Michael Chan—Leicester, UK
Mature faith overcomes all things—it remains steadfast in the face of temptation and trials. A mature faith even thrives and bears fruit through trials. How can we overcome the obstacles to our growth to cultivate such a victorious faith?
OBSTACLES TO OUR GROWTH
Sometimes we feel distant from God, as though many things are standing between Him and us. There will always be obstacles hindering us from drawing near or fully worshipping God. Here are a few areas where difficulties can arise:
A. The Environment
We could be affected by different issues that come with our circumstances (Mt 13:20–22). We could face poverty, illness, unemployment, or a work situation that conflicts with our Christian status. These factors may or may not be within our control, but they can stop us from drawing close to God.
B. The Self
Although we like to think of ourselves as rational beings, humans are governed by our emotions. Our actions and outlook are influenced by whether we are happy, angry, or sad at any given moment (Prov 4:23). If we do not feel like obeying God’s word or do not enjoy worshipping God, are we able to deny ourselves?
C. Relationships with Others
If there is hatred and antagonism between ourselves and another, there is a barrier preventing us from drawing close to God (Mt 5:22–24). Sadly, conflicts may arise between brethren when there are misunderstandings or disagreements, which can escalate to the point where one party stops coming to church for a time. We may even become so angry with someone that we do not feel like praying or worshipping in God’s house.
HOLDING FAST TO OUR FAITH
Many biblical characters held on to their faith in God, despite undergoing great sorrow and suffering. One example is Hannah. Every year, she would go to Shiloh with her family to offer sacrifices and worship God (1 Sam 1). But Peninnah would use these trips as opportunities to mock Hannah for being childless. So each time Hannah went to worship God, the occasion would be tainted with sorrow and humiliation. If every Sabbath we returned home from church distressed and in tears, would we be able to endure and continue attending weekly worship? Though Hannah must have anticipated these attacks, she faithfully made the yearly pilgrimage to worship God.
Another example is Job. For most people, it would be devastating to go through bankruptcy and lose everything they own. But if they have their health and a loving family, they can rebuild meaningful lives. Losing a child is much harder to accept and move on from, no matter how long we had them in our lives. We may think facing chronic illness would be easier, but we know from experience that even a minor infection can have us begging to return to full health.
Job lost all his possessions, his children, and his health. He did not only lose one child but ten children and their families. The boils so deformed his face that his friends did not recognize him. These were unbearable trials, but Job held on to his faith. He did not sin, even when his wife tried to provoke him. It was not that he felt no sorrow or physical suffering, but Job knew he could not sin against God.
How can we, like these characters, hold on to our faith while facing trials and obstacles to our growth?
A. Faith, Not Feelings
If we are truly rooted and growing spiritually, then our environment, our selves, and our relationships will not prevent us from drawing close to God. Faith is not dependent on feelings, and our emotions will not take precedent in our practice of the truth. If we constantly dwell on and plant our roots in our feelings, we will not see how God is trying to strengthen us, and we will not grow.
B. Be Constantly Filled by the Holy Spirit
We should not pray to be momentarily filled by the Holy Spirit when we occasionally need Him. We should not only seek Him when we feel weak. We should pray to be constantly filled by the Spirit, to transform our behavior and character. If we only desire the spiritual “feeling” of being filled by the Spirit, our roots will be shallow. One powerful prayer will not inspire and sustain us to keep doing God’s will, to preach and be faithful to His word, especially when we face troubles and can no longer feel that special feeling. Can we be like Daniel’s three friends, who remained faithful in the face of certain death, even though there were no signs from God that He would save them (Dan 3:16–18)?
Today, we need to reflect on whether we are submitting to the Holy Spirit in our everyday life and doing everything to be acceptable to God. When we live to please God, we can be reassured that God is with us (Phil 2:13).
C. Faith Is the Core of Life
Our faith should be the core and most important aspect of our lives. However, we often treat it as a supplement to tap into when encountering problems or needs. We see it as just another thing to juggle and prioritize our other responsibilities above it. For example, we may see our education as the core of our life and only pray to God for academic success. We may decline church work assignments when we have exams and even miss Sabbath worship to revise. This shows that education has replaced God as the center of our lives, and faith is merely a supplement.
If faith is truly our core, we will invest time and effort into other aspects of our lives—our family, career, or passions—but we would never compromise or neglect our worship and relationship with God. We would continue to practice God’s commands, as faithful as ever. Our faith will no longer crumble or be lost in the face of adversity—it will be the thing that we hold firmly to keep us afloat.
COMFORT IN THE TIME OF CALAMITIES
As we undergo challenges and hold fast to our faith, God does not expect us to grit our teeth and carry on through sheer determination of will. God knows that we need encouragement and strength to keep us going during painful times. If we have faith in His good will for us, God will comfort us and help us to grow.
