Have you ever asked God, “Why is this so difficult?!?! If you’re really God, and if you really love me, if Jesus really did die to make me holy, why is this all so difficult???”
A few days ago, I finished the book of Joshua. While not every story tells of an amazing victory, the book leaves the reader feeling optimistic. Yes, the job is not complete and difficulties are to come, but God is powerful and faithful, the people are continuing to press forward, and the enemy is being driven out.
And then Judges starts… and we are immediately confronted with the reality of failure.
The failure is a major one, and so the angel of God Himself appears to rebuke Israel because, while He has been faithful to them, they have not been faithful to Him.
Judges 2:1-3 – “Now the angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, ‘I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land which I have sworn to your fathers; and I said, “I will never break My covenant with you, and as for you, you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their altars.” But you have not obeyed Me; what is this you have done? Therefore I also said, “I will not drive them out before you; but they will become as thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.”‘”
The consequence for Israel’s unfaithfulness: the nations they were commanded to conquer would not be driven from the land and so would become stumbling blocks to the people.
Dang… So much for fulfilling the call of God on their lives and the purpose for which He had made them…
Why is life so difficult? Sometimes, trouble comes to us because of disobedience, but sometimes it comes simply because we live in a fallen world, because we are in a spiritual war, because we ate too many donuts, or because of any number of other reasons. Jesus, after all, faced some pretty serious difficulties (like being wrongly accused and having nails driven through his wrists), but he never once sinned.
But let’s move on.
Israel’s trouble is a direct result of their disobedience. In chapter two, the people stand condemned as unfaithful, and the judgment of the God of all righteousness is that the enemy nations will not be removed from the land, and they will then become a snare and stumbling block to the people. Difficulty in this case is the righteous judgment of God.
But check out what He does to redeem even this worst of all situations.
Judges 3:1-2 – “Now these are the nations which the Lord left, to test Israel by them (that is, all who had not experienced any of the wars of Canaan; only in order that the generations of the sons of Israel might be taught war, those who had not experienced it formerly).”
What begins as the righteous punishment for sin has become a test, a tool for training warriors, for turning dessert wanderers, farmers, and slaves into conquerors.
Do you see what’s happening here?
God takes a failure and turns it into something glorious. He starts with the people’s unfaithfulness and the righteous judgment on their sin, but He doesn’t keep it their as a victory for the enemy. Rather, He turns it around for His own glory and the strengthening of His own people with the ultimate end being the destruction of the enemy and greater glory to His name.
The beginning is failure; the end is glory. The middle is… training and battle, difficulty and trouble, the “school of hard knocks.” It’s the middle that most affects us now because it’s where we spend most of our lives.
If you have a pulse, if you’re breathing, you are surrounded by difficulty. Whether your difficulty is the result of sin (as it was here with Israel) or the result of being alive, God intends to use it to train you, to equip you, to teach you the art of war.
Psalm 18:31-36 – “For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God, the God who girds me with strength and makes my way blameless? He makes my feet like hinds’ feet, and sets me upon my high places. He trains my hands for battle, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You have also given me the shield of Your salvation, and Your right hand upholds me; and Your gentleness makes me great. You enlarge my steps under me, and my feet have not slipped.”
God is far less concerned about our comfort than we often think. And He is far more concerned that we are trained and equipped for service than we often realize. This training means difficulty and trouble because he intends us to be men and women of strength in body, in mind, and in heart, men and women unafraid of the enemy and his displays of strength, men and women who have overcome the evil one.
Psalm 144:1- “Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle; my lovingkindness and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and He in whom I take refuge, who subdues my people under me.”
Where I think this most hits home for all of us is in the battle for personal holiness. It’s difficult. It’s tiring. Some days it feels downright impossible. The push for rebellion, timidity, selfishness, gluttony, fear, and compromise is all around us. Holiness and godliness is tough.
Here are a couple DOs and DON’Ts if you’re facing difficulty in your life:
1) DON’T whine and complain about it, begging for things to get easier.
2) DO ask for God to use the difficulty to train you.
3) DON’T accept failure as your lot in life and the natural result of difficulty.
4) DO get up and fight, accepting and expecting nothing less than total and complete victory to one day be yours.
5) DON’T think God is far from you or has abandoned you, even if the difficulty was brought on or made worse by a rebellious decision on your part.
6) DO trust that the God who created you is in the midst of your situation and able to redeem even the worst cases.
One last closing thought.
1 John 2:13-14 – “I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.”
Children know the father heart of God, His rules and expectations but also His kindness and forgiveness. Fathers know the eternal One, the beginning and the end, the all-powerful and all-present God who has been faithful and constant from before time began.
In the middle are the young men, those who are strong, in whom is the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, who have fought and who have overcome the evil one. The young men are the warriors.
We move from children to fathers, and in the middle we are young men, the fearless warriors. If we want to know God as a father knows God, in his faithful omnipresence, in his infinity, we must learn to face and overcome the evil one, we must be trained in the art of war.