On January 24, 1975, the world-renowned pianist Keith Jarrett was scheduled to play at the Cologne Opera House. Jarrett had requested the use of a Bösendorfer 290 Imperial concert grand piano for his performance but there was a mix-up and the opera house staff instead found a smaller Bösendorfer backstage, a smaller baby grand piano used for rehearsals, and set it up on the stage. According to the concert organizer, the substitute piano "was completely out of tune, the black notes in the middle didn't work, the pedals stuck. It was unplayable." Jarrett made the decision to continue with the concert anyway. A recording of that concert entitled, The Köln Concert, was released later that year and went on to become the best-selling solo album in jazz history, and the all-time best-selling piano album. Great talent under the tension of incredible adversity had created musical magic. It made me think of the many times when plans have failed, preparation gets interrupted, or health problems play havoc with my life or the life of someone I care for. Our men’s canoe trip this weekend was plagued by treacherous winds as we canoed, rain and dampness as we camped, and more mosquitoes than I’ve ever experienced before. We prayed for God to take the trials away – and that was good and appropriate. But The Köln Concert and the Scriptures remind me that there are other things to pray for.

1.      Ask God who this trial might help you minister to.

This morning I read an intriguing verse from Paul’s letter to the Galatians: You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus (Galatians 4:13-14). As an apostle, Paul performed many powerful miracles (Acts 19:11). But he knew that the purpose of all sickness was not just to show how God could heal it. Here, Paul’s sickness had been used to delay other plans he seemed to have had, and gave him an opportunity to minister to the Galatians. Trials can be used in our lives to redirect us or give us opportunities for ministry we might not have otherwise had.

2.      Ask God who this trial might help you comfort.

Paul suffered things most of us never will. But He also experienced more of God’s comfort as well. And he came to see that God was bringing him through those trials and ministering to him in the midst of them so that he could minister to others also. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 he writes, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. As we face suffering, we have an opportunity to minister to people who are going through the same trial we are, but often without God or His peace.

3.      Ask God what He might be trying to teach you through the trial.

Paul was repeatedly beaten, stoned, and imprisoned throughout his ministry and had much opportunity to think on why God might allow such hardships to one who ministered so faithfully. As he asked God, he learned that at times God was using the trial to make us rely not on ourselves but on God (2 Corinthians 1:9). At other times, he was convinced that a physical ailment he suffered from was to keep from becoming conceited (2 Corinthians 12:7). And other times God revealed that He was using Paul’s suffering to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us (2 Corinthians 4:7). While pleasure is a great blessing, suffering is often a better teacher. Let’s ask and see what God might reveal to us about ourselves or His nature as we face trials.

As we scratched our mosquito bites and sat in our damp clothes, it wasn’t immediately obvious what good might have come from our circumstances or what lessons we should have learned. As I have spoken with people in the midst of suffering, God’s purposes aren’t immediately obvious. But the Scriptures remind us that God does have good purposes in all of these things and so we can rest in His good plans. Who knows, maybe God is putting on another Köln Concert with the broken keys of our lives?

In awe of Him,