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Tough Times

Preparing for the Hard Times

Every time I get sick, I learn or relearn something. (I don’t get sick often, but I do treat anything worse than a head cold seriously due to my preexisting health disorder.)

My most recent lesson/reminder came courtesy of COVID-19. While fatigue and short wind proved the worst of my symptoms, the experience was enough to slow me down for several days.

Anyone who’s endured energy-sapping illness likely understands the struggle. When under fire, our bodies want to throw everything they’ve got at preserving themselves. They’ll use what we give them at the moment—fluids, healthy food, rest, etc. But they also draw on what they already have—our physical condition, immune system, etc. The better shape they’re in when sickness strikes, the better chance they stand of weathering it well.

Of course, nothing can guarantee minimal suffering or desirable outcomes. But in general, the better we care for our bodies in good times, the better prepared they are for rough times. Not to mention that we establish some needed self-care skills in advance.

I believe something similar is true spiritually. Suffering of any kind can stress our faith, bombarding us with doubts, fears, and temptations. It plumbs our love for Jesus and commitment to following Him.

Nothing can guarantee we’ll make it through hardship without scars, slip-ups, or shaky moments. But there are things we can do to maximize our chances of suffering in a way that honors God and makes us more like Jesus. And a lot of that work begins long before the trial does.

So how can we prepare our souls for hard times? Here are five suggestions:

Get to Know the Scriptures

In the midst of fear and despair, our minds tend to grasp for a source of clarity and direction. And they tend to seize whatever thoughts and ideas are most available.

The more Scripture we fill our minds with in advance, the easier it will be for us to grab onto biblical truth.

Sure, we could just pull out a Bible, search the Internet, or open a devotional for a Scripture boost in our moment of need. And certainly we should continue to seek and study God’s Word in crisis.

But the Bible is so much deeper and richer than a quick skim or online search can show. It’s a foundation capable of supporting a God-honoring life through all its seasons. It’s a weapon with which we can advance against temptation, lies, and discouragement.

To use it well—according to its intended purpose and to its full potential—we must build on its foundation constantly. We must keep its sword within reach and learn how to wield it.

Doing so doesn’t require the sharpest minds or best memories. It just takes commitment and healthy curiosity. And when we struggle, we can turn to the Author for help.

So set aside time to read and reflect on Scripture each day, even just for a few minutes. Get to know your way around it—where different books are, how to locate verses. Use resources from wise, godly teachers to dig into its themes and context.

While you’re at it, pick portions to memorize. You don’t need to know Genesis 1:1 through Revelation 22:21 by heart. But knowing important promises and teachings word for word, and important stories play by play, helps ground us in moments of uncertainty. It gives us a sharper eye for untruths. And when we lack words of our own to pray with, we have the divinely-inspired words of God’s people across history ready to draw from.

So set some goals, try out some study aids, and savor the richness of God’s Word.

Learn Theologically Rich Songs

Like Scripture itself, theologically rich music offers clarity and strength during hard times. And sometimes songs can be easier to recall than prose.

Having a mental stock of God-glorifying music also provides us a ready means of praising Him when doing so is hardest. We know God wants us to rejoice in all circumstances. But hard circumstances tend to offer little if any material for rejoicing. Music that proclaims God’s worthiness and reminds us of His works can help fill that gap.

And it’s powerful. Believers around the world and throughout history have gained hope and strength by singing in the midst of suffering. And through their singing they’ve encouraged each other and touched hearts for Jesus.

So open a hymnal. Pay attention to the music during your church’s worship service. Listen to godly, reputable Christian artists.

Read the lyrics. Measure their message by biblical truth. And when you find gold, sing it till you know it. Treasure it, use it, and let it change you.

Do the Right Thing

We often hail suffering as character-building. And it can be. But it can also be character-busting.

Doing the right thing is hard enough when we’re comfortable, safe, and happy. When we’re hurting, exhausted, or distressed, it only gets harder.

That’s one reason we need to practice now. When our mental and emotional resources run low, we tend to run on habit. A crisis isn’t the time to try learning new habits—we’ll be too busy holding on to what we have to gather new things.

A great example of the power of practice can be found in the life of Corrie ten Boom. Many people rightfully admire Corrie for her courageous compassion in sheltering Jews from the Nazis. Yet Corrie didn’t develop that courage or compassion at the moment she saw the Jews’ need. Instead, she’d practiced it all her hitherto quiet life.

Her family fed the hungry and clothed the naked. She cared for her mother after the latter’s stroke, and for her aunt who had diabetes. She mentored girls and taught people with disabilities about Jesus.

