith that's impure?"

And then, "How do you want to grow me? How can you help me become more like Christ in the midst of this season? Help me to see this season of trial as a gift and not like a burden. Help me to not be bitter but be grateful for this opportunity to grow." It's painful to acknowledge our imperfections, but there's purpose behind it, because God wants to test your faith, whatever you're going through, any trial, to help you begin to grow.

So what is it for you? And then begin to think about "How can I grow?" That's what James goes on to write in verse 4. After he talks about our faith being tested, he says that it produces endurance. _ "And let endurance have its perfect effect…" _ This is the purpose of the pain, of the testing. _ "…so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything." _

Saying that, "Hey, let the testing of your faith produce endurance…" That is going to perfect your character and complete your faith. That's the purpose in it. It's going to reveal the impurities so you can do something about it, so your character, where it's out of line with the character of Christ, can begin to be completed as you lean back in to trusting God, and then your faith in general, your trust in him, can be perfected and completed.

Here's the deal. None of us like trials, but if you think about it, I don't know that I've met anyone who said their real progress in their faith, in deepening their relationship with God, in deepening their relationship with other people around them and growing in their character… I don't know anybody who said those moments came when life was easy and comfortable.

I don't know anybody who has taken significant grounds in their faith and in their character when life was incredibly easy, but I have had a lot of conversations with people who would look into the deepest, darkest valleys of their lives and say, "I wouldn't change anything about it, because it's in those moments of trial and hardship and pain that I came to know the deep love of God more than I ever have at any other time in my life, where God did something to begin to transform the relationships around me during those moments in my life."

Trials are the most direct path to progress in our lives; therefore, we can view them for the gift that they are. So, the second point I would see in this is that trials are the training grounds for growth. Just on that note of being thankful for hard times deepening us, here are a few stories. There's a friend of mine… It came out a few years ago that her husband had been in the middle of an affair for three years, and she was completely crushed.

I got to sit down with both her and her husband and spend a lot of time with them and invest in them, and they began to make right choices. Both of them began to draw a circle around themselves and say, "God, help me in my faith. Help me in who I am. Help me to become more like Christ."

Then a year later, sitting across the table from them, Rachel said, "You told me in those first few conversations that there was a possibility that I could look back on this and be grateful for what happened because of what it produced in my relationship with Christ and what it did in my marriage."

She said, "I thought you had completely lost your mind, but now a year later, I have a walk with the Lord like I've never experienced in my entire life, and believe it or not, I have the marriage with that man now that I always wanted but had never experienced before. So I'm grateful for the trial of that infidelity because of how God used it to grow both me and my husband."

I even think about some of the darkest times for my wife Lindsay and I of walking through infertility. My wife, just in reflecting on those seasons, says, "I'm so grateful for the valleys I've had to walk through in my life. Not the mountaintop experiences of ease but the valleys I've had to experience in my life, because I've come to appreciate the beauty of experiencing God in hard times and how God has used that to grow me."

Then even just contextually for right now, in conversations even through the social media thing, many of you said, "I'm beginning to become grateful for the quarantine because it's helping me realize what's most important in life. God is doing something in me, and he's doing something in my family and in my friends." There's a gratitude that comes because we begin to see how the trials are the training grounds for growth for us.

James goes on, and he uses the word endurance. The word endurance here is interesting. It's the word hupomone in the Greek, and it carries with it the context of endurance would be standing up underneath the weight of the circumstance or being able to stay on your feet in the face of immense pressure. So it carries with it this idea of not caving in or not escaping from the trial you find yourself in but standing firm in the midst of it.

What it's saying is when you choose to stand firm in your faith whenever the heat and pressure of the trial is really hot, that's when the perfecting and the completing happen. I know there's a tendency when the pain is high, when the trial is really hard, to want to escape from it and flee from it, but when Christians try to flee from trials, they stunt their growth.

If you are right now trying to get out from underneath this season, or whatever it is you're going through, as fast as you possibly can… I get it. I get the need to want to seek relief and be out of this season you're in, but when you do that, you're going to miss out on everything God has for you. It's like an athlete who doesn't want to do the training.

I was a personal trainer and a strength coach for a while, and I can tell you there are two types of athletes. There are those who look at training… They don't necessarily love it, but they know if they are willing to go all in and get the most out of the training, they're going to grow significantly from it and are going to be better athletes because of it, but then there are other athletes who just like to be on the field when the game is going.

They cut corners during training. They try to get out from as many workouts as they can or they just focus on upper body and skip leg day and end up all bicep and no backside, and when they get out on the field, when the time comes to truly stand firm, they don't have what it takes, because they weren't willing to go through the training. They tried to get out from underneath the weight of the training, and it stunted their growth.

In the same way, for you, whatever it may be, whatever the specific circumstances of the trial you're going through, don't seek to flee from it. Submit to it. Enter into the trial and begin to see what it is like for you to keep the faith, to stand firm, so you can grow in the midst of all this. Here's the other thing. I think sometimes we can get really defeated when we don't do this well, when we don't endure well, when we don't struggle well.

