Growth comes not from willing in our minds to grow but instead it comes from being challenged beyond what we are currently capable of. It comes from being stretched in ways that are increasingly uncomfortable and sometimes even torturous. When faced with circumstances that we have difficulty grasping, our natural tendency is to withdraw but in order to reap the benefit of such difficulties, we must do exactly the opposite.
In the 1st chapter of the book of James, verses 2-4, he had this to say to the Jews regarding trials:
“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”(NLT)
The Message translation of verse 4 reads: “So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”
I felt the need to include that last bit because it can be tempting to try to remove ourselves from situations that are less-than-pleasant but we actually do more harm than good when we do so. Believe it or not, such situations are as much a sign of God’s love as they are a test of our faith. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the last year or so of my life has been awash with confusion, unexpected turns and changes that I wasn’t exactly prepared for. There were many times that I questioned God and His love for me. Many times that I asked Him why He was betraying me. I grew tired of Him telling me how much He loved me when everything taking place in my life seemed to prove otherwise. But now as I look back and am better able to understand the reason for all of it, my heart becomes full and my eyes well up with tears because I see evidence of His love riddled throughout my story. All of it has been for the purpose of bringing forth the next version of me.
After encouraging the recipients of his letter to endure under the pressure, James then encouraged them to pray and seek God for wisdom, stating that “He loves to help. You’ll get His help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it.”(MSG)
This verse brings to mind an instance that took place a few months ago in which I asked God how long I would be in this place. His response? “Long enough for you to develop a consistent prayer life.” I knew then that I was going to be here for a while. And when I got deep enough into that dark hole and it all felt like it was just too much, I heard Him say, “Lean in.” He was instructing me to draw nigh. And I did because it was all I could do in order to keep standing. I was overwhelmed. I felt completely powerless and was on the verge of a mental collapse. But when I began to lean in, my prayers became more intimate and, as a result, my Father began to talk back. A lot.
This past Sunday morning I was trying to teach my young students the importance of prayer and in doing so, I gave them this illustration:
Imagine you’re at school and you have a teacher that comes into the classroom every day, seats herself at her desk and lets you know that while she’s always available and willing to assist you with whatever it is that you may need help with, she will not do so unless you ask her to. She has all of the knowledge and resources you need in order to do well in her class but she will only provide them upon request. By never approaching her, I asked, would you learn anything while in her class? Would you gain anything from going to school?
In the same way, God is ready and willing to come to our aid, to give us the knowledge and wisdom we seek and to give us the strength to endure what lies ahead but we must approach Him first. God is not one to impose and He certainly doesn’t welcome Himself where He hasn’t been invited.
In this most trying season of my life, I am more convinced now than I ever have been before that my Father loves me and has no intention of hurting me. He desires more for me than I could ever desire for myself, starting with a woman that more closely reflects the one He had in mind when He created me. And He desires that for you, too. There are many tangible blessings in store for those that love God and diligently seek Him but none of those things compares to the things He desires to do in and through us. God’s love isn’t evidenced only by the visible blessings that He bestows upon us, it is evidenced by the time and care He invests to do a work within us.