By Janet Smith, gardenministries.org
Let’s face it. No one likes hardship. It’s hard. In fact, many of us invest big chunks of our time, money, and energy avoiding hardship. But what if hardship isn’t all bad? What if hardship is an important part of realizing our destiny in God? There are two kinds of hardship: God’s disciplining hardship, which is productive hardship, and Self-inflicted hardship, which is unproductive hardship. Hebrews 12:6,7 “…the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?” 2 Timothy 2:3 “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.”
The Self-Inflicted Curse of Hardship
When God created mankind, he gave us the freedom to love and obey him, or notâ€”making love a heart choice, not a mandate. Before Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they lived in a state of complete harmonic union and dependence with their Creator. There was no hardship in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 1, 2). But after Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, they gave sin entrance into humanity, reaping the curse of hardship (Genesis 3) for their disobedience. Thus, mankind took on a propensity to turn to their own ways and means to accomplish life, with the expectation that they could achieve the same quality of lifeâ€”only without God. Unfortunately, this gravitational force toward living independently from God has big side effects. Because of the curse, and because God created people to be in a state of supernatural communion with him, the vacuum, created by an independent-from-God lifestyle, makes humanity vulnerable to another supernatural powerâ€”the seduction of evil. The curse of hardship and the affects of evil have infected every aspect of creation, producing global disharmony and corruptionâ€”creating an environment of continual toil and a longing to live supernaturally engaged, with no more toil.
The Vicious Cycle of Avoiding Hardship
No matter who we are, how much money, talent, or smarts we possess, because we are naturally bent toward selfishness, and because we live in a world (and a body) that is in a declining state of corruption and decay, we will regularly encounter hardship and difficulty. By accepting this reality and by believing in the gracious promises of God, when hardship comes our way, we know that we have direct access to God’s effective answers. The immediate way out of the hardship doesn’t necessarily come, but the answer and the grace of “Trust” comes right away. And standing on the Rock of Trusting God, we will make daily decisions that confront fear.
Decisions to comfort our fears instead of increase our faith and trust are always narrow-minded decisions that cause us to shrink back and self-protect. Fear comes with a belief that it is all up to me to fix what’s wrong or prevent harm. In contrast, trust-based decisions will always expand and advance us. We believe it is all up to God to bring justice and prevent harm. We believe that God will teach us how to make decisions that create a greater dependence on him and advance our ability to love and trust him.
Without submitting to and basing our decisions from God’s perspectiveâ€”a perspective that will always challenge us to live in greater levels of dependency on himâ€”we don’t see how our fear-based decisions end up creating more hardship in other areas of our lives. We don’t take into account the amount of time, work, money, emotion, and personal sacrifice we will end up investing as we reinforce our fears by building and accumulating protective measures that we think will avoid perceived hardship. Using our personal resources to reinforce fear instead of building forward-motion faith and trust in God will always cost us more than we thought. Especially in the areas that we should not sacrifice; like relationship time with our loved ones, getting outside of our selves to spend time with and help others in need, resting, finding and imparting hope, enjoying every day things, etc. The world’s system does not teach us how to trust God. It teaches us the oppositeâ€”to trust man’s ways instead of Gods. And thus, we turn to the same broken system that keeps disappointing us. We jump on the treadmill one more time using our limited, temporal-and-material means to obtain a sense of comfort. Before long, we find ourselves back on a “new” treadmill, a little more tired and exhausted than the last round, pushing the “start” button on another attempt to solve our problems and satisfy our discontent.
