Understanding And Overcoming Life’s Difficulties
The Struggles Of A Christian
Life is a struggle, and as Christians we struggle with the same life experiences that non-Christians do. Being born again does not exempt us from unemployment any more than it does bacterial infections. And in addition to all the struggles common to humanity, a committed Christian has the additional struggles of overcoming sin and following Christ.
Some Christians think they are the only ones who experience their particular struggle. They may also think that their problem is the worst and most embarrassing. This false sense of “I’m the only one” can cause feelings of shame, low esteem and loneliness. Fortunately, God can work in our lives and bring freedom to those who are habitual strugglers.
The Origin Of Struggles
Those who believe Darwin’s “origin of species” theory say that “survival of the fittest” has always existed on earth, and life has always been a struggle. But for the divine explanation of the origin of struggles we must turn to the Bible. After God created the universe, He “saw all that He had made, and it was very good” (Gen. 1:31 NIV). The original creation was a perfect world, free of struggles.
But the world changed after Adam and Eve disobeyed God (Gen. 2:15-16; 3:4-7). Eve was told, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Gen. 3:16). Adam was told, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Gen. 3:17-19).
So it is wrong to say, “Life was not meant to be easy.” To take care of a beautiful garden during the day and walk with God in the cool of the evening sounds relatively easy compared to our current struggles. In the beginning, life wasn’t meant to involve pain in childbirth, male domination, painful toil, thorns and thistles, sweat and death. Our struggles are the result of that historic day when sin corrupted God’s perfect creation.
This original sin is referred to as “the fall.” As descendants of a fallen man and residents of a fallen world, Christians are subject to all the generic struggles common to humanity. But Christians also struggle with sin, and struggle to live the Christian life.
The struggles common to humanity are physical, mental and social. Christians are not immune, but struggle against them as do all humans.
Physically, we may struggle with such things as a speech impediment, back pain, poor eyesight or hearing loss. We may be aged, sick, injured or handicapped. This is not the way God planned it when He created the world, because His creation was perfect. Man’s sin ruined creation, so we are to blame (Rom. 5:12). We should not blame God for our struggles.
Christians may also struggle mentally with such things as depression, schizophrenia, eating disorders, gambling habits, or homosexuality. Our minds are part of God’s creation, and like the rest of creation, even our minds are suffering from the fall.
We may also struggle socially in business, education, parenthood and relationships. Widows experience sorrow and loneliness. And while we may boast a higher marriage success rate, Christian couples still get divorced. Some even struggle with domestic violence.
Overcoming Generic Struggles
Some struggles may be overcome by professional help from surgeons, chiropractors, optometrists, therapists, counselors and financial advisors. But for other struggles, the world has no solution.
Once I said, “It’s hard being a Christian” and a friend responded, “It’s harder not being one.” There are at least four reasons why life is more difficult for those who are not Christians:
- Life is harder not being a Christian because Christians have hope — a sure hope that this life is not all there is; that the Lord will return; that the dead in Christ will rise, meet Him in the air and be with Him forever. Believers should encourage one another with these promises.
- Life is harder not being a Christian because Christians have prayer. They can give all their anxiety to God because He cares about what happens to them (1 Pet. 5:7). Do we lack peace and experience needless pain, “all because” as the hymn says, “we do not carry everything to God in prayer”?
- Life is harder not being a Christian because Christians have the Holy Spirit. For many Christians, He is far more than someone to be known in theory. The Spirit of God is a very real comforter who sustains believers in difficulties and trials and helps them cope with life’s struggles.
- Life is harder not being a Christian because they have the Church. We are to “carry each other’s burdens” and help those in need (Acts 2;44; Gal. 6:2). We are not alone and are often assisted by others in our struggles.
Struggling With Sin
Christians also struggle with sin. The concept of a victorious Christian pathway, whereby our habitual sins may be permanently overcome by following a few basic principles, is not supported by Scripture.
In Romans 7:14-25 Paul deals with the topic of “struggling with sin.” He sees himself as a slave to sin who does the very thing he hates. His sinful nature stops him from doing what is right. It is a real struggle and sin seems to win by controlling all he does. This makes him feel miserable, wanting to be freed from a life dominated by sin. He recognizes that only Jesus Christ can rescue him from such a life.
