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Based on a sermon by S. Hwang—Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA


Nature is a powerful teacher. It neither lectures nor rebukes, but demonstrates through vivid imagery the more fundamental instructions of life—including the Christian one. Here is one lesson:

A mother eagle does a curious thing to its young. Once the mother decides it is time for the young to take flight and leave the nest, it stirs up the nest, forcing the defenseless eaglets off. At first blush, it is shocking that such a harsh method is employed. But this is a momentous event for the eaglet; it is through a relentless series of these brief, alarming windows of opportunity that the flightless fledglings learn the art of flight. It is when these earth-bound eaglets free-fall towards the ground, expecting to meet their deaths, that they find maturity instead, stretching their wings to take flight, becoming the majestic and fearsome birds of prey we know them to be.

Drawing from the richness of the Bible, we will first explore why and how God trains His chosen and beloved through the thorniest of trials.


God uses suffering and pain to humble and train His soldiers.
Fittingly, the eagle appears to have emulated the teaching style of its (and our) Maker—God. Mankind reaches the heights of maturity the same way the eaglets do—by falling first. Inspired by God, Moses notes this comparison with clarity in Deuteronomy 32:10–12:

[The LORD] found [Israel] in a desert land and in the wasteland, a howling wilderness; He encircled him, He instructed him, He kept him as the apple of His eye. As an eagle stirs up its nest, hovers over its young, spreading out its wings, taking them up, carrying them on its wings, so the LORD alone led him, and there was no foreign god with him.

In the mother tongue of Moses, Hebrew, the word for “establish” is kwun, which is alternatively translated as “prepare” or “strengthen.” Thus, when we read from Deuteronomy 32:6 that God establishes us, we understand that God is preparing us for greater things that we will accomplish for His name. Like the eaglets, our training can be abrupt, alarming, and at times, seemingly insurmountable. But we know, by His grace, resting on His wings, we will eventually stretch wings of our own and fly with an independent and mature faith.

We know this not just from eagles, but from the experiences of the Israelites too. Moses and the people expected a blissful future. Indeed, God had promised them one; the promised land of Canaan awaited their arrival. The heroes of the Exodus never imagined that they would spend nearly half a century as stateless nomads, wandering the harsh wilderness and weathering a spiritually trying series of rebellions and strife. Nevertheless, this was necessary for the Israelites to put away childish things. After forty years of witnessing first-hand the compassion and righteousness of their God, the faith of the Israelites emerged more mature than ever, finally ready to inhabit the Promised Land. After forty years, a disunited rabble of slaves emerged as a nation of faithful warriors capable of conquest and conviction in God.


In fact, suffering is not just used to build faith, but also to reflect and diagnose it. When we are forced to confront troubles in our lives, we reveal the truest extent of our faith and quality of our character, allowing us to evaluate how we stand before God.

Job, one of the most impressive heroes of faith in the Old Testament, immediately comes to mind. The personal tests we may lament about today would scarcely match that of Job’s. He suffered a series of horrid afflictions, designed and administered by Satan himself. Yet we also know of Job’s spiritual fortitude and how he, and more importantly, his faith in God, survived all the torments he experienced. Why was the test necessary? Even if not to show the devil the spiritual caliber of God’s chosen, the test was vital to Job reviewing his life of faith and understanding what it actually means to dedicate one’s life to God and live as His child. It was a test for Job’s friends as well, forcing them to re-examine their own flawed understanding of how human suffering fits into the plan of God.

Yes, for most of us, our trials today might seem trivial in comparison. But they are no less crucial for us to understand where we really stand spiritually. For instance, when you attend a church seminar and are faced with a barrage of rules and regulations, you feel severely restrictive. “After all,” you think to yourself, “even if I sleep an hour after lights-out, who am I harming?” God wants to treat us as adults, to be mature in thought and in action. The rules for the seminar may not necessarily be warmly received or the best course of action. However, we comply, simply because we love God and want His church to operate in love and harmony.

Our response to the challenges that God places on our path helps us to better understand the stage and nature of our faith. Is our faith still in its infancy, concerned only with our own well-being and interest? Is our faith too pompous and insensitive, preferring to pronounce judgment on others instead of performing frank introspection? We have to be honest with our imperfections, accepting that we can, and must, always better ourselves.


Training teaches us what true contentment in God is.
The early passages of Deuteronomy 8 are very revealing. “And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness,” reads the commandment in verses 2 and 3 of the chapter, “to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not … that he might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.”

Understanding that suffering and toil is an inescapable part of our lives, the question we must force ourselves to confront is this: when in the depths of our suffering, what, or who, will I turn to? Contentment is a commodity that is in abundance today. From life coaches and therapists to money, the possible sources of contentment available for someone searching for meaning and comfort are endless. Alas, as we all know, these are but poor imitations of the type of satisfaction only God can give us. It is understandably difficult to maintain that God is sometimes responsible for both the troubles that come our way and the healing balm that gives us peace. Yet therein lies the truth: God desires that we turn to Him in the throes of our turmoil. He wants us to yearn for Him, and in turn, seeks to demonstrate the wonders of His hand as He grants us the fortitude and faith to weather the storms.

