When you’re going through a hard time, people don’t always know what to say. The result is meaningless clichés or trite attempts to cheer you up. I’ve always had a problem with cliché phrases– the kind that don’t mean anything to the person saying them and don’t actually help the person hearing them. Silly things like, “Chin up” and “It’ll get better.” Really? How do you know? You don’t do your friends any favors by giving them light, fluffy hopes that aren’t rooted in anything. When deep pain hits we need rock solid truth to sustain us.
During his bout with cancer, Christopher Hitchens voiced similar frustration with some of the meaningless phrases we throw around. He spends a few pages attacking one of them in his book, Mortality. Nws hais tias, “In particular, I have slightly stopped issuing the announcement that ‘whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.’” He goes on to say, “In the brute physical world… there are all too many things that could kill you, don’t kill you, and then leave you considerably weaker.” Can’t you just feel the joy?
It sounds depressing, but I think Hitchens is right in a sense. It is quite possible that we can go through difficult things that only weaken us and bring us closer to death. I can imagine someone asking the question, “How could something this terrible make me stronger?” Even the most positive people can be broken down by the brutality of our fallen world. Optimism can only survive so many beatings until it breaks, and reality finally chokes it out. Phrases that once sounded cute now seem worthless. But is the well-meaning sentiment Hitchens attacked ever true? I think so.
When Is It True?
“What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” can be true, but only if there’s something beyond this life. If this life, this world, and this body are all there is, Hitchens is right. It’s a lie. It would be like saying, “What doesn’t total my car makes it stronger.” That’s ridiculous. You’d have to ignore the truth to believe that. But if our temporary trials have some kind of eternal meaning it changes everything.
Paul tells us, “All things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose.” This verse is sometimes abused, but it’s one of the most beautiful promises in all of Scripture. This doesn’t mean that Christians are invincible. All of us will face trials, but we can’t finally be defeated by them. Even our worst enemies, like suffering and death, become our friends in Christ, because they ultimately work in our favor.
So how exactly can these devastating trials actually make us stronger? Here are three ways (with significant overlap):
1. They make us depend on Jesus
When I feel like everything in my life is going well, my heart immediately retreats into self-dependence. It never fails. I start to pray less because I subconsciously assume I don’t lack anything. I become proud because I think I’m the reason everything’s going well. In those times, I’m forgetting that God is the giver of good gifts, and I still need Him to sustain me. I’m assuming that I’m entitled to all of His mercies.
But when trials come our way, they show us our own weakness. Sickness reminds how fragile we are, lay-offs remind us that hard work doesn’t guarantee anything, and conflict reminds us that we need Jesus in every area of our lives.
2 Corinthians 12 is a comfort to me in times of weakness. Paul recognizes that God gave him a trial to “keep [him] from becoming conceited.” And he says he boasts gladly in his weakness, and that he’s content with all kinds of trials. How could Paul be content and even glad about His trials? I think Paul is saying that these trials make clear that He needs God’s grace and power. Self-dependence is weakness, and dependence on Christ is strength. So Paul says, “When I am weak, then I am strong.”
2. They make us more like Jesus
We’ll never be able to endure devastating trials until we realize that our comfort and good health isn’t what’s most important. Comfort and health are good things that God delights to give us. But God’s primary will for our life is that we would be like Jesus. And He’s even willing to use trials to accomplish that. Hebrews 12 hais tias, “[Vaj tswv] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.” Training in God’s gym may hurt sometimes, but He will make us stronger.
James 1:2 comes to mind, where he tells us to “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…” The reason we should count it joy is the Christlike character it produces. Our humility is more important than our happiness. It’s better to be physically weak and spiritually strong.
3. They make us long to be with Jesus
Our hearts are weakened by sin, and we often find ourselves longing for more of what this world has to offer. But when the temporary joys of this world are taken from us, we’re reminded that Earth is not our home. Our citizenship is elsewhere.
I love staying in nice hotels, and when I do I try to take advantage of all the perks. But then I start to miss my wife, and then I realize I don’t have the clothes I meant to bring, and then I realize room service is about half as good as my wife’s cooking. It reminds me that this hotel isn’t my home. Unmet desires make me long to be at home. This earth isn’t where we belong, and trials remind us that our paradise is elsewhere, with our Lord. There will be no unmet desires in Heaven, because our Lord will satisfy all of our longings. He’ll abolish pain and pour His grace out on us forever.
So the next time you have a friend going through a tough time, remind them that even the most tragic circumstances can make us stronger. Not through positive thinking and optimism, but through real hope and real change. And when you’re going through a difficult season, let it draw you closer to Christ. Tsis txhob ntshai, the Lord is with you.
The believer’s hope is beyond the grave, and in the next life we’ll be like and with Him. So even what kills us makes us stronger.
Thanks trip, that was exactly what I needed to hear right now. Going through a super tough time and His faithfulness to comfort his children never fails to amaze me.
Awesome piece.I will do away with the usual cliches and instead advice those in pain from today onward to look on to the rock that is higher than i..Thank you sir
This was a little surprising to read. I had never really thought about positive sayings in negative situations being a bad thing. Tab sis npog, again, it’s through God’s glory that we can manage through the tough times and realize that there is something greater than this world. What doesn’t kill me, or does, makes me stronger because it draws me closer to God.
Mr. Tripp Lee
I woke up this morning feeling conceited and sort of untouchable believing that since most things in my life were going on okay, then I don’t need to trust God even more. I was wrong and was reminded of it quite immediately as the day was progressing on. Thank you for your insight in this manner and I pray the Lord will show me Grace and pick me up from where I am.
