A couple years ago, our six-year-old daughter came home from school and announced, “Miss H. says she’s not tying any more shoes after Christmas.” Which meant we had better start practicing! “David started to fuss and whine about needing help with his shoes, and Miss H. said, ‘David, life is full of hard things.’ That’s what she says all the time.”
Miss H. is a wise woman. I’ve often thought of her simple and straightforward words to little David and pondered how they really are a lesson for all of life. Life is full of hard things. You have to learn to tie your own shoes, make your own bed, study hard, cook meals, care for sick children, work for a living, and deal with the various thorns and thistles of life.
This reality raises the question of how we deal with such hardships when they arise. Will we shut down in discouragement when things do not go our way or persevere in faith through whatever trial is on our path? In Elisabeth Elliot’s classic book Keep a Quiet Heart, she reminds us, “When Paul and Silas were in prison, they prayed and sang. It isn’t troubles that make saints, but their response to troubles.”
Christians are not exempt from troubles. In fact, we’re promised troubles for the very fact that we follow Christ (John 15:20). Yet often, our responses to the trials in our lives reveal that we think we deserve something better.
We’re looked over for a promotion and automatically think the worst of our bosses and the seemingly unqualified person who got the job instead. Or we’re mocked for our faith in the workplace and respond with resentment — toward our co-workers as well as the God who seemed to let us down.
Even in the devastating trauma of miscarriage we can stretch out sinful, grasping hands when we interrogate God for blessing others with multiple children, while we’re left with empty arms.
We’re talking about trials far more severe than a rained-out picnic. And yet, even here, complaints of soggy sandwiches and parkside puddles reveal our sinful sense of entitlement towards having our “rights” fulfilled. And when we don’t get them, we can have our own temper tantrums in a hundred different ways.
Rejoicing to Share with Christ
In the book of 1 Peter, we’re exhorted to respond to the difficulties in our lives in a completely foreign and counter-cultural way:
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12–13)
Peter is calling us to have a heavenward focus in this life. Trials will surely come, and we should not be caught off guard. In fact, they’re the very thing God uses to test our faith.
And we are not just to endure the hardships, but actually rejoice in the very suffering we experience, knowing that through suffering hard things in this life, we taste a small portion of the bitter cup Jesus endured when he was hung on the cross for the sake of our sins. God is using this difficulty to shape us to be more like his Son.
Be Prepared for Fiery Trials
So if we’re not to be surprised when difficult things come into our lives, the implication is that we should be prepared. Consider six ways to be ready when trails appear.
Expect suffering. Each time a hardship enters our lives, we’re reminded that this world is not our home. We are broken people living in a broken, sin-filled world. If we try to make our lives into a heaven-on-earth, we’ll surely be disappointed.
Know God’s word. Fight the fight of faith by studying, meditating on, and treasuring the promises of God’s word. A closed Bible will yield little hope or strength for our journey. Arm yourselves with the sword of the Spirit to fight the battle well, for our battle is spiritual, and requires weapons of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:12, 17).
Pray for perseverance. Call upon the only one who can sustain you with grace in the midst of your difficulty. Pray “at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. . . . Keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18).
Be committed to a body of believers. God does not mean for us to endure suffering on our own. When the Israelites were fighting Amalek, they were only victorious as long as Moses was raising up his arms. But he grew weary in the battle and needed the help of Aaron and Hur to hold up his arms when he lost strength (Exodus 17:8–13). Who will come to your aid when the road gets tough?
Look for reasons to rejoice. My natural reaction to suffering is to feel sorry for myself and complain. But when I can catch myself heading down that downward spiral, I combat it with making a simple list of five things to be grateful for. Remembering God’s blessings can help us keep the right perspective, even in the midst of hardships.
Keep doing good. Suffering can make us self-absorbed. We might tend to think that no one’s lot is as difficult as our own. But Peter exhorts us that in the midst of our trial, we need to stay others-focused: “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19).
Suffering does not exempt us from doing good for others. Keep reaching out, keep praying for others, keep looking for ways to bless and encourage someone else in the midst of their difficult time.
Rejoice in Hard Things
Maybe you are blessed right now to be in a sunny season of life, far from trials. If so, be grateful and praise God. But also know that trials will one day enter your life and are the very means God uses to mold us into his image. Whether you’re facing trials now — or preparing for the trials that will eventually come — rejoice, knowing that through every hard thing we suffer in life, we share with Christ.