Jesus told His followers, “In this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33, NIV)
Other versions of this verse say, “In this world you will have suffering, tribulations, trials, sorrows, difficulties.”
The Greek word all these words come from is thlipsis, which primarily means a pressing, pressure, anything which burdens the spirit. Thlipsis comes from another Greek word, thlibo, which refers to sufferings due to the pressure of circumstances, or the antagonism of persons.*
The word struggle means “to contend with an adversary or opposing force.”
By these definitions, Jesus Himself struggled. He was tempted in the desert after fasting 40 days. He prayed in the garden in anguish, sweating drops like blood. There was opposition that He had to contend with. There were pressures He had to resist.
And Scripture says we too will face opposition and pressures.
In 1 Timothy 6:12, we are admonished to fight the good fight of faith by fleeing sin and pursuing godliness.
2 Corinthians 5:10 speaks of the need to wrestle our thoughts into submission to Christ.
Ephesians 6 says we struggle not against flesh and blood, but against powers of darkness, and so we are called to put on the armor of God so that we can stand against evil.
1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us we will be tempted.
In Romans 7 and Galatians 5, Paul talks about the battle that takes place between our sinful nature and the Spirit.
For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?
The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. Galatians 5:17
In John 16:33, after Jesus tells His followers they will have troubles and struggles, He goes on to say, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
We don’t have to struggle as ones who are downhearted, with a woe-is-me attitude, joyless and hopeless, stuck in a cycle of sin and guilt.
Those same passages in Romans and Galatians that speak of the battle also speak of the victory:
Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:25
So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves… Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Galatians 5:16, 24-25
We can struggle with strength of the Holy Spirit inside us, to walk in step with Him in every area of our lives, not conforming to the pressures and patterns of this world, but being transformed more and more into who we were created to be in Christ.
I’ve had (and have) struggles. I deal with fear of disappointing people, I’m working through anxiety, I wrestle with discontentment, and sometimes it’s hard for me to trust God. These are all areas in which I’ve had to trust, to resist temptation, to renew thought patterns, and it has been a struggle. It has been a struggle not because God isn’t faithful and I’ve stopped following Jesus, but because it’s taken hard work and perseverance and doesn’t always feel good or comfortable.
Really, these struggles show growth. When we’ve decided to struggle through something hard, it shows we’re recognizing the things in our lives that are not in line with God’s heart, and that we’re fighting to bring them into alignment, by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
So if you’re struggling, here are 3 things to remember to help you take heart and walk in victory:
The battle belongs to the Lord
We can know that God fights for us, but we also need to submit to Him in every area of our lives.
When Jesus prayed in the garden, He said, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from Me. Yet I want your will to be done, not Mine.” (Matthew 26:39) Even as He struggled with the task ahead of Him, Jesus submitted to God.
Spiritual disciplines are necessary
Reading the Bible, prayer, community with other Christians, worship - these are spiritual disciplines that are foundational to our faith and that build our faith. They are practices that help us in the struggles because through them we engage with God and grow in godliness.
Jesus didn't just pray in the garden, He regularly took time to pray. When He was tempted in the desert, He quoted Scripture, showing He had spent time getting to know God's Word. Spiritual disciplines were a part of His life, and He didn't stop engaging in them when struggles came. Instead, they were the very actions He took when the pressure was on, the opposition was high, and the struggle was real.
You don’t have to struggle alone
Jesus included His disciples in His ministry to help Him. He asked His friends to pray with Him. He participated in traditions of the faith with others. He accepted financial support from women.
We don’t have to struggle alone. We can talk with godly friends. We can ask for help and prayer and advice. We can confess our struggles to each other and hold one another accountable.
In Christ, it’s not a matter of if we will see victory, but when.
And the when has already happened, and is happening, and is going to happen… when Jesus died on the cross, forgiving us of sin… when He rose from the dead, breaking the power of sin in our lives… when we confessed and repented of our sins and came into right relationship with God… when Jesus continually works salvation in us through convicting, teaching, and renewing… and when Christ comes again and we see Him face to face and all is made new and suffering is no more.
So if you’re struggling, keep struggling. Keep resisting temptation. Keep worshipping. Keep praying. Keep standing on God’s promises. Keep letting go of worry. Keep holding onto hope. Keep rejoicing. Keep confessing. Keep serving. Keep giving thanks. Keep talking with godly friends.
The struggle is real… but so God, and His is the victory.