All leaders face hardship.
My experience with leaders in the life arena is that we tend to suffer more hardships than most, in part because we’re directly pushing back on Satan’s most cherished pastimes of killing, stealing, and destroying.
I’ve found that being up-front about the reality of hardship in ministry actually invigorates godly leaders. For gospel-astonished people who exult at the mercy and power of Christ, hardship is a blessed means to a deeper experience of Christ and of His power made perfect in our weakness (see 2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
But spiritual orphans – modern Pharisees whose sense of belovedness and value depends upon their performance and not upon the gospel - are threatened by hardship. That’s because hardship endangers their idolatrous craving to curry God’s favor through self-generated, look-what-I’ve-done, hardship-crushing strength. Lord, have mercy on me when I act like a spiritual Schwazenegger and fall to this idiotic and sinful temptation.
Here, then, are some Scriptural gems of truth and beauty to help us handle hardship in gospel-centered ways. 1. Don’t Be Surprised Surprise over hardship in life and in ministry reveals a naiveté that beggars explanation. It’s the spiritual equivalent of a U.S. Marine shrieking like a little girl while in battle, “What?! They’re shooting at me!!” Practically speaking, naïve surprise adds a burden to the actual hardship. God’s grace teaches us to “wake up and smell the coffee” regarding the reality, even the normalcy, of hardship in the Christian life.
John 15:20a Remember the word that I said to you, “A slave is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.
1 Peter 4:12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.
1 John 3:13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. 2. Believe the Gospel Gospel-astonishment begins with admitting that we’ve gotten ourselves into our own severe hardship (by our sin, we deserve the wrath of God) and that we can’t handle it or get out of it. And then the Good News bursts forth as Christ says to us, “I have handled this hardship for you by living, dying, and rising for you. Repent and believe the gospel.” Reconnecting with this basic gospel-movement reminds us of God’s orientation toward us and our hardships, including hardships of our own making. Psalm 107 is a great place to read about this gem.
Deuteronomy 7:7-8 "The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
Romans 5:8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Colossians 2:13-14 When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 3. Confess Your Arrogance To try to handle hardship in your own strength is not only dumb, it’s often arrogant and sinful. It’s like waving your finger in God’s face, “I don’t need you, God. I’ve got this.” The gospel-centered way to break this pattern is grace-inspired confession and repentance. Take your newly-recognized arrogance and fly to Christ’s waiting arms of mercy. Tell Him all about it, and let Him gush over you like the prodigal’s father (Luke 15:11-24) with His opulent forgiveness, mercy, and grace. Experience His grace and walk with Him in a new way of dependent confidence.
Hosea 14:1-4 Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, For you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take words with you and return to the LORD. Say to Him, "Take away all iniquity And receive us graciously, That we may present the fruit of our lips. "Assyria will not save us, We will not ride on horses; Nor will we say again, 'Our god,' To the work of our hands; For in You the orphan finds mercy." I will heal their apostasy, I will love them freely, For My anger has turned away from them.
James 4:6 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, "GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE." 4. Trust GodPerhaps the simplest movement of trust is when a little child instinctively grabs her daddy’s hand in the face of danger. And why shouldn’t she? He’s big and she’s small. He’s able when she’s not able. He loves her. He’s her safety. For the Christian, this basic movement knows no age limit. In hardship, be quick to grab your Daddy’s hand, confident in His ability and love. [And a note to you he-men who think this is too girly: get over it. The manliest of men are those who cry out to God and fly to Him for grace. Scripture is replete with examples. Check out King Jehoshaphat’s public prayer in 2 Chronicles 20:5-13, esp. v. 13.]
Psalm 9:10 And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.
Psalm 56:1 [of David] When I am afraid, I put my trust in you [the LORD].
Isaiah 12:2 Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.
Luke 23:46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!" And having said this he breathed his last. 5. Rejoice that You Share in Christ’s SufferingsFrom the world’s perspective, it’s totally upside-down to celebrate hardship and suffering. Ah, but such is the nature of Christ’s Kingdom, especially when hardship comes as a result of godliness. Besides glorifying God, singing amid hardship completely bewilders the enemy, “What the?! If they sing when I hurt them, what do I have left to do?”
Matthew 5:11-12 Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Acts 5:41 Then they [the Apostles] left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name [of Jesus].
1 Peter 4:13-14 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 6. Weep, Mourn, and PrayI love the line in the 1987 movie Predator when Jesse “The Body” Ventura’s character gets wounded in a firefight. In response to his comrade’s concern, Jesse says, “I ain’t got time to bleed.” Love it! The only problem is that it’s dumb, prideful, and untrue. If Jesus had time to bleed, then we have time to bleed. Admitting so is another story, and is one that the Scriptures often showcase.
Nehemiah 1:3-4 And they said to me, "The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire." As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
Matthew 26:36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, "Sit here, while I go over there and pray."
Luke 22:44 And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.
John 11:35 Jesus wept.7. Withdraw for Rest, Rejuvenation, and/or SafetyAt this time last year I was in nearing the end of a three-month sabbatical. When I first introduced that topic to CFL’s Board, I decided to simply be honest, “I am completely exhausted.” I nearly cried when they responded with grace to the sabbatical idea. Mostly likely, the scariest “Board” you’ll need to reckon with when it comes to taking time off is yourself. Don’t let your own pride, sense of indispensability, or fear stand in the way. Rest in your belovedness in Christ, recognize your need, and plan for a time of renewal. For some help, read my blog How to Enjoy Your Sabbatical.
1 Samuel 22:1 David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. And when his brothers and all his father's house heard it, they went down there to him.
Matthew 12:14-15a But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him. Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there.
Matthew 14:13a Now when Jesus heard about John, He withdrew from there in a boat to a secluded place by Himself.8. Toughen Up and Get MovingThis is not a pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps toughness. It’s a humble, grace-dependent, prayerful, reliance-upon-Christ’s-toughness toughness. It starts with looking at the real and rugged Christ, whose Abba-trusting grit and determination coursed through a face “set like flint” for Jerusalem (and His impending death, see Isaiah 50:7-8, below), and that endured the cross, scorning it’s shame (Hebrews 12:2). To abide in Christ is to abide in the ultimate Tough Guy (see John 15:1-11).
Nehemiah 2:18 And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, "Let us rise up and build." So they strengthened their hands for the good work.
Isaiah 50:7-8 [A prophecy about Jesus] But the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me.
2 Timothy 2:1 You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
There are many other Scriptural gems to help us handle hardship in gospel-centered ways. Please share and comment with your insights. Thanks!