We fight to experience the fullness of God and to know Him more intimately in the midst of a world that is tragically broken.
The dictionary defines struggle as a forceful or violent effort to get free of restraint or resist attack. In the Christian context, that can easily be applied to a struggle to free ourselves from sin (to mortify it) or a struggle to resist attacks from the enemy. Throughout my walk with Christ, I have experienced various kinds of struggle.
As I write this, I am currently waiting on results from medical tests that will tell me if I have some type of incurable, life-altering conditions such as Huntington’s, Wilson’s Disease, MS, ALS, Tourette’s, or any similar type of diagnosis. For the past six months, I have been having nerve and muscle problems that I haven’t been able to get relief from. And let me tell you – the struggle is real. There are days I am in constant pain. Other days, it takes all of my energy to walk and sit up. Some nights I can’t sleep because my body keeps twitching and I can’t stay still long enough to give my body the rest it so desperately needs.
So I’m left with the question, what does struggle look like in the life of a believer? If we are truly to be set apart, how is our struggle and suffering distinct?
We Fight for Something
Like Jacob, as we wrestle and struggle with the Lord, we fight for more of God (Genesis 32:26-31). The more I wrestle with him in the difficulties of life, the more I learn about what is true. I learn that we serve a God who is faithful and true (Revelation 19:11), one who teaches us how to fight boldly and courageously (Joshua 1:6). I learn that we serve a God who is faithful enough to wound (Hosea 2:6, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Habakkuk, Genesis 32:25). We serve a God who doesn’t shy away from pain (Mark 14:36, Luke 19:41, John 11:35) and a God who is with us no matter what (Matthew 28:20). We serve a God who brings purpose to struggle, pain and loss (Romans 8:26-28). We serve a God who wants to give us life abundantly, who wants us to thrive, not just survive (John 10:10).
We Remember Our Heritage
In struggle, we also look to our heritage. Scripture tells story after story of how the Lord has been faithful and how His people have struggled for generations. I look to examples like Jesus, Job, Jacob, Esther, Paul, Habakkuk, Hosea, Jeremiah – so many people in the Bible who suffered and struggled with the Lord! Remind yourself of how the Lord was faithful to His people and that He will be faithful to you as well. Remind yourself that it is nearly impossible to predict the end of the story when you are still living in the middle of it. Remind yourself that the God of the stories in the Bible is the same God over your story.
Pray, pray, pray! The Lord wants us to talk to him (Luke 18:1-8)! He longs for us to come to him in our struggle, and struggle with Him and alongside Him, not against Him. We wait with God as we wait for Him. As we pray to God, we pray honestly, we pray Scripture, we pray hopefully, we pray through our grief/fears/hopes/sadness/loss. Take your emotions to Christ. Submit your plans to Him, lay your hurt at the foot of the cross. Pray to the God of the Bible, and pray through His attributes, his names. Also look to Christ’s example for prayer! Study the High Priestly prayer, meditate in the Psalms, let the Spirit intercede for you with groans too deep for words (Romans 8:26-28).
Even in the midst of struggle, we choose to praise God. His character hasn’t changed, even if our circumstances have. So we choose joy. That joy may not look the way we might expect – joy isn’t always smiles and unicorns. Joy may be choosing to sing through the tears, pray through the pain, or choosing to trust in Christ when you are afraid it might mean having to let go of your dream. Christ endured the Cross for the joy set before Him and in the same breath we call him a Man of Sorrows. Let Christ be your example of perfect joy and perfect grief expressed through perfect praise.
We Struggle in (Safe) Community
Something we see modeled repeatedly in Scripture is believers struggling honestly in community. Jesus asked his disciples to pray with him before he went to the cross. Job invited his friends over to be with him as he suffered various trials. We were not meant to do the Christian life alone. Find safe people that you can be honest with in the midst of struggle. Find people who will point you to truth and who have the emotional maturity and awareness to be fully present with you, friends who can rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. Struggle to live fully, with heart and honesty, in a community that will support you healthily and point you to Truth.
We Keep an Eternal Perspective
Many of my pains begin to pale in comparison when I begin to consider the weight of eternity. Simultaneously, many of my struggles point me to a greater reality that I am meant to experience in eternity! My health struggles point me to a glorified body that the Lord will give me one day, that I am truly offering my body as a living sacrifice to the Lord for His glory. We were created for something better than this world, and so it makes sense that our time in this world would be marked with struggle. We strain toward what lies ahead, knowing that our hope and glory is found in Christ alone (Philippians 3:7-14).
Struggle takes energy! Follow the Lord’s example of sabbath rest. Find friends like Aaron and Hur (Exodus 17) – the Israelites were fierce in battle, and any time Moses would raise his arms, they would win. If his arms were lowered, they lost. Moses grew tired (obviously!), and his friends Aaron and Hur brought him a seat and held up his arms for him. They bore his burden alongside him so that the people could see victory and God would get the glory. That is why a safe community that you can share your struggles with is so important. Jesus took time to rest and commune with the Father – that is our fuel for the fight. Don’t neglect rest, but be sure it is good soul rest that will give you the energy to get back up and fight again. And surround yourself with friends who will help share your load, and most importantly lean on Christ – He invites the heavy-laden to come to Him to find rest (Matthew 11:28).
A friend of mine used to tell me that it is sometimes necessary to “trust the God you know, not the God you feel.” While our feelings can lead us to experience God more deeply and intimately, they can also be misleading on occasion. In struggle, my feelings can lead to me to feel hopeless and defeated, or want to sit in self-pity and hopelessness. Friends, that is not the Gospel! In those dark moments of the soul, I must lean into the God that I know and trust in Him with every fiber of my being. Know the God of Scripture and who He claims to be. Then lean on Him like your life depends on it – because, honestly, your life does depend on it. Accept His plans, trust Him fully and take Him at His word.
We Repent When Necessary
Not all struggle is a consequence to sin (Job, John 9:2-3), but it is important to evaluate your heart and repent of any sin that may be there. That is ALWAYS important, not just something we do during struggle. The enemy asked to sift Peter like wheat, he tormented Job, Paul had a thorn in the flesh that he could not get rid of – people of God are harassed by an enemy. The people that God has used in mighty ways have all had to overcome struggle and hardship; they’ve all been broken somehow and redeemed by a great God. You’re in good company. But be sure to evaluate your own heart and repent of any sin that may be lurking in the dark corners of the soul. Sin seeks to utterly destroy, and it must be put to death – whether it is responsible for your struggle or not.
We Expand Our Paradigm of Deliverance and Goodness
When people tell me that “God is good,” I easily hear that as “God is going to give you what you want.” But as I look at my life, I am currently living a story that I would never have written for myself. Yet I am living in the middle of a story that the Lord has intricately written just for me that He may be glorified. As I pray for deliverance and for His goodness, I can’t discount that His deliverance may not look like what I picture. God is a giver of good gifts – even if my medical tests come back and He has chosen not to heal me, but instead to entrust me with the suffering that comes with chronic, lifelong illness. I have such a small view of what is good, of what God’s deliverance may look like. His deliverance for me may be a miraculous healing, but it may also be the strength I need for today. Both are a good gift from God. His promises are true and sure, and they are sufficient.
The struggle is worth it. Fight fiercely. Fight beautifully. Struggle with every ounce of strength the Lord provides until He comes to bring us home. To Him be the glory, Amen.
June 1, 2017: After various scans and tests, the doctors have cleared me from any diseases and chronic issues. After starting a new (strict & not fun!!) eating plan, all of my symptoms have gone away and I am feeling normal again!! Praise the Lord!