When heart work is hard work, how do you keep the course?
Have you ever prayed for more faith? More patience? Prayed to grow even closer to the Lord?
You feel good about these prayers, knowing you’re making your walk a priority. And then suddenly it feels like life is crashing down.
You prayed for patience, and then it’s one thing after another with your kids, their homework, their health, their behavior.
You prayed for faith, and then you get bad news from the doctor. Your bills seem greater than your income and you wonder how you’re going to get by.
You want to be closer to the Lord, but it feels like life suddenly got harder, busier, crazier. How are you going to spend more time in the Word, in prayer when life is crazy?
You read the feel good scriptures on Instagram and you expect a choice to focus on your spiritual life to lead to happiness. You see your fellow Christian friends thinking they really are blessed. You wonder why your walk seems to be getting harder rather than easier.
But then you open your Bible and you see:
Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. – 1 Peter 4:12-13
If we seek our guidance from the Word, we see truth. We see realistic expectations, not just the feel good stuff. “Do not think it strange,” simply put, do not be surprised that life gets hard. Life will be hard at times. Trials will come. Faith will be tested. Without these things, how do you grow?
Why Is Heart Work Hard?
Have you ever set a physical goal, perhaps to run a 5k? Or if you’re like me, to even just not get exhausted walking up the stairs…
You feel good about it. You set your goal and you make a plan, and you are excited. You start the first workout and you realize just how much work is ahead. In that moment you have a choice. You can accept that it is going to be hard but you still try. Or, you can choose to quit, to set an easier goal, to find something which isn’t quite so challenging.
When you choose to push through, you still have excitement. But then the muscle aches come, the next day soreness. If you’re a more seasoned athlete, you can focus on those aches and think, “Yes, this is working! The aches mean I’m building strength and endurance.”
Knowing these aches are positive doesn’t make them less uncomfortable, but you’re able to focus on the good you know is eventually coming.
In the same way, choosing to work on your heart is hard work. Part of the Christian walk is an ever growing heart as you work closer to being Christ like. You can choose to be an active participant, seeking more faith.
As I heard from the pulpit Sunday morning as we walked through James, “Growing old and maturing are not the same thing.”
You can be a Christian for a long time without becoming a more mature Christian. Those who choose to become more mature, to focus on our calling, will have those heart and faith muscle aches. We are going to have to push through the hard. And as much as the hard is unpleasant, it is through these aches that we grow.
There are times our faith is grown through blessings clearly visible through earthly lenses. But often, our biggest growth comes through finding ourselves in a place where our only choice is to rely on Him. Where our only choice is to go through things so hard we can have Christ like empathy to those around us.
Christ suffered. There is not doubt about it. How can we be Christ like, how can we love and sacrifice like Him if we do not ever experience a bit of what He walked through? How can we appreciate His unimaginable sacrifice if we only have positive experiences?
How can you minister to someone in darkness, if you have never felt anything but light? How can you focus on eternity if life on earth seems to meet all your needs and your deepest desires?
Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. – 1 Peter 4:1-2
When we live like Christ we learn to live for eternity. To learn to live for eternity is to be a mature Christian. Unfortunately for our human weakness, maturity does not come without hard work.
A Long Walk To Maturity
Being the immature young woman I was, I once thought I was incredibly mature. About three years into our marriage, after a bit of an argument my husband said, “I feel like I don’t know you, like I’m married to an emotionless robot!”
Ouch! I had prided myself in being stoic. I was able to go through anything without an emotional response. What became a self preservation mechanism due to childhood trauma, became a hurdle to true maturity.
I did not know then that a choice to work through that would be an invitation to feel the hard things. And as awful as the journey to emotional and spiritual maturity can be at times, it is a necessary one if you hope to be Christ like.
With that invitation came loss, physical pain and moments of deep grief. And while I still have my stoic side, the ability to feel your own things is the ability to empathize with those around you. The ability to empathize is how you reach others for Christ.
To empathize is to understand the deep grief and sorrow Christ felt with the weight of all our sin on His shoulders. I can hold empathy for my friends going through grief and it hurts.
Can you begin to imagine holding the weight of all mankind? And with that little bit of growth, we become one step closer to being Christ like.
God can comfort us through all, because He knows all. While we do not know all, we have felt perfect comfort and can then extend the same to those around us.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. – 1 Corinthians 1:3-4
Keeping The Long Course Of Heart Work
If you told me ten years ago that I would experience so much loss but my heart would grow, I would not have believed you.
God is gracious, heart work is a process and it does not happen overnight. Likely because we would not be able to handle such growth and changes in a small time period.
God walks with us through these changes. He guides and comforts us as we grow.
As parents, we walk along side our toddlers as the trip, scrape their knees but continually try to walk. We walk along our school children as they navigate learning and struggling, complicated friendships and social situations, and we see them slowly into adulthood.
Sure, we hope our children escape trails. But we also see that without challenges they do not grow. We could put our toddlers in bubble wrap so they never trip and scrape their knees, but then they would never learn how to walk.
We could help our children with all of their school work, even doing the hard problems for them, but then they would never learn important material. We can shelter our children from imperfect relationships, but they would not mature in learning how to be a good friend to others.
God does not want us to suffer or have pain. However, He understands trials are necessary to mature. Challenges are needed for growth. Without ever experiencing pain, discomfort or grief, one can never grasp empathy.
I’m not here to tell you this walk is easy nor that you will have perfect faith and endurance, but I am here to say that it is worth it, or it will be. There are some things we will never understand earth side. What we can understand is that He knows all. He sees all. And all work together for good, sometimes here and sometimes not until eternity.
When things are hard, lean more into the Lord. When things are scary, focus on truth and His promises. Do not seek wisdom from feel good excerpts of scripture. Do not seek hope in earthly things. Hope in things earthside is an invitation for heartbreak. Hope in things eternal brings peace.
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. – Colossians 3:1-2