In our previous Wisdom Note, we looked at the story of Jacob when he wrestled with God and his name was changed to Israel. Although God’s original call to start a new nation was to Jacob’s grandfather Abraham, with Jacob, who is now Israel, the new nation started to take shape. This wrestling match left Jacob with a limp that he would be inflicted with the remainder of his life as a reminder of being set apart to prepare for and build this new nation.
As we head out to explore new trails today, we realize that it will be very difficult to take this strenuous hike with a permanent limp or other disability, so we will have to be prepared for the journey. Preparation can come in many forms, but for our this trek, let us take our rehabilitation instructions from Hebrews 12:1-3 & 12-13.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.”
“So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.”
In this passage, we see that in order to learn and adapt to our limps in life, we need training and discipline. This does not mean that we will completely recover from our limps or be without pain, but it does mean that we will learn to live with both and still live the rich and satisfying life that Jesus promised us.
So, let’s hike on our new trails for today.
Trail #2 – Are you prepared?
Our culture does little to prepare and equip us for hard things. We live in a culture designed to maximize our comfort and pleasure, celebrate these vanities, and distract us from what is real and lasting. If we take a look at what we’re sold by the media, we should expect life to be as easy as possible – filled with things that entertain and delight us and that ensure we live hassle-free lives.
From this perspective, pain is something to be avoided or ignored as much as possible. In reality, however, this is not how people actually live. We may be cushioned from the impact of suffering and pain for long periods in our lives, but inevitably we are forced to come face-to-face with the harsh and often crushing realities of real and unavoidable heartbreak. God may not allow us to become too comfortable. He knows that many of us will turn from Him if we become too comfortable, which isn’t good for us. Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, encourages us that going through “trials and temptations can be a blessing when they undermine our pride and our reliance upon ourselves and teach us to put our trust in God’s mercy and goodness.”
So, where do we go to learn how to wrestle with life’s challenges well? How do we equip ourselves to face and deal with life’s pain and suffering in a way that enables us to retain our sense of dignity and our faith in God where eventually we can emerge from the valley of the shadow of death in good shape? How do we prepare ourselves to be able to do this when our hearts, minds, spirits, and bodies are crushed under the weight of pain and suffering that can sweep into our lives without warning? We look for a place of hope and truth ahead of time.
Trail #3 – Build well.
We need a preemptive strategy. When you visit ancient towns and cities, particularly in Europe or the Middle East, you often see large fortified city walls protectively surrounding the area. These were an essential piece of fortification and safety for these cities and their people during times when they were under siege.
What we often fail to consider is that these walls were built during times of peace, when life was good. We need to build well when life is good. This is the time to invest in our key relationships – with God and others.
This is the time to dig deeply into prayer, worship, and scripture. It’s here that we find examples, from Jesus and his disciples and others in scripture, of suffering and wrestling in ways that bring hope and life and are firmly anchored in the goodness of God. When life is good, that’s the time to cultivate life-giving habits that will help sustain us when we are stretched. We must anchor ourselves in truly believing that God is good and that He loves us.
Then, when we are in the thick of things and life is just plain tough, there are a few things that can help us.
Trail #4 – Remember it’s only for a season.
God knows we need constant reminders of His goodness and involvement in our lives, so He has given us many in scripture and in the way He has orchestrated the rhythms of nature and history.
I have found Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 incredibly encouraging in which we’re told all things in this life have a season. They don’t last forever. There is “A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance,” (v. 4).
Nature reminds us of this truth also. We would not experience the bursting of life in spring without the seemingly lifeless winter season. No matter how long a season of suffering can feel, or indeed is, the season will pass.
So far we have explored the trails of perspective, planning, building, and seasons. On our next hike, we will explore the trails of choice, togetherness, and qualification and continue our trek with a limp.