God wants us to know that, although we have been born again of the Spirit and possess a new nature, we are still human, and our old sinful nature remains.
The content of Romans 7 declares that the author was a struggling sinner. Yet, the author was a Christian, and not an immature Christian either. This struggling sinner was the great apostle Paul, the man God chose to write much of the New Testament. Paul wrote of his own weaknesses, risking his credibility to help us understand that we are not alone in struggling with sin.
Are any of us better Christians than Paul? Of course not. Any committed Christian could have written these words. But don’t think you are a worse Christian just because you are sensitive to the fact that you are struggling with sin. The only Christians not struggling with sin are the ones who have apathetically given in to sin and become slaves to sin.
Why didn’t God have Paul reveal specifically which sin he was struggling with? Most likely, it was so that each of us could relate to Paul and know that God understands our struggle. Whether our besetting sin is slander, pride, envy, gossip, or whatever, this passage applies to each of us. Everything we do will be flawed, but it is encouraging to know that although God knows us intimately, He accepts us despite our failings.
How may we overcome sin? Firstly we should recognize sin in our lives and determine to stop committing it. For example, we deceive ourselves if we don’t even attempt to struggle against sins such as gossip and slander (Jas. 3:10).
Spiritual forces are behind much of our struggles (Eph. 6:12). Although the weapons of a Christian are listed in subsequent verses of Ephesians 6, the one least identified as a means of overcoming sin is listed even before the armor. Paul writes, “after you have done everything to stand … stand firm then, with the … armor” (Eph. 6:13-14). This requires some effort on our part. We are to do everything humanly possible to stand against the sin. For example, there is much truth in the children’s song, “Be careful little eyes what you see, be careful little feet where you go.” We need to be careful about what we see and where we go.
But habitual sins are far more difficult to overcome. It took me more than a decade to overcome my besetting sin. The key to eventually wrestling free was simply this; I had already learned the reality of Jesus’ words, “No one can serve two masters.” When I failed God, He seemed so distant. But I finally reached the point where the sense of God’s nearness was more desirable than that sin.
Regarding the power that sin has over us, Paul asked the question, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” He answers, “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Only God is able to rescue us from eternal death, through the sacrifice of the sinless Jesus, if we make Him our Lord.
Struggling To Live As A Christian
In addition to the struggles common to man and the struggle with sin, Christians also struggle following Jesus. Jesus says “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Lk. 9:23). Neither self-denial nor persecution appeal to me, but these go hand-in-hand with following Jesus. Following Him means more than accepting His blessings. It means struggling to obey His commands – tough commands like “love one another.”
There are five reasons God allows us to have these struggles:
- God allows struggles so that we may be able to help others. If, by God’s grace, we overcome a struggle, God may also graciously allow us to be used by Him to help others overcome their struggles. But we may have to be as unguarded as Paul. There is a risk.
- God allows struggles so that He may be glorified. For example, regarding Lazarus Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (Jn. 11:4).
- God allows struggles so that we pray. Paul prayed to be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea (Rom. 15:30). We pray more in tough times.
- God allows struggles so that we might rely on Him. Paul was tormented by a “thorn in the flesh” which kept him from getting proud and enabled Christ’s power to be more evident in his life (2 Cor. 12:7-10).
- God allows struggles so that He may mold us (Heb. 12:1-11). We should run with perseverance in the race marked out for us. This means doing everything humanly possible to stand in the struggles which God knows lie ahead. As the “perfecter of our faith,” Christ molds us. We are reminded that He was rewarded for His struggles by sitting down at the right hand of the throne of God. We want God to mold us, but we don’t want it to hurt. Once, a brother chastised me too harshly. Then I read, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons,” and I eventually accepted it as God’s discipline (Heb. 12:7). Job struggled with arrogance and look what happened to him! Yet he did not despise God’s discipline.
Jesus Knows All About Our Struggles
We have a friend who understands and is not too busy to listen. Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are” (Heb. 4:15), so He knows all about our struggles. That’s why He is able to sympathize. “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (v.16). He understands what it means to endure the same struggles we do and is in a position to help us with our struggles.
We should look out for each other and help each other in our struggles. Always remember that Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Neil Holman is a songwriter, musician and singer who has produced two albums (CDs) of his songs. He lives with his wife and three children at Faulconbridge, near Sydney, Australia.
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA.