They strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, “It is necessary for us to undergo many trials to enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22
Following God is not easy
Sometimes people think, “Now that I’ve had a conversion and gotten closer to Jesus, my life is going to be easy.” Then when trials come, they get shocked and disillusioned. “Why is this happening to me, God, when I’m trying to do the right thing now?”
We can’t say God doesn’t warn us in His Word. Sirach 2:1 says, “My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials.” As we get closer to God and we try to obey His Word, we are going to be faced with some serious challenges and hardships. We are going to have to make decisions and take stands that make us unpopular. People are going to misunderstand us. Not everyone is going to like us. If you want everyone to like you, forget trying to follow Jesus.
Why? Because to live the Gospel life as Jesus preached it to us, is to go against our culture. We are going to get criticized, made fun of, looked down upon and even persecuted.
But that’s not the whole story. God wants to give us joy and peace as we strive to serve Him. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) And then a few chapters later Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)
Even though we have to pass through many trials and hardships in this life, the Lord sends us encouragement and help along the way – if we look for it. God knows what you need. If you are discouraged, look for His signs of love. These can be very subtle, and many times we miss His attempts to communicate with us.
Some years ago, when I was going through a tough trial with people very unhappy with me, one of my goddaughters brought me a white lily-like flower she had found in the desert while she was horseback riding.
The following day, I was walking down the street in El Paso and saw an artificial white lily lying on the ground that I picked up.
The next day I came across another white lily-type flower growing near a sidewalk.
Three white lilies in three days. I knew there was a message in it from the Lord, but I didn’t know exactly what He was trying to say.
As I reflected on it, a memory came back to me. Many years before that when I was new to the community here, we were having Mass. After Communion, I was praying and had my eyes closed. Someone tapped me on my shoulder, and it was Fr. Thomas. He said to me, “The Lord wants you to know that you are a lily in His eyes.” And then he sat back down. I didn’t know Father that well yet, and I was surprised. But I pondered that message in my heart.
Now, all those years later that memory came back to me and I understood. The Lord wanted to encourage me. I am His lily, and He loves me very much. And I felt like Fr. Thomas, through this sign, wanted to encourage me also. This was confirmed a few days later when someone gave me a hug that they felt Fr. Thomas wanted them to give me. And someone else shared that they heard Fr. Thomas telling me, “Quit or not!”
God knows you by name
You are God’s beloved child. He wants to encourage you and share His love with you. But often this comes in very soft whispers. We can miss these signs of God’s love if we’re not alert.
I could have missed that message of love with the lilies. I could have thought it was just a coincidence. But I knew it was more than coincidence, and I wanted to know the message. God revealed it in His time.
So I encourage you – persevere through the trials. Don’t quit! And look for those little signs of God’s love and encouragement along the way. I guarantee you they are there. We just have to pay attention.