I’ll be honest, the last twelve months or so have been tough. I’ve been in pastoral ministry now for over thirty years. A lot has happened in the decades gone by, but this past year has been exceptionally difficult.
Of course, in life there is always a mix of the good with the bad. Plenty of incredible things have happened as well. Getting my first book contract with Tyndale was amazing. Watching our church finish and pay for the last remodel was exciting. Seeing a boatload of people get saved and baptized this past year has been awesome. Going on an all-expense-paid trip to the Holy Land with my mom has been sweet!
Not everything has been a struggle.
But I’ve had the wind knocked out of me more than once in some pretty surprising ways. Friends have deeply disappointed me. Health issues (with my back) have frustrated me. Expectations and some personal goals have not been met.
Frankly, I’m more disappointed with myself than I am with anyone else. I live by some fairly high personal standards, and I feel like I’ve failed more than I’ve succeeded.
Don’t worry. I’m fine. I’ve lived long enough to know that life is filled with the unexpected and plenty of trials. I’m not depressed or suicidal. This too shall pass. But the last couple of days I’ve been thinking a lot about a few things.
First, life is hard. In fact, recently way more of my life has been hard than easy. Like I said, lots of good things have happened along the way, but that has not been my norm. Normal for me (and most of you) is: hard, harder, good, hard, more hard, mixed in with some incredibly good things followed by more hard. Where did we get the idea that this is abnormal? Seriously, why do we expect life to always be so easy?
For the record, this isn’t pessimism; this is realism. I’m all for being an optimist, but the only thing that makes an optimist an honest optimist is seeing everything—the good and the bad. Then, from a position of reality, they choose to focus on the good. However, when an optimist ignores the bad, they are choosing to live in denial, and that’s just stupid.
Be optimistic! Land on the good. Always try to focus on the best. But don’t forget this reality: Life is hard, but it’s okay. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 14:33).
I want to suggest that living with the expectation of struggle is key to surviving it. You won’t get nearly as depressed or frustrated when the crap hits the fan if you’re expecting some flying crap.
Second, God’s not finished with me (or you) yet. It’s not like He doesn’t know what He’s doing. He always has a plan even when I can’t see it. I know there are times when we’re clueless, and we’re pretty sure God is too. But in those moments I like to remind myself, God is still working despite my inability to understand everything (or anything).
Seems like learning to trust Him will be a lifelong endeavor, and that’s a good thing. Would I, in fact, truly learn to trust God if I never had to face things bigger than me? By definition, to trust is to believe, to hope, and to hold on to Him even when (especially when) I can’t see squat.
And through it all, I need this powerful perspective—God is doing something in me intended to create the character and compassion of Christ in my life. We humans grow best in struggle. I wish that wasn’t true, but it is.
Finally, any good in my life is a gift from Him. James said, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights…” (James 1:17). Simply put, if it’s good, it ultimately comes from God. And that’s an important perspective to maintain.
Sometimes, I foolishly think, “I deserve better. I behave (usually). I faithfully serve. I faithfully give. So God owes me.” The truth is, every good thing I have is a gift of God’s mercy and grace in my life. Having this perspective is critical to living with gratitude rather than an entitlement mentality. If I get peeved when I don’t get what I want or think I deserve, then something is terribly wrong in my heart.
You’ve heard it before—perspective is everything. It matters. It affects everything about everything.
So I suggest you and I live with this view of life on planet earth: Even though life is hard, I will trust God no matter what and humbly and gratefully receive whatever good I experience as an undeserved gift from my Father.
Funny how a proper and godly perspective doesn’t necessarily change anything about my circumstances, but it sure changes me.