Moving Forward through Difficulty
When things seem to line up and fall into place, we often feel as if whatever course of action we are taking must be in the will of God. We take it as an indication of His favor when doors open before us without much struggle. It may well be true that this is a sign of God’s will and/or favor, but if we take this as the only sign, we may miss out on some of God’s greatest victories in our lives or be needlessly discouraged when smooth sailing is not His only path.
When we face difficulties along the way, we should not automatically assume that God is closing a door for us, or we are out of His will. Yes, we should examine that possibility prayerfully, but there are times when it is not God putting roadblocks in our way but His enemy (and ours); there are many scriptural references to him doing that to God’s people. Often our struggles are just part of being in a fallen world where troubles are common, whether they are merely circumstances, or the product of someone’s sinful heart. But whatever the source God ordains these difficulties for spiritual growth reasons: to get us to listen more closely to Him, to trust less in ourselves and our own wisdom, to drive us to our knees in prayer, to teach us to wait on His timing, to look beyond the temporal to the eternal, and many more purposes for our good.
Take a look at scripture and how God made it very clear that He was taking Israel out of Egypt and to the Promised Land, but there were a lot of difficulties along the way. It got so hard on them when Pharaoh clamped down that they weren’t sure they wanted to go God’s way at all. Through quite a few of the plagues, the Israelites suffered along with the Egyptians. And once released from bondage, they found freedom had its own challenges—ones that made them complain and wish to return to captivity. Even when they eventually ended up in the land God “gave” them, they still had to fight to obtain it. These difficulties were part of the process God used to show them who He is, and for them to see the deliverance He meant to bring them. If Pharaoh had just said, “Sure, go!” right away, the road to Canaan not had any detours, and the Canaanites welcomed them as long lost friends, the Israelites would not have learned about who God is or how to follow Him, and most likely would have just blended in with the cultures of Canaan. The difficulties were essential to their growth as God’s people.
We see this to be the case throughout scripture and church history, as well. Even today, people who have given all for God find themselves sometimes feeling like they are swimming upstream. The stories of missionaries and full-time Christian servants facing obstacles, discouragements, heart-break, illnesses, and even death as they follow after God’s call on their lives are legend. And yet many, if not most of them, testify that these difficulties only make God dearer to them.
So when we see people seeming to sail through life without struggle as they follow God’s call (especially in light of your own more difficult circumstances), we should not compare our lots. We don’t know if this is the first easy passage the other person is having, or what lies before him or her, or if he or she is not prepared to handle something tough right now—remember, God promised not to test us beyond what we can bear. We also don’t know what God is preparing us for through our difficulties, or what blessings will come out of our struggles. We can only cling to His promises and obey whatever calling we believe He has placed on our lives, trusting in His character, His goodness and love for us, and having faith that He will work everything for our good, either in this world or the next.
If you are facing unexpected challenges in your efforts to follow after the Lord, just draw in closer to Him. Look to Him more, listen more intently, draw strength from Him, bathe yourself in the scripture, and obey His voice whether things ease up or not. Above all, worship Him. There is a power and peace that comes from that which makes even the hardest road more bearable, because it keeps our hearts and eyes in the right place.
by Sheri Cook, Director of Special Ministries