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4 Tough Seasons God Can Always Use to Grow Us

  • April Motl Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2021 19 May
4 Tough Seasons God Can Always Use to Grow Us

For a lot of years I ate a steady spiritual diet of testimonies that revolved around miraculous, one-night-everything-changed, victorious testimonies. I love those life stories! 

They are my favorite. But for the most part, I haven’t been called to that kind of walk with Christ (though I have had some very profound provision like manna from heaven!). So, while I praised God for His handiwork in other’s lives, I wondered why He wasn’t working in mine. What was wrong with me that left me outside His touch?

The truth was that nothing was outside His reach. I just simply had a narrow understanding of what His handiwork looked like! He had been working all along, but in a different manner! More often, He chose the “grow through, what you go through” method of work inside my heart.

And when I realized this, I was started looking for His hand with expectation when struggles came my way.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/beerphotographer

  • 1. God Can Grow Us through Pruning Seasons

    1. God Can Grow Us through Pruning Seasons

    When we were first married, my husband served the youth and music ministry while served the youth girls and kids. I loved it. I mean, I really loved it! Some dynamics changed, and we sensed the Lord calling us to move churches. When my husband answered a call to a church in an area of town we had wishfully prayed to land in we were overjoyed and God’s cherry-on-the-top provision. But my place in ministry was less clear.

    One day I remember crying to the Lord, asking Him what I had done wrong to lose ministry!

    I went to seminary alongside my husband to be an equipped helpmate; I was happy serving from cleaning bathrooms to organizing events and teaching; I rejoiced at watching others blossom into ministry positions. Yet, I wasn’t finding my niche at this new church, and I felt like I had a door closed in my face.

    It broke my heart, I wondered if I had been so unusable that God simply removed ministry from my life.

    In my prayer time, this verse came to my mind: 

    I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. John 15:1-2

    I felt an illumination over my struggle--I was being pruned--not removed from ministry! I had indeed been fruitful in serving and that was the very reason I was being pruned! I began to look for other ways to bear fruit in the Lord. Shortly thereafter, God rested a writing ministry in my lap.

    Someone once asked me how you know when you are being pruned versus being disciplined and I think the verse tells us what to look for--were we bearing fruit in that area when the pruning came?

    If yes, then we ought to thank the Lord for the thing that was just cut out of our lives, look expectantly for how He is going to bring new and more abundant fruitfulness to us, rather than sitting there crying for a long time over what was cut off (like I did). The loss will result in gain! 

    Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/kirisa99

  • 2. God Can Grow Us through Seasons of Waiting

    2. God Can Grow Us through Seasons of Waiting

    I had a friend that used to always say, “don’t pray for patience or God will give it to you and you will be tested and irritated and stretched--and you don’t want that!” But in truth, when we highlight the verses in Scripture about patience it is a key that unlocks so much spiritual treasure we are wise to hold the patience producing trials dear to our hearts, rather than push them away… or at least try to have that perspective!

    The work of patience in our lives opens our lives up to a completeness in our souls!

    My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. James 1:2-4 NKJV

    Patience works to bring unity to our relationships! 

    For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:4-6

    Patience is a crucial ingredient to us accessing the inheritance of community with the rest of those who are God’s children!

    …That you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. Colossians 1:10-12

    Patience is part of what builds our testimony and makes our stories in Christ worth the retelling!

    We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure. 2 Thessalonians 1:3-5

    Patience unlocks God’s promises in our lives!

    For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise. Hebrews 10:36

    If you are struggling with patience in an area of your life at the moment, as upside down as it might feel, thank God for the good He is working into your life! Look at that trial in the truth that God is working something so vital into your spiritual life right now that you don’t want to miss it!

    I bake sourdough bread for our family every few days. Bread dough won’t rise right when it isn’t properly kneaded. The yeast needs to permeate the flour and water or the bread simply doesn’t do its delightful bread thing.

    Trust me, I’ve made a lot of flat, stodgy loaves in my time! Every time I knead the dough, I think of God working things into my life just like the process of kneading dough… turning, stretching, repeating, all to get this thing (yeast) mixed so deeply into that lump of dough that it is all one - the flour, water, and yeast.

    Christ’s character is supposed to get all worked into our lives the same way until we are all one “lump” with His character, causing us to rise in the heat of life’s struggles.

    Patience is like this. (And yes, I know yeast is Scripturally a picture of arrogance or sin because of the puffing up action, but in my kitchen that’s how I like to think on it.) Patience must get worked into us through stretching, pressing, turning, pulling, over and over, and then we rise!

    Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/greenaperture

  • 3. God Can Grow Us through Trials

    3. God Can Grow Us through Trials

    Scripture gives us a picture of trials like a furnace that purifies our hearts, just as impurities in gold are melted out. Pressures and trials can work purity into our lives if we seek it; otherwise they merely make holes for our sinful nature to pour out onto others; we have to open our hearts to God’s work, rather than resist it during times of trial.

    In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:6-9

    Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. James 1:12 

    While Jesus tells us we are allowed to pray that we might not enter trials (Luke 22:40), we are also given the assurance that “if necessary,” as Peter tells us, we do indeed find ourselves in the midst of a fiery trial, God will be there with us, working gold out of the hardship.

    Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. 2 Peter 4:12-13

    Later, in Peter’s second epistle, he reminds us that trials can be rejoiced through because they bond us to Christ and allow us a special sharing in His sufferings.

    The word in Greek for trial is also rendered as temptation. In those times, the Lord has a plan to work gold into us, but Satan has plans to use the same circumstances for our destruction through temptation. It is up to us to lean into Christ and yield to His work so the good will shine through!

    One of the important deciding factors I have witnessed in determining whether or not we feed a trial to result in our growth is bitterness.

    See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled. Hebrews 12:15

    Bitterness can be the deciding factor in our growth. Bitterness and grace don’t share the same heart-space. If we hold on to bitterness, grace won’t take up residence, and where there’s no grace, there’s no growth.

    So as you go through life’s fiery trials, the unfair ones, the ones that knock the wind out of you and bring you to your knees, the ones you aren’t sure you will ever bounce back from, hold on to grace and let the bitterness go so that the gold can come out of it, instead of the destruction Satan intends.

    Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Tommaso79

  • man walking in an endless circle

    4. God Can Grow Us through Seasons of Dryness

    One of the most consistently perplexing struggles Christians go through are spiritual desert seasons; they seem the very antithesis of what we expect from following God and yet they are quite definitely intertwined in the life of every hero of the faith including Jesus Himself.

    Then I said to you, “Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the wilderness. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.” Deuteronomy 1:29-31

    The very foundation of our faith comes from a desert people whose promises from God were realized through years of walking dusty wilderness. In truth, as Christians, this is part of our inheritance, to have our own wilderness journeys as well. But in those places, God does beautiful work, the kind of work He can only accomplish when we are alone with Him, without distraction.

    “Therefore I am now going to allure her;
    I will lead her into the wilderness
    and speak tenderly to her.
    There I will give her back her vineyards,
    and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.

    There she will respond as in the days of her youth,
    as in the day she came up out of Egypt.

    “In that day,” declares the Lord,
    “you will call me ‘my husband’;
    you will no longer call me ‘my master.’
    I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips…” Hosea 2:14-17

    I dearly love this verse! God is speaking of His people, declaring His intention to woo her away from the trappings of the city into the wilderness where they can be alone so He can speak to her (and so she can hear without all the interruptions of her life) and there they will share tenderness and renewal and He will remove the old things from her. Sometimes we need the desert so God can accomplish things in us, for us, that would not be accomplished anywhere else.

    Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Matthew 4:1

    Even Jesus experienced His own wilderness, led there by the Holy Spirit, for the purpose of showing Himself faithful to Satan. Just like Jesus, we can be led to expanses of wilderness in our spiritual journeys, but at the end of the season, the purpose will be to show us faithful for all to see. It is a time to be steady in our faith and rest on the power of God’s word to get us through.

    How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
    How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me? Psalm 13:1-2

    Spiritual deserts feel as though we have been deserted, but nothing could be further from the truth. As we turn the pages of Scripture, we see heroes of our faith, who we would all agree had God’s hand on them, go through times when they couldn’t see or feel God’s presence. For various reasons, we all God through those times, but we must cling to the rest of their words for us. After David wrote that God had hidden His face, he wrote:

    But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
    I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me. Psalm 13:5-6

    As you face whatever struggles are yours today, I am praying God would open your eyes to His unfailing love and nearness in the midst of it.

    The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
    And saves those who are crushed in spirit.
    Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
    But the Lord delivers him out of them all. Psalm 34:18-19

    For more on growing through patience, see Free to Flourish: Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit. For more on growing through desert seasons, see When God Meets You in Desert Places.

    Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/francescoch

    April Motl is a pastor’s wife, homeschool mom, and women’s ministry director. When she’s not waist-deep in the joys and jobs of motherhood, she writes and teaches for women. Her love of words led her through a BA in linguistics and her love of God’s Word through a Master’s in Religious Studies. You can find more encouraging resources from April here and here.