As human beings, many of us have a tendency to want the good stuff now. We desire good health (perhaps without excellent self-care), good grades (with a minimum of studying), great jobs (ideally, without having to put in time in more menial positions), and amazing friends and spouses (without having to go through all the work of being those ourselves). As Christians, we cherish God’s blessings, and we especially like it when he lavishes them on us like gifts at Christmas. While we can examine our lives and see that, often, God does exactly that, that he blesses us far beyond the fruit of our efforts and labors, we can sometimes fall prey to a desire to find shortcuts to the fruitfulness of the longer-haul process of God’s good and lasting work in us.
For example, we love it when God blesses us with hope, but sometimes we’re less than thrilled about how God builds that into our lives. The Apostle Paul describes one process God often uses to develop hope and hopefulness in us. In Romans 5, Paul declares that through faith, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” and that “we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (5:1-2). In other words, we’ve been given the gift of hope by virtue of the grace of God at work in our lives.
Paul then goes on to describe another way we gain hope: through a longer process that begins with suffering. “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (5:3-4). As we consider the moments and seasons of suffering in our lives, we know it can be a rather tortuous path from suffering to hope. That journey can lead us through many waypoints on the road through endurance and the development of character, and we’ll find that, usually, there are simply no shortcuts.
It’s only natural, I think, to wonder why God often takes us along and through those more challenging paths, rather than simply transport us to our destination fully-formed and none the worse for wear. I believe it is usually because God intends for us to grow through each step in the journey, and through the duration of the journey itself. Imagine a student, who somehow has the possibility of having course material downloaded into her brain (perhaps a reality in the not-too-distant future!). While the information would have been transmitted, that student would not have gained from the opportunities inherent in processing the material herself, working to make connections between the various lessons, engaging with classmates in discussion, and developing good study habits and effective time management skills.
Jesus intends for us to learn from him, and that will never come only in the form of an information download. It will come from journeying together, from apprenticing ourselves to him, and from sitting at his feet, listening to his teaching and in lingering conversation together. It will often include journeys along roads with unexpected twists and detours into surprisingly challenging terrain. Through it all, Jesus is faithful, and we’ll find ourselves gaining perhaps as much from the journey as from the benefits of the destination.
May God bless us all as we continue to walk with and learn from Jesus.