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No one likes to experience hardship or deprivation. When given a choice, we usually avoid hardship. But in our relationship with God, difficult things are not always to be avoided. Times of difficulty can be times of spiritual growth.
Of course, what we are to be grateful for is not the difficulty itself but the result that difficulty can have if we respond to it with the right attitude. As James wrote, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness" (Jas. 1:2,3). In the real world, there is no way to learn steadfastness except through hardship, so if we avoid hardship we won't ever acquire the steadfastness or endurance we need.
The point is not that we should unnecessarily throw ourselves into hard or dangerous situations. Doing so is not a sign of true courage; it is only a show of foolhardiness. But when doing what is right involves hardship, as it often does, then we should meet the hardship courageously.
Most of us can look back and see that the periods of our greatest spiritual growth were times of significant testing and difficulty. Whatever the challenges may have been, we grew stronger as we faced those challenges faithfully and learned to rely on the Lord's strength.
As we see in the history of Israel, times of ease are often times of spiritual decline. It doesn't have to be that way, perhaps, but in the case of most people, we grow lax and ungrateful when all of our needs have been met and we suffer no deprivation. Few of us are exceptions to this rule.
So the Lord, in His fatherly love, allows us to experience seasons of trial and testing. As James said, we should find joy in this experience, knowing that we will be stronger when it is over. But this will not be the result if we don't think of hardship as we should: "But let this power have its full effect, so that you may be made complete, needing nothing" (Jas. 1:4 BBE). We must make the choice to yield to the disciplining effect of difficulty. Throughout the coming week, we will be considering this principle. May we learn how to grow in the midst of hardship.
Monday: Deuteronomy 8:1-5
Key Idea: Through deprivation, the people of Israel should have learned to rely on the Lord.
Questions for Family Growth: According to v.2, what effect should the forty years of wilderness wandering have had on the people of Israel? What does v.3 say God did, and why did He do this? What is said in v.5 about "discipline" or "chastening"?
Wisdom for the Day: Proverbs 29:10.
Tuesday: 2 Peter 3:18
Key Idea: We are to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Questions for Family Growth: In your own words, what does it mean to grow in the "grace and knowledge" of Jesus Christ? What are some specific steps we can take to experience this growth? How might hardship help us in this process?
Wisdom for the Day: Proverbs 29:11.
Wednesday: 2 Corinthians 1:8-11
Key Idea: When we are delivered from desperate circumstances, we learn to love the Lord more.
Questions for Family Growth: What did Paul say he had experienced in Asia? What did he mean when he said "we were . . . burdened beyond our strength"? In vv.9-11, what were some of the things that resulted from Paul's enduring of this ordeal?
Wisdom for the Day: Proverbs 29:12.
Thursday: James 1:2-4
Key Idea: We can be grateful that the testing of our faith produces steadfastness.
Questions for Family Growth: How does James' exhortation to "count it all joy" go against conventional wisdom? Do you think there is a distinction between "joy" and "happiness"? In v.4, what decision must we make when we are experiencing hardships?
Wisdom for the Day: Proverbs 29:13.
Friday: Hebrews 12:3-11
Key Idea: Just as a father disciplines his children, God loves us and uses hardship to train us.
Questions for Family Growth: In v.7, for what purpose do we have to endure? What is said in v. 10 about God's purpose in disciplining us? What are some ways that God might discipline us? According to v.11, what fruit is produced by discipline?
Wisdom for the Day: Proverbs 29:14.