When The Going Gets Tough

“When the going gets tough…Kayak

…run to mama.” (It worked when we were kids.)

…go shopping, eat chocolate, do anything but the hard stuff.”

…it’s OK to quit. It’s probably too hard for you anyway.”

I like a quote by Tommy Lasorda, manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 70’s and 80’s: “When the going gets easy, watch out! You may be going downhill.”

Here is the most important one, “When the going gets tough…the Christian leans on God.” Psalms 18:2 (NIV) declares, “The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” God is my source of strength through the inevitable hard times.

Recently we were channel surfing and came across an old episode of Colombo. What caught my eye was that Jonny Cash was making a guest appearance. In the show he sang the Hank Williams classic from 1948 “I Saw the Light”. What struck me was the line, “Now I’m so happy, no sorrow in sight.” The problem with that is I think it is warped Christianity. It may get someone in the door of the church but it won’t keep them there. If I walk into the county jail and declare, “Give your heart to Jesus and tomorrow you will walk out a free man.” I might get quite a few takers, but what happens tomorrow when they are still locked up. I better not show my face in there for quite a while.

Jesus talked about it in the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:20-21: “But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.” When trials come they fall away.

The whole notion that being a Christian means an easy life has only come forth in the last 200 years. Before that Christians generally recognized that life included trials and suffering. The pivotal moment in the Gospels is the suffering and death of Jesus. The balance of the New Testament is a chronicle of the suffering of the early church and encouragement to hang in there.

If you think you have it hard, read Hebrews 11. Early Christians were stoned, sawed in half, killed by the sword, destitute, oppressed. Paul described his life this way in 1Corinthians 4:8-9: “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” Jesus warned us in John 16:33, in this world we will have tribulation, troubles, sorrows, suffering. (Are we having fun yet?) But He doesn’t just tell us, “Deal with it.” He gives us the good news at the end of that verse, “But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (NLT)

I’ve had my share of problems: on the job, relational, financial, death of loved ones. But there is a joy, a peace, a sense of fulfillment and purpose that the world can’t offer. It’s not about the outside; it’s about the inside. C. S. Lewis once said “God whispers to us in our pleasures…, but shouts in our pain.” The more I look at Jesus the more the Spirit can mold me, because in the fire I am softened and more moldable.

Nowhere does the Bible promise an easy, comfortable life. Matthew 7:13-14 (NLT) warns us, “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” General Dwight Eisenhower, commanding general of Allied forces in World War II, said, “There is no victory at bargain basement prices.”

Instead God promises strength for the inevitable battles that are part of life. Ephesians 6:10-19 describes the armor of God. It isn’t given to us so we can play dress up or just sit back in our Lazy-Boy. (That Lazy-Boy would probably be pretty uncomfortable with the breastplate shoving up against my chin and the hilt of the sword poking me in the ribs.) Armor is given to be used, because we face a battle.

Romans 8:37 says we are more than conquerors through Christ. “More than a conqueror” implies there will be a battle. We can’t be victorious without one. How do I live victorious?

  • Recognize the battle is in my mind. Lottery tickets are sold not based on the odds or the taxes that will be due or the ruined lives that can come with sudden wealth. No, they paint a picture of carefree luxury to lure people in. Romans 12:2 warns us that we must renew our mind, renew our thinking. Before 1954, sport authorities said the human body was incapable of running a 4 minute mile. They said the runner’s heart would explode. Yet on May 6, 1954 Roger Bannister ran a 3:59.4 mile, because he changed his thinking. Today the Olympics require a qualifying time of 3:55. When you know who you are in Christ, worldly obstacles won’t matter anymore. 2Corinthians 10:4-5 (NKJV) declares, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” The battle is in my mind.
  • Recognize Jesus already won the victory. The cross looked like defeat; the tomb looked like the end. When Jesus stepped out of that tomb, it wasn’t just His victory. According to Ephesians 2:6, in Christ I was raised with Him. That was my victory too. God causes things to happen at exactly the right time! My job is not to figure out when, but to make up my mind that I won’t give up until I cross the finish line.
  • Recognize that we conquer through praise. In 2Chronicles 20, Jerusalem was faced with an impossible situation surrounded by a vast army. Under God’s guidance, Jehoshaphat sent out singers ahead of the army. The result was the enemy turned on itself and Jerusalem was victorious. Praise may not change the outward circumstances but it will change our inward attitude. Psalm 150:6 declares, “Let everything that has breath, praise the Lord!”
  • Recognize that the reward is worth it. I enjoy hiking not because the sweat and strain of climbing a steep trail is so much fun, but the view and the surroundings at the end are rewarding. No mother will tell you that she enjoys childbirth, but to hold that little one makes it all worth it. 1Corinthians 2:9 promises, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” Think about that… and smile
  • Recognize we need each other. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Palm trees can withstand high winds and intense desert storms. Their secret is how they intertwine their roots. Alone a palm tree doesn’t stand much of a chance but together with other palm trees they gain strength from each other. We are no different in needing each other for the strength to stand.

James 1:2-4 tells us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Skipping to verse 12: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” Perseverance is not being delivered from the storm but the ability to get to the other side.

Pain is inevitable but misery is optional. In 1873 Horatio Spafford had lost most of his property to the great Chicago fire. He had lost a son to scarlet fever. While he finished up some last minute business details, he sent his wife and four daughters ahead of him to Europe. The ship carrying his family sank with only his wife surviving. A short time later as his ship passed over the spot where his daughters had drowned, he wrote the hymn: “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.”

When the going gets tough… remember where you’re going. When the going gets tough… lean on Jesus.