In reading the newspapers recently, one can notice some evidence of nations in anguish and people of this nation filled with fright in anticipation of what is coming. I don’t have much interest in trying to predict some future time of adversity, but I am much more interested in learning how to handle present adversity. In the gospels Jesus told His disciples to “pray for strength to pass safely through all these imminent troubles and to stand in the presence of the Son of Man.”
Jesus was never one to run away from trouble. In fact, His disciples were often amazed at the way He went out to meet it. We read in the gospels how He set His face to go to Jerusalem even though He knew that a cross was awaiting Him there.
I think that is what He is teaching us to do – strength to endure, to pass through all kinds of trouble and come out standing up on the other side. Certainly, few traits of character are more essential to effective living than the ability to endure. The question is however – Where does it come from? What goes on in the life of a person who can face up to trouble and not be beaten by it?
Well, one thing for sure is needed, and that is self-discipline. We are never prepared to deal with life until we have developed the ability to deal with ourselves. What we are faced with are two different views of life. One is determinism, which says that heredity and environment pretty much determine everything that we are. Astrology is a form of this, suggesting that our fate is somehow controlled by the stars. The idea is that every event is predetermined by God and the only thing we can do is act out the role.
The other view of life is free will. This idea suggests that a person can be and does anything that he or she decides. If I had to choose between these two, I would take free will. But obviously, neither one by itself is true.
Heredity and environment do play a vital part in our lives; but by no stretch of the imagination do they control everything. And free will in the absolute sense is also false. Not one of us has it within himself or herself to do whatever he or she decides. Both of these views must be combined in order to get at the truth.
This life does hand us a lot of things we don’t ask for – some good, some bad, some indifferent. We don’t have much choice about that. But once that has happened, we still have the capacity to take what life has done to us and do something with that. We can give up and cave in; or we can determine within ourselves that, come what may, we will live our lives with dignity and courage.
And yet self-discipline, while important, is not enough.
In order to endure, we must also learn to draw upon the help that comes from God. That is what prayer really means. It is not a method of manipulating God in order to get from Him the things that we desire. It is instead a way of relating to God, so that His strength flows into our lives, enabling us to do what must be done and stand what must be endured.
Life is a difficult game. To play it through it well calls for the ability to endure. When adversity comes, some give up and quit. But others by self-discipline and prayer find the strength to walk through trouble and out the other side. God alone gives us that kind of endurance.