Life gets hard. If there’s one thing you can be sure of, it’s that fact. Sometimes it happens in unforeseen ways, giving a sucker punch to our gut. Other times, our own dumb mistakes can bring on heartache and pain. I know for me, both are true. I’ve faced storms throughout the past year and this year has been a fight as well. I’ve made mistakes, let my anger take over in moments of weakness. It’s a challenge I’ve always had, anger. Anger against those who hurt me, anger towards those who hurt others, and anger towards myself. I hate that part of me. I seek peace and a laidback nature, but when I don’t let God have control, I lose it. I’ll say things I can’t take back, whether true or not, the words will hurt. I share this because I struggle. I’m not a perfect person and neither are you. Maybe you struggle with anger like me, or maybe your thorn is of another kind. Addiction, holding on to grudges, pride, judgement, abuse; all of these many of us struggle with on a daily basis. All of these can cause a fracture in our relationships, hurting our families, friends, or our overall persona that people perceive of us. The funny thing is, we expect everyone around us to be the perfect person we are not. The dichotomy becomes our expectation of others perfection to counter our imperfection, thus creating the fracture. The only thing that can counter our imperfection is God’s complete perfection.
Well, October is now over, the year is quickly coming to an end, and the Christmas creep is in full effect. November has come, it’s a great season to reflect on what we have been given, I’m sure you’ve already begun to see the Facebook countdowns of what people are thankful for (not knocking on that, just think it’s funny how we all know what I’m talking about). We reflect on the year that has happened and what is to come, but what happens when we’ve had a tough year, or even a tough life? For me the past year has been absolutely crazy, yet all throughout the hard times God has never given up on me, and I haven’t given up on him. I have watched the hardship of addiction, seen two people I called brothers pass away, and watched my family experience loss. I wish this post was about how life gets easier or how things don’t hurt, but that simply how it works. One thing through all of this past year, and even throughout all that I have been through in life, there is hope because Christ never fails us.
It’s true that I, and you, have experienced hardship. That’s the dark side of life, but be careful not to focus on that. Focus on what God has done. Look at what Psalm 136:1 says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” Or in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, which says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” That’s pretty serious, in everything, good and bad, give thanks. This isn’t easy, but that isn’t what God is saying, he is saying that when we rejoice in the hardship, we grow in wisdom and find peace. I say this because over the past year I have experienced hardship, but this has been one of the greatest years for me. As I typed that sentence it wasn’t easy, if I could change time I would, but I would never have experienced all the good. Today I want to share with you the way I have grown so that in whatever situation you are in, you can learn to give thanks and find true joy.
Perseverance produces character.
When I look at the lives of the great leaders in the bible, it astonishes me how many of them were just like us. They weren’t gods among men, they were human, each with their own struggles and heartaches. Noah was given a mission and berated every day for what he knew was right. Elijah struggled with depression, even when he had a strong gift of prophecy. Jesus suffered rejection and people spitting on him as he faced his death. There are hundreds in the bible, story after story of men and women who struggled, but God blessed them. Each of them made an impact on the world, they each had character. They were wise and they used this to help others. When we stand in Christ through our struggles, we can make the same impact. The reason I want to be a next generation pastor is to help kids like me to know that they are special, and that no matter what has happened, they can impact the world. So often I think we, meaning everyone, are told that we aren’t good enough or that we will never do something important. I don’t believe that. I never have. Call me crazy but I believe that God wants to use each and every person, whether you’re thirteen or eighty-three, God has a purpose for you. All we need to do is persevere through the storms, and focus on Christ.
You have a story.
Each one of us is unique, no two people are alike. No matter if you have a twin or are from quintuplets, you are an individual. If you want to understand this concept, at some point right now or later on, look around in a crowded place and think about each person. Each face, every little detail, every person you see has a story. It really puts you into perspective, and the cool thing is, our stories can encourage others. One of my favorite things about leading a small group is seeing each person share and help each other, and I don’t even have to say a word! Not because I’m lazy, but I don’t have to say anything because we all can build each other up. This is the whole point of the church, to stand together and grow together, laugh together, and even cry together. I say all this to encourage you that you are not alone in your struggle, and God doesn’t want you to go it alone (I wrote a post about this a few weeks ago that explains more of this idea), and the second is that your story will help others around you. Use your story to encourage someone.
Hardship gives vision.
All throughout history, great leaders see a problem or experience persecution and decide to make a change. There is nothing stopping you from doing the same. While this year has been hard, I have chosen to look at the good from it, because I know good comes from all things. Instead of thinking about what could have been, I try to make an impact today. I have grown with my family, and my spiritual family has grown even bigger. I have learned to value the small things. I chose to start a blog and developed a passion and a vision to become a writer. I have seen so much good, and I wouldn’t give any of it up, the godly friends, the incredible dreams, the beautiful girl, and the powerful relationship with Christ. It may seem bleak for you in this moment, and I know it’s hard when you can’t sleep, but choose to be thankful. God will use your hardship to give you a vision, a vision is simply anticipating something that is to come. So anticipate the power that will come from a passionate love and pursuit of God, then you will leave a legacy unlike anything else.
