“Do hard things.” That’s the title of a book sitting on the floor by my bed. It’s a book I’ve never read. And yet the title itself speaks volumes to me.
I struggle with doing hard things. I’ve said this publicly and heard arguments from those who disagree: “But you live in Africa! You’re a full time foreign missionary. That’s not easy. You do hard things!” But that which is hard for us is relative to our experience in hard things, our maturity in the faith, and our personalities.
Only those who have lived in a similar way can truly and wholly relate to what I’m about to say: it is possible to do what seems so unbelievably hard to so many, and yet fail miserably to do what is truly hard for yourself.
The majority of the time I find that living in Africa or Europe (or theoretically any other country apart from my home country) is not a hard thing for me. That’s not intended as a matter of pride or arrogance towards those who think it insanely difficult. It’s just a reality. And yet daily I awake to hard things that I am too frightened, too selfish, or too proud to recognize as my hard things. Daily I awake to hard things undone, procrastinated, unrecognized, and purposely ignored.
Within the context of Christ’s church and her leaders, we are called to do hard things. Not the macho junk of American culture, but truly soul-grinding, heart-wrenching, cross-bearing, flesh-destroying hard things:
- Standing in opposition to our own culture when it’s an offence to the culture of Christ’s Kingdom.
- Standing up for Scriptural truth (like the prophet Jeremiah) when it will cost you money, popularity, your job, even your life.
- Sticking to your biblical convictions regarding your teenager’s boundaries even though it may result in him/her losing a “friend” and you feeling like the worst parent because of it.
- Doing what the Lord has told you to do (like David’s refusal to kill King Saul) even when other Christians doubt and naysay and discourage you.
- Crucifying our pride and apologising to those we’ve hurt (and sometimes even those we feel were just being too stinkin’ sensitive!)
- And yes – like Stephen the faithful, Paul the zealot, Luke the doctor, Timothy the youth, John the fisherman, Thomas the doubter – answering the call to ministry, whether it’s discipling a younger believer, getting ministry training, teaching children’s church, pastoring, church planting, or even the dreaded foreign missions!
We’re not called to cruise on ‘The Good Ship Lollipop’! We’re called to “take up [our] cross and follow [Jesus]”, to “count the cost”, and to “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is [our] reasonable worship.” Those are hard things!
Here’s the rub: many of us do hard things, just not the hard things we need to be doing.
In my younger days (though I’m not admitting to being old yet), I began competing in the Scottish Highland Games throughout California. When I first began I had absolutely no technique, but because of my natural size and strength (6’3 and over 300 lbs) most things about those competitions came easily to me and I advanced up the ranks quickly. I was just made for those kinds of things! But if someone asked me to compete in a triathlon… that would be a hard thing! The point is this: “hard things” are those things which are actually hard for each individual. So for me to do what is hard by another man’s opinion does not necessarily make it a “hard thing” for me. In fact, it often becomes a “pride thing” because I know that most others will think of it as hard and be in awe of me for doing it!
So what do we see today in the lives of Christ’s church and the men He has called to lead her? Are the “hard things” being done? Yes, definitely! But of those things being done, what percentage are actually hard for the one doing them? Have we become complacent in our willingness to continue the call to conquer the hard things once we’ve won a battle or two?
What is hard for me – and here is where my soul is laid bare for all to see and perhaps judge or shake their heads disapprovingly – is doing and succeeding in some of the elementary principles of faith and life. For example, making the time to spend each morning in prayer, reading of the Word, and meditation upon it is one of the hardest things for me! Making the time to talk to each of my children every day about important things, spiritual things, fun things, boring things, needful things! Remembering to make the time to take care of basic responsibilities that bless my family. These things, though they may not be hard for some, are distinctly difficult things for me! These are some of my “hard things”.
I can focus a lot of energy on so many other good and worthy tasks in life like: teaching the Word, preaching, or learning a new language for the sake of ministry. But these are not hard things for me. Don’t misunderstand. Just because its not hard doesn’t mean that I should not do it. That’s not the point at all! The point is that we need to stop running to that which is easy in order to escape that which is hard. Some things are hard to do at first, but by God’s grace and the Spirit’s power we succeed and it becomes easier to walk in that victory. So then, rather than spending all of my time and energy focused on what is easier for me in life and ministry, I need to renew my commitment to paying the cost of discipleship that I’ve already counted and get on to the next very important, very hard thing that God has called me to take care of in my life and ministry. Both have meaning and purpose, and both are necessary, but I cannot do only the things that are easier for me — and those exponentially — so that I can hope to avoid the hard things. This is stagnating behaviour, and it must stop!
I need to stop spending all of my time tossing cabers and throwing large weights and stones, and get about training for the next triathlon that needs to be done. What about you?
In the next few posts I will explore some of these “triathlons”; these things that are sometimes hard for us as men, hard for us as shepherds of God’s flock, and hard for us as the body of Christ. As we look at these things some of you will surely say, “Yep, I’m doing that well.” Or, “Our church is great at that!” While others will recognise the need to step up in those areas. Remember, what is hard for you or me may be very different, but whatever hard thing God has called us to do He’s also empowered us to do by His Holy Spirit.