God calls us to a life of overcoming. He wants us to embrace this struggle, because by doing so while relying on Him, we develop holy, righteous character.
The old saying is true: No pain, no gain. Challenges bring growth. Hard work builds character. A soft life weakens it. Our natural tendency is to shrink back, to snuggle into our comfort zones. But in order to live lives of growing and overcoming, we must embrace challenges, difficulties and trials!
A man must be comfortable with stepping out and doing hard things for his family. God wants men to be good soldiers who endure hardness. Men who work hard, sacrifice, provide for their families; men who confront dangers, protect and take care of others. God needs strong men to build His Church, men who are dedicated servants of God!
“The keys to satisfaction, excitement, joy, and more lie on the other side of a great challenge,” wrote one Navy seal. “[S]hatter the myth that easy is good and hard is bad. What qualifies as ‘hard’ occurs on a spectrum that will be different for everyone based on your circumstances—the point is to push your limits and acknowledge this mighty effort as both positive and necessary for true happiness.”
2 Timothy was the last book the Apostle Paul wrote. He wrote it from a first-century Roman prison—not a comfortable place—right before he was put to death. Despite the hardship, this is his most inspiring book.
Paul wrote to Timothy because he knew this young minister was shaken by Paul’s imprisonment and by the apostasy raging in God’s Church. He was afraid, even ashamed.
“Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands. For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:6-7). Be strong! Paul tells Timothy.
“Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God” (verse 8). This isn’t going to be easy, Paul was saying; doing God’s Work involves some affliction. “Whereunto I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed …” (verses 11-12).
Paul suffered to fulfill his duty! Read 2 Corinthians 11:24-28. Five times Paul was beaten with 39 stripes; thrice beaten with rods; stoned; shipwrecked three times; he suffered in dangerous journeys, perils, weariness, pain, hunger, thirst, cold, nakedness. He lived a rough life in service to God!
God put this man through a lot. But Paul told Timothy, That’s the way it is! This is the life we’re called to—not a life of snuggling in our comfort zones, but a life of struggling, battling, overcoming, conquering! A life of doing what needs to be done for God. “Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1). This is manly advice: Don’t be weak—be strong!
“Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (verse 3). As Paul well understood from grinding experience, there is hardness that benefits you. We need the problems, challenges and afflictions life presents. Without them, we tend to become spiritually complacent. We want to simply maintain the status quo. Most of us have the natural tendency to just scrape by. Once we have fulfilled the minimum requirement, we stop pushing ourselves. Even when we have been successful to a point, we have a tendency to coast.
God has to break us out of that pattern. Very often, trials are the means. When you embrace that struggle—and learn to rely on God—He can develop more of His character in you.
How God Exposes Our Hearts
Bondage in Egypt was hard for the Israelites, but there were also pleasures. Liberated but located in the wilderness, the Israelites fondly recalled the melons, leeks and other foods, and the fleshpots. Their leader, Moses, was a former high-ranking officer in Egypt who could have enjoyed “the pleasures of sin” in the royal palace perhaps for the rest of his life.
Satan wants to seduce us and lure us to sleep by getting us addicted to comforts and pleasures. This is a real danger!
“And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble [or afflict] thee, and to prove [or sorely try] thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no” (Deuteronomy 8:2). God afflicted and sorely tried the Israelites. He stripped life down to the basics to teach them a spiritual lesson (verse 3). He wanted to know what was in their hearts.
Challenges reveal our hearts. They teach us about ourselves, reveal our weaknesses, and show us the areas where we need to be stronger, more like Jesus Christ.
Satan wants to entrap us in materialism and comforts. If we succumb, we tend to become afraid of discomfort. Satan wants us to fear discomfort—so we are willing to do anything to avoid it! When we get too comfortable for too long, we shy away from things that might hurt—even good, noble things: things like hard work, leaving Egypt and sin, making sacrifices for the family, doing God’s Work, standing up to persecution, or fighting for God! If your goal is just to remain comfortable, you won’t do these things.
But problems, temptations, trials, persecutions and afflictions can stir us to action and help us overcome our spiritual lethargy. God will supply them in order to toughen us spiritually—and to show us how much we need Him, how we need to rely on Him.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
“Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee” (verse 5). God says, Brace yourself—I’m going to make you uncomfortable at times. I have to because I love you. We shouldn’t fear chastening and discomfort. We must see the big picture and actually embrace it.
God wants to give us blessings, but He knows our human nature. Prosperity can be dangerous. We get fat and happy, contented and complacent, materialistic—and unwilling to work, unwilling to fight! (verses 12-14). If it was true of the Israelites inheriting the Promised Land, how much more true is this today in our industrial age of prosperity and luxury? We have eliminated so many of the challenges life used to bring. Unsurprisingly, we also have epidemic obesity and poor health; people with no purpose in life who are glutted on entertainment; people unwilling to work!
Luxury can be a snare. The fear of suffering is a trap. It debilitates us. We stop growing. We stagnate and wither away.
What is going to happen to all the soft, self-indulgent people in our modern society when “great tribulation” (Matthew 24:21) strikes? You can be sure that when conditions start getting hard, they will fall apart! But what about you?
Paul endured many intense trials to do the Work, yet he always went right back out and preached. Read one example in Acts 14, beginning in verse 11, where Paul and Barnabas visited Lystra. Angry religious leaders, feeling threatened by these men’s success, stoned Paul and left him for dead.
But Paul rose up and went straight back to work. Returning to the city that stoned him, this was his message: “Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (verse 22).
