We’ve all heard people say that God wants us “on fire” for Him. Maybe your pastor has talked about being “sold out” for Jesus or a conference speaker has challenged you to serve God with “total abandon.” We’re used to that kind of talk. It’s almost cliché.
But has anyone ever told you that God commands you to do hard things?
For some reason that sounds more extreme, doesn’t it? Being “on fire” or “sold out” for God sound like positive emotional states where nothing can really get to you. Even serving God with “total abandon” doesn’t make us feel uncomfortable as long as we leave it general and vague.
But “do hard things” sounds so — well, hard.
We don’t like hard things in our society, especially as young people growing up in a culture of adultescence. We avoid hard things as much as possible. Unfortunately (or should we say, fortunately), there’s no avoiding them in the Bible.
Of course, our tendency is to say that God’s commands aren’t “easy” or that it’s only by His grace that we can obey any of them — and both of those statements are 100 percent true — but why can’t we ever come out and say that God’s commands are hard? When Christ commands us to love our enemies, why can’t we just call it what it is?
Everything God commands is hard. Repenting is hard. Forgiving is hard. Turning the other cheek is hard. Overcoming sin in our lives is hard. Honoring our parents is hard. Sharing the gospel is hard. Reading our Bibles is hard. We could go on.
Part of our hesitation to call things hard can be that we’re afraid to come across as unspiritual. After all, if we’re truly “on fire” for Jesus, shouldn’t it be easy for us to read our Bibles every day, say no to sin, and share the gospel with others?
But when we think that way we’re missing something huge that God wants to teach us about personal growth and His plan for our lives.
The Way We Grow
In James 1:2, we’re told to consider it “pure joy” when we’re faced with challenges, trials, and obstacles, because they test our faith and makes us stronger. Think about that: The God who created you and loves you cares about your growth. And the way He has designed you to grow is through challenges.
When you work out your muscles grow stronger. When you challenge yourself mentally your brain grows new neurons. When you do hard things, you grow, both in character and in practical areas of competence.
If we want to grow we need to get over the idea that God’s love means He wants us to go through life with as little effort or discomfort as possible. This is similar to the mistaken notion that we don’t need to change because God loves us just the way we are. God does love us just the way we are, but He also loves us too much to leave us that way. He wants us to grow.
Of course, none of this is to say that God wants us to live joyless and pain-filled lives, but our joy must be rooted in more than temporary circumstances, and at times pain is necessary in order to gain something of greater value.
A Radical Argument
We’re making what sounds like a radical argument. We’re not just saying that hard things happen and that you can benefit from them. We’re not just saying that you have the ability to do hard things. We’re telling you that you should do hard things because it’s the best and only way to experience true growth in your life.
Take a moment and think. Can you remember any period of growth in your life (as a Christian, student, athlete, musician) that didn’t involve effort and even some level of discomfort? The truth is that all growth involves discomfort.
This isn’t a new idea. We don’t want to reinvent truth. But we do want our generation rediscover what has always been true — and one thing that has always been true is that in order to grow we must do hard things. We must challenge and stretch ourselves, step outside our comfort zones and do something difficult. It’s how we’ve grown before, and it’s the only way we’ll grow for the rest of our lives.
And while it may sound more appealing to sign up for a less extreme version of the Christian life. Maybe instead of the platinum “do hard things” membership, we can tackle something more along the lines of the bronze “go-to-church-every-week” membership. Less benefits for less effort. Sounds good, right?
Unfortunately (or again, fortunately), God doesn’t leave that option open to us.
Writes C.S. Lewis: “It is hard; but the sort of compromise we’re hankering after is harder — in fact, it is impossible…. We are like eggs at present. And we cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”
In other words, we can’t just go on being ordinary, decent Christians, giving God part of our lives while holding back the rest. Either we are hatched and learn to fly or we are a dud that will soon start to stink. The ironic thing here is that although the hardest thing — the almost impossible thing — is to hand over our whole selves to Christ, it is far easier than what we are trying to do instead.
Hard Things or Harder Things?
