© by Todd A. Sinelli

There is an African proverb that says, “Smooth sails do not make skillful sailors.” I’ve been reflecting on this quite a bit lately because any person that has lived long enough, knows that life can bring many challenges. These challenges can come personally, professionally and spiritually. How we handle those challenges seems to be of utmost importance.

The Bible says, “the conclusion of a matter is better than the beginning” (Eccl 7:8). When we are in a trial, we really don’t know how long it will last or how intense it may become. Although we do know that trials are a part of life and God promised us that “all who want to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12). Trials are part of being a Christian.

It is only after a trial visits us that we can take a deep sigh and say, “Thank You Lord.” Allow me to give some context and to explain the reason for my sincere gratitude as I reflect and consider. Without sharing details about the specific trials, the words from the Bible have gotten me through this season of seemingly endless difficulties, tests, and tribulations. Let me share a few passages to show what I mean.

Ecclesiastes 7:14 states, “In the day of prosperity, be happy, but in the day of adversity consider—God has made the one as well as the other so that man will not discover anything that will be after him.” These are the words from King Solomon and he is sharing with us that God ordains both kinds of days and withholds knowledge of the future. This theme is again repeated by Jesus in Matthew chapter 6 where Jesus says, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).

As we continue reading through the New Testament, we begin to pick up on a certain theme that life is difficult; however, the life of a Christian is constantly to be renewed in the glorious hope that the future is better than the past. God wants us to “Set our mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2). “The world and its desires fade away, but the one who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:17).

There is a certain heaviness and discontentment that seems to occur when we focus too much in the past. The games of comparison begin to occur. Once again, the Bible steps in to point out how it is not wise too dwell too much in the past. “Do not say, ‘Why is it that the former days were better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this” (Ecclesiastes 7:10). I would have saved myself many upset stomach aches from worrying too much of the past if I would have heeded this biblical counsel.

Many people believe that “God wants them to be happy.” I used to think this way; however, as I study my Bible I am realizing this isn’t quite a true Biblical position. When I hear someone say this phrase, my theological antennae perk up. I’m usually intrigued by what is going on in the person’s life. Are they wanting something and not getting it? Are they mad at God because they are not happy and thereby blaming Him for their state of discontentment? Or, is life just not working out as they deem it should? This statement is more of a philosophical pontification than anything else.

The Words from Jesus state, “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The Apostle Peter said, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as thought some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation” (1 Peter 3:12-13). James wrote, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). What paradoxical teachings! Take courage? Don’t be surprised? And consider it joy when I’m going through some tough times?! Am I actually reading these passages correctly?! C’mon, this can’t be right. Or could it?

The Bible says, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). There seems to be a theme to trials, tests, and difficulties. They usually don’t stop until we learn the lesson that God is using them to refine, mold, and shape us into the image and likeness of His Son, Jesus.

Many times when a person says “God wants me to be happy” they are looking through a very selfish lens. It’s as if God exists for them and not them for God (1 Corinthians 8:6). When I adapt this same line of thinking and really reflect on why I am not happy, it usually is because I am not getting what I want. There lies the problem because I am putting myself first before God and others. The Bible says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it in on your pleasures” (James 4:3).

Bingo, boingo, focusing on my pleasures is usually the problem. I am focused more on me than the Lord or another person. The joy of being a Christian is released through serving others above ourselves. As a matter of fact, Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourself, do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interest of others.”

Smooth sails do not make skillful sailors. Choppy waters, turbulent winds, and varying temperatures produce skillful sailors. The Bible says there is a time for every season and every appointed event under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1). I know that seasons change. I know that I usually don’t like turbulent winds in my life; however, I’m renewing my mind and changing my thinking by letting the Word of God guide my thoughts. Now, I love tests, trials, and challenging people and situations. Each person and event is allowing me to die to self and live to Christ (Philippians 1:21). I can thank anyone who is being a challenge in my life and say with confidence, “Thank you for adding to my sanctification process. How can I help you?” There is a magical release when these words flow from my lips.

Now, I sit back and look upon past trials and say “Thank You Lord”. “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes. The law of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (Psalm 119:71-72) and I’m learning that I can “rejoice in tribulation, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).

Smooth sails do not make skillful sailors. Let us consider this the next time we hear someone say, “God wants me to be happy.” There is a lot of happiness and even joy knowing that the God I love and serve is in control of the wind, storms, and trials of my life. I am also discovering that happiness is usually based on circumstances. Yet, joy is based on correct knowledge of the Lord. The Bible gives me full assurance that “no discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). The Bible also tells me God is faithful, He will not let give me more than I can handle and will always provide a way for me to stand up under the test, trial or temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Ahhh, the joy of nowing the Lord and giving thanks in all circumstances renews my mind, refreshes my spirit, and rekindles my desire to further study my Bible to let the light of Christ shine out of darkness and to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). What a joy it is to sail through rough waters knowing that my faith will grow as my dependence on God deepens by learning to trust in Him through any and all circumstances!