I know a few people who have had a very difficult life.
They have experienced times where the joys last for a moment or are intercepted before they can be fully enjoyed. They have endured unjust criticism from family and friends, rejection, physical pain, death of loved ones, loss of home, property and jobs, and many other mounting problems that are completely beyond them. As a result, despite even their best efforts to continue on their journey, they have let their hearts grow hard against God, the Church, and even the most simple words of encouragement.
These people are afraid to even take a simple risk (and I don't blame them, really) for fear that anything truly good that might happen will simply end too soon or be snatched away like a thief who robs without warning. They are afraid to trust anyone for fear of being taken advantage of, hurt, abused, or simply misled (even when someone shows they really are trustworthy). Their experiences with the negative are so deep, that anything positive is rejected if it bears any resemblance to their past experiences.
My post, Jesus says, "Don't Worry, Be Happy"
, talked about the basic problems of worrying needlessly when God promises to take care of everyone. But what separates those who worry a lot from those who have very negative views of God and life is that the latter are deeply lost in their pain. Their minds either refuse to or cannot see that there is anything other than the dark experiences they have endured.
They are, quite simply, in the desert of suffering with no oasis to be found.
In fact, so often have they been taken in by mere mirages, they immediately distrust even the real thing. They are almost more content to sit on the burning sands, wanting the familiar suffering than to take the chance of being let down again and adding to their troubles.
But a desert is a curious place, isn't it? Void of the normal qualities of what one would consider necessary to support life, the desert is often home to countless forms of life. Such as, of course, the ever-popular cacti plants.
The general cactus is a remarkable plant, too. Even with virtually no regular rainfall, it absorbs moisture from the air, such as when fogs roll in from cold nights. Its roots run along just below the surface of the ground in order to quickly soak up whatever rains that don't make it deep beneath the top soil. But the nature of a cactus is that it manages to store many gallons of water in its thick "hide" to survive throughout the long, scorching dry spells.
And many cacti plants have some of the most amazing blooms you will ever see - but you must go through the desert to see them. You must endure the heat and the trials of the desert in order to find the beauty that can be found there.
Scripture has a very interesting perspective on the problems we suffer in life. "Dear friends, don't be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in His suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing His glory when it is revealed to all the world"
(1 Peter 4:12-13).
In other words, it should come as no surprise that if Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living, All-Powerful God, suffered insults, criticism, injustice and death, then those of us who follow Him are going to suffer, too. And just like Jesus, who arose from the dead in all His glory with nothing more than His scars to worry about, then we, too, can rest on the fact that our present suffering won't last forever - either we'll have relief on earth or ultimately in Heaven.
But this doesn't seem to address the matter of those who suffer and do not know Christ. And surely, it doesn't readily do so because many people who are not following Christ suffer due to the very fact that they are behaving contrary to God's laws. However, there are still people who try to do what they do know is good (even though they don't know God) and still they suffer!"Jesus asked [the disciples], 'Do you finally believe? But the time is coming—indeed it's here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving Me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with Me. I have told you all this so that you may have peace in Me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.'"
The disciples were finally coming around to believing that Jesus was, indeed, the Son of God. But Jesus gives them a grim hint of the troubles they are going to face very soon even as they have now come to believe fully in Him. "The world is going to be against you because of Me, but don't worry. I already won."
For those who struggle to believe in God, this is very reassuring, I would hope. Especially for those who blame God for their troubles - it's not God against you, but those who would rather see you suffer and keep you away from God. But through Jesus, God has already won! All we have to do is side with Him and we inherit the victory! Jesus is saying, "I'm already won for you! Come join Me, I have a place for you!"
That does mean we must hold on and not give up hope or stop trusting in Jesus. For the Jews who accepted Christ during and after Christ's time on earth, things did not readily get better. No, in fact, things got a whole lot worse, just as Jesus warned. Roman control over the Jews was already very overwhelming and the people were hoping, at that time, that the Messiah would come to set them free from Rome. They had forgotten that Jesus was to come to set them free from a far worse slave master: sin. And yet Jesus reminds us, "I am telling you these things now while I am still with you. But when the Father sends the Advocate as My representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—He will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you"
(John 14:25-26). In other words, we have God's Spirit with us all the time, reminding us that we're still being looked after even when bad things happen.
Proverbs 15:3 says, "The LORD is watching everywhere, keeping His eye on both the evil and the good."
And Jesus echoes similar sentiments, "...He gives His sunlight to both the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the just and the unjust alike"
Paul further encourages us, "We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation"
(Romans 5:3-4). Although this was primarily directed at Christians who were being persecuted for their faith, this means that God allows us - Christians and non-Christians - to go through hardship so that we may fully realize the reality of God. So that we can see that even when the Enemy (Satan) attacks us or other people try to hurt us or just randomly occurring events overwhelm us, as we strive to keep going through life, we will come to a point where God will reveal Himself and show us that we were never alone all the while, even when we felt very much abandoned. And because we endured, we are strengthened and become strong of heart even when more difficult trials await us. We know that we can
get through it all!
When I was on the track team in high school, I ran the 100m and 200m sprints. I can run fairly fast, but I tire easily. I am definitely not marathon material. On top of that, my sprint team was made up of mostly upper-class basket-ballers who were training in the off season. As much as I wanted to believe I could be on top, I was almost always the very last one to cross the finish line. However, though breathless and my muscles aching from over an hour of training every day, I never gave up. Even if I could do barely more than a trot.
Every Saturday was race day. And every time it was my turn to get to the starting line, I did my best to focus my mind that I was going to run hard. I had to remember to stay in my lane or I'd be disqualified. I had to remember how to "leap" off the starting blocks with my head down. I had to remember how to extend my legs and "spring" off my toes and use as little of my heels to reduce energy use with every stride. So much to remember!
In order to earn my letter for my letterman jacket, I had to earn so many points by placing in the top-12 finishing times for each event. I never earned a single point, placing 2nd-to-last at best only once. And yet, at the end of the track-and-field season, my coach called my name as he was handing out awards. He gave me my "E" (I attended Eielson Sr High in Alaska) and my track pin. Confused, I asked him why - I hadn't earned a single point. I didn't do well at all.
My coach told me this: because I didn't give up. Because I always obeyed his instructions even when I was tired. Because I was dedicated where my teammates were not. Because I endured to the end even when it seemed nothing good would come of it.
Some will suffer far more than others. But God is watching and is with you. You are not suffering alone...and though you cannot see what is coming, your pain is not for nothing.
Have you suffered through long, painful trials that seemed to have no end, or are you still suffering through such trials? What did/do you think about during these times? Did/do you find it hard to keep going? How would you encourage someone who is going through difficult times?