"I know what it is to be poor or to have plenty, and I have lived under all kinds of conditions. I know what it means to be full or to be hungry, to have too much or too little.
-- Philippians 4:12
We read in the Old Testament that God planned to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land ("the land flowing with milk and honey") after He had freed them from slavery in Egypt. But instead of taking them on the shortest route to their destination, God made His people wander in the desert for 40 years because of their disobedience.
A common Biblical theme is that God doesn't always lead His people along the most direct path in their faith journey. That's because He's more concerned with who we're becoming rather than where we're going. And when we can't see what's over the hilltop or around the bend, it doesn't make a lot of sense. In fact, it may actually seem unfair. But have you ever considered what our journey would be like if the roads of life were always wide and smooth? And what would happen if we never had to work for anything worthwhile? For instance, would it mean anything if we got straight A's in school without ever having to study? Or what if we were given a high-paying job with an impressive title...but had no real responsibilities to go with it?
Getting everything on a silver platter might be nice for a while. But without experiencing challenges, responsibilities and even tragedies, we would quickly become lazy, self-centered and ultimately fail to reap some of life's greatest rewards. Just ask anyone who has worked their way through college or taken a second or third job to pay the mortgage--or send their child to a better school. It can be a real struggle. But it can also pay off in the long run.
The Apostle Paul knew a thing or two about tough times along the journey:
"Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea," Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians. "I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers."
If anyone had something to complain to God about, it was Paul. Yet he wrote that he was joyful. And although his sentiments might seem strange, maybe our modern society has redefined the concept of joy. Rather than a reaction to something external--like a new car or piece of jewelry--joy is actually an internal source of gladness and thanksgiving that helps us see the true picture though the most difficult of circumstances. As Christ-followers, our relationship with Jesus grants us literal access to our Creator: a loving Father who hears our prayers and looks for ways to bless us. So no matter how rough the road of life gets sometimes, let's remember that our ultimate destination is a great one. And we'll get there soon enough.
Complaining about our circumstances--whether they're real or perceived--is a common human tendency. But it's not God's way for us. Instead, the Bible tells us to blend thanksgiving (for our blessings) and authentic, regular prayer with discernment--the ongoing intentional functions of living, thinking and acting positively. And when we do, even the most unpleasant of circumstances won't bring us down.