Every now and then, in quiet and perhaps uncomfortable moments, I think back to some of the more challenging and painful points in my life … and I realize how all too often they were self-induced. That said, I also realize that they were not just self-induced, but wisdom- and growth-inducing. I have to admit, during the occurrence of some of these lowlights in my life, I certainly didn’t think of them as inducing anything other than pure old-fashioned pain. Maybe you can relate. Let’s face it, we all have gone through difficult times … health issues, behavior issues (our own or those of our friends or family, which serve to adversely affect us), legal problems, and a host of other desert experiences.
Most of the time, I would find myself praying that God would take the issue away. Averting the disaster that was oncoming was the only objective. Had that occurred, though, I would have missed out on so much that has proven to be pivotal to my maturity. This was reinforced during my reading this week through John 12 to John 15.
John 12:23-27 …
Jesus replied, “Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. Anyone who wants to serve me must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me. Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But this is the very reason I came! Father, bring glory to your name.” Then a voice spoke from heaven, saying, “I have already brought glory to my name, and I will do so again.”
This paints a bit of a different portrait to how we look at challenging circumstances. Jesus Himself makes it quite clear. At this point in His life and ministry, He is about to embark on a brutal scourging, the likes of which were typically reserved for the most brazen, evildoers in the Roman empire. He was about to be disrespected, disregarded, and disavowed by the very people who had just sung His praises, laid palm branches on the ground and who had seen Him perform miracles beyond understanding and imagination. He was about to take on mental agony far beyond even the physical torment.
And yet …
He asks rhetorically the very same question I have in the past … though I asked it sincerely seeking rescue. He says, basically, “Should I ask the Father to take this away? To intervene and erase my circumstances and impending torture and death?” To that, He says “not so fast” … be careful what you ask for …
Jesus, by His words and His living example, gives us at least three ways to endure the inevitable distress that life can sometimes bring.
First, He says that the trouble that happens in this life is limited to just that … this life. He says, “Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.” That’s not meant to suggest we should ignore the reality of painful events, or minimize their painfulness. It’s meant to remind us to keep it in the right frame of reference … temporary. Now I know there are circumstances that are on the fringe of tolerable, or even beyond that realm. I have friends with terrible chronic illnesses who are at times going through real-life anguish. Please don’t think I’m relegating that reality to the realm of make-believe. It’s real, and no doubt it’s flat-out horrible in some cases. But life goes on, and there has to be a way of going on, too. Jesus tells us … remember, there’s more than this and this present pain won’t be present forever.
Second, He reminds us there is a purpose for all that goes on. “But this is the very reason I came!” This … His suffering, misery, grief, desertion, and death. There was a reason! There’s ALWAYS a reason. Do I pretend that the existence of a reason made all this awfulness turn to wonderfulness? No. But it provided perspective. It provided a long view through the pain. It provided a light at the end of the (perhaps long) tunnel. To me, knowing that life isn’t just this random series of uncontrolled, purposeless events, makes it possible to live through it. If life were … as some believe … completely random, I think that in and of itself would be the greater torment.
Finally, He tells us that the purpose in it all is to give God glory … “Father, bring glory to your name.” Does this mean that God is some sort of narcissistic deity that only cares about Himself? No. And that’s what makes this awesome. The Bible says, “God is Love.” (1 John 4:8) Not, “God does love.” Not “God loves.” GOD IS LOVE. So if God is bringing glory to Himself through my circumstances, He is doing so as an expression of His true nature. Love. Meaning, He is carrying out His love for us through … by way of … our situations. That is to say, if He obviated the circumstances, He would be holding back on and diminishing His love. Our conditions exact His love for us.
To summarize then, through our hardships, God temporarily allows situations to occur for a purpose that allow His greatest glory to be ensured, bringing on the immensity of His love for us. If that doesn’t make sense, prayerfully ask God to show you how the absence of challenges in our lives would adversely affect our lives, ministries, relationships, and fulfillment … in other words, without hardships:
- What won’t you be prepared for, that you are being prepared for?
- Who won’t you be able minister to that you would somehow be able to minister to?
- How will you miss being able to persevere better today than you would otherwise be able to?
- What part of your story will God have written that you can share with others?
- In what way would God perhaps bring you through the trials in order to stop you from going through something worse?
When we are in the midst of the muck and mud … or worse … let’s be careful what we ask for. We might get it, and in the process leave behind the bigger blessing.
Ready and raring …