How to Plod Through Mondays: God Grows Us Through Trials
"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness."
A lot of times, we think spiritual growth should be fast and easy. We think if we just go to a conference, if we hear the right message, if we feel “blessed”, then we will grow. But that’s not the case. What we see over and over in the New Testament is that spiritual growth (the process of being more like Jesus) is a slow, painful, plodding experience. Sanctification is not like driving along an empty superhighway in a Bugatti sermon speeding along while you hold a Disneyland fastpass. Rather, it’s a slow and real hike up a mountain, on a dirt road, while it’s raining, while carrying a backpack full of bricks and wearing stilettos heels. It’s hard. It’s painful. It’s difficult.
When we look at James 1:2-3, notice how “trials” and the “testing of our faith” produces “steadfastness.” It would be so much easier if “Talents” and “Gifts” and “Good Sermons” and “Great Community” alone could produce “steadfastness.” Now, these positive and wonderful things surely HELP steadfastness, but they alone do not produce steadfastness. Because ultimately, you need to be shaken if you want to learn how to be steady.
That is why sanctification is a lot more difficult and a lot slower than you think. It’s because through repeated trials and tests, God is steadying your heart through every season.
Sanctification is slow because God is growing us, not replacing us. Sanctification and spiritual progress is not like changing ugly wallpaper. God isn’t just putting up new and prettier Jesus-style wallpaper over our sinful nature. Rather He is intentionally building up and maturing and strengthening our hearts, our real spiritual hearts.
As some of you guys know, I own an ax and I like chopping wood. When I lived in a house with several brothers in Christ last year, I would go into the back of the house, grab some logs, and chop them into little firewood pieces. Sometimes it only took 1 swing, sometimes it took 3. It was fun and easy work. However, one time there was this one log that just would not split. I don’t know why. I think it was on steroids. But this log would not split. It felt like it was made out of foam or something and just kept absorbing the blows, it was really weird. Out of all the logs I have ever split, this one was the hardest.
However, that log became my favorite log. Because it wouldn’t split, because it was difficult. The other ones split so quickly, so that there was no real opportunity to work on my technique and power. This one gave me a lot of time to work on my technique and improve my swings BECAUSE it would not split. I continually hit it with my best shot. It gave me the chance to improve.
Trials strengthens us in a way that instant success cannot. The truth is that some of the problems and trials God sends you are not meant to be overcome. Sometimes, God gives you trials that He knows are too much for you. These trials are not meant to be overcome by you, they are meant to shape you and strengthen you.
This is how trials leads to steadfastness, how struggle leads to spiritual growth. As you struggle and strive through the muddy road of sanctification you will realize that the journey itself is changing you. The journey itself is making you more like Jesus.
That is encouragement for everyone who feels stuck. Though you may feel stuck in life, Plodding is actually spiritually productive. Even if you feel like you are not getting anywhere, if you are plodding, you are progressing. Even if our external circumstances don't change, our internal condition is strengthened. Plodding is good for the heart.
There are no shortcuts in the spiritual life. Beware of the instant appeal of miraculous spiritual perfection. Beware of giving up too quickly or burdening yourself with unrealistic expectations. Christians are imperfect plodders. Plodding is messy and slow. Sanctification is messy and slow. Real growth, faith, love, community, talent, maturity and life is messy and slow. The Christian journey of the cross is one of trials and tests.
But take heart! Only by using our strength will we get stronger. Only by facing the trials will we get tougher. And only through the cross will we receive a crown.
Lastly, God knows we will fall. He knows we are weak and frail. And it’s ok to fall and stumble. Plodding is not about perfection, it’s about pushing forward even when it’s hard. So remember His love, remember His grace, and plod on through the trials of Monday!