Nothing in this world is haphazard. There is nothing random or unplanned about the circumstances you are in right now, even if those circumstances seem very hard. Rather, God is leading you by the way he deems most appropriate, the way he has determined is most fitting for your spiritual growth. Just as one tree grows best in a sheltered valley and one by the edge of a gentle stream, another grows best on a bleak mountaintop where it is swept by strong winter winds. If you observe nature, you’ll see that trees and plants are found in the conditions in which they can thrive—cactuses in the desert and palm trees along the beaches. Do you think it’s likely God has given more thought to the trees than to one of his precious children? No, he has placed you amid the circumstances and experiences in which you will show the greatest growth and display the greatest Christian character. You may think you would thrive more through a life of better health, greater ease, or increased luxury, but God knows what is best and God makes no mistakes. Do you believe that?
There is a little parable about a primrose that grew by itself in a shady part of the garden, but became discontent when it saw other flowers basking in the sun. It begged to be moved to a place where it could be more visible. Its wish was granted and the gardener soon moved it to a spot where the sun shone upon it and where people could more easily gaze upon its beauty. But very quickly it began to change—its blossoms became pale and sickly as the heat of the sun caused them to dry out and wither. Now it begged to be moved back to the shade. God is the wise gardener who knows where you will best grow into what he desires you to be. Though some can thrive under gentle prosperity and would be marred by adversity, you may only grow and blossom through trials. God knows what is best.
But don’t be discouraged, because it’s possible to live a beautiful, God-honoring life in whatever circumstances God leads you. There is no condition in which it’s impossible to be a true Christian and to exemplify all the wonderful virtues of Christianity. That’s because God does not only choose where he will place you, but he also fits you to thrive there. The principle of adaption shows that animals made to live in the cold Arctic are covered with warm fur, the camel, whose home is the desert, has what he needs to endure grueling journeys across hot sands, and animals that live on mountains have feet prepared for climbing over steep rocks. God has prepared each of these creatures to thrive where he has put them.
The same is true in the life of the Christian, and God adapts his grace to every situation. When the way is rough, he gives you strong shoes, not silk slippers. As the burdens grow heavier, he increases your strength. As the difficulties get more gruelling, he sends his angel to draw near to you. As the trials become tougher, he calms your troubled heart. The greater the trial and the stronger the temptation, the more God pours out his grace upon you. It is always present, always sufficient, so that there is no situation and no hardship in which it is impossible for you to live a life of faithfulness and holiness.
Instead of giving in to discouragement when the trials compound and it becomes hard to bear up under them, and instead of determining that the present circumstances make it impossible to live in a distinctly Christian way, you ought to make it your settled purpose that, through the grace of God, you will live a patient, gentle, unblemished life, in the very place and amid the very circumstances God has brought you. Victory doesn’t come through escaping or evading such trials, but through meeting them and enduring them. The right questions are not, “How can I get out of this? How can I get to a place where all these irritations and temptations are gone? How can I get to a place where there’s nothing to spark my temper or put my patience to the test?” The soldier who flees the moment he hears the first gunshot is not a hero, but a coward. Rather, you should ask “How can I pass through these trials and not fail as a Christian? How can I endure these struggles and not suffer defeat? How can I be provoked but still speak with measured words, bear insults with meekness, and return gentle answers to even the most insulting words?” This is the true concern of Christian living.
The great desire of the Christian is to be holy—to display Christlike character. What matters most is not the process, but the result. If a tree grows into full majesty and strength, it doesn’t matter if it grew in a deep valley or on a cold peak, beside gentle streams or through fierce winds, but only that it grew to full maturity. And if your character grows so that you are more and more conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, shouldn’t you be willing to submit to any discipline? Isn’t this end so noble that you will be willing to participate in any means that will achieve it?
If that’s true, then every obstacle in your way should only give you fresh determination to succeed. You should look in each difficulty and each hardship for some gain, some advance. You should force your temptations to minister to you rather than hinder you. You should look at every trial, every annoyance, every pain, as a time to put into practice the principles of the Christian life. You will see in the end that all these hardships and difficulties were the means through which you received some of the greatest blessings.
It is no great accomplishment to live patiently where you are never provoked, to live bravely where you face no danger, to live calmly where you are never challenged. It’s not the hermit’s cave but the busy life that truly tests and forms your character. If you can live patiently, lovingly, and cheerfully amid all your frets and fears, all your pains and sorrows, you will have been more victorious than the greatest general, for “he who rules his spirit is better than he who takes a city” (Proverbs 16:32).
(This is a rewrite of a chapter of J.R. Miller’s book Week Day Religion.)