What happens when we avoid hard things? The answer is that hard things come to us. It’s like the guy who won’t go in to the gas station to put some air in slightly deflated tire, only to have it blow out on him on the freeway when he’s late for an important meeting. Maybe it’s even happened before, and he’s already used his spare. Tough luck.
We can’t really avoid doing hard things. We can only decide when to do them and how prepared we will be to handle the hard things life brings our way. You either do the hard thing of getting prepared, or you deal with the harder thing of being unprepared. We either “do it” now, or we end up having to “deal with it” later.
This about a lot more than flat tires or missed meetings. Resisting temptation is hard, but not as hard as dealing with an addiction. Finding and keeping a job is hard, but not as hard as dealing with unemployment and struggling to make ends meet.
This world would have you think that your best life would be a life in which you were able to completely avoid responsibility and effort. But a life like that could be compared to the strange fish that live in the complete darkness of the deepest parts of the ocean, who never come in contact with a hard object their entire lives, and whose flesh has become completely translucent. That is a picture of what we’re asking for when we desire a life of ease.
John Piper, in his book Don’t Waste Your Life, shares this story:
I will tell you what a tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life. Consider a story from the February 1998 edition of Reader’s Digest, which tells about a couple who “took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball and collect shells.” At first, when I read it I thought it might be a joke. A spoof on the American Dream. But it wasn’t.
Tragically, this was the dream: Come to the end of your life — your one and only precious, God-given life — and let the last great work of your life, before you give an account to your Creator, be this: playing softball and collecting shells. Picture them before Christ at the great Day of Judgment: “Look, Lord. See my shells.” That is a tragedy. And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream. Over and against that, I put my protest: Don’t buy it. Don’t waste your life.
We don’t want to waste our lives. That’s why we choose do hard things, and why we challenge you to do hard things as well.
Theodore Roosevelt said it well when he said, “a mere life of ease is not in the end a satisfactory life, and, above all, it is a life which ultimately unfits those who follow it for serious work in the world.” Such a life is a tragedy — a wasted life.
When we fail to do hard things, we not only disobey God, we set ourselves up to fall short of our true, God-given potential. Even worse, we act as if God is not worthy of our effort — or as if He is unable to accomplish through us what He has called us to do.
Living Your Best Life
God isn’t glorified when His children limit themselves to what comes easily for them. He isn’t glorified when His children aren’t willing to do hard things. The Christian calling is hard, but it is also the only calling worthy of such extraordinary effort.
History tells us that our best life is not our easiest life. Those men and women who were of the greatest service to God and to mankind were those who gave the most of themselves; those who endeavored, not to avoid difficulties, but to overcome them; not to seek comfort, but to do what was necessary, no matter how hard.
If you can take only one thing from this article, take this: Our greatest joy and satisfaction comes not from avoiding hard things but from joyfully embracing them.
This is how the same Jesus who said, “If anyone would come after me let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me,” could also say, “for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Following in Christ’s footsteps is hard, but it’s good — and He is the ultimate example to us of a life spent doing hard things for the glory of God.
Our big, crazy idea is that this is the life God has called us to live now — not 10 or 20 years from now, but right now, as young people. This is your best life, not your easiest life; the only way to avoid wasting your single years and ultimately your life.
Something to Give Your Life To
If you want something that you can give your life to, this is it. This will ask for all of you and give you back more than you could ever imagine.
This is what Jim Elliot was speaking of when he said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
This is what Christ promised when he said, “He who would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”
This is what G.K. Chesterton was talking about when he wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried.”
Our dream is that our generation would be made up of those who find the Christian ideal difficult and yet still try — knowing that the loving God who would never leave us as we are and who desires our growth, will also delight with the first feeble, stumbling effort you make tomorrow to do the simplest hard thing for His glory.
George MacDonald, a great Christian writer, pointed out that every father is pleased at the baby’s first attempt to walk, but no father would be satisfied with anything less than a firm, free, manly walk in a grown-up son. In the same way, he said, “God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy.” And why would we ever want God to be satisfied with anything less than the very best for us?
Copyright 2008 Brett Harris. All rights reserved.