This is part three of my series on the Christian hero’s journey in which I look at the Christian life using the framework of hero’s journey. Part one looked at “the call” and how the Christian hero’s journey begins with a gospel call to repent and put his or her faith in Jesus. Part two addressed “the mentor,” in which a Christian is discipled or taught and guided by a more mature believer. This article looks at a more somber aspect of the Christian hero’s journey: the struggle.
Many preachers today proclaim that a Christian is supposed to be healthy, wealthy, prosperous, and have his or her best life in this world. That theology, no matter how beautifully it is wrapped and decorated, is absolutely false! Nowhere in the Bible, when rightly handled (2 Tim 2:15), are we promised the good life free of financial, physical, or worldly struggles on this side of eternity. We are promised paradise in eternity after we leave this physical world and only for those who have repented and put their faith in Jesus (Rev 21), but paradise is not promised to us in the here and now.
Reject the false teachers of the prosperity and word of faith gospels! They are misappropriating and misapplying Scripture—or even outright twisting it—for their own personal gain.
In this article, I will first look at what the Bible tells us about struggle and the Christian journey. Next, I will introductorily look at the benefit of struggle.
Struggle Characterizes the Christian Hero’s Journey
Everyone struggles. Each one of us has hardships. Being a Christian does not exempt someone from suffering, hurt, or any other of life’s difficulties. Christians, in fact, can add one more thing to the list: persecution because of our faith.
The Bible teaches us that not only will a Christian go through the hardships every person endures, the will also be hated, mocked, beaten, condemned, ostracized, or all of these simply because they are Christians. Consider Jesus’ words recorded in Luke and John:
You will be hated by all from my name’s sake.
Remember the word that I said to you ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
Jesus makes it clear that a Christian’s life is one of persecution. This wasn’t just a warning for Jesus twelve apostles, but one that applies to all Christians. Paul made this clear in his second letter to his protégé, Timothy:
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
2 Timothy 3:12-13
The Christian hero will face difficulties, persecution, tribulations, and other struggles along his or her journey. There is no promise of a “best life” or prosperity. Rather, the Christian life is one of humility, service, and struggle.
Sometimes the struggle becomes so intense that even the most faithful Christian can get depression or other mental illnesses. So real is depression among Christians that LifeWay sells numerous books about how to recognize and deal with depression. I also released a few videos myself intended to help people feeling depressed. In them, I share my depression story, talk about how I deal with depression, and offer tips for those trying to help a friend or loved one who is struggling. As always, these resources do not replace getting medical advice or treatment from your doctor.
Although the Bible does tell us that persecution and hardship are part of the Christian hero’s journey, it also reminds us that there is a benefit to struggle.
The Benefits of Struggle for a Christian
God does not tell us in his word, “you will suffer, so good luck with that.” Rather, there’s always a “but” in there. We are told in Scripture: “you will struggle in life, but there is a benefit to it.”
Struggle strengthens us.
Hardship, persecution, and tribulation are supposed to help us grow in our faith. Just as a refiner’s fire purifies and strengthens metal, life’s difficulties are supposed to strengthen us. That is why James could write, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2).
James was not calling Christians to celebrate hardship like we would celebrate achievements or happy moments such as the birth of a child. Rather, he is calling us to recognize the opportunity the struggle affords: an opportunity to be humbled, trust Jesus more, and be strengthened. Consider what James writes immediately after his call to “count it all joy”:
for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
We see similar instructions in Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians:
Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Scripture makes it clear: hardship is supposed to help us grow as Christians. That doesn’t mean we must enjoy it (nobody likes hurting or suffering unless they are a masochist). Rather, it means we should recognize that suffering is not the end of the road nor an indication of a lack of faith, but that it is an opportunity.
There is an additional benefit to suffering: it prepares us to help others who are also suffering. Many people ask, “why would God allow me to go through this?” While I don’t have any specific answers, I do know that your experiences can help shape you and prepare you to aid others who are suffering. God can take what you went through or are going through and use it to enable you to minister to others.
Bringing It Home
There are preachers and teachers out there who will tell you that the Christian life is one of prosperity, good health, material wealth, and having your best life in this world. Many will tell you that you should declare and decree what you want and it’ll come true because you can speak it into existence.
This is not what Scripture teaches!
Rather, the Christian life is one of humility and hardship. However, this struggle is only temporary. As Christians, when we leave this world, we will be in God’s glory and goodness for all eternity. There will be no more suffering or struggling; we will have everlasting peace and love.
Until that time comes, as Christians, we are told that we will face hardships and struggles. The question we must ask ourselves is how we will approach them. The things we face help shape us. Struggle is supposed to be a catalyst to growth, not an excuse to give up. It also serves to prepare us to minister to others.
How is God strengthening you in your hardship? In what ways do you see God using struggle to prepare you to help others? Comment below and share your testimony of God’s work in your life.