Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James 1:2-4 NIV
Life is an unpredictable journey that will include many kinds of trials.
God can work through these trials to help us grow, but it’s not always easy to stay strong (let alone joyful) when we’re going through them.
The Bible can teach how to stay tough in the midst of troubles, but its wisdom can seem counterintuitive at times. According to Scripture, the most powerful people are the ones who are the most aware of and even “pleased” with their weaknesses.
So I am well pleased with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, and with difficulties, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak [in human strength], then I am strong [truly able, truly powerful, truly drawing from God’s strength].
2 Corinthians 12:10 AMP
When I am in the midst of troubles, the last thing I typically want to do is be honest with myself and others about how weak I feel. I want to be tough (in the way I define toughness): being calm, unfazed, and self-sufficient. I want any feelings of weakness to go away.
The purpose of this Bible study is to redefine what it means to be tough in the face of trials by encouraging us to view our weaknesses and limitations in a positive light. When the going gets tough, we stay spiritually tough by getting help from God and other people.
Let’s take a look at some people who faced storms in the Bible and how they stayed spiritually tough in the midst of them.
Spiritually tough people understand that we can’t control our storms, but we can control our response
Everything Hezekiah did while he was king of Judah, including what he did for the temple in Jerusalem, was right and good. He was a successful king, because he obeyed the LORD God with all his heart.
2 Chronicles 31:20 CEV
After King Hezekiah had faithfully obeyed the LORD’s instructions by doing these things, King Sennacherib of Assyria invaded Judah. He attacked the fortified cities and thought he would capture every one of them.
[Hezekiah] gathered the troops together in the open area in front of the city gate and said to them:
“Be brave and confident! There’s no reason to be afraid of King Sennacherib and his powerful army. We are much more powerful, because the LORD our God fights on our side. The Assyrians must rely on human power alone.”
These words encouraged the army of Judah.
2 Chronicles 32:1, 6-8 CEV
The Bible teaches us an important lesson through this story about King Hezekiah. In the chapters prior to these passages (2 Chronicles 28-32), Hezekiah had done a LOT of good work to lead the people of Israel back to God after a generation of unfaithfulness.
And he still faced trouble.
Hezekiah was able to face this storm with confidence because he had built strong faith in God’s power, not his own. One key thing we should learn from Hezekiah is to spend our energy building our faith in God’s power instead of trying to control the storms in our lives. Human power is really not worth much, and Hezekiah knew that.
God is constantly working to make good come from everything that happens in our lives (Romans 8:28). He doesn’t guarantee us a life free from difficulties, but he does care about us; we can trust him to help us.
Our editor in chief Russ Ewell writes about this in his new book:
“ … It has become far too easy for people to believe that God would rather hurt than help. This is simply not true. The majority of pain in life is simply the result of time and chance.”
Russ Ewell, He’s Not Who You Think He Is: Dropping Our Assumptions and Discovering God for Yourself
I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all. Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so people are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.
“If any spiritual force could be said to hurt us, it would be the spiritual force of darkness … God cares for us. He doesn’t seek to hurt us.”
Russ Ewell, He’s Not Who You Think He Is: Dropping Our Assumptions and Discovering God for Yourself(pp. 29-31).
Hezekiah wasn’t sure what the outcome of his situation would be, and he had no choice about whether or not Sennacherib would attack him. But Hezekiah’s faithfulness to God helped him understand that he did have one very important choice: he could choose to rely on God’s power, which is infinitely greater than anything human, including an attacking army.
We can’t control our storms, but we can control our response. We must trust in God’s power even when we don’t understand what’s happening in our lives.
Pause and reflect:
- What trials or hardships have you been facing lately?
- How have those trials been affecting your feelings toward God?
- How could you choose to rely on God’s power instead of human power in response to your trials?
Spiritually tough people stay focused on the bigger purpose
For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.
2 Corinthians 1:5 NIV
This passage teaches us that as followers of Jesus, we must be prepared to face some level of suffering; it’s not something we can avoid. But we should take comfort in the knowledge that God is always with us, and we can rely on him to help us through our trials.
Does this mean that the life of a Christian is one of suffering, defeat, and difficulty? No. Jesus didn’t just suffer for the sake of suffering—he was changing the world. His willingness to endure pain is still changing our lives thousands of years later and brings us the greatest gift anyone could ask for—eternal life and a personal connection with God.
And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.
Hebrews 12:1-3 NLT
Jesus experienced emotional, physical, and spiritual pain on his way to the cross (see Matthew 26-28). He chose to go through this suffering because he had his eyes set on the joy of the bigger purpose of his life—giving up his life for the sins of the world and providing a path for each of us to have a personal relationship with God.
Doing great things in life comes with a level of self-denial. It isn’t surprising to us that people who achieve at a high level have to go through some discomfort to get there. Think of Olympic athletes, Navy SEALs, and famous philanthropists; we usually know and respect that their path involves suffering and sacrifice. But they don’t just suffer for the sake of suffering. They are able to do it because they see pain as part of a bigger plan, which is what makes that pain worth it.
If we want to follow Jesus but we don’t expect to share in his sufferings, we’ll get upset and surprised when we face things that are difficult for us instead of approaching these obstacles with faith in what they’re producing. And we must also remember that as we share in Jesus’s sufferings, 2 Corinthians 1 assures as that we will also share in the comfort and strength he got from God.
Pause and reflect:
- What are some sufferings that are (or will be) in your life when you choose to follow Jesus? How do you think your faith can help you handle these trials without getting angry at them or surprised by them?
