“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…every step towards the goal requires sacrifice and dedication.” -Martin Luther King Jr.
Everything in life worth having requires a struggle. We even have mantra’s we adhere to that affirm our belief in the necessity of the struggle. Phrases like, “No pain, No gain!” or “blood, sweat and tears.” The very fabric of our country was built on the backs of hard working men and women who sacrificed of themselves for the betterment of our society. It goes without saying that if we want something bad enough in life, we are willing to do whatever it takes to get it…including go through the struggle.
The CEO of a major company didn’t begin his career at the top. He started out at the bottom rung. Maybe an errand boy around the office. But he was willing to struggle to reach his goal of career advancement. Late nights working overtime, picking up slack, volunteering for extra work that he was not required to undertake. To advance in business, sacrifices must be made in order to climb the ladder of success. But the business man willingly endures the struggles, because he has a steadfast goal in mind, and he realizes that the struggles only bring him into a deeper knowledge of how to run a company.
A pro football player didn’t just wake up one morning and walk onto the starting position of an NFL lineup. There were years of the struggle that led him to his ultimate goal of playing pro ball. Countless hours in the weight room, getting up to go run in early morning hours that normal human beings were still fast asleep, and the endurance of long practices that were designed to make most men quit. But this athlete gladly met the struggle head on. He presses forward, despite the hard struggles, because he has a goal in mind. And he’ll not let anything hinder him. The athlete, much like the CEO, knows that the struggle doesn’t harm him, but actually betters him in abilities and knowledge so that he can reach his goal.
Even nature can testify to how struggle in life gives way to reward. Take a beautiful butterfly for instance. It wasn’t always beautiful. It was at one time an ugly caterpillar. The caterpillar eventually climbs a tree and begins to wrap itself in a thick membrane of a cocoon. And then the struggle begins. It must fight and squirm for days in order to get our of that cocoon. Its been said that if you were to cut open a cocoon and take the struggle away from the caterpillar, now a butterfly, which was inside, that it would not be able to fly. Because the struggle is needed in order to make the creature strong.
This analogy of the good of the struggle within the human experience is found in literally every aspect of life. The most obvious struggle to me is that of a woman who wants a child. She knows before getting pregnant what lies in her future. Morning sickness. Hot sweats. Mood swings. And Im sure so much more that I am leaving out. And then the worst of it comes. The struggle of labor. The pain that a woman endures in childbirth is one that I very much doubt even the strongest man could endure. But then the baby is born. And despite the pain of the experience, the mother smiles with tears of joy. When Lacy gave birth to our middle child Lincoln, it was the worst and most painful labor she had experienced. But once Lincoln was born and in her arms, she said she was ready to do it again!
We don’t count the cost of the struggle when its something we desperately want. We meet the struggle head on with joy, knowing what it will produce in the end. All of life is a struggle to be met that births great rewards to those who are willing to endure. The Apostle Paul said this about our growing in sanctification with the Lord…..
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14.
Paul immediately states the fact that he has not yet attained his goal, but affirms that he continues to press on towards his goal in Christ. Look at this verse and pay attention to the language Paul uses. He speaks of pressing on towards his goal. He uses the word ‘straining’ to describe his journey towards the goal of Christ. When I think of straining, I think about an athlete lifting a heavy weight or running a marathon. Its a struggle and it hurts. There are more easy and comfortable things to do with your time. But a person with a goal chooses to strain, to sweat, to work, and to struggle. Because the goal to which they are seeking is that important to them.
In Colossians, Paul writes to the church telling them of one of the brothers in Christ named Epaphras who is praying for them. Look at what Paul says of Epaphras….
“Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.” Colossians 4:12.
Did you see how Paul described Epaphras’s prayer life? He said it was marked by “always struggling.” And look again at how Paul describes his own prayer life…..
“I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.” Romans 15:30.
