Throughout our lives, we have all confronted challenges and difficulties—from learning to walk as toddlers and learning to read as children to becoming adults and facing all the responsibilities that come with it. We must learn skills for jobs and handle the different relationships we have at school, at work, and at home. All of these can be challenging.
What constitutes a challenge? One definition is apropos to us as Christians: "to arouse or stimulate especially by presenting with difficulties." Everyone encounters difficulties; every Christian faces trials. The apostle James provides some advice: "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing" (James 4:2-4).
Life is difficult to navigate. Adversity is a common part of life, yet now, having been called to live as Christians, we must work hard to overcome and conquer these challenges. We must overcome our carnality and even many of the feelings inherent within it. Also, we must triumph over the world, which is always working to make us succumb to its ways. Then, there are Satan and the forces of spiritual darkness. All of these challenge us on a daily basis.
Our character is developed as we are tested and overcome, and our faith grows as we traverse the road of life with its difficult obstacles, situations, and misfortunes that pop up along the way. Sadly, we find more than enough challenges to deal with. Many brethren right now are facing numerous difficult trials: sickness, disease, financial problems, relationship problems at home and on the job, and many other adverse challenges.
God wants us to work at overcoming such difficulties and grow into the people we are meant to be. He wants individuals who pass the tests that rise against them. To do so, we must develop a godly attitude and perseverance to conquer and go on to perfection (Hebrews 6:1).
Each of us has unique situations and challenges that will test us. We could call it a customized examination of our ability to overcome and to grow strong in the faith. However, none of us will be "tested" beyond what we can handle or placed in a trial without a way out. It is a promise from God: "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it" (I Corinthians 10:13).
Sometimes we feel as if our challenges are too overwhelming, that we cannot bear up against the adversity. But we have to keep the faith. The promise is there. Christ, our Elder Brother, and God the Father will not renege on Their promises.
Paul was painfully aware of this, as he had many times been in adverse circumstances, faced trials, and suffered persecutions: "But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me" (II Timothy 3:10-11). Notice his calm affirmation: "Out of them all the Lord delivered me." Each apostle had his own obstacles to overcome, and so will we.
The Bible brims over with examples of those who overcame adversity and proved their mettle, displaying great strength of character. We must remember, though, they did not face them alone. God was involved with each one, just as He is with us.
And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us. (Hebrews 11:32-40)
Adversity, challenges, tests, and persecutions—all of which had built in them a conqueror's faith and perseverance. Some of them even suffered torture and death. We see this and then look at our situations and think, "My problems and circumstances are nothing compared to those."
Jesus states in John 15:4-5: "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing." Every challenge we successfully conquer with His help serves to strengthen, not only our resolve, but our confidence and therefore our ability to confront future obstacles, building our perseverance and faith.
Luke 12:48 instructs us, "For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more." Our Lord Himself lived a life filled with challenges—tests far greater than any of us have had to endure. He had to deal directly with Satan (Matthew 4; Luke 4)! How many times was He challenged by those who wished to kill Him? If He had to face such challenges, then we as disciples will have to conquer and overcome as He did (John 15:20; Matthew 10:24-25).
But we now have Him as our Advocate and Helper. It is vitally important that we stay connected with the Vine, our source of power and growth. In addition, as fellow sojourners on this path to God's Kingdom, we must support each other, praying daily for each other. We need to communicate with, encourage, and aid each other as much as we can.
Paul writes encouragingly in Romans 8:37, "Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us." Therefore, as we walk our daily walk, we must persevere, overcome, and conquer the adverse challenges arrayed against us. This is how we build the faith and character that our great God desires to see in us, the faith and character of our Savior Jesus Christ.
- Gary Montgomery