Most students in church training seminars are often confronted with the trying test of abstinence from food—fasting prayers are especially demanding for the inexperienced. However, it is when the physical is muted that the spiritual within us awakens. This we know from the invigorating first-hand reports of the powerful spiritual experiences students have during their fasting prayers. Brief abstinence from food is a small price to pay for being able to be intimate with one’s spirit nature and with God. There is simply nothing like it.

Reading Deuteronomy 8:4–5, one can appreciate the poignancy of the point. Just like our seminary students, suffering is indeed promised. Fasting is a symbol for the many sacrifices and losses a Christian has to be prepared to go through according to God’s plan. However, just as the forty years of nomadic living did not afflict the Israelites with torn clothing and swollen feet, so has God promised deliverance and strength through grace for the faithful.


A tenacious faith does more than get us through the vicissitudes of life. It prepares the Christian for service to the church. Many well-intentioned and dedicated youths have passed through the doors of the church eager to use their talents to serve God in any ministry they are called to. Unfortunately many drop out midway. Sadder still are those who quit in tears. For many, the innumerable trials they encountered in their service to God shattered their romanticized expectations of ministry. They expected only bountiful grace and blessings—thinking these to be rewards for their work. But when faced with the inescapable problems of their personal lives and church work, they buckle under the weight of disappointment and resentment. Therefore, we have to be very clear with our attitudes; life within and without the church walls will certainly contain problems. Some are tests, some train us, and others are opportunities for God’s glory to be perfected in us. What we must never do is to have a false, idealistic notion of life as a Christian, understanding that grace is what God gives us to get through our problems, not get around them.


Knowing the importance of religious education and training through trials, we now come to the practical aspects. What is the best way to train? The answer rests with the greatest of teachers: Jesus Christ. We will explore three key features of the way Jesus trained and was trained Himself.

First, Jesus’ ministry began with Him being driven to the wilderness (Mk 1:13). The wilderness is an austere and uncompromising environment that forces those who wish to survive to be disciplined and focused on the necessary tasks. For the purposes of training, the wilderness is the church. Almost everything that distracts us from godly training at home is absent in church. No luxurious queen-size bed to laze in. No forty-inch TV to captivate us with its glare. No high-speed broadband internet connection to stream video after video. It is the various small luxuries that are missing from the church that make it such a conducive environment for spiritual training. Beneath this, however, lies a greater lesson. The world has no shortage of distractions that keep us unfocused and confused over our priorities. It is our responsibility as Christians to recognize that God comes first. Furthermore, we should do more than compartmentalize time for God, as if our Christianity is suspended at other periods. Rather, we are called to have God in mind and heart at all times. That involves seizing every opportunity to train oneself spiritually and trying to see the glory of God in the little things we do every day. This is best achieved when in the church environment.

Second, Jesus resisted the temptations of the devil by fasting for forty days and nights. Fasting is a powerful way for us to set aside our fleshly vices and distractions, to focus on the spiritual. If even the Son of God knew the weakness of flesh, and therefore the need for spiritual cultivation through fasting, then we have all good reason to fast regularly for our own sakes in our life of faith.

Third, one of the first things Jesus did during the early periods of His ministry was to gather disciples. These chosen men would eventually become His closest companions, students and ambassadors, bringing the memory and legacy of Jesus to many others. “A friend loves at all times,” Solomon counsels us in Proverbs 17:17, “and a brother is born for adversity.” Jesus knew that His disciples needed each other to grow in faith and perform the tasks appointed to them. It is hard to be a solitary Christian; God intends for true believers to become a community, independent in personal faith to God yet united in truth. Another proverb of Solomon reminds us that iron sharpens iron. We need to study the word of God, pray, and grow in spirit together. This builds a sense of shared accountability and camaraderie, reminding us that a true faith is not a self-absorbed one, but one that cares for fellow brothers and sisters, and for one’s family.


Suffering produces Christian character, allowing us to hone our virtues and learn how to rely on God. It provides us with an opportunity to reflect on our faith, examining it for frailties that most urgently require help. We should be prepared to ask both God and our brethren for guidance and healing.

Lastly, it prepares us for service in church by teaching us what true contentment is. This way, we are not disappointed and resentful when our life turns out less than perfect, because we know that Christianity is not in the business of giving us ideal, pain-free lives on earth. Instead, it provides character and hope while we are earth-bound, that we may receive the greater blessings above. In fact, we do not have to wait for life to present us with trials before we commence our training. Jesus has set out clear modes of training that we can emulate. This includes the habit of coming to church and attending church seminars for effective training, fasting, and fellowship among members of the spiritual family.

If we could speak to the towering figures of faith in the Bible and ask them how they managed to keep the faith and become role models for generations to come, what would they tell us? Would Moses recall his polished, princely upbringing in Pharaoh’s courts, or his wanderings in the wilderness, where he saw first-hand the majesty of God and the importance of obedience? Would Daniel point to his education and his status as his shining moment, or his quiet but determined faith and trust in the lions’ den? Surely we know the answer.

To rise with wings is not the goal itself. God does not wish for us to soar that we may feel powerful, or glide that we may inspire awe. We soar because God wishes for us to see the horizon beyond. We stretch our wings and climb the winds that we may always have heaven and our salvation in our sights and minds, never forgetting where we are going, and who we must look to get there.