The path we walk when we follow Jesus has potholes. This isn’t a complaint, it’s just the truth. The path is not a wide, paved, beautifully landscaped street but more like a rocky, narrow, twisting, sometimes harrowing trail that is downright difficult to walk at times. It will push us to our limits and beyond, test our resolve, even bring us pain. There are times we might even question, “why did I agree to come this way?”
Jesus never said it would be a stroll in the park, but He did say not to lose heart when we we’re having trouble because He’s overcome the world. (John 16:33) Following someone who’s overcome the world – pretty good credentials, don’t you think?
I’ve lived long enough to be able to look back and see that the path we’ve covered so far has made my faith stronger, though sometimes it takes me a minute (or more) to remember that when I’m in the middle of tough terrain.
James said we should actually be glad in our troubles, because of what they do for us. “When troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” (James 1:2-4 NLT)
It’s one thing to persevere through hard times, it’s another to actually be glad about them. If I say to someone, “I’m so glad I’m dealing with this difficult person and that they’re hurting me,” they’d probably look at me like I had two heads. But God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, His ways are not our ways. There’s no doubt about that. He doesn’t allow us to have difficulties just so He can show He’s bigger than we are, or just to have us grovel at His feet needing help. Each problem has a purpose: to make us more like Jesus and to witness to God’s goodness and glory.
Before a potter shapes clay or even puts it on the pottery wheel, he pounds it and throws it down numerous times on the table to work out any air bubbles that might be inside and would later be a problem. Before precious metals are formed into valuable objects of beauty, the refiner heats the silver or gold to melting (over 1800 degrees fahrenheit!) and then skims off the impurities as they rise to the surface.
In both cases, the creator is present and personally involved through the whole process.
Feeling like you’re taking a pounding? Or being melted down in a crucible, completely helpless? Sometimes our faith feels like a rubber band that is stretched so tightly it might break. The thought of trusting God one more day is exhausting, and then He asks us to trust another day after that.
Can we praise Him anyway? Can we trust Him? Can we remind ourselves of all He’s done for us in the past? Does knowing He promised He will bring good out of everything for those who love him help us surrender? Some days I enthusiastically answer “Yes!” Some days I have to confess to Jesus that I don’t have the strength on my own, I need Him to help me to believe. Praising Him raises our gaze to Him again and helps. It truly helps. We can have peace that steadies our weak legs and can make it through.
I tried to express this to a friend who was losing someone she loved. It felt almost insensitive to encourage someone to thank God in everything when their troubles are so personal, so deeply painful. How do you tell someone to be glad that they’re having to deal with that? The act of giving thanks in difficulty is part of the refining process. That decision alone can be excruciating.
All I know is that God proves Himself loving and good when we give in and praise Him even in that kind of loss. He shows understanding and compassion. He knows the deepest places of our hearts. It was too hard for my friend, but I still pray God will show her how much He loves her and that she can trust Him.
The end result of trusting God and even thanking Him through troubles is worth the pain. I don’t want to stay the same, do you? I don’t want to walk an easy path if it’s without Jesus. If problems help refine me, then I’m glad I have them. I will try to remember to thank God when they come. I want to grow and reach my goal: to be with God forever and ever, without blemish or fault, without any more struggle with this world or myself…free and home.
So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. (I Peter 1:6-7 NLT)