Discipleship in Seasons of Difficulty

Experiencing Difficulty Isn't Always a Bad Thing

As a dad of three young girls, I have a strong impulse to provide for and protect my kids. And while I want to protect them from extremely scary things like predators, bullies, and massive humiliation, I also find that there is an impulse to protect them from really minor things like scraped knees, hurt feelings, and unmet expectations.

A few years ago, we went to a Fourth of July parade and our oldest was really excited to gather (or should I say hoard) all the candy that would be thrown to those watching. However, we found a spot at the end of the parade, and by the time the floats arrived to us, they were pretty much out of candy. She didn't collect nearly as much as she thought she would. She was incredibly disappointed. Upon seeing her reaction, there arose in me an impulse to run to the nearby convenience store and buy her a bag of peanut butter cups so that she wouldn't be sad.

As parents, we have a natural desire to keep our kids safe and happy. Yet, as they get older, we're also confronted with the reality that we can't protect them from everything. We would have to be with them 24/7 to do that, and any parent knows that that's impossible, not to mention not helpful for the child. In order for them to grow and be well adjusted, our kids need to learn about the difficulties of life, and one of the best ways to learn that is to experience them.

That means as parents, we need to resist the urge to rescue our kids from all of life's challenges and disappointments.

Once the parade finished, my knee-jerk reaction was to fill up my daughter's empty candy bag, but I also knew that this was a teachable moment. The best thing I could do for her was to let her feel what disappointment was like. However, I also knew that by being connected with me in the moment, we could walk through this experience together and I could help to narrate it for her in a healthy way.

When I think about discipleship, I see Jesus doing the same thing with His disciples. He doesn't protect them from every scary or disappointing thing that life brings their way. Sometimes, He even leads them into it. He doesn't stop them from facing their fears, but meets them in those moments and uses them as discipleship opportunities.

Luke 8:22-25 illustrates this well. Jesus was teaching around the Sea of Galilee. After He was done, He led the disciples into a boat to cross to the other side of the lake to continue His ministry. While on the water, a wild storm kicked up. The text tells us that the disciples were terrified and thought the storm might kill them. They turned to Jesus for help, and where was He? Asleep in the back of the boat!

Four Things We Learn about Discipleship to Jesus

1. Jesus doesn't always protect us from the storms of life. Jesus tells the disciples in John 16, "In this world, you will have trouble” (v33). People will oppose us. Sickness and death will overtake us. We will experience relational brokenness. Life will disappoint us. We will experience loss and sorrow. Life will throw many storms our away, and Jesus doesn't protect us from all of them.

2. Jesus is with us in the storm. You can look at this moment in one of two ways. You can  believe that Jesus is asleep on the job. When experiencing hardships, there are moments when it feels like God is absent, distant, and aloof. Or, you can look at it as though Jesus is present. He's with us IN the boat and is simply testing and stretching our faith. He's available. He's waiting for us to turn to Him. Sure the disciples are scared, but at least they go to Jesus for help. They know He's accessible.

3. Jesus uses these moments to reveal more of Himself to us. When He calms the storm, the disciples ask the question, "Who is this?" They have never seen someone command the wind and the waves by merely speaking. It's only through this experience that they learn new things about Jesus, the authority He has, and what it means to follow Him.

4. Jesus has power over the storm. He has ultimate power and authority over our lives as well. No matter what we are experiencing, He is bigger and stronger. While I don't believe that Jesus intentionally throws storms our way because He likes to see us suffer, at times, He does allow them. But He is greater than them.

During the parade, I had the power and means to get my daughter the amount of candy she was wanting. I didn't withhold candy out of a lack of love. I love her enough that I wanted to teach her something. Not just that life throws disappointments our way, but that in our disappointments, I (and God) are there with her in the midst of them.

God uses all of life to teach and shape us. When discipling others, we should resist protecting them from the hard realities of life and ministry. Instead we should  walk with them through the hardships, continually pointing them to Jesus, reminding them that He is present and that the difficulty won't be wasted. God will use it to make us more like Him.