How can trials and difficulties help me to focus on my future hope?
“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?”
Hebrews 12:7 NIV
“Americans worship their work, work at their play, and play at their worship.”
I don’t remember when I heard this for the first time, but I have never forgotten it. It sure rings true in my life. There are some things that I am willing to work hard at, but many tasks that I shrink from. And sometimes, I think that nothing ever comes easy. This leads me to hopelessness, when I begin to think, “I can never do enough to catch up. I am never going to get ahead. This job is impossible. I may as well give up.”
One of the most frequent and discouraging struggles in my life is with procrastination. Until several years ago, I believed that my constant use of procrastination was due to my being lazy. I have come to see that it is fear, not laziness, that is at the heart of putting difficult tasks and responsibilities off. Because they are hard and I don’t want to try and fail, I simply don’t try.
For me, the difficulty is rarely a matter of physical exertion. It seems ridiculous to say that yard work is an area of responsibility that I am most deeply committed to putting off. It’s not that pushing the lawn mower or raking leaves is too strenuous. I am reminded of the many times that I felt “forced” to do these things in childhood. The feeling of being trapped into doing these tasks while my younger brother didn’t share in the responsibility prompted me to believe that my parents were unfair and I became overwhelmed with resentment. This is only one small example of my commitment to avoiding hardship.
When my life is hard, how can I see beyond the difficulty and have hope for my future.
The very first thing that I must do is remember the character of God and His promises to me—a son that He loves. God displays time and again in the Bible that He is unbelievably patient and unconditionally forgiving. Especially in the Old Testament, He does allow His people to experience hardship as a result of their sin—both personal and shared. This is not punishment. Hardship cannot be understood as punishment, even though it may seem He is punishing sin. If Jesus has paid the penalty for all my sins, God would be unjust to punish me again.
Perhaps the best help in understanding the reality of hardship in my life comes from Paul’s explanation of the Lord’s “gift” of the thorn in the flesh to him. Paul writes: “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.”(2 Cor. 12:7, ESV)
I believe it is important for us to recognize that the thorn wasn’t the weakness, but the presence of the thorn highlighted Paul’s pre-existing weakness. As Paul explains, he asks the Lord to remove the thorn. His thinking, WHICH IS EXACTLY THE SAME AS MINE, is, “My hope is in the removal of the thorn.!!!! Lord, remove the thorn!!!!
Instead, the Lord informs Paul that He will not remove the thorn. The thorn is designed to “herd” Paul toward His grace. Paul’s hope is NOT in the change of his circumstances, but in the Lord’s work in changing him. Paul’s increased and increasing awareness of his weakness provides additional opportunities and incentives for chasing after God’s grace. God’s work of supplying His grace when Paul asked for it IS Paul’s hope . . . and ours!!!
And because of this, Paul says he now celebrates...rejoices in...the hardships he experiences.
As a result of this understanding of my automatic response to hardship and God’s intentions for putting me in hard situations, I am more inclined to share my struggles with brothers who will remind me of these conflicting realities that I am quick to forget.
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