Struggles are a significant part of the Christian life. If our view of God and life is too simple, then it can lead to frustration and fear. We are left to wonder, “If God is in control, then why am I facing this struggle? If God’s eternal plan is working, then why did he plan for me to deal with these issues in my life?” These are fair questions, but ones for which we must come to a correct answer. Many Christians struggle to grasp the connection between the sovereignty of our God and the real struggles of our lives. Many say that God could not allow these in our lives. They will deny God’s rule and power over all things. This reaction is a total misunderstanding of the Bible and the Christian life.
Even today, in the back of my mind, when I face struggles in my life, I start to wonder — what did I do wrong that God would allow this to happen? Growing up not being taught theology and especially a clear understanding of the doctrines of grace made my knowledge of God unclear. At one moment, God was my loving father in heaven. However, if I sinned, my father became a righteous judge ready to send me to hell until I had confessed and repented of my sin. I bounced through my teenage years experiencing the ups and downs of a “He loves me. He loves me not” spiritual life.
How joyous was my first semester in seminary! On those Monday afternoons Dr. Smith went through the Westminster standards in Introduction to Reformed Theology. For the first time I heard and understood the perseverance of the saints and the Biblical understanding of sanctification. It was life-changing, but there were still struggles. Now for the first time, I could see how God used these trials not as a punishment but as a positive for the Christian life.
Here are three observations about how God can use our struggles.
- The struggles of our life test our faith.
‘In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your 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 1:6-7 (ESV)
When we face doubts about our faith, our perseverance, and God’s faithfulness —it is these times of trials that stand as evidence of the genuineness of our faith. Many will claim to have faith, but when they face some struggle, they turn from God, showing that their faith was not genuine. Our struggles also show us where we have weak areas in our faith. It shows us where we have not dealt with sin, forgotten God, or tried to face life in our strength. God tests us in struggles to show us our faith is real, and to show us where we need our faith strengthened.
2. The struggles of life correct and build up our faith.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” — James 1:2–4 (ESV)
When struggles test us, God calls us back to His grace, mercy, and strength. He calls us back from worry and anxiety to trust in Him. The Christian’s life is not lived in an abstract and theoretical world but the lives of real people; people with real fears, real problems, and real issues. God uses these in His children to correct our faults and build up our faith. I can remember, as most pastors can, being in our first church and facing that first “major” crisis. Usually, it was not that big a deal, but for us, at that moment, it was a huge struggle. I can remember being sick to my stomach, having weeks of sleepless nights, and wondering if I was going even to have a job much longer. Yet, God brought me through it. God corrected my self-reliance and showed His love and mercy to bring everyone together. My faith is much stronger from that experience. I can remember studying the book of Jeremiah during that time. I was feeling sorry for myself about the great difficulties I was going through. Then I came to Jeremiah 12:5,
“The LORD answers Jeremiah, “If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses?”
I realized that this was not that bad and that I would probably have to deal with a lot worse. At the same time, I realized that if I were going to face more significant struggles, the more I would have to depend on my God, who is bigger than all my struggles. This trial corrected my wrong thinking and prepared me to go face greater issues in ministry.
3. The struggles of our lives allow us to glorify God.
Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. —1 Peter 4:16 (ESV)
As a newly ordained young pastor, I faced a difficult pastoral situation. There was in my church a young lady dying of cancer. Our small church and our small, close-knit community were devastated by this illness. I visited the lady one evening in the hospital, and she had several of her friends in the room. As the visit was winding down, she asked us all to pray. When her turn to pray came, she prayed a beautiful prayer of faith. She thanked God for cancer because it had drawn her closer to God and made her depend on God. Her prayer was a great testimony of faith in the face of death itself. Struggles and issues allow us to glorify God in the way we face these trials before a watching world.
As you face struggles in your life today, whether they be great or small, know that God has a purpose and plan behind each of them. We are never at the hand of fate or chance. The Christian has a loving heavenly father who is testing, correcting, and building our faith by the situations of our lives. You have an opportunity each day to glorify God in the way you respond to the struggles you face. Struggles He allows in your life in order to bless you and glorify His name.