Trials Teach

A sermon preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas on March 22, 2020.

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason           returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives    forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from         generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and   extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble (Daniel 4:34–37).[1]

I have observed a phenomenon in modern American Christianity regarding the sovereignty of God. We like to pick and choose when it applies: God is sovereign when it suits me. I have also noticed that we more readily attribute something good to God but not what we perceive to be bad.

Regardless of our perception, God’s Word reveals that he is sovereign over all. As R.C. Sproul said, “There are no maverick molecules.” Of course, it is right to theologically distinguish between what God does and secondary causes, but for the purpose of this sermon, I think it best that we remember what the Westminster Confession of Faith so eloquently states: “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass” (3.1).

God is God, we are not. What happens in his creation is not outside of his sovereign purpose or care. As the psalmist celebrates, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Ps. 115:3). While such a declaration may frighten some (and should!), it is comfort to the Christian, the child of God.

In fact, as we mature in our understanding of God’s sovereignty, it encourages us to trust him more and more. And this includes the trials and tribulations of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Margaret Clarkson wrote,

The sovereignty of God is the one impregnable rock to which the suffering human heart must cling. The circumstances surrounding our lives are no accident: they may be the work of evil, but that evil is held firmly within the mighty hand of our sovereign God. …All evil is subject to Him, and evil cannot touch his children unless He permits it. God is the Lord of human history and of personal history of every member of His redeemed family.[2]

Every circumstance of our existence is under the sovereign control of God and there is purpose in what he does and permits. This includes the trials and tribulations that you and I encounter, and in them God is not absent nor silent. C.S. Lewis wrote in his book The Problem of Pain, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”[3]

This was understood all too well by one of the unlikeliest: Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. In his day, Nebuchadnezzar was the most powerful man in the world, power given by God, and yet he did not know God nor fear him. Rather, he allowed the gifts of God to become idols of deception, leading him to believe that he was not only the sovereign of his soul but also worthy of worship.

One day, walking on the roof of his royal palace, Nebuchadnezzar looked out across his kingdom, and in his pride and arrogance exclaimed, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” (Dan. 4:30). And in that instant, God spoke judgment from heaven and Nebuchadnezzar the Great became a beast, not metaphorically but literally. The Scripture says that “his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.” Like an animal, he was driven away from people and “ate grass like an ox” (Dan. 4:33).

This is not fiction, neither myth nor allegory, but the historical account of a man humbled by God through the greatest trial of his life. Yet, as amazing as this account is, I want to focus on his response to this trial. In his restoration to humanity, he did not brag of his endurance nor shake his fist at God. He did not boast with false humility of his depravity nor wallow in self-pity. How did Nebuchadnezzar respond to the greatest trial of his life? That’s what I want us to look at and consider more closely today, because trials teach, but are we listening?

Honor and glorify God

Restored, both mind and body, Nebuchadnezzar says that he “blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation.” In reading the account, it seems as if as soon as he regains the gift of speech, he is praising God. He blesses not a god but the God “Most High.” Perhaps nothing gives you a high view of God more than eating grass like an ox.

Note how Nebuchadnezzar honors God: He proclaims his attributes. He describes God as eternal: “him who lives forever.” Stephen Charnock wrote, “As the essence of God cannot be bounded by any place, so it is not to be limited by any time; as it is his immensity to be everywhere, so it is his eternity to be always.”[4] Moses, to whom God revealed himself as the great, “I AM,” sang to God, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Ps. 90:2).

Coupled with this, Nebuchadnezzar adds that God’s dominion is everlasting. There never was nor ever will be a day when God was not, is not, will not be sovereignly in control. While you and I may be perplexed, confused, or even frightened, God is not, nor was he ever, nor will he ever be. So also, God’s kingdom, Nebuchadnezzar declares, “endures from generation to generation.” Our sovereign God will never be usurped nor overthrown. Earthly governments may rise and fall, but there is one constant heavenly kingdom to which every child of God through faith in Christ belongs.

Yet, Nebuchadnezzar is not a stoic academic spouting off a systematic theology. He is a man who has been restored from the greatest trial of his life and can do nothing but first honor God and glorify him. May the same be said of you and me.

How do we respond to the trials of this life? Is God teaching you to honor him in thought, word, and deed? Are you glorifying God by trusting him in his purposes and providence? Or, are you worshiping at the altar of anxiety? Are you meditating on the attributes of God as a means of edification and worship? If the first words out of Nebuchadnezzar’s mouth were words of praise, declaring the attributes of God, should we not be the same in our trials? Trials teach us to honor and glorify God.