I hope this helps you. I know what you’re going through, and I know it hurts. Trust me when I tell you that there is so much more for you, you have dreams and aspirations, and these were given to you by an all-powerful creator. You are human, but more importantly you are a child of God. There is a quote from Doctor Who that I always think of when dealing with people who are struggling and it helps me. The Doctor says, “nine hundred years of time and space, and I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important.” You are important. We may not be world famous or be rich, but we all make wide ripples to everyone around us. So this month, think about all the things you have been given, cherish the memories of the people you have lost, and go forward to make even more. When we begin to change our perspective on the hard times, we find joy in the darkest of times. God made you, he made all the miniscule details about you, and he wants to do something in you and through you. You are a child of God, you are important, and you can change the world. Choose to be thankful in all things, and you will find true joy.
Change the world.
This past weekend was one of the biggest rollercoasters of emotion I have ever been on. I attended a funeral, a wedding, and a going away party in the span of two days. Not a typical weekend for me as I’m sure you can imagine. I went to the funeral of one of my friends who I have known ever since I attended that first small group that changed my life (See previous weeks post). It was unexpected and devastating to hear, the kind of thing you never think would happen to someone close to you. It didn’t feel real when I found out, but it was. On Saturday morning, I went to the church of the funeral with my brother-in-law, and said a final goodbye to a dear friend. About an hour and a half later, I was sitting in my home church for a completely different reason. Two people who are close to myself and my family, Becky and Jeremy who are basically a part of our family, were celebrating their marriage through a beautiful ceremony. Weddings are such a beautiful picture of commitment and how Christ laid down his life for the people he loves. It was such a great time. The next afternoon I went to a surprise going away party for another close friend who I have known ever since I can remember. My friend Ben is going into the Marines and his family set-up this surprise to show how much he is loved and how much his friends and family are supporting him in prayer. Three events, two days, and one big rollercoaster of emotions.
It’s easy to be joyful during the wedding of two of my friends and to be joyful about the places another is headed, but what about the lowest times in our lives? I have been struggling with this idea and wanted to know how I can find joy, no matter how hard the situation is. I began to read James 1:2-4 which says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” A few verses later, James 1:12 says, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” I think these verses really outline how to possess joy in every situation, good or bad, that we walk in each day.
You will face trials.
Really encouraging statement right? As much as I’d like to believe that everything will be good all the time, the reality of it is, life gets hard. We face addiction, anger, loss, and a multitude of other struggles all the time. This stems from the fact that we live in a fallen world, but there is hope. The first part of the verse in James says to consider it pure joy when we face the hard stuff in life, because it will grow us. That’s my own paraphrase version, and it’s true. The scripture doesn’t try to dance around the truth, it simply says that we will struggle, people will say things to hurt you, you will fight against temptations, but this will lead to perseverance. Essentially, finding joy during the trials that we will all inevitably face, will make you stronger and build your faith even more.
You must be patient in the growth.
Having joy in all things will take time. We can’t speed through the growing process that the persevering brings. I want to have full joy in every situation, but I can’t expect to have this ability in an instant. The second chunk of that verse says that we must let this process finish if we want to be fully mature and not missing anything. I don’t like this concept because I want everything right away all the time, that’s basically how we have all been told to live through society. But in order to grow spiritually and have joy during hardship, we must be patient. The only way we grow, is if we are continually striving for more and spending our time reading and meditating on Christ’s word. Joy takes time because growing our faith takes time, but the reward is so much better than we can imagine.
You will be blessed when you persevere.
As we choose to say I will have joy in this situation, this brings praise to Christ and he blesses our perseverance. We face trials and grow our faith, and Christ gives us so much more than we could have ever imagined. He gives us a testimony to help others. He gives us wisdom to walk through future situations that we find ourselves in. He gives the leadership knowledge to be effective and show others the way. As we follow Christ, we are able to find life and live out its’ full potential. We were made to praise and worship our Savior, and through the perseverance of all trials, we can bring honor to his name. Does this mean life gets easy, no, what it means is that we get stronger and more equipped to take on future trials that will arise.
This past weekend was like being on a Ferris wheel, experiencing the great lows and the great highs that life presents us with. I will take the highs as a blessing and cherish the friends and memories past and present, being joyful in them. I also choose to have joy in the lows, seeing them as a growing part of my life that will give me a strong testimony. I will remember the times spent with my friend and brother Seth seeing them as a blessing, just as I will remember the day Becky and Jeremy became one, and the celebration of Ben pursuing his dreams in life. I choose to find joy in all situations, no matter how high or how low. I choose joy.