On Turning Trials to Spiritual Advantage

In hindsight, I can usually see God’s good purposes in pain and difficulties. But I’m not much good at all at discovering His redemption in my present trials. By faith, I know it has to be there, but to me, most suffering seems pretty futile in the moment.

The late Medieval monk Thomas a Kempis is challenging me on my limited perspective, however. In his classic, The Imitation of Christ, he writes much on the theme of learning how to turn present circumstances to spiritual advantage.

Someone irritating you? That’s a chance to practice self-denial.

Someone lying about you? Your lucky day! You get to learn humility!

Everything going wrong for you? Just a reminder that this world is not your home.

At first Kempis seemed to be a bit out of touch to me. To turn every insult and injury into a “Hooray, I get to grow spiritually!” seemed almost like denial. But as I continued to ponder his approach to the spiritual life, I realized he is right. If I really mean it when I say that I want to be like Jesus, I want to imitate His life, then learning to accept and benefit from trials has to be part of it—probably a big part of it.

“Christ was willing to be assaulted and despised, and yet you have the nerve to moan and to wail just because something untoward happened to you?” Kempis challenges. “Christ had accusers and detractors, and yet you want to have only friends and benefactors?”

I hear the dare in Kempis’ words. But I know myself well enough to know that apart from Jesus actually living His life through me, I cannot do it. So Kempis is giving me a new way of praying.

Lord, how would You like to use this difficulty for my spiritual advantage? How can I be like You in this trial? Holy Spirit, will You please fill me with the ______________________ (humility, patience, faith, forgiveness, etc.) I need so that when this circumstance is through, I will resemble Jesus more closely?

Anyone want to join me in Kempis’ dare? I’d love to hear how it goes for you!

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