We Think We Know Better
Instead of seeking and submitting to God’s ways and being open to possible changes, we make “new” treadmill decision. We buy and remodel that house. We start working out. We start a diet. We start a family. We stop having kids. We get new furniture. We get married. We don’t get married. We change jobs. We travel. We consume. We purge. We do. We think. We act. We play. Just like the little piggy, we “We-We-We” all the way home! And that is not to condemn any of these actions. They may very well be in God’s plan for our lives. It’s when we turn to these things for comfort and happiness instead of turning to God first and getting his clear direction, we have chosen to act independently of him and have tagged these “things” as our answer. We are using them to avoid hardship, satisfy our discontent, and gain comfort. For a short while, they might even work for us. But in the long run, if we honestly evaluate these self-made decisions-for-a-happier-life, in every case, the overall payoff was much less than the price we paid to obtain them. The comfort and satisfaction these decisions gave us wore off long before the full price for them was paid.
Wisdom is Proved Right by Her Offspring
In comparison, the decisions and plans we make in a state of complete dependence on God, following his clearly articulated direction, will always prove out to be wise and productive. In the end, the payoff of following God and trusting him will outweigh the price we are called to pay. We will see the most payoff in the authentic, thriving relationships we have gained through it all. We are not lonely anymore.
Can’t Give Up the Control
So why do we keep throwing ourselves under this same bus? Why do we succumb to the vicious cycle of avoiding hardship? Why? Because we aren’t yet ready to trust God and follow him exclusively. At best, we will give him lip service but when decisions to trust him butt up against the decision to rely on what we think is best or “wise,” we would rather trust ourselves than him. Besides, deep down, we subconsciously know that we are likely to encounter the God-disciplining hardship by following God so we’d rather stay in control of what hardship we are willing to face and not entrust that power to him.
Take the Issue of Money for Example
Take the issue of money for example. Saving money isn’t bad. In fact, to live debt-free, saving money and then buying something is way smarter than borrowing the money and paying interest on that thing. Yet many people save money, not because the Holy Spirit is leading them to save it, but because they are afraid of being in a state of hardship without money to save and support them through the hardship. Matthew 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
If saving and stockpiling money or things is based in our fear of a “rainy day,” then we are protecting ourselves and are avoiding the extreme challenge of walking by faith and trusting God. If we are asking God for a closer relationship with him, then we can be sure, he will give us a “rainy day” to drain our self-protective, fear-based, self-preserving resources. He does this to give us a platform of trust and faith to stand onâ€”the required basis for a pleasing relationship with him. God wants us to depend on him because he knows that as the Creator of all people and all things, he is the God of the impossible and does everything with our good in mind. He is perfect and loving in all his ways and has proved this to be true over and over again. The Scriptures chant, “The Lord is good and his love endures forever.” We have an entire book called the Bible that spans thousands of years documenting the stories of this truth. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith, it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Even so. When the rainy day comes and our self-protective measures are gone, do we view it as reinforcement for our fears and begin again to save and hoard for the next crisis? Or do we stop acting independently from God and turn to him, asking for direction and show him our love and devotion by implicitly obeying his commands. (John 14:15)
God is not focused on giving us hardship. God is focused on restoring dependence on him. Andrew Murray describes Humility as being “complete dependence on God.” Conversely, independence from God is based in Pride. And Pride is delusional. Hardship happens to be one of God’s ways of gaining our dependence on him. The good news is that God delights in showing himself faithful and loving. He loves to affirm our choices to turn to him. He will always give us the grace to endure the hardship as we turn to him. He is a good Father and always has our best in mind. And as a good Dad, he will not affirm our decisions to rely on our SELF or the World. He is not obligated to own and support decisions we make that he did not author. If we seek, daily surrender to, and align our will with Jesus as Master and LORD, if we put our trust completely in him when making decisions, and daily walk out his direction, putting our trust in God and leaving it there, we can be completely confident that we will discover all hardships endured actually turned out for our good. They are a necessary discipline that prepares us to handle the responsibilities of our destiny. This discipline creates humility and actually shortens the process of preparation. If you are still wondering if all this is true, just read the biblical stories of Joseph, Esther, Abraham, Ruth, David, Moses, Mary, Elizabeth, Paul, John. Plenty of “hardship” there. Plenty of fantastic destinies realized too.