Walk humbly before God

In Nebuchadnezzar’s doxology we also see a surprising humility. He who once considered himself like a god, to be worshiped, the king of kingdoms and presumably his own soul, saw himself and all of humanity honestly, untainted by hubris: “all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’”

Man, made in God’s image, can do amazing things, and the technological advancements of our age are a case in point. But there is also the temptation to elevate our accomplishments in our eyes and become prideful, self-exalting, and self-dependent. And then trials come and sober us.

When we honestly consider God for who he is, we realize we are nothing but dust. In one of his sermons, C.H. Spurgeon recounted,

Napoleon once heard it said, that man proposes and God disposes. “Ah,” said Napoleon, “but I propose and dispose too.” How do you think he proposed and disposed? He proposed to go and take Russia; he proposed to make all Europe his. He proposed to destroy that power, and how did he come back again? How had he disposed it? He came back solitary and alone, his mighty army perished and wasted, having well-nigh eaten and devoured one another through hunger. Man proposes and God disposes.[5]

God indeed “does according to his will” in heaven and earth.

Do we respond to this with the arrogance of Napoleon or the new-found humility of Nebuchadnezzar? In the greatest trail of his life, Job’s wife asked rhetorically, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die.” To which Job humbly responded, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:9-10). Shall we receive the sunshine but not the storm? Health but not sickness? Shall we continue in our self-sufficiency with closed ears and cold hearts? Rather, let us listen with humbled hearts: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).

Trials are indeed tests from God meant to show us more clearly who God is and who we are before him. Nebuchadnezzar learned this clearly. God is God. We are not.

How do we respond to the trials of this life? Is God revealing to you a heart of pride? Are you more upset about restrictions to your freedom than listening to what God is teaching you about your heart? Is he leading you to a greater dependence upon him? What if “Give us this day our daily bread” became more than a recitation and more of a prayer for your neighbor. Is he enabling you to walk humbly before him as a means of edification and worship? There is purpose in everything God does and permits. Trials teach us to walk humbly before God.

Rejoice in God’s provision

Perhaps the most quoted and least obeyed verse concerning trials is from James: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4). To couple this with Romans 8:29, we may summarize that God uses trials to conform us to Christ, so rejoice. Rejoice! Trials can make you more Christlike. The problem is that we want a trial free life more than we want to be Christlike. And trials expose this.

Therefore, in order to count it all joy when we meet trials, we need first to remember the joy of the gospel. We who were once spiritually dead in our trespasses and sins have been made spiritually alive by God’s grace alone through faith in Christ alone to the glory of God alone. By virtue of this new birth, we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ and being conformed to his image more and more, moment by moment, day by day, trial by trial.

Consider this, dear Christian: if Jesus, the holy Son of God, is our Lord, and if God is conforming us to his Son, and if he uses trials to do this, how can we not rejoice? As a result of God’s mercy, Nebuchadnezzar praises and extols and honors “the King of heaven,” declaring that “all his works are right, and his ways are just.” Why does he respond this way? Because he had seen the provision of God in his redemption. Looking back on his sinful pride and having been humbled, he rejoiced in the King of heaven.

In his commentary on Daniel, Matthew Henry writes, “Afflictions shall last no longer than till they have done the work for which they were sent.”[6] How do we respond to the afflictions, the trials, of this life? Do we consider them punishment rather than tools of our Great Teacher? Do we consider them endurance sessions rather than maturity opportunities? Do we consider them a reason to curse God rather than to bless him?

Trials teach. They teach us to honor and glorify God. They teach us to walk humbly before him. And they teach us to rejoice in God’s provision. Let us be faithful to listen.

            Far, far above your thought

            His counsel shall appear,

            When fully he the work has wrought

            That caused your needless fear.

            Leave to his sovereign will

            To choose and to command;

            With wonder filled, you then shall own

            How wise, how strong his hand.[7]

[1] Unless referenced otherwise, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2001).

[2] Quoted in Jerry Bridges, Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2008), 38.

[3] C.S. Lewis, “C.S. Lewis on the Problem of Pain,” C.S. Lewis Institute, August 12, 2012,

[4] Stephen Charnock, Discourses Upon the Existence and Attributes of God (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Company, 1979), 1:349.

[5] Quoted in Jerry Bridges, Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2008), 77.

[6] Matthew Henry, “Matthew Henry’s Commentary: Daniel 4,” Bible Hub, accessed March 19, 2020,

[7] “Commit Now All Your Griefs,” in Trinity Hymnal (Suwanee: Great Commission Publications, 1990), 669.

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