When we have something happen, like what happened with me in kind of a blowup moment, where all of your imperfections are revealed, it can be defeating. For all of you moms right now who are running the home and taking care of your kids and teaching schoolwork all at the same time, there's a moment in the day where your kids are just in your ear, in your ear, in your ear, and you kind of lash out at them for a moment. That can be defeating.

You've had this great day all day long with your kids, and then one moment destroys everything. It can make you want to give up, but I would say this: don't. God's mercies are new every morning. Proverbs 24:16 says, _ "Indeed a righteous person will fall seven times…" _ They'll fail seven times, but then they get up again, and they go at it, and they continue to persist and to endure and try to grow, but the guilty collapse in time of calamity and give up.

I saw a video this week. It talked about the fourth week of quarantine, and it was a dad who was outside cooking hamburgers. His son, who was probably 10 years old, was behind him, and he was dribbling a basketball all over the place, bumping into the dad, and then the dad had that meltdown moment, where he turns around, grabs the basketball, and punts it no less than 50 yards across the yard. He was like, "I'm done."

Truthfully, in some form or fashion, all of us may have those moments, but don't give up. Seek forgiveness whenever those impurities in your faith and character shine brightly, and then repent and get up and continue to walk forward in faith in what God is teaching you, because we have to continue to move forward in faith if we want to experience the growth that's going to happen.

The growth God wants to give you in the midst of this trial is not going to come automatically. It is going to require some work and some effort on your part, but trials are the training grounds for growth. So view this season as an opportunity, as you walk through hard times, for God to do something in you that's not really capable of happening when life is easy and well. I think if that happens, you'll look back on this season, whatever trial you may be going through, with gratitude and not bitterness, and it'll be a blessing to you.

Then James would go on and he would finish, saying, "In the midst of all this, God has not left you stranded. He wants to guide you through this." In verse 5, he says, _ "But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him." _ God is saying, "If you lack wisdom on how to navigate whatever hard time you're going through, come to me, and I'll guide you through it."

My last point would be that God wants to guide you as he grows you through trials. You're not in this alone. He has provided you with the wisdom of his Word. He has provided you with an invitation to come to him in prayer for help. He has provided you with the people of God and an abundance of counselors to help guide you through this season.

If you're having a hard time figuring out what you should do, how you grow in the midst of whatever the trial is that you're going through… If you lack guidance in that, the only reason you lack guidance is because you're not searching for it. It's readily available. God says, "I will provide this for you if you seek it. There should be no reason for you to go without guidance unless the reason is you're not looking for the guidance I want to provide you."

It would be similar to this. My wife and I have lived in Fort Worth now for seven or so years. After like week seven, I started driving around town without my GPS because I started to learn my way around, but Lindsay… We've been here for seven years. She goes to largely the same grocery store every single week, but still, seven years later, before she leaves the house to go anywhere, she always pulls up her final destination on her phone and has directions on where she's going to go.

I give her all kinds of hard time about it, but there's something that never happens to Lindsay that occasionally happens to me. She never gets lost. Not once. And occasionally, in my thinking I have infinite wisdom, I will get lost, even in this town I've been in for seven years. The point is: don't skip the step of looking to God for guidance on how to navigate this season.

He wants to guide you. He has given you everything you need to learn and to look at how to navigate this season well, so he wants to guide you as he will grow you through whatever trial may be that you're walking through in this season or in any season. So, I'll give you this assignment. How do you actually take ground in this? Just to recap a few questions I asked along the way…

In a journal or just get out a piece of paper somewhere on a notepad, and you can answer these three questions. I think if you spend a little bit of time on these three questions, you won't waste this season. You'll look back on it. You'll see the trial of whatever is going on as a gift, and God will use it to perfect your faith and complete your character. These are the questions:

  1. What are the current trials revealing about the impurities in your faith? What are they?

  2. How might God be trying to grow you during these trials? What is he trying to show you, and what can he advance in your faith and in your character?

  3. What wisdom from God's Word needs to be applied for you to have right guidance as you navigate this time in this season?

I think if you spend a little bit of time on those three questions, you will be able to apply these concepts James has unpacked for us to your life today, and you'll experience the growth, and you'll look back on this season and say, "Hey, I didn't ask for this, I didn't want this, but I'm grateful for what God did in the midst of it."

I'll close with this. Right now, there's a family I have seen make a massive change in their perspective on something that's really, really hard that they're going through. It's my friends Jody and Kristee Walker. Jody and Kristee have three young boys, and Kristee has always longed for, held out for a girl one day. Several months ago, they found out they were pregnant with their fourth child, and lo and behold, it turns out it's going to be a baby girl.

Right about the same time they found all that news out, they also got the news that Kristee was diagnosed with cancer. She was still in the first trimester when this happened, so not only does she get diagnosed with cancer, there was significant fear from both of them on "Will the baby be able to make it? Will Kristee survive this cancer?"

Then came the news, like, "We can't even start treatment because you're in the first trimester and the risk that's going to pose to your child, so we're going to have to delay treatment and allow the cancer to continue to grow until your baby has grown enough into the second trimester where we feel like it's safe at that point to begin treatment."

