We assume that there must be a pattern to things. If I am going through a tough time now, whether that’s in terms of family, community, work or church, then I hope there will be brighter days and better news on the horizon. Similarly we tend to assume that when things are going well then our fortunes will change soon.
When I first was stepping into pastoral ministry I was told that I could expect a honeymoon period and then a couple of tough years. Things would look brighter around years 4-5. Actually ministry did not work like that. There were some challenging decisions and painful pastoral decisions on my desk from day one. At the same time, far from being one unmitigated nightmare, years 2 and 3 saw plenty of encouragements as we saw new people joining us, others growing in their gifts and the church uniting together behind some big decisions.
In fact, looking back, I would say that overall my life hasn’t been divided up into good spells and bad spells. Rather, concurrently I can be facing anxious waits for news, receiving bad news and getting some stick from decriers whilst at the same time receiving encouragements and seeing God at work bring areas of fruitfulness into my life.
I should not be surprised by this. It fits with my theology. First of all, as an A Millennialist, my understanding of eschatology is that rather than it pointing to (in some order or other) a period of tribulation and persecution for the church and a period when the church will reign unchallenged on earth, Scripture points to us experiencing persecution and tribulation alongside growth and encouragement. The darkness seems to get darker even as the light gets brighter. Furthermore, there is a risk that I can end up thinking almost in terms of karma with my perseverance being rewarded and balanced out by good times and vice-versa.
Therefore, I expect our normal experience to be a such a mixture of encouragements and challenges, hopes and disappointments, wins and losses. So, if you are feeling that things are pretty hard going at the moment, rather than clinging on in the hope of better days to come, why not stand back to survey and see the good things that God has been doing in the midst of the struggle.