We will only inherit this spectacular reward through much tribulation—just like Joshua had to fight his way into the Promised Land. Nobody is going to slouch his way into the Kingdom, or trip and stumble in. Christ said “the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12). The margin says the kingdom is “gotten by force—and it is gotten by men of driving force.” Vine’sExpository Dictionary reads, “[T]hose who are possessed of eagerness and zeal, instead of yielding to the opposition … press their way into the Kingdom” (emphasis added).
When you understand the magnitude of the reward, it makes sense that we have to go after it. Paul understood this, which is why he was willing to endure so much, and with such a positive attitude! He said, “[W]e glory in tribulations … knowing that tribulation worketh patience” (Romans 5:3). “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake …” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
Paul didn’t just endure hardness—he learned to embrace it! And he taught others to do the same (e.g. 2 Thessalonians 1:3-5).
We need to teach this to our sons. Don’t let them shrink back in timidity. Boys and teens need to do hard things. Shun the ridiculous modern notion that adolescence is a time to act like a child with no expectations. It has never been like that in history! Before the 20th century, there was no such thing as “teenagers.” There were children and adults, and the goal of the former was to mature quickly in order to bear the burdens and enjoy the opportunities and blessings of the latter.
A young man should work hard, use his body and develop his muscles by doing uncomfortable things. A young man who doesn’t like to work should be taught to challenge himself, to force himself to overcome that fear. Help him get to the point where he loves it. God made our bodies to work! He made them to be able to endure hardness! If you don’t use it, you will lose it. You will get soft and weak and break down. Muscles love heavy use: The more you use them properly, the healthier they become.
The same is true spiritually in many ways. “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations” (James 1:2). Embrace that hardness! It’s going to produce growth! You would never grow if life were always easy. “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience” (verse 3). Trials make us stronger. Difficult circumstances help us grow.
Even when you grow into your older years, you must resist the tendency to want to coast along and think that being a senior means nothing is expected of you. Strive to follow Herbert W. Armstrong’s example. At the age of 84, he wrote, “It is true that probably not one in a hundred half my age could do the work that I have been doing. But what I feel most of you have not realized is that much if not most of all that energy, vitality, drive and power has come from two sources—God, of course (Isaiah 40:29-31), and sheer determination and self-drive, even when I did not feel up to it.” It is never too late in life to embrace challenges. Make a commitment to staying active physically and mentally. Take up a new hobby; learn a foreign language; read a difficult book; ask that old widow out on a date. Be excited about life—it really can get better with age if you keep the prod on yourself! Don’t focus on the past; look forward to the future.
Everything that helps you grow is uncomfortable—learning something new, meeting new people, eating healthier, building a new habit, changing your routine to introduce something good for you. All these things are hard. Your mind and body want to resist. That is what makes it a fight—and why it works!
These things break you out of complacency. They lead to growth. They make you a better, stronger person. When you live at the margins of your comfort zone, that zone will expand.
What do you fear? What makes you uncomfortable? Tackle that. Get after that.
Squirming Away From Adversity
The January 1970 Good News, after quoting Paul’s admonition in 2 Timothy 2:3 to “endure hardness,” made this observation: “Here is one of the first principles a soldier must learn. … Look at our men in Vietnam. They have to be willing to slosh through mud, endure jungle heat, fight insects and jungle rot, and put up with uncomfortable sleeping conditions and canned food. What if a soldier had this attitude? ‘I’ll fight for my country if I can have my three hot meals a day, box spring and mattress, warm fire and stuffed easy chair at night. And I don’t mind the shooting as long as it’s not in the rain or under muddy conditions. And, I can’t stand blood, nor can I afford to miss my favorite tv programs on Sunday night!’”
As ridiculous as that sounds, is it possible you have that attitude? That you are willing to be a Christian only as long as everything is going great?
In Christ’s parable of the sower, one group of people failed because “hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended” (Matthew 13:21).
Remember, we live in a Laodicean age (Revelation 3:14-22). Laodicea’s problems include self-satisfaction and complacency. We must robustly resist these things! If you study the history of God’s true Church, you see that God’s people have faced much adversity over the centuries. Yet one consistent problem has arisen: They repeatedly sought the easy way out rather than doing the hard things. God often had to correct them for trying to squirm away from adversity.
God has always had to contend with this natural human tendency. He charged Moses with bringing His people out of Egypt—and Moses gave God every possible excuse he could think of. He ordered Jonah to warn Nineveh—and Jonah ran the other way. He commissioned Jeremiah to be a prophet to the nations—and Jeremiah wanted out. These men all wanted to shrink back, but God challenged them to step forward.
Fight the Good Fight
Selfish human nature always pulls inward. We so easily retreat into small, self-absorbed thinking. It takes hard work to hold on to the vision of what God wants to accomplish with our lives!
At the end of his life, Paul offered some timeless advice. After warning Timothy of the many dangers he would face, he said, “But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5). Endure afflictions—this is part of the job. “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (verses 6-7). Paul described his Christian life as a fight! He did not say, “I have lived a good life.” He said, “I have fought a good fight.”
God has much He wants to accomplish in your life. He has a tremendous future waiting for you. You have to grow to achieve these things. You will never make it if you stay in your comfort zone.
God knows that physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually you are capable of far more than you think. Endure hardness! Embrace challenge! Fulfill your calling as a good soldier. Let God lead you in a life of growing, overcoming, fighting—battling for God—conquering and winning.