So when Jews needed food, shelter, and escape, she offered it. Because it was the right thing to do. And the right thing was what she’d been striving to do all along. The personal cost might have been higher in this new situation, but right was still right.

So love your neighbor. Forgive your enemy (or friend, family, self…). Work honestly. Do business fairly. Choose wisely. Mind your words. Make time for important things. Use your gifts, talents, and resources to honor God and serve others.

Do it now. Do it faithfully. Practice it in the ordinary moments so you’ll be as prepared as you can be to do it in the extraordinary ones.

Make Prayer Your First Response

Simply put, prayer is our act of reaching out to God. The Bible offers some simple guidance and even sample prayers to help us pray in God-honoring ways. But the essence of prayer is communication, not incantation.

Many people treat prayer like an alarm bell—something we sound in emergencies but otherwise leave untouched. In reality, it’s more like a cellphone: It’s always available and meant for use in all situations. After all, it connects us to the Creator, Sustainer, Lover, and Savior of our souls. That’s a very important relationship!

Further, the way we approach that relationship in good times tends to carry over into hard times. In crises, we tend to reach out to people we know, love, and trust—people we’ve built bonds with in everyday life. We don’t usually want or think to call polite acquaintances, estranged relatives, or the strangers who live down the road (unless for some reason the situation demands it).

Similarly, if we already know, love, and trust God in everyday life, He’ll be on our call list when hardship strikes. If we don’t, we’ll probably run through all our other options first.

That’s not to say our current prayer habits set our future ones in stone. But the course we follow now does influence our position later.

So seek God in the mundane times. Talk to Him about the happy things, the everyday things, the little things. Ask Him for your daily needs, bring Him your daily struggles, and call on Him in your daily decisions.

When the mundane turns chaotic, keep seeking Him. When happiness dwindles and little things give way to big ones, keep talking to Him. When the needs, decisions, and struggles multiply, keep bringing them to Him.

That’s faithfulness.

Strengthen Your Human Relationships

Like faith, relationships can be paradoxical in hard times. When ill-nourished, they tend to break under pressure. But when healthy, they can not only survive a storm but help us withstand it ourselves.

Nourishing relationships doesn’t mean bending over backward to keep all your interactions fun or tranquil. It doesn’t mean climbing into your loved ones’ pockets, befriending every stranger, or making yourself everyone’s favorite acquaintance.

What it means is honoring God in all your relationships. It means pursuing His standards for friendships, family ties, marriage, business relations, church membership, community membership, and human interactions in general.

And while Christians needn’t and shouldn’t limit their friendships to those with fellow Christians, we do need each other.

Among our various friendships, we need some with people who are committed to honoring God with us. People who will worship, pray, and share faith journeys with us. People who will hold us accountable when we sin, lift us when we fall, and cover us with their faith when ours runs low. People who will remind us who Christ is, what He’s said and done, and who we are in Him.

Not every relationship is meant to look or feel the same, or see us through every season. But good, healthy ones will point us to our truest Friend, in their unique ways, no matter what season they’re in.

And the harder the season, the more we tend to need their direction.

***

When we put our faith in Jesus, our soul’s eternal salvation is secured. God holds us, and He will never let us go. Our souls will make it through everything we face till we reach Heaven.

But we have a say in how we experience the journey. We choose whether to make the most of every moment. We choose whether to live and suffer well.

In his book The Insanity of God, Nik Ripken shares story after story of believers around the world who chose well. They endured persecution with God-glorifying, soul-shaping, gospel-spreading faith.

Not all of them foresaw their suffering. None found the task of faithful endurance easy or painless. But all had what they needed when they needed it.

Some of that provision came through miraculous means. But just as much came from the spiritual assets they carried with them into persecution.

They’d prepared—intentionally or unintentionally—by cultivating faith in their everyday lives. They learned Scripture, sang, prayed, lived by God’s standards, and (when they could safely do so) fellowshipped with other believers.

As a result, they could recall Scripture and worship God when imprisoned without Bible or hymnal. They could trust that others were praying for them when they were isolated. They could live out and share the gospel when doing so was most dangerous.

Ripken also shares the story of two brothers who did none of those things. They spent their entire prison sentence in defeat—because they’d done little to build their faith beforehand.

Thankfully, they later realized their error. As they tearfully shared with other Christian leaders, “You can only grow in persecution what you take into it.”

So build that faith. Develop habits of faithfulness. Study God’s Word. Worship intentionally. Pray consistently. Pursue right living. Glorify God in your relationships.

Make the most of the good times so that, when hard times come, you can make the most of those, too.

Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise—making the most of the time, because the days are evil.

Ephesians 5:15-16 (CSB)

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