The Hard Way

“Lord, why do we have to do this the hard way?”

Last year I set out on an ambitious Good Friday run, wanting to conclude Lent with a time to focus on Christ’s sufferings on the cross and prepare to celebrate His resurrection. The first twelve miles were bathed in glorious sunlight. My heart soared in worship to strains from Handel’s Messiah as I wound along glistening brooks and through green rolling hills. But soon heavy snow clouds rolled in and a Siberian wind whipped across the North Sea, stopping me almost dead in my tracks as I struggled to push on across the wide-open fields. For the next twelve miles I contended with the elements, my double-gloved hands coated in an inch of frozen slush and my eyes stinging from the driving sleet. This was not fun; my exuberant praise quickly faded into frustrated survival. Why was God making this so hard on me? We had been having such a great time together. Why did He have to go and complicate it with hardship?

As I survey the scope of human history, I keep coming away with the same question. Why complicate the perfection of the garden with a fruit tree that would encourage people to stumble? Why complicate the beauty of the Church by filling her with unfinished works-in-progress who hurt each other and tarnish His glory?

The hard way leads to glory.

I have a growing suspicion that God values doing things the hard way. He has certainly involved Himself in a fair share of hardship. There were easier, much more direct ways to get His people out of Egypt and to the Promised Land. Instead, God led them across a sea and meandered with them through a desert for forty years. There were nicer, more comfortable ways for Jesus to connect with God and hammer out a vision for His ministry. Instead, God led Him to pass through the river and to meander in a desert for forty days. Somehow hunger and homelessness, loneliness and danger, internal wrestling and external testing were all a significant part of God’s plan for them. But what was the point? What was all that hardship supposed to accomplish?

…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.
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons.
God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews 12:1, 7, 10–11

Any good coach knows that answer to that one. Hardship trains us; suffering perfects us. Yes, it is miserable. Yes, we gripe and complain and wish we could squirm our way out of it. But in the end, it makes us stronger and better than we were before. It sheds our excess weight. It focuses us in on what really matters. And it sets us up for success in the great contest of life.

In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 2:10–11; 12:2

So what is this great victory that we are training for? What gain makes all the pain worthwhile? We are being fitted for glory, qualified to live as adult kids in God’s house, to share in the inheritance of all that belongs to Him, to rule over heaven and earth along with Him. Amazingly, His firstborn Son is on board with that plan. He even subjected Himself to intensive training in order to make it possible. In the grueling race that we now run, we are merely following in His footsteps.

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
Romans 8:16–18

The longer I meditate on the ways of God, the more I see a pattern emerge. He is not a God of short cuts, of easy, 3-step formulas. He does sympathize with our suffering and deliver us from trial, but not in a way that makes it all go away overnight. If anything, He orchestrates complexity and hardship in our lives in order to train us for something better than we had to start with, better than we would have thought to pursue on our own.

The hard way leads to glory.

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
Romans 8:29–30

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12 thoughts on “The Hard Way”

  1. Suffering is the route to love and freedom. Isn’t it ironic. To see pain as a gift -as a learning tool, is to understand how much we must be loved by God. I have often fought this kicking and screaming. I get the odd blaze of lightning understanding but generally my Human nature rebels.

    1. You and me both, Collette. I’m just thankful that, like the good Father He is, He doesn’t quit on us when we resist His training. He loves us too much to back off! And just like our kids, only further on in life are we able to appreciate His loving, persistent parenting.

  2. Why? Because at the end of the race, Jesus is worth it all.
    I can personally relate to everything you said in this beautiful post. It spoke to me that here is a woman who has been through the fire. We therefore are sisters bound together by suffering, for his precious name sake. We are blessed.

    1. Yes, Scarlett, He is the treasure, the glory we are holding out for. I think I have always believed that to some extent, but only after severe testing have I been able to say it so wholeheartedly. I’m thankful that He has preserved your faith through His refining fire and has brought it out so beautiful and pure (1 Peter:6-9). There is a sweet fellowship in sharing together in His and each other’s sufferings. It is a privilege to be part of that communion with you.

