All of us face difficulty at one time or another. It takes lots of forms: illness, financial difficulty, busyness, relational breakdown – and often a combination of these adds to the overall stress. This is true for everybody. There is no one who gets scott free of this! We have all wished from time to time that various problems would simply “go away”; or else we wish to “go away” in order to get away from the difficulties.
It’s true for Christians as well as non-Christians. Some would like to (and do) create a cosy theology where the cross is applicably only a redeeming act of grace and does not in any way have to do with suffering at large or the way of living. Its picture of torment is indeed graphic and doesn’t literally represent what everyone goes through, although many have suffered great physical abuse at the hands of cruel men.
But as much as some might try to say, “everything is alright now,” factually this remains our wish, not our reality. We can aim for it, and it is God’s ultimate destination for us all, but we are clearly in process, and where we are right now clearly calls for a more mature approach to issues of suffering and difficulty, and one which follows the way of Christ through the cross, to the resurrection.
One health warning: it’s not easy.
What strikes me today is one of many contrasts we see between the world’s systems and those of the people of God, the renewed, transformed people – if indeed they are living in the way He made possible through the new covenant. On the one hand you have the world bringing in all sorts of coping methods, and they are vast and wide. Alcohol. Nicotine. Other drugs. Addictions to substances and habits (eg. spending) form one general and very full category of ‘coping’ method. Another is escapism, which can be as harmless as reading fantasy fiction (not all necessarily bad of itself) or watching lots of TV shows, or as masked as pursuing Buddhism or some other sort of escapist ‘spirituality’, or as serious as running away from home, from everything, ‘disappearing’. Finally when they discover that none of these mechanisms can help them to truly cope, you find the worst of cases – crimes which see them end up in prison, or the many sad cases of suicide.
I’m glad to say that for a great part when I see the church I see that a lot of folk in the church a) realise that difficulty doesn’t go away and that we somehow have to deal with it, but that b) they recognise that many of the ‘coping’ methods of the world are not ideal and that in God there’s probably another solution. How widely the solutions are known, is another matter. We’re all in process, and all learning together!
But where the world turns to its coping methods, I would like to suggest that our default should be seeking systems of ‘breakthrough’. One operates from the unrenewed perspective of decay and lack of direction; the other operates from the perspective of a renewed mind and life, seeing that there is an end goal, and striving towards that.
I remind you: it’s not easy.
“Seeking breakthrough” may not seem immediately appealing when you’re going through difficulty; very often these things can tend to drain you and sap your strength and brain-space, so that you don’t want to expend any more on being all spiritual and “seeking breakthrough”. But I strongly believe that when we come into trial there is a LOT of grace available for us. One of the most significant verses of Scripture for me, for a long time, has been 1 Corinthians 10:13 which says that “God is faithful, who will not allow you to e tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”
Because when we’re “in trial”, God knows we are. And He’s been there too. And while we may feel that we’re in a “bad” or “difficult” place we shouldn’t feel that it is in any way punishment or as a direct result of us making bad choices; sometimes our difficulties are to do with other peoples’ bad choices, and the general effects of brokenness in the world impacting our sphere. God has grace for those moments. I believe it is no use feeling bad for any sense of inefficiency we may have of ourselves in these times. It is up to us merely to seek Him and for the one key that will unlock the breakthrough for the situation. That way we go from being ‘copers’ to ‘overcomers’ – handing the situation over to the One who overcame in the greatest trial, so that His victory can impact on our lives and bring victory to our situations as well. There is actually a grace and a peace for surrender – for allowing ourselves to realise that God knows the situation we’re in and that we often “don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on You” (2 Chronicles 20:12).
It’s not easy, but it can be rewarding. When we begin to seek breakthrough, He is faithful to give us keys – for example, one simple thing to pray, or a verse to hold on to, or a practical thing we can do. It can so often be little things that first anchor us and then begin to turn situations around. He often starts with us too – granting the peace of God to rule in our hearts before ever there is a change in the outward circumstance. To me this is the most wonderful and important moment. Then from that place, the peace which He has given us inside, we can start to live out of and pump into the atmosphere around us so that it changes the situation. A transformed people will transform people. And it’s a process, but it’s set on course by the great overcoming victory of history, the cross and the resurrection. It’s a people who know this – who know the power of God’s victory in trial, and the grace that is available through it all, who will be able to rise above the worlds’ coping mechanisms, and begin to see, in even the smallest of ways, a route to breakthrough and overcoming of circumstances – so that issues are dealt with, not run away from, and we as people grow in strength and wisdom.
And, I repeat: there’s grace for it all. I am utterly convinced of that right now, more than anything. Great, great grace!