Embrace the Challenge!
Facing challenges is something many of us would rather do without. Challenges take us out of our comfort zone, setting off an internal whirlwind of questions. Will we be victorious over life’s trials, or will we experience defeat? Will we adapt, persevere and grow, or will we succumb to feelings of inadequacy and doubt? Will we embrace the challenge?
Challenges seem to affect people differently. We often see this in our students. Some face challenges head on while others become paralyzed with fear and refuse to tackle challenges altogether. There are many reasons for this (e.g., personality, upbringing, past experiences). All of these are important factors to consider when working with our students, but to what degree should these factors play a part in our own approach to life’s challenges? Paul gives us a hint in Romans 5:3-5.
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with love.
I don’t see any mention of personality or background when it comes to facing challenges. Instead, as believers we can face our challenges knowing God will use every test in our life to strengthen us. However, knowing this doesn’t always translate into truly embracing our challenges. In fact, sometimes we find ourselves complaining, resisting, and even avoiding the trials we face. Emotions rule our thoughts and send us into a downward spiral of questioning and over-analyzing. We can easily find ourselves full of fear and doubt instead of faith and hope.
How can we avoid falling into this trap of the enemy? How can we embrace life’s challenges? According to Paul, we have to first choose joy. Notice he said, “We can rejoice.” This implies the opposite is also true (i.e., we can choose not to rejoice). When faced with a challenge our mind kicks into overdrive. It is at that moment we can rejoice and verbally declare:
“God knows I am facing this challenge.”
“This challenge will help me to develop endurance.”
“This challenge will strengthen my character.”
“This challenge will give me a confident hope in my Savior.”
“God will not disappoint but will show Himself faithful.”
“God loves me and will fill me with His Holy Spirit.”
Last week’s blog discussed growth mindset, but Paul takes the whole concept of growth mindset a step further. It isn’t only about what we say to ourselves, although this is important. It is about faith. We must have faith in a God who is more than capable of carrying us through each and every challenge we face. When our faith is strong, we can choose to embrace our challenges with rejoicing.
This may feel like a tall order. Challenges often don’t bring out the best in us. We see evidences of this in the life of one of the most well-known Old Testament legends, Moses. Moses resisted and negotiated with God over and over when faced with the challenge of leading the Israelites out of slavery. He even made God angry! Nevertheless, God was patient. He allowed Moses to express his fears while gently leading him to a place of obedience. Moses’ faith was strengthened, and he learned what it meant to embrace his challenges (Exodus 3-4). He had to act on what he believed. Faith always results in action. We can’t develop endurance or character without putting our head down and pressing through the challenge.
I grew up in Southwest Kansas. There were many days the wind would blow over sixty miles an hour. Keep in mind, the terrain is flat, and there are very few trees. I was on the high school tennis team. I can remember playing tournaments where the wind made it almost impossible to play, but I persevered. I figured out when to lean in and when to let up. I developed new strategies and learned to use the wind to my advantage. It was exhausting, but those who navigated the tough conditions and embraced the challenge came out winners. It wasn’t enough to just believe I could win in the tough conditions. I had to play the game with determination to win. You know what? I became a stronger player as a result.
The same is true when we embrace life’s challenges tenaciously. The good news is we don’t have to do it alone (2 Corinthians 12:9). God promises to give us everything we need; nevertheless, we still have to do the work! We have to act. This is where I think it is important to mention action over emotion. We can’t wait until we “feel” like it to act (obey). Character isn’t developed through inactivity but is fostered when we embrace our challenges. It is hard work, but we can be assured it is worth the effort.
Once we choose to rejoice and act on our faith, we will truly experience God’s blessing. As Paul noted above, the Holy Spirit will fill our hearts with love. I like the paraphrase in The Message. We’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!
I want to talk very personally to each one of you right now. I know these past two years have been really tough. I know many educators have left the profession and many more feel like giving up. I’m not about to tell you what to do, but I do want to encourage you to spend time earnestly seeking God’s direction. Talk to him like Moses did if you need to. Let him know your struggles and your frustrations. Let’s face it; He knows them anyway.
No matter our circumstances, we can choose to embrace challenges with rejoicing AND action. Let’s give God every opportunity to prove Himself faithful. He won’t disappoint!
Embrace the challenge!