Your brother in Christ
Dear Mr.trip lee,
I just love this (: i have a question my church is actually doing a series “what on earth am i here for?” n im on of the youth leaders and I’ll be doing a lesson a discipleship and everything you said ties in perfectly cause on of the sections is depending on god during trails… so if its ok could i use some of your stuff? Like lil quotes or scriptures but only with your permisson …. I seriously love your stuff and its diffently helping me grow as christian (: thank you for being a man of god n honoring your calling to go into preaching. Gods gonna do some powerful things in your life and your familys life (:
I love u trip.. i really do bro!
Been a rough two years, and this post is just bursting with honest truth. Much needed for this father of three girls, and husband to an author and speaker whose message has changed from the challenges of marriage and motherhood to persevering when all seems lost.
Your track, I’m Good, has been my theme song the past two years, Txawv tebchaws. I don’t crank any song louder, and I couldn’t have asked God to pen words that spoke any deeper to my soul. There are moments when even the smallest thoughts of suicide crossed my mind. You sure feel like you’re at war when that’s the honest truth.
But real hope and real change are much more worth it than giving up. That’s so true. There’s a fight to be fought for each of us. I appreciate you taking the time to pen these words, Txawv tebchaws. I’ll be reading through this post a few more times. Praising God for speaking through you in our earbuds, on the stage, at the pulpit, in your home, and on the web.
Txawv tebchaws, keep writing man! Your last two posts have spoke to exactly where I’m at in life and I’ve come across them just when I needed to. God is undoubtedly working through you.
What you said has help me to understand somethings and will mean alot to me. The message relates alot with what i have been going through for about 5 years and still going through now.Thank you Trip Lee.
it’s true for the christian who walks by faith and not by sight.i have been in hard times; where everything was goings against my expectations.It became even harder to keep my trust in the Lord but because i knew that the pain i was experiencing was temporary and designed to make me stronger not to destroy me.i held on Jesus and here i am i prevailed.
I think you have this piece contains a lot of truths. Certainly as a believer what does kill me or does only makes me stronger. God bless you and give you the insight to speak more of His truths to His people.
Nyob txawv tebchaws
Thank you for this message. I has really encouraged me because I have been having a tough time for around 12 xyoo, battling with an unheard of illness and I really want to deepen my relationship with God. I’m at the point where nowadays I just feel numb to emotions, but I believe that the Holy Spirit is urging me to trust Jesus and depend on Him.
Such an enlightened post and really helps you put things in perspective, just lost my brother 3 months ago to multiple myeloma and my mum is in the severe stages of dementia I know that to be able to cope I have to draw my strength from God, and rejoice that the day before he pass he let me lead him to the Lord and gave his life. Khaws cov hauj lwm zoo, you are inspiring my 18 year old son to write music and keep up with his piano, stay blessed!
Nyob txawv tebchaws,
You always have a way of putting into words what I think but am unable to write. You have many true talents. Thank you for using them for what you were called to do. Vaj tswv foom koob hmoov koj tij laug.
Mr. Barefield…….you are a wonderful, shining example of God’s love. He has blessed you in lyric to share His message. I appreciate reading what you write, listening to your music and would love to hear you in person some time. Thanks for being obedient in sharing God’s words; always, positive, uplifting and right on point! Good Bless You Brother!
I lost my job today and I can’t tell you how much of an answer to prayer this is! After I left I kept crying out tell me what to do tell me please. Now I know. I need to stay humble and realize the next job he gives me is from him not of my works!
This hs what I always want 2 hear and read. Praise God 4 u bra.
This is encouraging stuff, Tus tij laug. Thank you for reminding me of the gospel; the foundation of every Christian life.
Amen to that man!
Your explanation of our fathers meanings always give me understanding. Thank you Trip and please continue to help to open my eyes.
Pav: Treasures txhua hnub | Treasuring Christ
Asmees, Foom koob hmoov rau koj.
Preach it trip!
Asmees. Thank you so much for your spirit filled guidance and teaching. Love this blog!
I agree that often times when people offer up the sayings you used, they don’t always make you feel better. My family and I experienced that this summer at my cousin’s funeral. He was shot and killed by someone he considered a friend, two days before his 19th birthday. None of the so-called encouraging words were helpful because the main question we all had was, ” Why him, he was just a ‘baby?” Tab sis npog, afterwards we look back and see that even though it was a sad occasion it brought our family closer together and reevaluate our relationships with each other and with God. We also gained a new family member not soon after in his daughter, who could be his twin.
I so needed to read this right now. thov Vajtswv foom koob hmoov rau koj.
This is so encouraging..God has never failed and he is not about to start with any of his children..we just need to keep hope alive and believe that He will never leave us nor forsake us. Loos 8:18 says for I reckon that the sufferings of this present times are not worthy to be compared to the glory which shall be revealed in us..amen
Yet again, I have been cut to heart!I am ill at the moment and I was wondering why the Lord was letting these things happened to me. In my boredom I was going through the FB pages of my favourite celebs and I came across your website. Alas! The Lord answered my prayer and spoke directly to me! (Through Trip) It’s like Trips messages are tailored just for me (That’s because the Holy Spirit is using him to minister to us)….God always rebukes me through him (his music,blog posts and sermons) I think I was focusing to much on this hotel that isn’t my home. So now I know why I am ill (what the Lord is trying to teach me through this trial)…God continue to bless you Trip Lee, it’s amazing that your ministry reaches us (the saints in Africa) and though we’ve never met, I feel like I know you personally because I can relate to everything you say. And because your music really rebukes, encourages, corrects, teaches me!….. Nyob twj ywm blessed!!!!!!!!!
i get this
i feel it
bless you BroTrip
“Our humility is more important than our happiness.” That really hit me man. Keep making that good music and God bless.
I am appreciative and encouraged by this…asmees!