A. God Gives His Beloved Sleep
In times of trouble, the fear and anxiety churning within us can make us lose sleep. But when we fully entrust our lives to God, we find that we sleep peacefully, just like Jesus and Peter did when they were in dangerous situations (Mt 8:24; Acts 12:6, 7, 9; Ps 127:2). If we can let things go and allow God full control, our hearts will be calm when trouble comes. This is not apathy—we will still care and be affected by the ups and downs of life. But if we can still our hearts and find peace during trials, we know that we have grown in faith (Isa 26:3).
B. Seek to Comfort, Not to Be Comforted
It is natural to seek comfort when facing difficulties, but can we momentarily look past our troubles and comfort others? If we are growing, we will be ready to encourage and support others in need, no matter what we are going through at the time (Acts 20:35). We hear testimonies of brothers and sisters suffering from terminal illnesses who continue to comfort others. Instead of expressing sorrow, they encourage their fellow brethren and co-workers to serve the Lord faithfully. These are examples of people who are deeply rooted and growing in Jesus.
C. Show Concern for Others
Showing concern for others is more relevant today, during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic or any other collective crisis and catastrophe. Individually, we have experienced different levels and forms of stress and uncertainty. Government restrictions and social distancing measures have severely impacted our lives, and the combination of these factors has created a mental health crisis. But some have been able to look beyond their suffering and show concern for others (Phil 2:30). If we are spiritually mature, we will put our worries aside to reach out to our brothers and sisters, both near and far, to see how they are doing.
GROWTH THROUGH TRIALS
There are examples in the Bible of people firmly rooted in God’s word, who reached a spiritual maturity level that overcame their circumstances. They did not wait for times of peace to cultivate themselves, and instead, they served God faithfully during great persecution. Even when they knew their remaining time on earth would be short, they did not complain or question but used the opportunity to write their prophecies, testimonies, and encouragements for the benefit of the church.
A. Peter: Grasp Every Opportunity
When Peter wrote his second epistle, he knew that he would die soon (2 Pet 1:12–21). What would we do if we knew that we would be imminently “putting off our tent”? Jesus had already told Peter that he would die an unpleasant and violent death (Jn 21:18–19). He would be persecuted, but his death would bring glory to God. Nonetheless, he wrote:
I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you. …Moreover I will be careful to ensure that you always have a reminder of these things after my decease. (2 Pet 1:13–15)
Peter continued to encourage the brethren, ensuring that his testimony would remain after his demise.
Today, do we put off serving God when we have time and a degree of material comfort? As we grow older and gain more responsibilities in life, we should grasp every opportunity to cultivate ourselves, seek God’s pleasure, and encourage others, no matter our circumstances.
B. Paul: Unbound by Circumstances
Paul endured several stretches in prison and house arrest. If he ever felt a moment of sadness or frustration about being in chains, we never see any sign of it. When he and Silas were imprisoned, they spent their time singing and praying (Acts 16:25). Physically, they were in prison, but spiritually, through faith, they were free. Another time, Paul explained to Timothy that, though he was in chains, the word of God is not chained (2 Tim 2:9). This is why Paul wrote many letters while under house arrest (Eph 6:20).
Today, we may not physically be in prison, but we may feel bound by our circumstances. During periods of complete lockdown, youths may feel locked out of employment, and parents may feel imprisoned by the constant grind of childcare and homeschool duties, on top of working from home. Like in prison, we lose our liberty and are forced into a position not of our choosing. Would we feel discouraged, or would we use this as an opportunity to grow in Christ?
Paul chose the latter—he could no longer travel to preach, so he took this opportunity to write. His letters were sources of encouragement for the believers and formed a crucial portion of the New Testament, edifying and enlightening countless souls throughout history. Today, thanks to Paul’s prison epistles, we have a clearer understanding of our belief and the doctrines of God.
C. John: Higher Spiritual Ground
John’s life also ended in dire circumstances. He was persecuted and exiled to the island of Patmos as a criminal. But it was here that God chose to reveal to John His mysteries and visions of things to come, which John recorded as the Book of Revelation (Rev 1:9). When we are going through difficulties, it is not uncommon for God to reveal His will and help us learn from the experience.
All three of these apostles faced calamity, but they did not seek comfort or freedom; instead, they accepted and made use of their respective situations. They recorded what they received from God to educate, encourage, and edify the members. Today, if we desire to take root in Christ, His church, and the truth, we need to respond positively to challenges and constraints. If our behavior and mindset do not align with the Bible’s requirements, we must change and root ourselves deeper in God’s word.
Taking root and growing in the Lord is not simply a thought or an abstract idea—it must be accomplished with practical and attainable steps. It is God’s will for every one of us to be firmly established in Him. But most importantly, we must be rooted and spiritually thriving to prosper the work of God and edify those around us, so we can all be built up in Christ (Eph 4:11–17). So, let us reflect: How deeply rooted am I in the truth? How strong is my faith? Am I able to defend our beliefs? And do I have unwavering trust in God, no matter what I encounter?
God is with us and will never leave those who do His will. So let us not be troubled, whatever befalls us, as God’s promises never fail. We will be as a fruitful tree through faith in God, planted by the waters (Ps 1:3; Jer 17:8).