Are you kidding me?!? Pray for difficulty and suffering?!? You mean we should hope that our students have to face hard times in their young lives?!?
It doesn’t sound good at all. I know. But the fact of the matter is, that it is a good and noble thing. Have you ever looked at a spiritually numb or wavering student with concern and prayed, “Anything it takes, Lord. Anything it takes” in the hope that God will do whatever is needed to roust them from their spiritual slumber? If you have, then you most likely realize that the “anything it takes” might sometimes be great pain and heartache.
My own story is testimony to this. . . and I’m afraid, will continue to be testimony to this for the rest of my life. While I hesitatingly embrace it, I can’t say that I like it. . . at least not while going through it.
Almost 15 years ago now, I found myself at a point of spiritual stagnation. Cruise control. Lack of passion. Etc. And so I prayed: “Lord increase my dependence on you.” God answered that request. It wasn’t with an emotional high that left me jumping up and down with excitement. Rather, it was through a series of difficult circumstances. . . physical, situational, relational, spiritual. . . some of my own making, some out of my control. . . that God brought me to my knees.
Suffering is a gift. I found myself with my arms at my sides and tears in my eyes saying, “Ok God. I’ve got nothing. This is beyond me. Out of my control. Do what you must with me.” And while behind the wheel of my life . . . all the time trying to drive through it. . . it was hard. But the further you get beyond the view in the rear-view mirror makes full sense as we start to see what God was and is doing in our lives. It’s His gift that forces less of me and more of Him. It’s the blessing that hammers away at the idol of self. Desperation truly leads to depth.
Consider that phrase. . . “desperation leads to depth.” Then go and read through the Old Testament. God’s greatest work is done in and through broken people who find themselves at the end of themselves. . . and it’s there that God does His greatest work. This is why I consistently tell youth workers and parents that one of the most effective strategies for adolescent (and adult) spiritual growth is to pray for suffering. In a world where kids are nurtured to believe that it’s all about me and all about living it up in the moment, we need to pray that they will be given the gift (whatever it takes) to come to the end of themselves.
The Psalmist writes, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees” (Psalm 119:71). Really?!? Yep. A conversation last night with a good friend reminded me of the upside-down way (contrary to our cultural beliefs and convictions, that is) that God works. My friend’s daughter is going to be an unwed mother. And, in the midst of this, God is doing His work, drawing those involved to Himself in ways that could never happen without the gift of this unexpected difficulty.
Dear heavenly Father, only a humble certainty about your love could have moved King David to praise you for the “gift” of affliction. The same is just as true for any of us. I well remember the years I spent trying to spiritually finagle my way out of hardship’s way—believing that if I just claimed the right verses, prayed the right prayers, did the right things, then I’d have an “abundant life”—filled with “blessings” and very few difficulties.
Looking back at some of the early teaching I received, I can see how I was led to believe you were more of a “sugar daddy” rather than “Abba, Father.” I wasn’t thinking about learning your decrees, but about escaping discomfort. I wasn’t preoccupied with your glory being revealed among the nations, but with no unnecessary obstacles cluttering my week. I’m embarrassed as I remember that season, but encouraged as I remember my Savior.
Lord Jesus, you took all the afflictions I deserved as a sinful rebel; now I’m only afflicted as a beloved son. Because of you, Jesus, I’m not afraid of God as my judge, but I revere and love him as my Father. Only because of you, Jesus, I no longer despise or dread the decrees of God, but I delight in them. I now understand that God’s law isn’t a set of rules by which I earn anything; they are the wisdom by which I learn about everything—everything I need for life and godliness.
Holy Spirit, continue to make God’s glory my supreme passion, over my default mode of wanting a predictable, “safe”, manageable, hassle-free life. This short life is too precious to waste on little fancies and even smaller dreams. Because the gospel is true, help me to seek first the kingdom of God—even this very day. So very Amen I pray, in Jesus’ name and for his glory.
Desperation and difficulty are the gifts that lead to spiritual depth and dependence.