It’s 2pm and a middle-aged man slumps on the sofa. We’ll call him Steven. In the silence, the once vibrant and optimistic over-achiever’s mind replays the scenes of yesteryear. He remembers, what seems like only a few week’s ago, the zeal of his youth, his motivation for work, and his passion for life. Now he greets his morning coffee with apathy and anxiety.
Steven can’t even pinpoint what has caused this stupor. His marriage is healthy, his kids are beautiful, he has a good job, and his health is better than most. He’s been a Christian since college and, as best as he can, he seeks to honor God with his life. But, like every other aspect of his life, he’s tired and apathetic.
Most of us feel like Steven from time to time, or, for many of us, more days than not. We might even feel a bit of super-spiritualized guilt admitting that life seems a bit mundane many days. Aren’t we supposed to find constant joy simply in knowing God? Shouldn’t we be able to prevail in life’s demands by the power of the Holy Spirit?
Twice in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church he claims that he and his roving band of missionaries “do not lose heart” (2 Cor 4:1, 16). This, in spite of the fact that they faced continual persecution and suffering and had to care for messed up churches like the one in Corinth.
Paul knew that life in a broken world causes you to lose heart. Paul’s circumstances were unique, but they provide a paradigm for life in a fallen world. The outer self is wasting away, according to Paul, and with that comes inevitable discouragement (2 Cor 4:16). We should not be surprised when we find ourselves losing heart, either in the face of overt suffering or merely bearing up under the bleak reality of life in a broken world. In spite of what you read on social media, none of us are looking back on 2015 thinking we crushed it. Sure there were some high points, but there were also a host of foolish choices, broken promises, and loved one’s suffering through cancer, divorce, and loss. There’s no need to manufacture a fictitious reality in which all is well and our soul finds continual joy, confidence, and hope.
The Antidote to Discouragement
But, there is also no need to lose heart. Paul confidently claims that though the outer self is wasting away, the “inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor 4:16). Paul roots the hope of the believer, not in this life, but in the life to come. God will raise us with Jesus and bring us into his presence and, when he does, all will be made right (2 Cor 4:14). The hope of the resurrection pulls us into the future.
For the Christian, God is at work at all times moving them one step closer to the glorious day when they will worship him perfectly and free from the tyranny of sin in a world purified from sin’s presence.
This is Paul’s antidote to discouragement. Sadly, we are all prone to assume that God is not at work when we can’t see it or don’t feel like he is. So, we lose heart. But, according to Paul, God is always doing something far greater than we can comprehend. He is at work, even now, conforming each of his children into the image of Christ and moving them one step closer to his eternal presence (Rom 8:30).
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Maturing Through the Mundane
This is good news for people like Steven. Rather than bemoaning his circumstances or mustering up the energy to fake it through another day, Steven can rest in the promise of God. Somehow, through it all, God may be teaching him to find joy and rest in Christ alone. Many years later, the stay-at-home mom who wilted under incessant questions from curious children and heaping piles of laundry may find that God was producing contentment, prayerfulness, and patience that she would have learned no other way. The elderly grandfather sitting in a nursing home may see, at least a portion, of the providential way that God orchestrated the seemingly mundane circumstances in his life to foster an unwavering confidence in the face of death.
For this reason, James encourages the church to find joy in all things:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)
All people will face “trials of many kinds”. They may come in the form of overt persecution or lingering discouragement. Both test our faith. They reveal whether we believe God is doing what he says he is doing. I can find joy if I truly believe the “full effect” of these trials is that I may be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
God’s New Year’s Resolutions never change. Year after year, he is at work doing the same thing in me. But, unlike me, he perfectly executes his plans. So, Christians, let’s not lose heart because he’s making us perfect, whether we feel like it or not.