Trained by Life's Challenges

  • 25 January 2018
  • Randy Wollf

Mature spiritual leadership is forged in the crucible of difficult conversations, the pressure of conflicted relationships, the pain of setbacks, and dark nights of the soul. — Peter Scazzero

The school of hard knocks has a way of teaching us deep lessons. 

James encourages us to be joyful when we encounter difficulties. The reason: the testing of our faith produces endurance, which leads to spiritual maturity (James 1:2-4).

Peter shares the same view. He says that trials refine our faith (1 Peter 1:6-7).

Paul reminds us that "our light and momentary troubles" are producing eternal benefits that far outweigh the discomfort of the moment (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Yet, how do we respond well to life's challenges? The writer of Hebrews encourages us to endure hardship as discipline (Hebrews 12:7). It's important to recognize that the writer is not saying that all hardship is discipline; he's simply asking us to view it in that way—to see difficulty as an opportunity to learn and grow.

I like to golf. I'm not the best golfer in the world—a fact that was clearly demonstrated during one of our annual Wollf Golf Tournaments. One of the tee boxes had foot-high hedges that stretched for about 20 feet along either side. I promptly drove my first ball into one of those hedges. It was embarrassing, but those ball-sucking hedges were not done with me yet. I drove five balls into their clutches. As I went to retrieve my fifth ball (now lying 10 shots and not even off the tee yet), my dad and brother overhead me muttering, "What is God trying to teach me?"  

Even though I can't remember how deeply I was pondering the question at the time, it's not a bad question to ask both on and off the golf course.

The writer of Hebrews goes on to talk about our loving Father who disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness. It's a painful process. Yet, it can produce a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

We are trained by life when we humbly respond to both painful and pleasant circumstance and earnestly seek to learn God's lessons from both. This often requires prayerful processing guided by Scripture, the Holy Spirit, and the wisdom of supportive confidants.

I am told that Caribbean pine trees routinely withstand fierce hurricanes, long periods of drought, and even fire. But one thing they cannot tolerate is cultivation. In a well-kept yard with plenty of water and fertilizer, they often die.

We need adversity to grow stronger in Christ.

As Helen Keller testified:

What Gives a Character Character

  • 15 December 2015
  • Keith Reed

I abandoned my books and chose the easier option. I entered “how to develop character” into the Google search bar and readied myself for instant transformation. Instead, I was underwhelmed by a series of articles on how to create a compelling character for a fictional story. 

As I recovered from my initial disappointment, I realized that the development of a fictional character has valuable parallels to how you and I establish our own character. Authors reveal the virtues of their characters by forcing them to respond to a variety of experiences. The same is true of our lives. Our character is shaped and refined as we react to the world around us.

As we follow characters throughout a story, we see them change. A character has to change or else their story isn’t worth following. Which is partly why authors rely upon an obstacle that threatens the very nature of their character. Their character has to face a problem. The problem is what creates the required urgency and tension to keep us interested. The problem is what keeps the story moving. The problem is what instigates the character to change.

A character’s obstacle is crucial to the construction of a story. The author must insert a problem into a character’s life while also ensuring that the character has been developed enough to ably respond. The timing is vital.

While it is easy to see parallels between our lives and those who live in an imaginary world, it becomes more complicated to compare God with the author of a literary novel. For instance, there is no indication in the Bible to suggest that God will only allow us to face what we are able to bear. Instead, we read dozens of stories of God placing people in situations for which they are ill-equipped to handle. Consider the message that Elijah receives from an angel in 1 Kings 19:7"the journey is too much for you!"or how Moses feels in Exodus 4:10-13"please send someone else" (thanks to Ron Edmundson for these examples).