Understanding the Struggle – “Embracing the Tragedy or Triumph”
“I give up! This is too hard! What’s the use in trying anymore!”
I don’t recall having actually stated these words, but the truth is my attitude, at times, has spoken these words loud and clear. Although my prayer and desire is to “embrace this trial,” the reality is that it is a continual, and grueling struggle. Embracing the trial is not a one-time-event-kind-of-lesson-learned where you “get it” and never have to go back to it. This is a process—a continuous, repeated action, repeated commitment, repeated surrender. My desire is to be faithful in this process, but often my attitude and actions betray my intentions.
We have considered the why and Who questions which help us to embrace the trial, yet I am reminded of the need to understand the almost ever-present struggle of this process. With this understanding comes the reality of the choice of whether to embrace the triumph or the tragedy, dependent upon my embracing the truth.
As the trial continues, there are days of frustration and defeat. Often, at the end of the day, as I pillow my head, my thoughts are arrested by the battle between my flesh and my mind. The emotional, physical, and spiritual struggles of any trial often bring noise into the soul. Through this process, God in His mercy, seeks to rescue us from these noisy areas of defeat that emerge, seemingly at every corner. For me, He is using this trial to open my eyes to areas of sin that I need to address. Like curtains, He is pulling down to reveal something in the dark corners of my heart that I have yet to realize or have been refusing to address. This “ripping down of curtains” is part of the painful, purging process by which God uses to refine us, purifying us like gold.
At times I feel overwhelmed by this process, as if it will never end and it’s just no use in trying. I feel like Paul in Romans 7 where he bares his heart’s struggle in his battle against his flesh. It is a tiring battle—one that is strong and unrelenting—one that seems to gain the upper hand when I am the most vulnerable, one that has no mercy. Paul writes,
“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will [the desire] is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would [I want to do] I do not: but the evil which I would not [I don’t want to do], that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. O wretched man that I am!”—Romans 7:18-20, 24a
Maybe go back and read those verses again. It has taken me some time, repeatedly reading, meditating, and asking the Lord for understanding about them to be convinced that I finally have a handle on them.
With these words, Paul express what my heart seems to say, all too often in this trial. Frankly, even when I am not in a trial like what I am going through now. It is the tug-of-war of my flesh and mind. I know what I am supposed to do, the attitudes I’m supposed to have, the example I’m supposed to set, but all too often I find myself doing what I know I shouldn’t, having the attitude that is opposite of what I should, being the example that is against what I should set. This battle is real and it rages with such strength that often victory seems hopeless and beyond the horizon, so far out of sight and beyond my reach, while defeat seems all too real, breathing down my neck, with its death grip embracing me.
What can I do? The truth is that I’m often simply tired and worn out with no fight left—or so it seems. Paul concluded, “O wretched man that I am!” The idea is that Paul cries out in exhaustion, as if he has been exerting his fullest effort in hard labor in this battle. Does this sound familiar? It is at these times that we fall prey to half-truths that can lead to whole-untruths. These are the times where we are often tempted to wonder, “Does God really care or even know what is going on?” Or maybe, “Is there really a purpose to all of this pain?” We might even ask, “Is the praiseworthy purpose of Christ-likeness even worth it?” These are the times that we need to fight these lies with truth.
Consider Paul’s word as he cries out for help, desiring victory for a problem that only presents defeat. He says,
“O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.”—Romans 7:24-25
In these verses I find great hope and encouragement. Paul sees victory in Christ. I picture in my mind as the great apostle lifts his eyes heavenward and asks the question, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Then with a sigh of relief he smiles giving thanks for this transforming truth with which he triumphs, saying, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” It is through Christ my Lord, as I surrender to His way that I triumph.
And then with loving, gentle voice, the pain He cuts right through,
“My Son will come alive in you, when yieldings’ what you do.”
What is the way of Christ that Paul is thankful for? Notice the triumphant path that Paul speaks of here at the end of Romans 7. He says, “So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” Paul draws attention to the question of masters. The key to triumph or tragedy is determined by whom I choose to serve. With a renewed mind I serve my Savior but with the natural mind I will give into my flesh and serve self.
The truth is that I can either embrace the tragedy or the triumph. I can either serve self as I give in to my flesh or serve my Savior as I embrace the truth of Who He is.
The realization that I am reminded of is that in order to faithfully embrace the trial, I must faithfully embrace the truth. This exercise at times, is moment by moment. This is the deliberate exercise of my mind being renewed with truth, as Paul writes in Romans 12:2 that we are “transformed by the renewing of [our] mind.” In Colossians 3:10, he uses the illustration of changing clothes as he writes, “And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after [or based upon] the image of Him that created him.” This renewal process is a replacement process. The old mind needs to be exchanged with a new mind—just as dirty garments needs to be replaced with clean ones, thoughts of sin and deception must be replaced with thoughts of truth and righteousness.
There is a positive and negative side of this truth. The negative side is that I must embrace the truth that this struggle is real and relentless, raging stronger at times more than other times. There is one who seeks to defeat, destroy, and devour us, using our flesh as the battering ram to bring us to our knees in surrender. Jesus warns us of the devil’s intentions saying, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” while Peter calls for vigilance “because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” We must never forget, “that we are [not] sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.”
The positive side of embracing the truth answers the painful reality of the trial. Yes, the truth is that our struggle is real and relentless, exacerbated by the enemy who roars and rages, yet our loving Savior stands ready and answers saying, “I AM come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly: I AM the Good Shepherd: the Good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep.” Our great “I AM” further infuses words of truth saying, “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness.” He is “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear.” He says, “Be still, and KNOW that I AM God.”
With these words, my tired soul is strengthened, my hopeless heart is revived, my depressed mind is renewed to once again take on the fight.
I must deliberately “Cast down,” destroying these “imaginations” or deceptive thoughts, “and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” I must daily, “set [my] affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” I must be diligently “looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of faith” “holding fast the profession of faith without wavering; (for He is faithful that promised).”
In obedience, I can triumph instead of becoming the tragedy of wasted suffering. With my mind renewed and stabilized upon Christ, the Rock of Truth, I can once again lay hold upon the trial, embracing the struggle, choosing triumph over tragedy.
“So, embrace the trial, My dear child, My best is what you’ll see,
Beyond the suffering you feel, My Son they soon shall see.”
 John 10:10a
 1 Peter 5:8
 2 Corinthians 3:5
 John 10:10b-11
 Isaiah 41:10
 Psalm 46:1-2a
 Psalm 46:10a
 2 Corinthians 10:5
 Colossians 3:2
 Hebrews 12:2a
 Hebrews 10:23