  3. It’s not at all clear that God planted the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. You’ve gotta carefully parse the text. See Gen 2:9, compare to Gen 3:6, and see how the fruit Adam and Eve ate was not “good for food”, but only “a delight to the eyes”. It’s almost as if judgment by appearance instead of by the heart was an issue all the way back in the beginning, in the very root of Christian mythology.

    1. Good point, Luke. I really struggled with how best to phrase that. Whether God planted that particular tree or not, though, the Scripture is clear that everything in heaven and on earth exists because He ultimately created it (Colossians 1:16), even those parts of His creation that are in rebellion to His stated desires. I guess my point is, one way or another, He could have avoided that mess, but He chose to do it the hard way.

      1. I actually believe that God does all creation, but not everything we see is solely the result of creation. Some of it is the result of destruction, of ripping and tearing what was good into something which needs healing. This fits very nicely with Augustine’s privation theory of evil, whereby ‘evil’ is the absence of good. Why? See:

        What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Cor 3:5-9)

        God gives the growth—the creation—and we guide it. If we guide it poorly, like Adam and Eve did by trusting the serpent, or like Cain did by distrusting God, then the result is sin and evil in need of redemption. The freedom to guide it is a requirement for us to be created in the image of God; if he has freedom of the will and we do not, we are not made in the image of God, and there is a permanent barrier to our being able to be conformed to our Lord’s image “from one degree of glory to another”.

        For more, see Roger Olson’s Why (High) Calvinism Is Impossible and The Bonds of Freedom.

  4. Too often I’ve fought and resisted the way he works. But that only makes things harder and I miss out on the joy that comes from knowing he is at work in me and one day the work will be complete. I enjoyed visiting here today!

  5. Wonderful truths here, Tiffany! I’ve learned over the past 18 months that God’s gifts of grace in the midst of hardships are worth the pain of the trials. At first, this lesson came through trials I didn’t (and wouldn’t have!) chosen. But now, as a first-time foster mom, I’m experiencing new kinds of hardships in new kinds of ways as I’m (by His grace) voluntarily pursuing this course God has set out for me. How good He was to bring me through some intense trials, SO THAT I could experience for myself the numerous blessings that accompany the hardships. And now, I can welcome the trials that come along with this new calling, knowing by experience and by faith in God’s character and His promises, that a harvest will be reaped in due time.

    1. Beautiful, Jennifer. Thanks for this personal testimony that this is true not only in theory, but also fleshed out in reality. You have captured the essence of faith: taking what God says in His Word to the road of life. It does seem a bit extreme at times, but who said walking with Him was supposed to be easy or “safe?” 🙂 I really enjoyed your recent post on the challenge to unconditionally love children who won’t be around to love you back. What a reflection of the heart of God!
      http://adivineencounter.com/love-em-and-let-em-go/

  6. I have nominated you for the Brave Heart Award. If you would like to accept it, please go to my blog site for details. You are an inspiration and thank you for your advice and support. TBH

    http://turkeyboneheaven.com/2014/03/23/brave-heart-award/

    Stand Strong You Are Not Alone

    I call you a survivor, because that is what you are. There are days when you don’t feel like a survivor and there are days when the memories trigger your past and it feels like you are loosing the fight – but you are not. Take the past and heal with it. You are strong. I want you to know that the abuse was not your fault. It does not matter what age it happened. You did not deserve it, you did not cause it, and you did not bring it on yourself. You own no shame, guilt, or remorse. In your life, you have faced many demons but look around you and you will see there is hope, and there is beauty. You are beautiful, You are loved, there is hope. You deserve to be loved and treated with respect. You deserve peace and joy in your life. Don’t settle for anything less than that. God has plans for you. Your future does not have to be dictated by your past.

    Each step you take you are not alone.

    Stand Strong.

    TBH

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