Hardships: Life’s Defining Moments
So this year has been a very hard year for me in a variety of ways, but as you know, hardship is just a part of life in this fallen, sinful world. How we respond to hardship though tends to define us or direct the course of our lives. For hardship either creates within our hearts a greater desire for God or a greater rebellion against God.
We either want more of Jesus or want less of Him due to our hearts hardening to His will and ways in our lives. When hardship hits our happy, independent lifestyles, it is as if we come to a turning point in the road of life where we start seeing our desperate need for help and comfort, and we either start seeking more of God in humility or start running further from Him in anger, thereby, turning to other people and things to help us.
The Stumbling Block: Unmet Expectations
Now I will be the first to admit that Jesus’ ways are not easy, comfortable, or exactly “happy”– although they are blessed which brings joy–because they are not what we as sinful human beings desire or think we need. Summed up, we have unmet expectations, so we falter and fail at following Jesus faithfully. If we don’t like something He says, we tend to simply justify our sin or dismiss His word altogether like it’s no big deal.
After all, don’t we all want to be in control and have comfort and ease and do as we please? But Jesus’ way is the way of the cross which is humbly relinquishing the control of our lives to God, dying to our desires and way of thinking, and relying totally on God’s wisdom, direction, grace, and power because He is our Maker.
Now God has never sugar coated the Christian life because He knows that comfort does not bring about maturity, holiness, or real character in the end, and “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). He openly admits, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9). And Jesus even said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33).
Back in Jesus’ day, many of His “disciples” stopped following God because Jesus’ teaching was too hard to understand and accept (John 6). The problem is that God has not called us to understand, like, or even love His teachings before accepting them. He has just called us to trust and obey Him. And amazingly, as we do just that, God blesses us with an understanding, desire for, and even a love for His ways.
Faith then in God’s goodness and trustworthiness, demonstrated through our obedience–not our understanding–is what comes first because that is what honors and delights our Father.
- “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1)
- “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17)
- “Without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Heb. 11:6).
- “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.“ (Prov. 3:5-6)
Jesus’ Identity: The Core Issue
So back when a lot of His disciples started leaving Him in John 6, Jesus understandingly turned to and asked His faithful Twelve if they were going to leave Him too. Simon Peter, the ever-outspoken one, replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn. 6:68-69). Interestingly, whenever Jesus asked His disciples “Who do you say I am?,” Simon Peter seemed to always be the first to answer declaring, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16, Mark 8:29).
Peter though spoke right to the core of the issue, Jesus’ identity as our eternal Savior from sin and as the holy Son of God. Having experienced Jesus’ power and wisdom firsthand, he simply believed Jesus’ claim of “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. . . . For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day” (Jn. 6:35, 40). Obviously, Peter took Jesus’ previous words to heart: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (Jn. 6:29).
I have to say, by God’s grace, that I’m in with Peter on this one. I believe Jesus alone is my hope and salvation. So in my hardships this year, as in the past, I’ve been more desperate for and drawn to God, daily crying out for His help and deliverance.
And as I’ve drawn near, I have seen God draw near to me. Not visibly but supernaturally by giving me great words of encouragement and comfort from His Word or from my devotionals when I needed them most, peace and stability in situations that used to cause panic, the grace to daily push forward in faith in spite of my feelings telling me not to due to discouragement and the seeming magnitude of my problems, and deliverance (albeit imperfect still) from certain struggles and fears.
The Healing: Surrender & Belief
So all of this to say, God does not exist to make our lives easy or happy which many seem to think He does. What right do we have to think that in the first place? I mean, . . .
- He is our All-Powerful, Infinite Creator, and we are just His finite, weak creatures.
- He is our All-Wise Potter, and we are just the moldable clay in His hands.
- He is our Great Shepherd, and we are just the senseless sheep under His care.
- He is our King and Lord, and we are His mere servants.
I think that if we really thought of all of our unspoken or spoken expectations of God, we would realize how absurdly proud and foolish we are, don’t you think?
God does not exist for us, but we exist for Him for we are made in His image to glorify, fear, and obey Him for “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). And King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived and had all the luxuries of life, declared in the end to “fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Eccl. 12:13-14).
Based on so many different personal experiences of surrendering to and believing and obeying the Lord in the midst of many of my unmet expectations and hardships throughout life, I can confidently and enthusiastically proclaim that the Lord is good!
His ways, often or always, have not made much sense to my feeble, limited thinking, but they have been so much better than mine in the end! Not only have they enriched me spiritually and built up my faith in the goodness of God, in spite of His hard teachings and ways, but they have also allowed me to experience some amazing things that this life has to offer here on earth.
So go ahead and surrender your life and hardships–whether they are physical, emotional, mental, spiritual–today to the one true Savior and God, Jesus Christ, and believe that He alone is worthy of your sacrifice and worship. I promise, He won’t disappoint you, and you’ll be much more of a faithful or committed follower to Him to the end. And who wouldn’t want that for “the world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever” (1 Jn. 2:17).
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who draws strength from mere flesh
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.
But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”