Did you catch our word? Paul describes his prayer life as a struggle, and then invites us to join him in that struggle! Do you see the implication here? That our Christian walk with the Lord is to be a struggle! Even the great Apostle Paul himself admits that it is a struggle to follow Jesus! It is a struggle to press into him! It is a struggle to seek him!! All throughout life, we see the struggle as a means of reaching a greater goal, and in this we gladly endure it. Because we desire the prize that much. Yet when it comes to our walks with Christ, especially today in the post modern culture we live in, we dont want struggle.
And in seeing this, lies the epidemic that is American Christianity. That we have boiled the goal of Christ down to a person saying a neat little prayer and then deeming them saved. And there is no wrestle in their lives. Their is no struggle in prayer. No struggle in late nights, staying up after the kids are in bed, to agonize over scripture. We dont wrestle with Gods word anymore. We dont pray through the text. Men, who are called to be the spiritual leaders of their family, dont open the Bible intimately with their wives behind closed doors with the intention of laboring, crying, and struggling over the word of God with the goal of knowing Him more deeply.
Rather, the picture we see today is one of nominal Christianity. Its church on Sunday, Wednesday night suppers, and getting what they know about God primarily from the preacher on the Sabbath. And Ill say this…if the biggest portion of your struggle in Gods word is for thirty minutes in a pew on Sunday morning, then the goal of Christ is not important to you. Sunday morning worship is to rally the troops, but the struggle in seeking Christ should be a daily thing that we look forward to in our lives.
Prayer is difficult for me, Ill admit it. But it was also difficult for the Apostle Paul, so Id say that Im in good company. Reading the Bible at times is difficult. Its easy to come up with a thousand excuses not to be in the word. And hear me when I say, ‘In the word’, I dont mean just putting God on a stop watch, giving him ten minutes of your day, and reading the scriptures like you do the newspaper. To be in the word is to labor over it. Ill give you an example from my own recent studies.
Last week I had planned to preach on 1 John 3. I planned to go through the whole chapter. And so I began to study 1 John 3. But I didnt just read the text, I saturated myself in them. I dissected them one by one. I prayed over them. I sought through commentaries to understand every word I was reading. And after two hours of study, I realized that I had only gotten through three verses. And it hit me, that I had gleaned six pages of notes from struggling over three verses. Am I saying every quiet time with the Lord needs to be two hours? Not at all. But sometimes the truth God shows you when you labor over scripture outweighs the struggle. Ive heard many people question why they are not closer with God. On paper, they do all the right things. They pray, they read the Bible daily, and go to church. But if you were to press them, these things they are doing are more just daily checklists than an actually seeking. Sometimes, its not what you are doing or not doing that is keeping you from knowing God, but rather, its a lack of struggle.
We live in a fast food oriented world. We want everything easy and instant gratification at our fingertips. We can have a meal in just minutes through the drive thru window. We can make a purchase without leaving our homes with the push of a few buttons. We can even make friends without leaving our homes through social media. And this mindset of instant gratification has leaked into modern day Christianity. The problem with many churches today is that they want to make it like a fast food restaurant. Salvation that is available in thirty minutes or less. But that has never been true throughout Christian history. For the prize of knowing Christ, history teaches us that men and women endured tremendous struggles, to the point of persecution and death, all for the sake of attaining their goal of knowing Christ.
What is your goal today? Is it to have a bigger house or nicer car? If so you are willing to struggle in the office. Is your goal to reach a certain level of physical fitness? Maybe lose weight or gain muscle? If so then you are willing to struggle in the gym. Are you married and in a season of life where maybe you are trying to start a family? If so then you are willing to struggle through the pain and discomfort that the next nine months will hold. Why? Because your goal, whatever that may be, is worth the struggle.
Is Christ the goal in your life today?
If you say yes, yet there is no struggle towards deepening your knowledge of him, no laboring over the scriptures, no passion in your prayers, then I would say that Christ is not your goal, he’s your checklist.
Prayer is tough, but is it important enough to you to struggle for? Interpreting scripture can be difficult, but is it worth the struggle in seeing Jesus as the prize? No goal is attainable without the struggle. And it is the struggle of progressive sanctification in our lives that leads us to our ultimate prize, and the fountain of unending joy in Christ.
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” Philippians 3:8.