You and I may have nothing in common, but I’m certain we’ve both seen our fair share of challenges. I make such a statement with conviction because there’s never been a man or woman to live on this earth that hasn’t known some type of trial or tribulation – and we don’t even need to cite which journal published this conclusion for we know it to be true. To put it plainly, to be human means to have bad days, weeks, and even bad years.
Since we all know this truth, why are we surprised when hardships come our way? Surely none of us think ourselves above heartache, suffering, and setback, yet we still don’t seem to have a box for life’s rainy seasons. Wouldn’t our time on this earth be much better if we could get a handle on this whole ‘life is hard’ thing?
Perhaps our biggest problem is viewing hardships and challenges as distractions when they should be seen as the main attraction.
If you put any stock in the Bible whatsoever, you’ll find it impossible to deny its embrace of human suffering. The Bible doesn’t merely admit that suffering exists, but it actually embraces it, seeing it as purposeful and good. In James 1:2-4, the half-brother of Jesus writes, “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 in nothing.” Receive trials with joy because they perfect us? Interesting. Have we made the mistake of expecting a perfect life when instead we should be expecting a life that perfects?
Most of us have no problem with difficulty if we believe it has purpose. For example, we enroll in college courses to improve our resume and land a better job or we spend a few arduous weeks running so we survive a 26.2 mile marathon. It’s not struggle we have a problem with, but random struggle – that’s what leaves us bewildered. Viktor Frankl, a psychologist and survivor of multiple Nazi concentration camps remarked in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, “In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of sacrifice.” We can only trust this idea of a perfecting life if we know it’s not random. We need to know there’s meaning in suffering; that God allows suffering not to break us, but to shape us.
Proverbs 17:3 tells us, “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.” To what purpose is God testing us? Why is this necessary? 1 Thessalonians 4:3 states that it’s God will that we are sanctified, which is the big Biblical idea of something being separated and purified, all to be dedicated to God. Literally, sanctification is God’s perfecting of us – and it’s His will to do so. As God permits difficulties into our lives, it’s not only helpful, but essential to remember that God intentionally works in us through trying times.
King David, in Psalm 119, goes so far as to say, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word.” (v. 67) David didn’t seem to view life’s hard knocks as distracting disruptions to God’s great plan for his life; he viewed them as part of God’s plan, even saying in verse 75, “…in faithfulness you have afflicted me.” Viewing challenges as God’s help, not hindrance, can move us from the crippling thought of, “These challenges are in the way of God’s work in my life,” to the empowering thought of, “These challenges are the way God works in my life.”
When Romans 8:29 proclaims that God is shaping us into images of Jesus Christ, we understand right away that God has bigger hopes and aspirations for us than we can imagine. Therefore, wouldn’t it make sense that God needs to shape us and mold us in ways we can’t imagine? For followers of Christ, afflictions always bring us into deeper relationship with our Savior. Do you see it? Challenging circumstances are put on our heavenly path not to get in our way, but to show us the way.
May we rise to the occasion when perfecting challenges come our way, knowing that God is inviting us into a deeper place with Him, moving us one step closer to Jesus, one step closer to perfection.