Photo by Great Beyond. Used in accordance with Creative Commons.
Photo by Great Beyond. Used in accordance with Creative Commons.

I’ve been spending time in conversations and reflections about what sparks spiritual growth, One theme that emerges is that facing problems often spurs spiritual growth. Let’s face it: we all have problems. Sometimes we’ve faced a bunch of problems before even leaving the house in the morning.

Here are 5 thoughts about problems and spiritual growth:

  1. Problems are inevitable.  
    I used to believe that a life without problems was worth striving for. But I quickly realized that we’ll always have problems. This is especially true for those who follow Jesus Christ. In fact, Jesus promises: “In this world, you will have trouble.” (John 16:33). We can deny or avoid problems, or expect problems and approach them in a way that will be pleasing to God.
  2. Problems can bring us success.
    This may seem odd, but problems can be the conditions of success. John C. Maxwell reflects on a time in the United States when cotton farms were plagued by the boll weevil. Cotton farmers were forced to grow other crops, like soybeans and nuts. They used their land to raise cattle and chickens. Eventually, more farmers became prosperous than in the days when only cotton was grown. In 1910, the folks of Enterprise, AL erected a monument to the boll weevil. The inscription reads: “In profound appreciation of the boll weevil and what it has done to herald prosperity.”  (Developing the Leader Within You, 78)
    We might want to get rid of our problems, but they often can bring us success.
  3. Facing problems can teach us valuable life skills.
    Some great life skills can only be picked up through dealing with problems. Our ability to have patience, for example, can only grow if we face a difficult circumstance.  Our understanding of forgiveness can only grow when we deal with a difficult relationship. Perseverance, time management, fortitude, and courage can grow when we deal with problems.
  4. How we deal with problems will make the difference.
    Do we flee from our troubles? Do we complain and beg God to help them go away? Or do we approach them with the mindset of growing and maturing in our relationships with God?  In other words, do we react or do we respond? Am I concerned about what is happening around me or what is happening in me?  Maxwell skillfully points out that some of the greatest achievers in history–from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Helen Keller–faced handicaps, poverty, or difficult circumstances. “They overcame their problems instead of being overwhelmed by them. They used their stumbling blocks as stepping stones.” (p.80) In a similar way, do our problems drive us to grow closer to God, or do they cause us to become dissatisfied with Him?
    The Apostle Paul wrote:

    And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  –Romans 8:28

    But we often overlook the nature of the “good” in verse 28. Here’s the context:

    For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…  –Romans 8:29

    See, the “good” that all of our circumstances brings us is to become more like Christ. God uses “all things” for our sanctification– how are we responding?

  5. We should rejoice when we face problems.
    Every problem is an opportunity to grow closer to Jesus. Problems, trials, sufferings–whatever you want to call them. They are catalysts for our spiritual growth. James, the brother of Jesus, recognized this:

    Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  –James 1:2-4

    James’ encouragement to us is to count, to evaluate problems, and to consider it all joy– we should be entirely joyful. This isn’t to be joyful for the trial, but to be joyful in the trial. We know that it can spur our spiritual growth as we get closer and closer to completeness.

I’ve realized that a great deal of my own spiritual growth has come from dealing with problems. It’s the problems–the trials–that can change us for good.  A life without burdens might be the saddest kind of life.

What about you? What problems in your life have you been tempted to complain about, but ended up being a catalyst for growth?

Related Posts:
What Can Spur Spiritual Growth? Being Uncomfortable.

What Causes Spiritual Growth?