Brad Powell: “God uses struggles to get us where he wants us. Satan uses struggles to keep us from where God wants us.”
Q: I’ve only been in ministry a short time, and it’s a struggle. Trying to reach people for Christ is a struggle. Trying to disciple people is a struggle. Trying to lead other people to reach and disciple people is a struggle. It’s hard for me to imagine doing this for a lifetime. How have you stuck with it so long? How have you coped with the constant struggle?
My very human answer: not very well. I’ve quit a ton of times. I just never told anyone. My very spiritual answer: Grace. My very practical answer: I’ve had to change my view of the struggle.
Here’s what I had to realize: Every defining moment of my life began with a struggle. In dealing with it, I was forced to grow, learn and adjust in the way I lived. Though difficult, these struggles ultimately made me better—if I faced them properly. This is how life is for all of us. It’s no different for ministry.
The Bible bears this out. Every character proves that defining moments are shaped by struggle. Joseph faced betrayal, slavery and prison. Paul had to deal with persecution, prison and dysfunctional people.
Since the same is true for all of us—since we’re all going to face struggles that will become our defining moments—we need to understand and learn to deal with them.
Take Jacob, son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham. God had given him a huge promise. He would be the father of a great nation. But as a young man, he wasn’t ready. He was selfish, conniving and deceptive. So God used the struggles of life to grow him into a man worthy of his calling.
He lived on the run for some 20 years after betraying his only brother, Esau. During this time, he faced a ton of struggles, many of his own making. In the end, God led him into his greatest struggle: going home and facing the brother who had promised to kill him.
It was in the midst of this struggle that Jacob, while wrestling with God, grew into a man worthy of his calling. This is what we do in times of struggle. We wrestle. We wrestle with ourselves—our fears, inabilities, shortcomings, desires, disappointments and doubts. We wrestle with others, with circumstances and, as Jacob shows us, even with God.
But in reality, the one we’re really wrestling with is the “evil one.”
“Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12).
The Heart of the Matter
This gets to the heart of your question. To deal successfully with all the struggles we face in life and ministry, we have to remember two very important truths.
God uses struggles to get us where he wants us. Satan uses struggles to keep us from where God wants us.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
Sadly, the vast majority of us give Satan the win during our struggles. We make the wrong choices. We give up. We start living contrary to God’s truth and calling. We fail to experience what Jacob ultimately experienced—the life and fullness that God has planned for us.
Jacob, though scared out of his mind, didn’t run. Though it was a wrestling match, he held onto God. Though difficult, in the end he overcame his past baggage and experienced the life he longed for, the life God designed for him.
It Begins With Choice
Here’s what I’ve learned: In order to experience God’s best in my life, I have to make the right choices in the midst of my great struggles.
I have to make the choice to trust God. I have to hang on to God and his promises no matter how difficult or deep the struggle. If I don’t, I’ll give in to the temptation of the evil one. I’ll get off track. I’ll mess up. I’ll miss God’s best. So no matter what, like Jacob, I can’t let go of God. I’ve got to keep wrestling. I have to trust him.
“Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’ But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me’” (Gen. 32:26).
I need to continue trusting that God is seeking to advance me, not to hold me back. He’s for me, not against me. I need to keep trusting that God is there in the midst of the struggle. He is working. If I don’t believe that, I’ll never get to where he’s leading me.
I have to make the choice to never surrender to defeat. And though I still experience defeat, I can’t surrender to it. I have to stay active. I have to keep getting up when I fall and fail. I have to keep believing that it’s worth it. If I don’t, I’ll give up. I’ll stop trying. I’ll never get where God wants me.
I have to make the choice to do everything I can to win. I won’t always feel like seeking God or serving others, but it’s the only way to experience God’s best in this world.
I have to make the choice to embrace the new reality that follows the struggle. Jacob had a limp, but he was more a man of God. I’ve learned that I never come away from struggles the same as I was before. The key is coming away spiritually stronger and wiser, more like Jesus.
You asked: “How have you stuck with it so long? How have you coped with the constant struggle?” I haven’t always done either well. But when I have, the key was changing my view of struggle by focusing my view on God.