If you are not prepared to see setbacks, you are not prepared to see the Christian life.
If, however, you are simply not prepared to withstand setbacks, then you actually have one of the ingredients necessary for the Christian life: Broken, incapable humanity.
One thing you must not be able to do if you are to be a Christian is survive on your own. There are no Clint Eastwoods among this species. None of us have a rugged, mysterious self-determination. We are His, and He has rescued us from what we would have drowned in.
You must know that this life He makes for us, this thing we call Christianity, is thoroughly laced with pains, because He uses pains to grow us. Not all of them are agonizing; some of them are like the surprisingly pleasurable muscle pain the day after a good workout. But some are agonizing. Some are like a car wreck you only just barely survived from. If you are a Christian and have never thought anything like, “Please, Father, I’m not sure how much more I can take, please be tender with me tomorrow,” then I can tell you you almost certainly will. And it will be a blessing, though it probably won’t feel like one. The moments I think I can’t slog on anymore, not one more step, are the moments I feel least like someone who is trying to be a Christian and most like someone who needs to be a Christian. If I can do some word play, the moments of intense pain and doubt are the ones when I feel least like a Christian and most like a Christian.
One of God’s prophets, an anointed and faithful minister of the Word of God named Jeremiah, wrote this through the moving of the Holy Spirit:
Cursed be the day on which I was born! The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father, ‘A son is born to you,’ making him very glad. Let that man be like the cities that the Lord overthrew without pity; let him hear a cry in the morning and an alarm at noon, because he did not kill me in the womb; so my mother would have been my grave, and her womb forever great. Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame?
Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame?
If you do not want to see setbacks or pain, do not begin the Christian life. It is threaded with them. But it’s important to know first that it is threaded with them the way a tapestry is interwoven with grays and blacks an browns in order to highlight the brilliant yellows and the bright azure. The pain is designed, in other words. It is a part of the story being told. It is purposed. It is not an end unto itself.
I have been a part of churches dying, I have seen family members die, I have had bills I could not seemingly pay. My wife and I have had our cars break down, health scares in our little ones, and we have been wounded by Christians very close to our hearts. We have seen Satan assault the church and our family, people reject the love of Christ, beloved families torn apart by selfishness or sexual sin, and been sapped of all our earthly strength. But we have never been abandoned. I have always had the Spirit of Christ to strengthen me, the promises of Christ to give me hope, and the love of Christ to remind me of who God says I am.
Be prepared to see setbacks and feel pain and stumble in your own clumsy, self-centered, shortsighted way, Christian brother or sister. It is a part of the life we have chosen and that chose us. And if you are considering Christ for the first time, count the cost. Because there is a cost.
But take heart. If you trust in Jesus Christ, you will never have to stand merely on your own two feet. Despite all the pain, all the isolation, all the falls, you will never be a man wholly unto yourself.
You will never be abandoned.
This God always finishes what He starts.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge — even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you — so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
1 Corinthians 1:4-9