Struggling as part of God’s design is a tough – and touchy – issue. Mainly because you and I don’t typically run toward suffering. We run toward comfort. (Also because so many Christians over the years have used the “it must be God’s will” line to pour lemon juice in open wounds, but that’s an entirely different blog post.)
Over the last few weeks, I’ve had four encounters that have me thinking a little bit differently about the struggles you and I face. From the everyday this-is-annoying struggle (“I can’t believe there isn’t a single parking spot at the post office.”) to the huge this-could-change-everything struggle (“Is that really the diagnosis?”)
Encounter #1 – The Reminder
In the last few weeks, God reminded me of something He first brought to my mind several years ago. I have shared it here before, and I’m sure I will share it again.
Somehow, it challenges me and encourages me all at the same time.
We all want to be people of character. Right? Think about the last time something truly shaped – or revealed – your character. Was it during a time of comfort or struggle? (That’s what I thought.)
Encounter #2 – The Book
Last month I noticed a book lying on my wife’s To Be Read Later stack. I had heard the title – Mindset: The New Psychology of Success – but never read it.
It’s not new (about 10 years old), but the simple concept of fixed-mindset versus growth-mindset is huge. Do you see your talents, intelligence, gifts, abilities, etc. as “fixed” or can they be “grown?”
One of the many concepts Carol Dweck explores is the difference between failing and being a failure. After all, if your mindset is fixed, then failing reveals something about your identity. If your mindset is one of growth, then failing reveals an area where you can learn and grow.
Failing and struggles don’t always go hand-in-hand, but they can certainly walk side-by-side. When we struggle, do we see that as a revelation of a flawed identity (or a mean God) or do we see the struggle as a way to learn and grow?
This leads to the third encounter…
Encounter #3 – The Conversation
Joe and I were chatting at church one Sunday. I had read the first 80 pages or so of Mindset. I mentioned some of the concepts in the book and he said, “Oh, that totally reminds me of the first lesson we teach kids at Chess4Life.” (Where Joe works.)
When kids come in we teach them that every chess match has one of three outcomes. Win…Draw…or Learn. If you go into chess with a win, draw, or lose mentality, you will never be as good as you could be. But if you learn something from every match…”
What if we took that attitude into every struggle? What if we looked at every struggle as an opportunity to learn? To grow. To be shaped.
Encounter #4 – The Early Church
Have you ever thought about what launched the massive explosion of the early church? At first thought, most would attribute it to Paul planting all those churches on his three missionary journey’s.
But that’s not how it started. The Early Church started because of persecuted, scattered Jesus-followers.
I read the first half of the book of Acts this morning. Chapter 7 ends with Stephen being stoned – martyred for his proclamation of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done. Here are the first few sentences that follow…
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.” Acts 8:1-3, NIV
The apostles weren’t scattered and Saul was still trying to destroy the church. Yes, soon after we read of Saul’s conversion and Peter’s vision, but check out these words from Acts 11:19-21…
Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.”
Did you see that? The very reason the early church exploded was because average, ordinary Christ followers weren’t destroyed or defined by their struggles – they were emboldened!
The attempted destruction of the church and persecution of the believers was the very method God used to get His people out of their places of comfort and into the communities that desperately needed Him.
What if God is trying to do the exact same thing with you and me today?
What if your struggles and mine aren’t meant to destroy or define us?
What if God is longing to use those very struggles to build our character and propel us out of what is comfortable and into our communities?
What if the struggle you are going through right now – the struggle I am going through right now – is the spark God is lighting to help the church explode once more?