On Enduring Hardship

Every day there seem to be dozens if not hundreds of reasons to quit. “Quit what?” you ask. Relationships. Your job. Your faith. School. Ministry. You name it, and you can find reasons to quit it. Life is hard.

But even though we are tempted to quit, I’m not sure we really want to quit. In a recent conversation with a friend, we talked about how it’s easy to fall into the path of least resistance. Sometimes quitting may be easier, but deep down inside, I’m not convinced that’s what we really want.

Through the course of his life and ministry, the Apostle Paul endured incredible hardship. In 2 Cor. 11:23-28 he lists all of the things he suffered. If anyone had reason to quit, it was Paul. Coming to the end of his life, awaiting his fate in prison, Paul writes his second and final letter to his young apprentice Timothy. In chapter 2 he writes,

Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.  Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. (2 Tim. 2:3-6)

In this passage, Paul rattles off three metaphors comparing discipleship to Christ to being a soldier, an athlete, and a hard-working farmer.

I don’t know anything about being a soldier or farmer, but I am an athlete. And what I know about being an athlete is that both training and competing take perseverance. I just started training for a half marathon, and already I have found reasons to quit. It’s too hard. It’s too painful. It takes up so much time.

When the desire to quit creeps in, typically all we see is the challenge we are currently facing. In those moments, how do we stay on course? I think, in part, the answer is perspective. When we can pull back from the difficulty and see the bigger picture, we are able to move through the hardship with renewed resolve.

Writing this letter from prison, not knowing if he will make it out alive, Paul finds perspective by remembering the gospel. He writes,

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect.

Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself. (v8-13)

The gospel gives us perspective because the message of the cross reminds us that Christ also experienced hardship, difficulty, and suffering. In the gospel, we find solidarity with Jesus because when we are facing hard times, we know that He knows exactly what we are experiencing.

But notice how Paul recounts the gospel. He hardly says anything about the cross. Rather he writes, “Jesus Christ, raised from the dead… This is my gospel.” Even though Jesus suffered and died, He didn’t stay dead. The resurrection gives perspective, because in the end Christ, not death, has the last word. Jesus is victorious. And if our lives are caught up into His life, ultimately we reign with Him.

But let’s say we do quit. Even in spite of the hopeful word of resurrection, let’s say we do throw in the towel. Then what? Here’s what I find to be the greatest encouragement of all. Paul writes, “if we are faithless, he remains faithful.” Even when we are done and can’t go on, even if we give up on Jesus, He doesn’t give up on us.

In our greatest moments of doubt and despair – in the darkest hour when we’re ready to walk away, no matter what we’re facing, the gospel stands as a reminder that Jesus has gone before us. He is in it with us. And He will help us persevere through it.

Are you in a difficult season where you are wanting to quit?
Do you feel like you have reached the end of your rope?
May you remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead. He is faithful.