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Struggle



It almost seems as if God intended us to struggle, or perhaps struggle is primarily the consequence of sin. Regardless, our human disposition seems fundamentally opposed to the notion that we should have to struggle. Against this one notion, perhaps we often struggle the most. Life is hard; life is not fair. So we have already heard. Those facts are not new to us and growing older only intensifies our experience with struggle. Pain. When will things get easier? Is that too naive a question to ask? Is life after death our only solace?


Perhaps you are struggling right now. Perhaps you are asking why God is bringing you out of a blazing furnace only to hammer you on an anvil before thrusting you back over intense heat. Perhaps you feel alone; like no one understands what you are going through. Maybe you want an escape–some kind of relief from the constant battles that rage around you. Are you withdrawn? Are you angry and ready to curse the next misfortune that befalls you? Are you grateful for your relative ease compared to another? Are you trusting God, but going through the motions while doubt knocks at the backdoor of your mind? Do you feel guilty for inconveniencing others as they witness your brokenness? Are you rejoicing over your trials (James 1:2)? There are many responses to pain. Pain is old. Pain has been studied and commented on for thousands of years, but it remains our experience today. 


So am I talking about pain or about the concept of struggle like the title implies? I am discussing both. However, struggle can be more practical to discuss than pain because pain is like trying to describe a color. It’s an experience only the beholder can truly know from within their own mind. Proverbs 14:10 says, “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy.” Every person has a deep well of sorrow within them that is difficult to reach, but from that same deep place profound joy can abound. Our hearts are truly a mystery, whose deepest depths, only God has the keys to fully unveil (much could be said on this). 


However, struggle is the way we carry our pain and handle our hardship in the midst of pursuing faithful obedience to God. Struggle is often visibly seen and can be emulated by others. Finding a good model for struggling through pain can be difficult, but examples in the Scriptures are plentiful. Paul is one such example. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, he lets us in on God’s response after pleading with Him to take away the “thorn” in his flesh. Paul writes, "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.” Our weakness and struggle to remain faithful to God in the midst of pain is an ordained opportunity for God’s glory and power to be made known through us. 


Is it unjust of God to obtain glory through our struggle and absolute reliance on His grace? I do not seek to fully answer this question here, but I will briefly comment on the joy of fulfilling one’s created purpose and the richness of glory obtained by obedience through trial. We were created to accomplish great works, to toil, and to produce. Even with the curse in the garden bending our backs to the breaking point, we find delight in striving to fulfill meaningful goals–great or small. A mother strives to deliver a child despite the intense pain of giving birth. An athlete strives for physical dominance despite hours of sweat and rigorous training. Why? In the hope of attaining a goal. 2 Corinthians 4:17 says, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” So too, Christians press on through pain, persecution, and misfortune in life with the goal of eternal glory. By doing so they bring glory to God and find present joy in fulfilling their created purpose. Such foresight requires faith that only God can provide. We ought to ask God for more faith in the face of our unbelief. 


Hebrews 12:1-3, says: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”


Just as Christ humbled himself and became obedient to death (Philippians 2:8), we are to be obedient through pain and eventual death. We often forget this–believing that Christ suffered so that we would not have to. While this is true regarding our eternal state, our corrupt bodies are still subject to death and decay and our feet are still rooted in the soil of a decaying world. Our hope is not here. Our hope cannot be here. Yet, in God’s mercy, life after death is not our only solace. Psalm 27:13 says, “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.” I believe God’s gifts and goodness, though not always guaranteed in the manner we desire, still abound in this life, and we must wait patiently for them. I may be interpreting Psalm 27:13 incorrectly, but I am confident that God is a present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1). Additionally, some of the fruit of suffering does not have to be waited for. The perpetual blessing suffering brings is the glorious privilege of knowing Christ better. As you struggle, perhaps intensely, dare to look Christ closer in the face. 


Struggle is ingrained in our story. So, yes, it does appear that God intended us to struggle, but that should not provoke us to fear or indignation. Our struggles are the path to worshiping our Refuge and offering thanks to our Provider. Without our struggles, we would not have need of such glorious comforts. Accepting our need to struggle and our destiny of loss is a continual fight for our souls, but it is a battle that ends in glory and a surrender that leads to gain. Strengthen one another because this is a road we must walk together.


A fascinating story in the Bible is when Jacob wrestles with God who appears to him in the form of a man. After they stop wrestling, the man says “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” The very name that God gives to his people, as some scholars say, literally means, “To struggle with God”. This has profound implications for us as Christians as well. Our lives here on earth are defined deeply by how we struggle in relation to God. Will we struggle away from Him? Will we struggle against Him? Or will we struggle with Him? We get to choose.



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