Collage of the process of planting a tree

God Uses Our Challenges

“…God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.” Genesis 41:52

How Does God Use Challenges?

I recently read a devotional that said, “The hardest places in our lives can become fertile ground for God to help and bless many.”[i] God is not the Author of problems we face in life. The Bible tells us “Every good and perfect gift” comes from God (James 1:17.) But God did tell us we would face challenges and suffering. They are the result of a fallen world. And while God doesn’t bring them upon us, He does use them for our good. He uses challenges to help us grow and mature. He fertilizes the ground, and fertile ground yields good fruit.

How Does God Fertilize?

How can hard places become fertile ground? If you think of your heart or your life as the ground, the metaphor is illuminating. God is composting. Composting is when organic matter is recycled. Material that would otherwise be wasted is reused to enrich soil. As this matter decomposes, it conditions the soil. Nutrients are added through composting.

In the same way, God takes challenges, problems, and wasted things in our lives and turns them into life conditioners. If we allow God to work in us during the rough spots in our lives, some things may die, like our plans. Other things may be added, like patience and perseverance. God will smooth and condition the rough edges of our hearts. New plans—His plans—will emerge. If we allow Him to work, we grow and mature in the plans He has for us. These plans are meant for our good and are better than any plans we could make on our own. 

God Builds New Things

People who experience challenges in life often find God has equipped them to help others, and a ministry will blossom. A woman in my community launched a speaking and writing ministry to help support caregivers after spending much of her life as a caregiver herself. I suspect that during the challenging years, she never dreamed she would see her life having that kind of impact.

Organizations and causes have often been founded out of someone’s tragedy.  Someone or something dies, and out of the pain and death, new life grows in the form of change, ministry, renewal, or any combination of the three. Sometimes those changes take place on a national or global level. But what if they don’t? What if you experience challenges, devastation even, and the change and renewal are not worldwide? Are they less important?

God Transforms Us

I believe the fertile ground of our hearts is always important; however, important doesn’t always mean public.  God is at work in our hearts to change us and to conform us into His image. In my own life, I believe God’s fertile ground is my heart. Doing hard things—with a positive attitude—stretches and matures me. I become less self-focused and more service focused. 

My husband’s recent medical challenges required me to take on extra duties and responsibilities. I had to rely on God to order my steps and plan my days because often someone else’s need—my husband’s or one of his parents—would alter my plans for the day at a moment’s notice.

God brought us through. We weathered the storm and took off for a much-needed vacation. My plans were to enjoy my vacation and prepare to get my business and my writing back on track. I was excited about the prospect of throwing myself into work so when we returned, I could hit the ground running.  But that didn’t happen. Our vacation was cut short by the pandemic. 

We came home early. Our daughter and her family moved in temporarily, and they may be here for a while. Their new home build is on hold, as building has been deemed a non-essential business.  My grandchildren have assignments from school, so both my daughter and I spend the better part of each day overseeing lessons and encouraging kids to progress when they would rather be staring at screens.

Embrace the Moments with Thanksgiving

But in the midst of it, I am happy. I am happy to be spending quality time with family.  I am happy to contribute to my grandsons’ education. I am happy to create memories.  I am allowing God to work on fertilizing the ground of my heart.  I don’t know what the future holds. But God does.  My service may never extend outside my home, but I am serving in a larger way in this season.  I am putting others’ needs above my own.

And I am thankful.  Although I try to always have a heart of gratitude, it is easy to see in this time of crisis that I have much for which to be thankful.  My family is together. My other daughter and her family are close by. We all have a warm home, plenty of food, and financial resources. We have friends we can connect with via social media. We have entertainment—television, movies, games, puzzles.  And we even have worship, as so many of our churches are offering online services.  We may feel isolated, but we really are not.

God’s Work is Good

Above all, we have God. He is using and will use this time for His glory. “In all things He works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” [Romans 8:28 NIV]

Fertile ground comes when we stir up the soil and allow for new seeds to be planted. But planting comes after a season of rest. Allow your body and soul to rest in Him during this time of enforced quiet. And then, watch as He leads you into new growth, resulting from new things stirred up within you.  

[i] Banks, James. “The Hardest Places.” Our Daily Bread, vol. 64, no.11, Feb. 2020.

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