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:

Blood Clot in Bali

  • 4 April 2014
  • Randy Wollf

Randy and Doctor in Bali HospitalWhile serving at an English Camp in Thailand, I noticed a persistent pain in my calf muscle. Just before flying to Indonesia for the second stage of the missions trip, I emailed a couple medical doctor friends back in Canada about the problem. When I arrived in Bali where I was do some leadership training with Christian radio station managers, I checked my emails and saw one from one of my doctor friends. He said in no uncertain terms, “Get to a hospital now and get it checked out.”

Within a few hours, I had a diagnosis. I had a blood clot just behind my knee probably caused by a lack of movement and liquids on the 15-hour flight from Vancouver to Bangkok (for those of you who are wondering why the calf muscle was sore, it was because the muscle was not getting enough oxygen). The hospital staff immediately started me on a daily regime of warfarin stomach injections to thin my blood and hopefully break up the clot safely. I was still able to do my leadership training, but had to stay a few extra days until my blood was thin enough to safely fly. I was pretty discouraged by it all and felt very lonely (okay, I admit, having this happen in Bali did make it slightly more bearable). I eventually did make it home and made a full recovery.

I’m not big on pain and suffering (I’ve been known to get woozy at the sight of blood or needles). Yet, I’m coming to realize that God can produce good results in and through me when I go through times of suffering. Even during my extended stay in Bali, I had the opportunity to share Christ with a taxi driver on my way to the hospital for one of my daily injections.

In Acts 4-5, we see that the apostles were facing increasing pressure from the Jewish religious leaders in the Sanhedrin. These leaders had already told the apostles to stop speaking about Jesus (Acts 4:18). However, the apostles chose to obey God, rather than people. The result - the Jewish leaders had them flogged. What amazes me is that the apostles left their flogging session, “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).

Making a Desert into an Oasis

  • 15 August 2013
  • Randy Wollf

Valley of Bacca poem by Peter BlackburnPsalm 84 is a pilgrimage psalm where the psalmist expresses his longing to be in God’s presence in the temple in Jerusalem. We don’t know for sure, but his access to the temple may have been cut off due to a military incursion by a hostile neighbor. Regardless of the regional tensions, the psalmist speaks of a “Valley of Baca,” a place of dryness and desolation that stood between him and the temple. What is the dry place, the difficulty, that you are facing right now? The psalmist acknowledges that it is possible to turn the Valley of Baca into a place of springs. I don’t know about you, but I want to be able to turn my dry places into places of life and abundance. What was the psalmist’s secret? Those who find their strength in God and who have set their hearts on pilgrimage can transform the Valley of Baca into a place of springs. As we seek the Lord and rely on Him for strength, we will experience his life, hope, and peace, even as we walk through the valleys.