Hard is Good

Hey, you Christians out there. I want to tell you something:

Suck it up.

Now that you’re annoyed and/or confused, let me elaborate by asking a few questions. How many worthwhile things in life have you achieved with relative ease? What about those of you who had a high college GPA. Assuming you went to a reputable institution, didn’t that take a decent amount of work? No doubt you went to class when others took the afternoon off. You stayed into study when some of your friends went out. You worked on that paper a little harder than most.

Have you had a lot of success in your career? Did that come by putting in the minimum effort and coasting along? Or did it mean some early mornings and late nights, knowing that presentation backwards and forwards, making a few extra phone calls, trying to regularly increase the knowledge you have of your field, and even learning new skills (sometimes painfully)?

Have you ever lost weight or simply gotten into better shape? Did that happen by staying on the couch? Continuing to eat like you always had? Or did you find yourself paying a cost in time, sweat, and making better choices?

How about you parents out there? How easy is it to do a good job parenting your children? Is it always easy to invest in spending meaningful time with them? Are you effortlessly able to discipline your child when he or she needs it, especially when you’ve just done it five minutes before in response to a pyrotechnic tantrum? If putting pigtails in my little girls hair is hard (at least for me), do I think that giving her a solid system of values is going to be easy?

No doubt we could go on. But this is just to remind us of a truth that we’ve all heard in various forms many times: valuable things almost always require a significant investment of one kind or another.

What’s this have to do with Christians particularly? Basically this: growing in our ability to understand biblical truth and effectively bring it to bear on the many different facets of our lives is going to take some effort. I bring this up again (I’ve said as much in previous posts) because, fairly regularly, I have someone tell me that a book I’ve recommended or a class I’m teaching is, to put a positive face on it, “challenging.”

Those people are right. They are challenging. And that’s okay. Very often, hard is good.

Again, some examples will help. It’s not easy to grow in your understanding, say, of the culture in which the New Testament was written or the ways people have approached studying the gospels or Paul over the last 200 years or so. It can be difficult to understand some of the implications of a naturalistic worldview. Nor does one simply wake up one day and understand some of the historical reasons many American Christians have come to think and act as they do. It’s hard to get a solid handle on what the Bible does and doesn’t say about God’s sovereignty. Trying to understand what’s really involved when people say we should have a secular society isn’t something we’ll likely accomplish in a ten minutes.

And yet, all those things are very good goals. Or I should say they’re very good goals if we care about things like the following:

  • interpreting the New Testament more accurately.
  • answering challenges to the trustworthiness of the Scriptures on which orthodox Christian faith has always been firmly based.
  • separating what might be merely cultural preferences and values from those that are more biblically shaped.
  • determining how we should think about everything from sharing the gospel to massive disasters like the earthquake in Haiti.
  • understanding whether or not it makes sense (or it’s even possible) to exile religious beliefs from the public square—the conversation that continually affects all of our lives in countless ways.

Yes, I understand there are appropriate caveats to what I’m saying. There are certain seasons of life that make tackling challenging things more manageable than others. But it’s worth asking whether you continually try to convince yourself that the only good time is “never.”

Additionally, I want to be sure to say that we’re always dependent upon God’s grace to do anything good. We should be asking him to give us the desire and perseverance to grow in the understanding of our faith and how we can live it out effectively. But sometimes that grace comes in the form of friendly and frank advice. So the next time you find yourself feeling battered, bruised, or burnt by some challenging material, think about the value of the goal, consider the practical words of wisdom a famous patron once gave to a certain beleaguered barista, then get back at it.

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