Growth through Hardship, our Gift from God
Have you ever faced an unanswered prayer?
Challenging relationships? Difficult circumstances?
Trick question. Of course the answer is yes if you’ve lived long in this world.
How we face those issues, will either help or hinder our spiritual growth. I’ve been thinking a lot about learning lessons in life. Spiritual lessons. Slowly, I’m realizing that no matter how desperate I want God to answer my prayer—as I interpret “answer”—or change uncomfortable circumstances, getting what I want may not be the best thing for my growth.
Because when I get what I want, I don’t grow. It’s in the waiting, the adversity, and the hurt that God presents the opportunity to mature.
Despite the present-day gospel presentation, Jesus never promised an easy life post-personal redemption. In fact what he promised was the exact opposite. In John 16:33, Jesus told us, “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” The process of sanctification (becoming more like Jesus) does not include asking for and receiving what we want, when we want.
Sanctification, our Gift from God
Sanctification equals asking for and receiving what God wants. And the most impactful thing to me is that sanctification also means maturing to the place where what we want IS what God wants.
Who wants discipline? Who wants hardship? Who wants to take up a splintery, heavy, blood-stained cross to daily follow a sacrificial leader who calls us to follow in his painful footsteps?
I’ll be honest. That’s not my cup of tea.
And if you’re being honest, you’ll probably admit it isn’t yours either.
I cringe inside when I ask God to teach me patience. Why? Because I know what’s coming. Lessons in patience. Sometimes I can’t bring myself to ask. But that doesn’t mean the lesson isn’t coming.
Because we have a Father who deeply loves us. And love equals discipline. We like to call following Jesus, ‘being his disciple’ while forgetting how closely related the word is to discipline.
God doesn’t forget.
Elisabeth Elliot, wife of the slain missionary, Jim Elliot, is quoted as saying. “God will never protect you from anything that will make you more like Jesus.”
That quote gives me chills. Elisabeth later spent two years living with the very tribe who murdered her husband. Would she be able to do that if she viewed discipline as a bad thing? She viewed it as a gift. To Ms. Elliot, life was one continuous lesson in becoming more like her Savior.
Discipline = Love
As a mother with 4 kids, I’m with Nathan, discipline is one of my favorite words. I know that my job is to prepare my babies to be adults. I’ve gotten looks from those who think I’m too hard. I’ve heard how some feel sorry for my kids as they walk through one discipline or another.
One of my kid’s friends was with us after school. I told her that my kids couldn’t play until they had finished their chores. Her response? “Oh, my parents don’t make me clean or work. I’m just a kid.” My response? Heartbreak. Because I know the harsh reality that will hit when she enters the adult world.
We discipline and train our children because we love them. How else will kids grow into adults if they aren’t introduced to circumstances that make them grow? That’s not to say I don’t have moments of insecurity or guilt. But I remind myself that love requires discipline and discipline is a good word.
From Elisabeth Elliot’s viewpoint, she didn’t despise the circumstances that took her husband. She seized it as an opportunity to become more like Christ as she followed in Jesus’ footsteps. Because of her submission to God’s discipline, Elisabeth was able to minister to the Aucas.
Another hero of the faith who viewed God’s discipline as positive rather than negative was Charles’s Spurgeon. Though he struggled with depression throughout his entire life, suffered chronic health issues, and endured personal tragedies, he counted it a blessing to be refined as gold.
Spurgeon wrote, “When the gold knows why and wherefore it is in the fire . . . [it] will thank the Refiner for putting it into the crucible, and will find a sweet satisfaction even in the flames.”
We tend to ask, “Why does a good God let bad things happen?” Maybe we are asking the wrong question. Maybe the impulse behind the question lies in our contemporary American view of Christianity. Two centuries of church history understood the discipline of God to be a sign of love and a mark of belonging.
Growth through Hardship
I’m speaking to myself. The temptation to slip into self-pity is incredibly easy for me when I look at the mountain in my life that has yet to be moved. But maybe the mountain is just a reflection of what needs to move within my own heart.
Maybe I should follow in the footsteps of Elisabeth Elliot and Charles Spurgeon and start viewing times of difficulty as incredible opportunities to become more like my Savior.
This is what Paul was saying in 2 Corinthians 4:17.
For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.
Maybe it’s none of my business the timeframe God has set for answered prayers. While I wait, there is nothing wrong with crying out like David did, saying, “How long, Oh Lord.” But what growth will there be if the main cry of my heart doesn’t echo David’s other Psalm, “Create in me a clean heart, renew a right spirit within me.”
Hardship hurts but it doesn’t have to be negative. Knowing that the end result is becoming more like our Savior and storing up rewards for ourselves in Heaven, maybe we can shift our perspective.
In an excellent article on depression, Gary Gilley says, “Just a quick reading of Psalms, Jeremiah or Ecclesiastes tells us that there is much about life, even the life of the godly, that is depressing to the point of tears, sorrow and confusion. Yet, God never apologizes for this. Rather, He informs us that He uses these very things to mature us into the image of His Son (James 1:2-4; Rom. 8:28, 29 ; and Rom. 5:3-5.”
The Apostle Paul wrote, “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:3-5
Can we echo Paul’s words? Do we exult in our tribulations? One thing I know, circumstances alone won’t make me more or less like Jesus. Submitting to or resisting the Spirit’s work in my heart is what will mold me into a reflection of Jesus or will push me into bitterness. The choice is mine.
What will we choose?
Choose to see negative circumstances as an invaluable opportunity for growth.
Choose to take our eyes off the mountain in front of us and turn inward, asking God to move the mountain inside.
Choose to speak of God’s ever-present help to ourselves and to others.
Choose to join two centuries of faithful Christ-followers, thanking our Father for the beautiful reality that he loves us enough to let us experience discipline.
How has God strengthened and matured you through negative circumstances? Share and encourage.
“Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God.”
1. Elisabeth Elliot, About Elisabeth, http://www.elisabethelliot.org/about.html, Accessed 9/22/2018
2. Michael Reeves, Did You Know That Charles Spurgeon Struggled with Depression?, https://www.crossway.org/articles/did-you-know-that-charles-spurgeon-struggled-with-depression/, Accessed 9/22/2018
3. Gary Gilley, A Look at Depression through the Lens of Scripture, https://tottministries.org/a-look-at-depression-through-the-lens-of-scripture/, Accessed 9/22/2018