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Why does God make it so hard on us? He tells Elijah, the prophet, to go to Mount Horeb. Mount Horeb is in the middle of the hottest, most brutal desert on the planet. It takes forty days to get there. For forty days, he has no access to food, water, or mini-marts along the way.

This, of course, raises an important question. Why is God so difficult? Why meet on top of a mountain, in the middle of a desert? Why not meet across the street at a nice café.

God tells Abraham to sacrifice his only son on a mountain that he will show him. The mountain He has selected happens to be three days away. During that time, poor Abraham’s heart is breaking. Why doesn’t God just get it over with and have the sacrifice right away? Why prolong the agony? Why is God so hard on us?

Joseph is going to deliver a message to the most powerful man in the world, Pharaoh. The message will save the world from a great famine. God will deliver the announcement to Joseph through a dream. Before he receives the dream, Joseph’s brothers become so jealous of him that they sell him into slavery. He is taken to Egypt. There he is accused of a crime he did not commit and thrown in prison. Can it possibly get any worse? Why does God make is so hard? Why does he not just send Joseph and simply deliver the message, without all of the drama?

The reason I bring this up is because the book of Sirach tells us why God is hard on us. The reason is that God wants us to struggle. Why does God want us to struggle? So that we will gain strength. For when we are strong, we are good at life, and so we will be fulfilled.

Elijah was one of the greatest prophets because he knew how to trust and depend on God during very difficult times. He is the first of many prophets, and he appropriately sets the bar very high for other prophets to follow. Abraham is the father of faith. Why? Because he got strong in his faith through struggle. Joseph brought unity and great honor to his dysfunctional family and to his nation. Great success comes from struggle.

When I work out I do pull-ups. Before the pull-ups I do power jumps. Why do I do that? My legs are tired I am out of breath…and I am going to do pull-ups? Why? It is more effective. I am almost 60 years old, and I am in better shape than I was when I was 30. I sleep better at night, and I have more energy in the day. The struggle during workouts makes my life better.

Do you remember the three young men in Daniel? They were standing before the great King Nebuchadnezzar and he said to them, “If you do not worship me and my statue, I will have you thrown into the red-hot furnace.” The three young men defied the king and refused him worship. The king was so livid that he ordered the red-hot oven to be heated white-hot. It’s going to take time to heat this oven until it’s seven times hotter than usual. So the three young men are sitting in the waiting room, and waiting while the furnace heats up. I wonder what they were thinking about while they were waiting?  Perhaps they thought: “Maybe I can do something while I am waiting to prevent this death?” Or perhaps they were thinking about the dream houses that they would never get to build. Or maybe their thoughts were on their wives and children. Or the messenger who would deliver the sad news about their deaths to mom and dad.

The waiting room is where most people cave under pressure. The three young men did not fold because they were not thinking about their personal losses. They were thinking about the great opportunity they were given. They thought, “This is our time, this is our moment to show the world how great God is!”

Sure enough, they threw the young men into the white-hot furnace and closed the oven door. There must have been a window on the door because the king and all the people looked in to watch three vaporize in the heat. But they were unharmed, walking about. Not only did God save the young men, but he also converted the bad guys. All of Babylon became believers. The king and his men said, ‘Blessed be the God of the three young men.’ It is in the darkest moments that God shines the greatest.

Here is the faith lesson. Struggle is hard. Just take a look at me after my work out. It is not pretty. I never say, “that was easy,” or “I really enjoyed that.” Struggle is difficult but do not think about the pain or the loss. Think about the opportunity it brings to your life. It gives us strength so we can do great deeds for God.

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