God has been teaching me about hard places lately. I say this while acknowledging that I am very blessed. What do these hard places look like then?
- They look like discord and stress in my most important relationships.
- They look like brokenness and hurt in the lives of people I hold dear.
- They look like opposition to my core beliefs.
- And they look like a firestorm because they’ve all been happening at once.
I’d like to blame my sister-in-law. She gave me a necklace for Christmas with one word stamped on it: Brave. I knew immediately this was to be my one word for 2017.
And I understood in the same moment why God, in His wisdom, gifted it to me: Who would be silly enough to choose a word like “brave,” since developing bravery requires facing scary things?
Rather than the word drawing fearful experiences my way, however, I believe it was instead a sign of God’s loving provision; He saw those storm clouds gathering on the horizon while I was distracted by the daisies.
As the storms broke, I leaned in to God’s Word and He led me through three lessons in scripture about what it looks like to be brave in His Kingdom. I’d like to share them with you here.
Lesson 1: Stand
The first thing to do when you find yourself in a hard place is to ensure you’re properly protected. Just as you wouldn’t wear high heels to go rock climbing, in spiritual terms we are to put on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18). While the armor itself is amazing and worth reading about, what stood out to me in this season was God’s instruction; three times he says to stand:
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then…
Every struggle we face in this world is just a whitecap to a spiritual battle happening beneath the surface. As we have the courage to stand the Lord will go before us, come behind us and fight for us. (Deuteronomy 20:4, Deuteronomy 31:6-8, Isaiah 45:2, James 4:7)
This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.
2 Chronicles 20:15
Lesson 2: Be Bold
I, Paul, who am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold” toward you when away!….For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.
On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete. (1 Corinthians 10: 1-6)
What this passage showed me is that these battles matter to God…a lot. God is waging war against the schemes of the devil, demolishing the lies, the pride and the things of this world that deceive people into believing there is no God, that they don’t need God or that they are sufficient to be their own gods.
Like the in-flight warning to put on your own oxygen mask before helping another, Paul directs us to take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ. As we do that first in our own thought and prayer lives we become open vessels for Him to use in saving the lives of others.
Knowing what’s at stake God calls us to step out boldly. Consider the example of the Israelites, as they fled bondage in Egypt and moved toward freedom. Stuck between two hard places–the Egyptians closing in behind them and the Red Sea before them.
Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.
The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.
Our pastor recently highlighted a detail in this passage that I had overlooked: God did not clear the path until the Israelites took that first step into the water, trusting in Him to be their rock and their salvation.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.
Only then does He follow with:
Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. Exodus 14:15-16
Lesson 3: Be Gentle
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3)
This is what I love about Jesus and His unexpected, upside-down, implausible and seemingly impossible Kingdom. After powerful lessons filled with spiritual armor, standing in the battle and demolishing spiritual strongholds He adds in a mighty whisper:
And most of all, follow the example I gave you….Do all of this in complete humility and gentleness, with patience and love toward one another. Remember that Satan may use others to oppose us, but they are brothers and sisters all the same. We are called to act with the end in mind, holding onto the vision that we are united by peace through our love of God.
I close with examples of a few great warriors I’ve discovered in this journey who braved hard places for God’s glory.
In my Bible study notes I encountered C.T. Studd,”a missionary who served God faithfully and fruitfully in hard places, Studd (I believe the Lord intended the pun) was born to great wealth, but felt called to give his possessions away. A couplet from one of his poems answers those who questioned his sacrificial lifestyle”:
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
The others I discovered in a podcast from Passion City Church,”Don’t Waste Your Pain.”: Katherine and Jay Wolf. Unlike today’s all-too-typical mommas, who work hard to ensure that no pain or suffering comes their child’s way, Katherine teaches her son,
“God made you to do the hard things. God has equipped you with what you need.”
Their shared journey is well worth the half-hour to view or to read in their book, Hope Heals, which I just purchased this week after the messages in their podcast reverberated into my life for several weeks.
After suffering a massive stroke that left her with a disabled, broken body, Katherine learned to trust God’s purpose in her suffering through Ephesians 4:1, which God used to speak clearly to her heart: “I called you to this. Live a life worthy of the special calling you have received.”
With wet feet, yet standing firmly on the Rock, Katherine encourages those of us still shivering on the shore to jump into the hard places in our lives with both feet:
Here in the Western world we have bought into the lie that to be good means it cannot be hard….that’s a deep lie. [We deceive ourselves into believing] that the blessings will flow when we get back to that old life that we had. No, this is the blessing.
Good and hard mutually exist. They are that bittersweet thing in life that makes it beautiful.
Life is not what happens to us. it’s what we think about what happened to us.
Here are some questions I’ve been wrestling with as I seek to apply these lessons to my life right now:
- Have I surrendered my selfish motives and prideful defenses to trust fully in God’s will in each circumstance?
- Is what I’m pursuing intended bring freedom to others?
- Have I invited Jesus into the situation or the conversation?
- Am I standing firm in prayer for those who oppose me, and trusting in God to fight the battle for their hearts and minds?
- Do I believe in my heart that God is sufficient? When all is said and done, do I want God or what I think He can do for me?
Want more on this topic? Try reading Perseverance in Suffering.