What If Struggle Is Necessary?

Yep, you read that right. What if struggle is a necessary part of our growth in Christ-likeness, faith, and even more importantly, to draw all our eyes to God? I have wrestled this question for years, not wanting to yield.

For 12 years, I have battled chronic, debilitating illness.  Cancer treatment damaged  my already weak immune system, and left me struggling for 7 years to string 2 months without a massive doses of steroids to help me breathe. over time, I continue to get better and renew the hope, I may be healed for good.  Either I am an eternal optimist or living in utter denial! (Optimism=good, Denial=not so good!)

I wrestle with missing events, kids ball games, staying in the hotel while hubby and kids went on outing during vacation, missing church, disappointing people, taking a long sabbatical from my work, and feeling like my dreams were dying.  Discouragement and depression were my companions, and they still visit often.  Fear, worry, anger set up camp on my porch.

Doing another breathing treatment this morning, I was studying John 9, and the story of Jesus healing the blind man. (a way to multitask  and not resent the need for the treatment).

John 9:3 Jesus replies to His disciples question about who sinned that this man should be born blind.  His answer changed my thinking!  “It is not that this man or his parents sinned, but he was born blind in order that the working of God may be displayed & illustrated in him.”

Hold the phone!  What!!  my mind races in 3 directions at once:

  1. How old was this guy and how long did he have to struggle with blindness waiting for this moment?
  2. How much taunting, teasing, or preaching about “just stop sinning” did he have to endure? (Honestly, this question scares me just a bit when I look at my own struggles.)
  3. I used to think if I could just figure out what I was doing wrong, ferret some sin in my life, then I would be healed.  We think if we are struggling, there must be something we are doing wrong!

Jesus said, “All this happened to show God’s glory.” We pray for this, we hope for this and then when it happens, my response is, but wait God, I would prefer you do it this way!

Radical perspective shift: What if struggle is necessary to grow us and bring glory to God?!

For years I have begged God to heal me. Breathing issues and a career/ministry based on speaking, counseling and coaching don’t mix well.   I prayed my struggles would go away, not “just” that God would help me through them!

But what if that is the point.  God with us in the midst of struggle, sorrow, pain, illness, addictions, wayward kids, broken relationships?  What if God want to show up in us and through us right smack dab in the middle of the messy parts of life?

Honestly, I want peace, health, abundance, whole relationships! Don’t you? I pray for these.

But I also more fervently pray that God will grow me and use me to bless others and draw them to a deeper relationship with God.  And the answer usually involves struggle.

I have bargained, bartered and begged God to do it my way.  But slowly, ever so slowly, I am learning that is not always the best way.  I think God brings me to the end of myself to squash my pride and self-reliance.  Standing on the edge of “I can’t do this, see my way through, figure out what to do next…” God whispers, “Trust Me, lean into Me and let your life be about My plans and Glory.”

This week is book release week. Not the week to be so sick. But this morning when this was the devotional, I literally laughed out loud! This week and the success of my book/ministry/career is NOT about me and my abilities or giftedness at all.  While a totally believe they are from God, I risk leaning on them (me) instead of on God.

The story in John 9 is fascinating.  First Jesus is walking and he notices the blind man, which provoke a questions from his disciples.  Teachable moment 101!  They want a reason to justify the fairness or reason for this struggle.  And Jesus’ answer and actions are unexpected!

Jesus makes mud on the  and smears it on the blind mans eyes.  Another time Jesus healed the blind with simply words.  I wonder why He chose this method especially since it was sinful to work on the Sabbath. (making mud=work and the Jewish leaders have a fit!)

The blind man walks to the pool and washes his eyes, as Jesus instructed.  Pause here:  blind man walking to the pool, getting in at just the right place so as not to drown?  Surely this meant a friend or two went with him – others are impacted by how God intervenes and show up in the blind man’s life. hmmm…

The blind man, (who is never given a name in all of this, which I think makes it a universal story-insert your name or mine) knew the law.  He was probably sitting by the road with a bad case of “if only, and fix-it-itis,” trying to figure out what sin he has missed and if he could just “be better, good, more holy…then maybe healing would come.”  (Can you relate? I have a PhD in this!).

Jesus tells him to go to and wash his eyes (work again, forbidden on the Sabbath). The blind man takes action on faith.  His belief comes later in the story- another heartening truth for us! We can act in faith while our belief lags behind!

Unsure, against convention and with no guarantees, this man takes action in faith! (oh how I want that to be me more often!)

Long story, short: the blind man can see, and all the town is alarmed.  They too want to know who sinned to cause the blindness, and what on earth happened with this guy Jesus to change everything!

Jesus says, this is all so that God’s handiwork can be put on display.

Personally, don’t you think a sensational sunset is a great display, does it really have to be in the rubble of my rough times and struggle?  And if that is really the case, can I hand pick mine, because this wouldn’t be it!

Trust, faith, belief all require me to yield to God’s plan for me. And when the answer is “no” to my prayers for healing or relief from the weary weight of struggle, it means trusting God to change me rather than change my circumstances.

Walking with God, growing in faith, asking God to use me and my life as a blessing, means being willing to pray for strength to get through the struggle, live well in the midst of it and lean into God for peace and anticipation on how He will use the mess, sorrow, struggles of our lives to display His handiwork.

In the end, the blind man says, “I have no idea how or why all this happened.”  What I know for sure is “I was blind, but now I see” all because of Jesus.

Where have you seen God’s handiwork show up in your life? Where has God carried you through your circumstances to bring Him glory?

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