Is Life Harder Than You Expected?
Soldiers don’t learn to fight in the classroom. They learn about
fighting in the classroom.
Learning about fighting is crucial to successful fighting, which is
why soldiers’ training always includes class time. But learning
about fighting is not the same thing as fighting. Soldiers never
really learn to fight until they are forced to actually do it. And
when they do, they discover the actual, concrete experience of
fighting looks and feels very different than the abstract idea of
Disciples of Jesus don’t learn to walk by faith — to fight the good
fight of faith — in the classroom. They learn about faith in the
classroom — sermons, conferences, books, articles, videos. Learning
about faith is crucial to successful walking by faith, which is why
disciples’ training always includes class time. But learning about
walking by faith is not the same thing as walking by faith.
Disciples never really learn to walk by faith until they are forced
to actually do it. And when they do, they discover the actual,
concrete experience of walking by faith looks and feels very
different than the abstract idea of walking by faith.
Teach Me Your Way
When we pray with David, “teach me your way, O Lord” (Psalm 27:11),
God answers. And his answers often look and feel very different from
what we thought we were asking for.
He often takes us out of the classroom — where we thought we
understood things — into the chaotic, disorienting, disturbing,
desperate violence of the field of spiritual battle, where we
encounter internal and external enemies too powerful for us. He
brings us up against obstacles too big for us, problems too complex
and difficult for us, and burdens so far beyond our strength that we
at times despair of life itself (2 Corinthians 1:8).
And it is in these desperate places that we, like David, learn what
walking by faith really means, where God teaches us his way.
How God Taught David
In those first heady months after Samuel anointed David the future
king of Israel (see 1 Samuel 16), how do you think David imagined
his future? The Bible doesn’t tell us.
But the Bible does provide us a significant record of David’s inner
life throughout his life in the psalms he wrote. And it’s clear from
this record that from the day Saul began hunting him down until well
into his old age, David was a man of troubles and acquainted with
desperation. Most of his psalms are desperate prayers for God’s
deliverance from assassination and spiritual depression — or songs
of praise after being delivered from such desperate situations.
Is this how he envisioned his life as king? Did he expect to live
most of his life with a target on his back among members of his own
household, treacherous countrymen, as well as surrounding hostile
nations? Did he expect to plead with God so often for his very
survival (Psalm 86:2)? Did he expect to feel at times forsaken by
God (Psalm 22:1)? Did he expect to weep so much (Psalm 6:6–7)?
The bewilderment, fear, and sorrow David expressed in many of his
psalms lead me to think that trusting God proved far harder than he
Prayers of Faith for All
But it was, in fact, the crucible of these very hard situations
where David learned how to really trust God, and how to really pray,
and how to really worship. David prayed, “teach me your way, O Lord”
(Psalm 27:11) during a desperate, dangerous moment. And that
desperate, dangerous moment (along with many others) was itself a
means God used to answer that prayer.
But God answered David far more abundantly than David asked and
likely thought (Ephesians 3:20). God used these dark, desperate,
crushing moments to make David “the sweet psalmist of Israel” (2
Samuel 23:1), providing songs and prayers for the life of faith to
all Israel (Galatians 6:16) during its entire militant, embattled
existence in this hostile, devil-governed world (1 John 5:19).
Through David’s poetic processing of his hope and joy in God in the
face of overwhelming circumstances, God provided all of us more holy
language and practical examples of how to encourage our faith, how
to pray, and how to sing than any other single biblical author.
The Way is Hard
So, do you still want God to teach you his ways?
It’s not surprising if we respond viscerally to this whole idea, “If
that’s how God answers, I think I’ll pass.” But we must not listen
to that inner voice. That voice always counsels us to indulge in
easy things that end up robbing us of great joy, and to avoid hard
things that end up increasing our great joy. Yes, “the way is hard
that leads to life” (Matthew 7:14). But it leads to life! The easy
way leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13).
So, if we really want to follow Jesus, if we really want to learn
his ways (Psalm 27:11), if we really want “to walk in a manner
worthy of the Lord (Colossians 1:10), which is to walk by faith and
not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7), how should we expect him to teach
We should expect him to force us out of the classroom and on to the
real field of spiritual battle where the conflict is much more
chaotic, disturbing, disorienting, frightening, depressing, and
sorrowful than we ever expected. And we should expect experiences
that make the psalms living and active songs for our desperate
It is in these experiences where — like good soldiers, like true
disciples — we learn how to really fight and how to really trust. It
is there, like David, where we learn God’s way and “take hold of
that which is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:19) and taste that which is
Do Not Be Surprised
A war is not won in the tranquil, tidy classroom, but on the
desperate battlefield, where soldiers must give their all. Christ’s
gospel mission will not be fulfilled in the tranquil, tidy
classroom, but on the desperate field of spiritual battle, where
disciples must give their all.
So, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes
upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to
you” (1 Peter 4:12). Jesus is teaching you how to walk by faith by
graciously forcing you to do it. And this hard way leads to life,
life more abundant than we have yet imagined.