What Our Trials Teach Us About Discipleship

Have we ever paused to reflect on the purpose of the trials that we face as Jesus’ disciples? Has it ever occurred to us that we can learn a lot from our trials as disciples?

The Prophet Jeremiah learns three basic truths by facing the trials that come from being a messenger of God to His people.

First, he learns about his true self and ability from this trial. He sees himself as “the poor,” one who is helpless in the face of the “power of the wicked.” He comes to accept that he is completely incapable to fulfill this mission on his own in the face of all opposition. He sees the need to surrender to God, “For to you (God) I have entrusted my cause.”

Second, he learns about his true friends and enemies, “All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine. ‘Perhaps he can be tricked; then we will prevail, and take our vengeance on him.’” This moment of trial allows him to differentiate his true friends from his pseudo-friends.

Third, he learned about the true God who never abandons His own people, “But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion.” He comes to experience the undying fidelity of God to him in his moment of trial and the triumph God will eventually give him over his adversaries, “My persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph. In their failure they will be put to utter shame, to lasting unforgettable confusion.”

He learned these truths not by avoiding but by facing the trials that come from being a prophet in those moments when God chose to “test the just and probe the mind and heart.” These three truths – the knowledge of his true self, his true friends and true God – give him power over his fears. Experiencing these truths, he does not succumb to fear but gives praise to God in the midst of all his trials, “Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord, for He has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked.”

Moments of trials are moments of truth! The same thing applies to us as we follow Christ as His disciples and face interior and exterior trials in His name and for His sake. Our times of trials give us the chance to know our true self with our virtues and vices, strengths and weaknesses, light and darkness, etc. We suspend our usual self-deception to face our true selves. Times of trials also show us who our true friends are, those who will stand with us and help us to be faithful to God and those who will abandon us or even add to our pains at those moments. Trials are also the time that God waits to manifest His true self to us beyond what we ever thought or imagined about Him. These truths, which are basically more experiential than intellectual truths, give us power over our fears. We are easily overcome with fear when we lack these truths.

Jesus first invitation to us in the Gospel is this: “Fear no one.” His second invitation is that we give constant witness to all persons in all times and placed without fear or favor, “What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.” Our God speaks to us His children even in the dark and painful moments of our lives, offering us a message of hope and renewal to the world.

But we can fulfill this double commission only when we are fully grounded in these three truths that come from facing trials as Christ’s disciples.

We come to know our true selves and our true value before God; that we are known and loved by God and precious to Him, “So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” We cannot succumb to fear when we live out of this sense of our true worth before God.

We come to know our true friends and enemies and the divinely ordained limit of their influences in our lives, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” This knowledge allows us to resist unrealistic expectations of friends and exaggerated fears of our enemies.

We come to know the true God, the God who knows us intimately as well as all that we are going through in life, “Even all the hairs on your head are counted.” God knows us very well, more than we know ourselves and, more importantly, He knows the good that we can do in His name with the aid of the abundant grace that He makes present to us as St. Paul affirmed, “If by that one person’s transgressions the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one person Jesus Christ overflow for the many.”

Divine grace indeed overflows in those moments so that we can face trials in Jesus’ name, learn those truths, and give faithful witness to Him even in the midst of trials. Hence Jesus concluded, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” Knowing the true God who knows us completely and the abundance of grace He offers us, we focus more on what God sees as we witness to Him before others and not on what other people think or say about us.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we are not strangers to trials in our life as Christ’s disciples. Interiorly we have temptations, doubts, fears, inner wounds, sins, sicknesses, worries, lingering weaknesses in character, etc. Exteriorly we face persecutions from others, rejections, temptations from demons, ridicule, insults, threats, etc. These trials can breed fear into our hearts and leave us crippled in our discipleship. The only remedy is knowing our true selves, our true friends and the true God. This three-fold truth alone gives us power over all fears. But how can we gain these truths?

Firstly, let our prayer over our trials be focused more on our relationship with God and learning from Him these truths more than on securing a reprieve from the trials of life. Even as we must pray fervently for our deliverance from the trials of life, we must also remain attentive to what God is revealing to us about ourselves, Himself, and others in and through these trials.

Secondly, we cultivate a spirit of surrender similar to that of Jeremiah who said to God, “For to you I have entrusted my cause.” God teaches and instructs us and we become more docile to His teaching when we begin to surrender to Him and give Him absolute control over all the aspects of our personal life, personality and activities. We cannot learn anything as long as we are holding on to our own preferences and likes.

Lastly, we cultivate the attitude of Mama Mary who “treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.”(Lk 2:19) This characteristic attitude of Mary allowed her to constantly learn these truths in all the events of her life. She was not a reactionary or activist in her trials but, through these trials, she constantly learned about her mysterious self, her true friends, and the true God who loved her so much to take human flesh in her chaste womb. She really knew her true friends. How else could she have gone in haste to visit Elizabeth but fled immediately to Egypt when King Herod sought to kill her son Jesus?

Our God is speaking to us even in our dark and gloomy world, offering us words and abundant graces to give faithful witness to Him before all persons even as we ourselves are beset with trials within and without. We cannot completely avoid these trials as Jesus assured us, “In this world you will have tribulations.” Our only hope is to know the true God, the one who assures us, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”(Jn 16:33)

The trials we face as disciples of Jesus are neither useless moments nor moments to doubt God’s love, presence, and wisdom in our lives. But if we face them as disciples of Jesus, these trying moments become moments of liberating truth and overflowing graces for our faithful witness to Jesus in word and deed.

With the help of Mama Mary, let us correspond to this graces and constantly grow in these three truths — our true self, our true friends, and our true God — and we will have power, divine power to overcome fears and face trials for the sake of Jesus Christ.

Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!

Photo by Ciel Cheng on Unsplash

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Fr. Nnamdi Moneme OMV is a Roman Catholic Priest of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary currently on missionary assignment in the Philippines. He serves in the Congregations' Retreat Ministry and in the House of Formation for novices and theologians in Antipolo, Philippines. He blogs at  www.toquenchhisthirst.wordpress.com.

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