With all the bad news this year and challenging times, it is more difficult than ever to remain hopeful and positive. There seems to be a constant stream of negativity and pessimism.
When I began in missions 28 years ago, Americans were known around the world as hopeful and overcoming. This seems to be changing. We now seem to be negative and cynical proclaimers of doom and gloom.
As Christians, we are the only people in the world that have grace. This should help us to have a different perspective on hardship. The reality of grace becomes even more real during times of struggle.
When I see the biblical authors speaking about grace during trials, it was not something they learned in a classroom or a textbook. It came from facing much more than we have.
David fled for his life.
Jeremiah was told his ministry would fail before it began, yet he was faithful.
Peter went from denier to martyr.
In 2 Corinthians 2:7-10, Paul pleads for the thorn in his flesh to be removed. God does not answer this prayer, but promises "his grace is sufficient, my power is made perfect in weakness." Paul goes on to boast in this weakness. This understanding came as he walked through hardship. God did not answer his prayer.
Here are three things we can learn about grace during difficulties
1. Grace strengthens us.
None of us want weakness. We strive and perform, attempting to mask any weakness in our lives. Paul boasts in it! The sufficient grace that comes is linked to the ideas of contentment. Paul can be just as content and peaceful in weakness.
2. Grace teaches us, giving us the ability to learn and change.
The active force of grace in our lives takes difficulties and turns them into learning experiences. Failures or mistakes are not fatal; in fact, they are expected. Difficulties serve to teach, stretch, and grow us as we mature in our walk with God.
How many times have we reflected on a difficult time and said, "That was hard, but it was good." If God had answered our likely prayer during the hardship and removed it, we never would have seen that good.
3. Grace prepares us for heaven.
In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, Paul speaks of "light momentary afflictions preparing us for the weight of eternal glory." Paul's definition of "light and momentary" includes persecution, prison, shipwreck, and flogging, to name a few (2 Cor. 6:4-5).
He says these things will pass away. They serve to prepare us for the glory of heaven. Having no tears in heaven (Rev. 21:4) will be magnified since we have shed tears on Earth. When we taste the bad news, the good gets even better.
In light of these, how do we respond to hardship?
Is it doom and gloom?
Do we turn negative and critical?
We can be real with our emotions as David was in the Psalms. Similarly, we must move through the pain to a place of worship, like David, despite our difficulties.
Even when you can't explain it, when life seems out of control, we can take comfort in knowing God's grace will be sufficient.
A powerful lesson I have learned from my African brothers and sisters is their response to difficulties. In America, when trials come, we often ask God to remove it. Africans have come to expect hardship. This causes them to pray differently. Their prayer to God is not the removal of trials, rather the strength to endure.
I want this to be my prayer.
"My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness." In that, I will endure.
What are you going through that requires grace?