Originally published Wednesday, 11 February 2015.
Do you ever have one of those days that are like a Monday where everything seems to go wrong? Maybe you wake up past your alarm. The kids are slow to get ready and you are late out the door. You get stuck behind a school bus. Later, your car battery dies, you lose your wallet, and the school calls to tell you to come and pick up a very sick child. Days like that seem to compound themselves, adding one irritation upon another. We grow frustrated and think, "Why does it all have to be so hard? Why can't something go smoothly for once?"
Or perhaps you are already in the midst of a serious storm of life and then you look up to find another one brewing on the horizon. You think, "There is no way I can take more!" You are already sinking under one trial and the thought of adding another one is more than you can bear.
The Reward for Obedience
In Lewis's book, A Horse and His Boy, Shasta and his friends race against time to get to King Lune of Archenland to warn him that that the Calormene's are on their way to attack. Their task is arduous. They move hard despite being spent and exhausted. Out of nowhere a lion comes and chases after them. When Shasta's friend Aravis is injured by the lion, Shasta stops at the Hermit's house for help. The Hermit takes in Aravis and tells Shasta to continue on his way without delay. He had to go on and warn the king. But Shasta was so tired and weary. Lewis tells us that "Shasta's heart fainted at these words for he felt he had no strength left. And he writhed inside at what seemed the cruelty and unfairness of the demand." Lewis goes on to say that "Shasta learned the painful lesson that the reward for obedience is to be given a new, harder, but better task." (Chapter 10)
The reason our days are never a series of endless ease and comforts is that there is much for us to learn. It's in those hard days where we are pressed and pushed and prodded beyond what we think we can do that we learn who we really are and how much we need God's grace. It's in those difficult moments where we experience that grace in profound ways, where we are strengthened by the Spirit, and enabled to do more than we ever thought. It's in those trying times where we see the real fruit of obedience, trust, and reliance upon God.
Christian, in the classic Pilgrim's Progress, found his journey to contain periods of rest and refreshment as well as times that took him down fearful paths filled with intense battles. This is our life as well. We don't remain in a place of refreshment forever. We are provided those times of rest so that we are rejuvenated and strengthened for the next battle.
Don't be Surprised
In his wonderful book, Live Like a Narnian, Joe Rigney comments on the story of Shasta: "Our mountaintop experiences of God and his grace are wonderful and cause for gratitude and rejoicing. But God never leaves us on the mountaintop. Once we have been nourished and learned to obey in the sunlight of God's felt presence, surrounded by his hedge of protection, he then sends us outside the camp, into the wilderness, where the heat of temptation saps our strength and spiritual refreshment is hard to come by...the ones who make it are those who know deep in their bones that they ought not be surprised by such trials and temptations, as if something strange were happening to them. This is God's way, the way of the cross, and the proper response is to rejoice in the suffering so that we may rejoice in the glory when it is revealed (p. 100).
Our Savior said the same thing when he said, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24). The Apostle Peter wrote, "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. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed" (1 Peter 4:12-13).
When hard days come, which they will, let us not be surprised. May we look at those hard days as opportunities to learn and grow and stretch. And let us rejoice that we are called to follow in the path of our Savior.