So their world comes crashing down on them, and then all of a sudden, too, this coronavirus stuff sweeps the globe, and she's extremely high-risk for infection, and they're just like, "What is going on in our world?" Some of their early responses to that was the fear of life being lost. Whatever may happen to them, there was frustration and anger about what was going on.

Both of them, as I was in a conversation with them, said their early responses in all that were to try to disconnect and kind of numb out and not deal with the pain and the emotions they were feeling, but then they said it got to a point where they realized God was showing them something in the middle of all this.

For Jody, he said, "God was showing me that although I would say I lived a life of dependence on him, in this situation I was trying to be strong for my wife and was just trying to figure out what was the next right thing for us to do, and I was doing all of it completely independent from God. I was burdened and just weighed down and being crushed by the entirety of the situation." Then Kristee said it revealed to her this sense of entitlement she carried, like she was entitled to good health, that she was entitled to this baby girl.

She also had a false sense of goodness and thinking goodness in this life was ease and comfort and material goods. But then they turned the corner. Kristee said she turned the corner in dealing with this cancer diagnosis when she decided to lament and to admit everything she was feeling…the fear she had about the life of her child and about her own life, the fear she had about what she may lose, her broken desires and shattered dreams.

She said, at that point, when she began to lament and actually turn to God and say, "This is how I'm feeling. Will you help me?" everything began to change for her and for Jody. She said as they've walked through that season… She just finished up, this week, her final chemo treatment. She said, "Ultimately, what God has shown me in all of this and how he has helped me grow is he has redefined my definition of goodness."

She said, "Beforehand, goodness to me was defined as having a life of comfort and ease and a nice house and a happy family, but through all this…through walking through this really, really hard time of cancer, of treatment, of the scare of what the virus stuff could do in the midst of all that…I have come into the deepest, most joyful relationship with God I ever have in my entire life. God has redefined my goodness to be about walking with him closely and intimately and having all the joy that comes from that and nothing else."

Then Jody would say what it has helped him realize is just to have a greater awareness that they're not unique in their suffering, that they're not unique in their trials, and that people all around them all the time are walking through things like they're walking through. So even in the midst, as they walk through what they need to, he said one of the biggest things that has helped is for him to take his eyes off of their circumstances and look around to other people.

He said, "As we have started praying for our friends and reaching out to help others in small ways that we can, it has lightened our burden, and it has helped me come to trust God more and to love other people more in a way that Christ would." Then at the end of it all, Kristee said, "The first week after my diagnosis with cancer, there were some people who reached out who were on the tail end of it, who were in the recovery phase of the cancer stuff."

She said they told her, "When you get done with all this, you're going to look back on this season, and you're not going to ever wish your diagnosis would have been different. You're going to be grateful for it because of what God did in you and through you during this season." She said, "I thought they were crazy." She just kind of laughed it off.

She said, "I didn't see how I could ever be grateful for having cancer and having my child's life at risk," but she said, "Believe it or not, I am. I am grateful for it because of how God has brought me closer to him, how he has forever changed my marriage, and how he has forever changed our outlook on life and what's most important and the need to love and to serve and to care for other people."

She also said this. I asked her, "If you could tell the people I'm about to talk to whatever you wanted about enduring a trial, what would it be?" She said, "Trial is experienced on a personal level, but recovery from trial is experienced communally." Meaning, nobody is going through the exact same thing she's going through right now, but through reaching out for God's help, for the people of God's help, recovery and endurance have come, and the strength to endure would have never been there if she wouldn't have reached out to the Lord and to other people for help as she went through it.

So, my friends, I don't know in this season what trial looks like for you, but I hope you will change your perspective on it, that you won't be bitter about what you're going through but that you will see this season as a gift and that the testing of these trials, as it reveals the impurities of your faith, will give you the opportunity to run to God and allow him to help grow you through the training grounds of trials in this season, to allow him to guide you as you walk through this, and then to look back and say:

"You know what? We didn't ask for this time. We didn't ask for months of shutdown, for economic collapse, for illness, for death, but you know what? God did something amazing in it, because I didn't seek to run but I submitted myself to him and to this process of this trial and have grown tremendously." I think if you do that, you will be grateful and will begin to see trials…not just now but forever…for the gifts they are. Let me pray for you.

Father, we thank you that in a way only you can, you can take something that is incredibly hard, you can take things we would never wish for for ourselves and use them for our good and that, ultimately, the way we come to know more of who you are and to experience that which is truly good… The way to experience those things is through suffering, through hardship, through trial.

So, if anyone is here and they're listening to this, God, I pray that you would encourage them. I pray that if they don't know you they would turn to you for the help they so desperately need, that they would reach out to us that we may come alongside them.

God, I pray you would give us by your grace the strength to stand up underneath the weight of the circumstances that are going on, to continue to trust you, and in doing so, would you conform us more into the image of your Son? Will you complete what is lacking in our faith? And may our attitudes be those of joy and gratefulness as opposed to bitterness and disdain. We love you, and we thank you for all that we have in Jesus Christ. Amen.