Don’t click away just yet. This is a question that most of us would probably answer with a quick “no” but actually live as if our answer is “yes.”
Let’s rephrase. Do you flourish in tough circumstances? Now that is a harder question to answer.
Our faith in Jesus should enable us to flourish in all circumstances. So how do we do this practically?
It hit home for me nine years ago. Let me share a bit of my story:
My first job out of college was as a high school science teacher in North Carolina through the Teach for America program. Every year TFA recruits a few thousand aspiring world-changers, trains them and places them in underperforming schools, typically in urban and depressed rural environments.
It was a tough situation for me. There was a lot of pressure, both personally and corporately, to help my students make significant gains in their classroom achievement. Most of them were coming from very difficult home situations and were severely behind academically. Not to mention that the cultural context was completely different (and you’re dealing with 75 teenagers!).
On a typical day I’d be at school from 6 a.m. -4:30 p.m. and then spend a few hours working at night. By mid-October of the first year I was as low as I’d ever been – physically tired and emotionally depleted. You’ve probably been there.
Then God showed me how to begin to flourish in that circumstance:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4 (NIV)
I had a mindset shift. This season was as close to a trial as I’d ever experienced, but God told me through his word that he was using it. This difficult circumstance wasn’t necessarily something to minimize or avoid, but something to embrace. There was reason to take joy in the circumstance.
I started thanking God for some of the specific things that were difficult and linking them to a specific work I could see him doing in me or through me. This is the basic form it would take:
“Thank you, God, for Teretha. You are using her attitude to teach me patience and compassion.”
“Thank you, God, for this difficult season. You are forcing me to learn to depend on you and that my identity cannot be tied up in accomplishment.”
Every morning I’d walk the dark and lonely halls to the classroom at 6 a.m. Most days I’d pray through some specific situations like that. Some days I’d even sing 40 by U2 to myself.*
God changed me through these simple prayers. Even now when I hear 40 I am back in the dark hallway and remember the deep communion I felt with God in the midst of a trying time.
Let me be clear that reconceiving your hardship as an opportunity for blessing is not some naïve mind trick or self-help concept. The Bible is God’s word. One of the fundamentals of our faith is that we believe that God himself is shaping us according to his word. This sort of prayer will have a growing and sustainable effect on you.
This same form of prayer can help you flourish.
Think through the difficult situations you have at work – maybe it’s a person, maybe a specific issue. Take advantage of your drive in to work to pray through them.
Here is what the prayer could look like for you:
For a challenging client: “God, thank you for ___. You love him and he is created in your image. You are using his attitude to teach me patience and compassion. Soften his heart and help him see Christ in me.”
For a particularly heavy workload: “God, thank you for this season. You have put me in this work to play a role in your story. You are using this season to teach me to depend on you. Help me be effective.”
For a tough ethics issue: “God, thank you for putting me in this situation. You are giving me an opportunity to demonstrate integrity and grow in my allegiance to you. Help me act wisely in this situation so that I honor you and am effective for my team.”
Do not let tough circumstances determine whether or not you flourish. Allow God to help you take joy in all circumstances, and you’ll find over time that you, and those around you, will flourish.
*The U2 song 40 comes from Psalm 40. Many of the Psalms are prayers through trials that affirm both the difficulty of the trial and God’s goodness in the trial. This is one of those.
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