Why it’s good that life is hard
“The journey is too much for you.” I heard this in a sermon a couple months ago, just a few hours before making a difficult phone call to a friend. I knew I had to make the call, but I just wanted to enjoy my Sunday afternoon. Why did life have to be so hard? Why did the journey have to be too much for me?
The preacher said it better than I can, but life’s difficulties are actually good news. Why? Because they lead us to seek God!
“And he said unto me, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Paul wrote this after begging God three times to remove a “thorn in his flesh.” God said no, the thorn (whatever it was) would stay. That way Paul wouldn’t be tempted to think he could do life in his own strength. He’d have to rely on God’s strength — which is infinitely greater, and helped Paul continue sharing the gospel with the world.
Most of us will never endure what Paul did for Jesus. We live in a country that lets us serve Christ in relative freedom (for now). But sometimes we feel like Paul.
In 1 Kings 18, God uses Elijah to defeat 450 false prophets on Mount Carmel. Then Israel’s evil queen Jezebel, the “sponsor” of the false prophets, sends a messenger telling Elijah, basically, “You’re dead.”
Imagine receiving this message. This is far worse than an aggressive Facebook comment. Jezebel has the means and the intent to fulfill her words.
So Elijah runs away into the wilderness — then he asks God to take his life.
Even after the victory on Mount Carmel, the queen’s threat is too much for Elijah. He doesn’t have the spiritual, emotional or physical strength to handle it. He thinks he’s failed. So he asks for death, and then he goes to sleep.
Instead of granting his request, God sends an angel, who wakes Elijah twice with food and water. The second time, the angel says, “Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee.”
After his second snack, Elijah travels 40 days and 40 nights to Mount Sinai without another bite. That’s where God tells him about 7,000 Israelites who haven’t worshipped false gods. That’s where God tells him about three men who will help turn his country around. That’s where Elijah learns he’s not alone.
The journey absolutely was too much for Elijah. He couldn’t avoid assassination, or hike 40 days through the desert without food, in his own power. If he could have made the trek safely on his own, he might not have been desperate enough to listen for God’s instruction and encouragement when he reached his destination.
Here’s a literary example of a journey being “too much” for someone. This is what happens in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Fellowship of the Ring” when Frodo realizes he’s the one who needs to take the ring into Mordor:
“A great dread fell on him, as if he was awaiting the pronouncement of some doom that he had long foreseen and vainly hoped might after all never be spoken.”
In other words, as Frodo later tells another character, “I know what I should do, but I am afraid of doing it.”
Ever felt that way? I have.
Fun fact: There is an unnamed “God” figure in “Fellowship of the Ring,” but Frodo doesn’t have an intimate relationship with him. Maybe that’s why (spoiler alert) Frodo later fails in his quest.
Real-world Christians have an advantage over Frodo: We can call on the One true God 24/7, and He will meet us in our fear and give us power, love and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).
When I finally made that phone call to my friend (with fear and trembling, but relying on God), she told me the timing was perfect, as she’d been going through a really hard season. I was actually able to point her to Christ over the phone — but I only did it by God’s grace. What would’ve happened if I’d thought I could do that on my own? I’m happy not to know.
I’m so glad God reminds me that I can’t follow Jesus in my own strength. Because when I cry out to God for help, He doesn’t just provide that help: He draws me closer to Himself, the Father who made me and loves me best. He is better than anything!
If we’re afraid like Frodo, frustrated like Paul, or exhausted like Elijah, it’s because the journey is too much for us. And that’s OK. Praise God.