We do not like the hardships of life. It’s not our natural inclination to see the difficulties and trials of our lives as opportunities to be molded into the image of Christ. Yet we see in the life of Paul, the preaching of church leaders throughout the ages, and our own experiences that we learn far more in the valleys than we do in the pain-free seasons of our lives.
Look at what Paul says in the familiar passage of 2 Corinthians 12.
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me (the ‘thorn in his flesh’). But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:8-10
This is without a doubt one of the most seemingly impossible things for me to imitate. Paul had so much to boast in when it came to ministry success: a personal experience with the physically present Jesus, and his theological training. Instead, Paul learned for the sake of Jesus to delight in his weaknesses, the insults sent his way, the hardships of his life, the persecutions he endured, and the difficulties he faced day to day. Paul had a grace-filled understanding that it was in these weaknesses and in these sufferings that he was molded into the image of Christ.
Consider also the words of Charles Spurgeon.
We learn, I hope, something in the bright fields of joy, but I am more persuaded that we don’t learn a tenth as much, there, as we do in the valley of Death-Shade. – Charles Spurgeon
We do learn of Christ in the joyful and blissful moments of our lives. Yet it was Spurgeon’s belief that we learn ten times as much from the valleys. Both of these will come. We will have blissful moments and moments of deep valleys where the joy seems to have been removed from our lives. This happened in the lives of Biblical characters as well. Just read the Psalms. Psalm 22 is David crying out to God, accusing God of utterly abandoning him and forsaking him. Psalm 23 is then David proclaiming that he lacks nothing when the Lord is his Shepherd.
To be honest, it pains me to admit that this holds true in my life. The dark days show me much more of the beauty of Christ and the need to be molded more into His image. Consider the path of shadows that I walked this Spring. These are snippets from my journal and I think they clearly show the way that God uses the valleys to reinvigorate our hearts and reawaken our love for Him.
04/28 – Pain is a necessary part of our spiritual life. I HATE this reality. As a child, I rarely saw pain as good, if ever. So growing this mindset in me will take time.
05/02 – The world is unfair. The world is dark. In light of this Lord, I need to place my hope in You. There is joy to be found in the gospel of grace.
05/04 – You know how to rescue the godly from trials. So if you’re choosing not to do so for me at this time, it’s for a reason.
05/18 – God, I am fighting for the light in the midst of darkness. I don’t want to be anxious every day.
05/30 – As a disciple of Jesus I should passionately be removing from my life all the things which lessen my love for Him, and intentionally do that which grows my love for Him.
06/04 – When I don’t spend time in Your Word, or in prayer, or in transparent fellowship, I fall apart and fall off into fear and anxiety.
The transition from OBU to the West coast was hard. This Spring I started to come face to face with the darkness that exists in our world, as well as the reality that pain and hardships were a necessary aspect of my walk with Christ. For months I clung to Jesus as best I could. There were moments where I was angry, moments where it took all of my effort to see the silver lining in some of the clouds I was facing. There were moments and days where it felt like it took all of my energy just to get out of bed and put one foot in front of the other.
I despised this season.
That is until God began to open my eyes to that which I needed to learn from this season, as evidenced by the final two snippets I shared.
First, He reminded me that being a disciple of Jesus is an active thing, rather than a passive state of being. As a disciple, I should be passionately striving to remove from my life those things that lessen my love for Him, as well as intentionally practicing and doing those things which grow my love for Him.
I was also reminded that if I’m not in the Word daily, in prayer daily, and in transparent Christian community daily, I will backslide into sinful fear, worry, and despair.
Just today I came face to face with one of the most convicting components of this passage from 2 Corinthians 12. Paul did ask God to remove from him the thorn in his side, whatever that may have been. So asking God for rescue is by no means wrong of us. Yet, Paul eventually accepted that aspect of his life as part of his life for the glory of God, and chose to rejoice in it.
I tend to ask for the removal of things that pain me three thousand times, not just three.
It is my prayer and hope that this blog post will encourage you to be open with your Christian community about the state of your heart on a regular basis. God uses the valleys of my life to teach me, but I still am learning. I will be learning till my last breath, and I hope we are all willing to admit the same. Not only that, I pray that this blog post will encourage you to engage in the difficult practice of rejoicing in your weaknesses and hardships for the glory of God.
His grace is sufficient for you.
In His Name,
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