The older I get the more I realize life isn’t simple, how sometimes there are just no easy answers to be found. Even when the answer is clear, it doesn’t mean it’s easy, and sometimes the road ahead can seem really long. I look around me and know I’m not alone…
There’s the husband whose wife is diagnosed with an incurable disease at an age much too young that makes her physically and mentally disabled, an invalid for life. He faithfully takes care of her, year after long year. It’s the parents who lose their child, left to deal with the laborious, wearisome road of grief. It’s the person living with chronic illness, waiting for healing that doesn’t come, or the addict wishing he could be set free. It’s every Christian who continually chooses to walk in self-denial, adamantly and unwaveringly pursuing God’s call. For many of us in this life, there is no big fanfare, no celebratory climax when everything becomes clear, when all is made better or easier.
In the quiet, daily dedication of those who faithfully, humbly accept their unwelcome burden, there is a hidden work of God taking shape. It’s a tedious evolution, produced slowly over time by a series of everyday events common to the human experience, seemingly inconsequential to us. This work in us is hidden, often even from ourselves. “A seed only flourishes by staying in the ground in which it is sown…this work happens even when we do not feel it” (Henri Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love). He is the vine, we are the branches. As we remain in Him, He promises to remain in us and bear much fruit (John 15:4). As we patiently endure through our harsh realities, a gentle beauty is born, beauty that we cannot conjure on our own. He produces a different, better kind of life that we cannot understand until we experience it, until we see it begin to take form in us as we trust him in our pain, as we submit to his higher calling of self-denial. This is where we begin to understand what Jesus meant when he said, “If you choose self-sacrifice, giving up your lives for my glory, you will embark on a discovery of more and more of true life” (Luke 9:24 TPT). In our experiences of loss, there is also the birth of something new.
It’s about the willingness to be led where we would rather not go, trusting his strength is made perfect in our weakness, about looking to Him to supply what we need when we reach the end of ourselves. Just like he provided manna from heaven and water from a rock for his people as they wandered through the desert. It won’t be everything, but it will be enough…and the Promised Land is ahead.
But aren’t we supposed to be joyful and live in victory? John Bunyan in The Pilgrim’s Progress portrays the Christian journey as one fraught with danger, temptation, and much difficulty. There are seasons of respite, glimpses of Paradise ahead, but this story reminds us that the way to glory is found through suffering. We aren’t promised the fulfillment of every desire, a life of ease, every prayer answered. Jesus said, “Narrow is the road that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:14). He also told us in this world we would have trouble, and yet we are still somehow surprised by it. Many of us have had those moments when we shake our fist at the heavens, begging for an answer to our question of “Why?”, and we are met with silence.
So what is our response? Even the apostle Paul suffered with a thorn in his flesh, and he pleaded with God to remove it, to which God replied, “My grace is sufficient for you.” Paul’s response? “I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:9). Sometimes we are healed, sometimes we do get the victory we seek…and sometimes we are left in our weakness, day by day learning to rely on Him to supply what we need. If we pay attention, we will begin to see the quiet, hidden miraculous take shape. We discover that in Christ, our weakness produces strength; what appears to be the basis for despair proves to be the basis for hope; what looks like defeat proves to be victory.
And so we look to the joy set before us, knowing that “the tested genuineness of [our] faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7 ESV). When Jesus was on the cross, the victory was hidden. His disciples were afraid, defeated. His own mother watched, her heart shattered. God’s work of redemption was hidden on that day. It may at times appear the same to us today, but it is there, and it is glorious.