I have had a difficult week. Not that anything in particular happened, but just one of those weeks where life seems harder than necessary and that got me to thinking about why we encounter times like that. Many people believe when they become Christians that it means the end of pain and suffering and it is going to be wonderful from that point on in their lives. So when life doesn’t change or it feels like the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, where the first 3/4 of the movie shows anything but wonderful stuff, they are disillusioned and say it’s not what they signed up for and want to quit before they get to the end, where, like in the movie, we’ll get to see just how much we are loved and how much we have learned and grown through the tough stuff.
But the reality is, God never promised us a life without trouble. He offered it to Adam and Eve, but they chose not to obey the one rule that said “don’t”, and since then, we’ve all had to live with the fact that we live in a fallen world. And on top of that, if we read the Bible, we hear Jesus tell us things like, “Blessed are the persecuted for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven;” and “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.” It sounds to me as if Christ knew that life wouldn’t be all roses, and that He was telling us there would be hard times and that we should expect them.
So when these hard times come, regardless of why, we have to remember that we have a choice about our response. I heard a story once of a boy who grew up in more than 20 foster homes, and never knew his real parents, yet is incredibly healthy and successful. When asked why he said, “when something happens to you, you have two choices on how to deal with it. You an either get bitter, or better. I chose to get better. It’s made all the difference.”
I think that many times, our first response to hard times is like that of the Israelites. Many times over the 40 years between the Exodus and entering the promised land the Israelites groaned and murmured against Moses and the Lord. They groaned because there was not water, or no food, or not the kind of food they wanted, or Moses was taking too long on the mountain. Do you ever notice yourself going there as your first response? I know that if I’m not careful, it is easy to go there. To complain to a friend, or to feel sorry for myself because life is just so hard at times.
Another response that we might have is to question God. We see in Job lots of questions that Job, and his friends, have for God about why He would allow such hard times, and we read in Psalms many questions that David had for God about the troubles that he encountered. And while our attitude in questioning God makes all the difference in whether or not we are sinning in our response, I think that the most appropriate responses to suffering and hard times we find in scripture are: rejoice, be patient, endure, and pray.
As humans, we seek comfort and stability in our lives, but without these hard times that disrupt our comfort, we don’t grow and mature. Growth and maturity comes as we face struggles with joy and faith. Conflict comes back to bless us if we will endure through it.
We know that Christ suffered on this earth, that his disciples faced all kinds of trials and suffering, so we know that “in this world we will have trouble,” but we also know that we can take heart because Christ has overcome the world. We can face suffering with a joy that the world does not understand, and as we endure, we grow, and mature, and become complete, we are blessed and will receive a crown of life.
On the way to church yesterday, I heard this song. I have heard it and even sung it in church before, but I was really impacted by the lyrics as I listened and the inherent choice that is made to bring praise to the Lord, regardless of where we are and what we are going through. Take a listen. The lyrics are below.
How have you been blessed by giving praise to God during hard times?
This is my prayer in the desert
When all that’s within me feels dry
This is my prayer in my hunger and need
My God is the God who provides
This is my prayer in the fire
In weakness or trial or pain
There is a faith proved of more worth than gold
So refine me Lord through the flame
I will bring praise, I will bring praise
No weapon formed against me shall remain
I will rejoice, I will declare
God is my victory and He is here
This is my prayer in the battle
When triumph is still on its way
I am a conqueror and co-heir with Christ
So firm on His promise I’ll stand
All of my life in every season, You are still God
I have a reason to sing, I have a reason to worship
This is my prayer in the harvest
When favor and providence flow
I know I’m filled to be emptied again
The seed I’ve received I will sow