Spiritually tough people trust the process
Brothers and sisters, you need to know about the severe trials we experienced while we were in western Turkey. All of the hardships we passed through crushed us beyond our ability to endure, and we were so completely overwhelmed that we were about to give up entirely. It felt like we had a death sentence written upon our hearts, and we still feel it to this day. It has taught us to lose all faith in ourselves and to place all of our trust in the God who raises the dead.
2 Corinthians 1:8-9 TPT
Much of the stress we feel in life comes from our human limitations bumping up against the expectations we face. This is what the apostle Paul is describing in this passage; he and his companions had been chosen by God to be ambassadors of Jesus, and this involved an expectation of using their lives to tell people the Gospel. However, fulfiling this calling put them in a situation where the expectations in their lives were much greater than their human abilities. This made them feel extremely overwhelmed, and they were ready to give up.
We can face this same “overwhelmed” feeling whenever our limitations bump up against the expectations of our lives. I remember having this feeling when I started wrestling on a D1 college team. The practices were much more difficult than I was used to in high school. For the first six weeks, I sat in my dorm room trying not to cry after every practice. I didn’t feel like I could survive the practices but I also didn’t want to quit. I saw no way out, and this made me feel extremely overwhelmed.
Eventually, my endurance and strength grew, and I didn’t feel this way anymore. I had to trust the process of the trials making me stronger; it was normal to feel totally overwhelmed as a freshman because it was part of the process of growing.
I think we have to trust the process in our spiritual lives too. In life, we continually enter new situations that make us feel overwhelmed because the expectations are greater than our human abilities. As parents, for example, enter new situations all the time that seem beyond our ability to endure. New life stages can bring great things, but also new challenges we haven’t faced before, and sometimes we don’t see how it’s possible for us to handle them.
It’s easy to want to quit in these moments, whatever that might look like. To be spiritually tough, we have to decide not to quit but to trust the process of learning to rely on God.
In 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, Paul shares how his hardships taught him to place his trust in God instead of placing his faith in himself. We get tougher when we embrace our limitations and trust God’s process. He is helping us trust him in every trial we go through.
Pause and reflect
- What areas have felt overwhelming to you lately?
- How do you think it would help you to embrace a mindset of “trusting the process”?
Spiritually tough people embrace their need for help
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 NIV
The scripture is a powerful reminder that we must recognize our weaknesses in order to be strong. Even the apostle Paul, who had the incredible privilege of seeing the spiritual realm, had a “thorn in his flesh” to keep him grounded. We don’t know what this thorn was, but we do know that it was a limitation or weakness that held him back in some way. The thorn served as a reminder to Paul that he was not invincible, and that he needed to rely on God’s strength rather than his own.
In our own lives, it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we are capable of handling more than we can really handle. In these moments, God will allow us to go through experiences that help us understand our need for help.
He humbled you and allowed you to be hungry and fed you with manna, [a substance] which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, so that He might make you understand [by personal experience] that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.  Your clothing did not wear out on you, nor did your feet swell these forty years.  Therefore, know in your heart (be fully cognizant) that the LORD your God disciplines and instructs you just as a man disciplines and instructs his son.
Deuteronomy 8:3-5 AMP
This passage in Deuteronomy teaches us that sometimes we aren’t fully aware of our need for God until we experience it.
My grandson is a freshman in high school, and he recently joined the wrestling team. As an experienced wrestler, I joked around with him a little and told him he could punch me in the arm as hard as he could. “Take your best shot,” I told him, expecting to humble him with how tough I was.
He did—and let’s just say, it hurt a lot more than I expected. Turns out, I’m much softer than I thought, and I wouldn’t have realized that unless I had a personal experience to show it to me.
Our hearts (and our pride) can deceive us, convincing us we can handle more than we really can without God and our friends.
You have been deceived by your own pride because you live in a rock fortress and make your home high in the mountains. ‘Who can ever reach us way up here?’ you ask boastfully.
Obadiah 1:3 NLT
Deception hurts us because it stops us from getting help. Ultimately, it keeps us weaker inside.
Humbling experiences from God are not intended to humiliate us. They are intended to make us more self-aware so we can get the help and care we need.
As Brene Brown says in her book Atlas of the Heart, “Humility is openness to new learning combined with a balanced and accurate assessment of our contributions, including our strengths, imperfections, and opportunities for growth.” This is what God wants for us.
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Psalm 139 is an incredible passage about the search for self-awareness. God is aware of everything about us, and staying close to him means continually asking for his help to be aware of ourselves so we can follow him down good paths.
We, too-the many-are different parts that form one body in the Anointed One. Each one of us is joined with one another, and we become together what we could not be alone.
Romans 12:5 – The Voice
God’s vision for our relationships with each other is that we would “become together what we could not be alone.” That means we can only become the student, leader, parent, spouse, or person God wants us to be when we are together with other people. It’s okay to need help. In fact, it’s more than okay—it’s essential.
Pause and reflect
- How might the challenges in my life right now be helping me become aware of my weaknesses and limitations?
- What are some areas that are difficult for me? Who can I ask for help in these areas this week?
It is important to remember that even the most faithful among us will face storms in life. These storms can be frightening and overwhelming, and it is easy to feel like we are drowning in the midst of them.
However, by recognizing our weaknesses and embracing humility, we can rely on God’s strength to carry us through. We can trust that he will never leave us or forsake us, and that he is able to make us strong even in our weakest moments. Like Hezekiah, we can be confident that we have a power much greater than anything human could ever be.
We should never be afraid to acknowledge our weaknesses or to seek help when we need it, for it is only through recognizing our need for God’s strength that we can truly become strong.