Picture the scene: While walking downtown one hot summer afternoon, you see a crowd gathered before a street preacher, standing atop a soapbox with a megaphone in hand. As you approach, you hear his message:
“Worried about sickness? Jesus is the healer. Worried about hardship? Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Worried about struggles with finances, job loss, or tragedy? Jesus says my yoke is easy and my burden light. I tell you that if you believe in Jesus, then all the worries, anxieties, and troubles of your life will disappear!”
If someone proclaimed this message to you, would you believe them?
I think we all know that the above message, although sounding attractive, lacks reality. As people of faith, we recognize that our faith is not an escapist dream. Faith is not an illusion that rips us from the reality of the fallen world around us.
As followers of Jesus, we contend with the imperfections of life. Our fallen world will naturally throw conflicts and crises upon us. To deny this fact is to deny the very world in which we live.
Jesus is clear about this reality. He tells his disciples that they will be led into times of trouble or persecution; they will witness crises in the heavens and on the earth and will be persecuted and put before governors and rulers.
Jesus plainly states that the disciples may even be put to death on account of their faith (Luke 21:8-19). Jesus is honest about the times of struggle his disciples will face. Furthermore, the history of the church testifies that this is, indeed, what the disciples faced.
Given this, what does it mean to be faithful when we are going through a time of difficulty? How might we respond to the difficulties of life with faithful witnesses? Here are three things to consider.
1. Don’t Deny the Struggle
Faith is never lived in the absence of struggle but in response to it. This is the heart of the incarnation. The bold and audacious claim of our faith is that God did not remain separated from the struggles of life.
Instead, in an act of radical love, God became incarnate within an imperfect and fallen world. God became flesh and entered the fullness of human life. The incarnation, however, makes no sense without the crucifixion.
Paul writes that “God demonstrates his love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus bore the full weight of the world’s conflict, rejection, and pain. From the cradle to the cross, Christians can be assured that the Lord has embraced the fullness of human life.
Following Jesus, therefore, isn’t about escaping the difficulties we go through. We follow Jesus to the cross, which means that we sometimes contend with the fallenness of this world. Jesus is clear, “In this world, you will have trouble” (John 16:33).
Our faith never keeps us immune from wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, pestilences, or famines. As Christian people, we are called into an imperfect world as agents of new life. We are given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18).
Thus, we do a disservice to ourselves and others when we assume that the faithful response to the ills of the world is to deny their effect upon us. We are not to run from our hurts or struggles but to acknowledge them. Faith never masks the struggles of life; it speaks into them.
It is only as we recognize that the Lord stands with us amid the hardships we face that we can testify to Christ’s life-giving power. Ultimately, faith pertains to real life and the real stuff we go through.
2. Proclaim the Good News
It is in the presence of our obstacles that we are to express our faith. Jesus is honest about the disciples’ upcoming experiences.
Yet Jesus also states that “this will give you the opportunity to testify” (Luke 21:13). During persecution and rejection, hardship and struggle, disciples of Jesus are called to bear witness to the gospel.
We bear witness to Jesus by proclaiming how our faith gives us the strength and perseverance to endure. Paul’s thorn in his flesh, for example, is what gave him the opportunity to declare that God’s grace is sufficient at all times (2 Corinthians 12:9).
This is exactly what happened with the other disciples. Their lives of witness, amid profound hardship and persecution moved the gospel throughout the world. As people saw the effect of Jesus in the lives of the disciples, they began to explore the truth of the gospel in their own life.
The circumstances of our lives become the material for our faithful witness. As followers of Jesus, we proclaim the presence of Christ as we have experienced and received him. “Come and hear…let me tell you what he has done for me,” says the psalmist (Psalm 66:16). This is the cry of faith.
The Scottish theologian and preacher named John Bailie recorded a prayer, which reads:
Teach me, O god, to use all the circumstance of my life today to nurture the fruit of your Spirit. Let me use disappointment as material for patience. Let me use success as material for thankfulness. Let me use anxiety as material for perseverance. Let me use danger as material for courage. Let me use criticism as material for learning. Let me use pain as material for endurance.
Bailey’s prayer is a beautiful articulation of the fact that the circumstances of life, whatever they may be, are places where we are given the opportunity to choose the way of faith.
The call of our faith is never to deny the hardship of the world or to pretend it’s not there. Rather, we stand and declare the power of the gospel.
Ultimately, the reason we can proclaim the good news amid life’s difficulties is because we rest on the promise that “by your endurance you will gain your life” (Luke 21:19).
By leaning on our relationship with Jesus, we gain a deeper life than we could ever possibly imagine; we become mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:4).
Our eternal life isn’t based on a life without problems. It is based on a life in a relationship with Christ. It is that relationship that we proclaim above all else.
3. Be Boldly Faithful
Returning then to our original question, how might we respond in times of struggle, persecution, or hardship? As followers of Jesus, we are called to be boldly faithful. We trust that Christ will be with us no matter what we face.
After all, Jesus says that, amid all our trials and difficulties, we are to “raise our heads, because our redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28). Jesus promises our full and total redemption, and in that promise, we have hope.
While the world in its fallenness may ebb and flow away, Jesus secures our futures. Jesus stands with us regardless of what we may be experiencing. Thus, we can stand firm in our faith, particularly because no matter what this world throws at us, it will never defeat our life in Christ Jesus.
So, if you are walking through a time of difficulty today, take this promise to heart: the structures of life might crumble around you, but you will remain. The wealth of the nations may come to nothing, but you will survive.
The bastions of security and ease may all dry up, but you will endure. Whatever you face in life, whatever discouragement or hardship you are walking through, Jesus says that it won’t have the final word. In faith, you stand in the power of God.
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The Reverend Dr. Kyle Norman is the Rector of St. Paul’s Cathedral, located in Kamloops BC, Canada. He holds a doctorate in Spiritual formation and is a sought-after writer, speaker, and retreat leader. His writing can be found at Christianity.com, crosswalk.com, ibelieve.com, Renovare Canada, and many others. He also maintains his own blog revkylenorman.ca. He has 20 years of pastoral experience, and his ministry focuses on helping people overcome times of spiritual discouragement.