The impact of hardship leaves many desperate for understanding what exactly God is trying to accomplish. Most seek to minimize the hardship through inner healing and self esteem building, but Pastor MacDonald will have none of it. In his new book, When Life Is Hard, he views suffering as an opportunity to know the power of Christ and gain confidence that the Lord is always working in your life.
Pastor James MacDonald is the teaching pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel and a council member of The Gospel Coalition. He founded Harvest Bible in 1988 and has had many opportunities over the past 30 years to experience suffering and hardship in his life and the lives of his members. Throughout the book MacDonald shares his recent struggle with cancer treatment and the recovery process afterwards.
The book is straightforward covering four passages and providing four principles from each passage (1 Peter 4, James 1, Hebrews 12, 2 Corinthians 12). The book exegetes each passage ending with practical application steps. The strength in the book comes from the personal stories and insights that come through in each chapter. When Life is Hard offers deep wisdom emanating from personal experience, study, and prayer.
Gets Past Your Defenses
One of the difficulties of writing books on suffering is that most people come to them defensively. It is often difficult to gain insight from others when you are in the midst of pain because you cannot fathom how their pain could be anything close to yours. I found myself defensive as I was reading it until it became convincingly clear that Pastor MacDonald had truly experienced the pains of hardship and genuinely cared about sharing the insight he gained in the process. There is a part of you that does not want him to share these truths because they cut close to the heart. At the same time another side of you is glad that he can put what you are thinking and feeling into words.
When I hit the third and fourth chapter I found myself having a difficult time putting the book down as it really drove suffering towards the gospel. This was not just going to be another book about how to make it through the day and how suffering improved our life but instead how Jesus would be glorified through our moments of suffering. I constantly found myself searching my own suffering so I could understand the gospel on a more profound level. MacDonald writes, “Welcome to the biblical gospel. We belong to God; our lives are not our own. We have been bought with a price. The earth is not our home; we’re just strangers here for a very brief visit while we are seeking the city that is to come” (76).
There are two things you can do with suffering according to Pastor MacDonald: 1) Get Bitter, 2) Get Better. For those who walk in bitterness, “it gets in and swirls and snarls its way around your soul” (110). This is where the gospel changes everything for the one who claims it. God declares our victory and we cannot remain in a place of bitterness, not if we truly claim to know him. Suffering places us at a crossroads in who we are going to rely in and upon.
The one thing I would have liked to read in this book was the role of the Holy Spirit. I loved the author’s insight on the role of the Father and the Son and their involvement in our life through suffering, but I was left wanting to know about the role of the Spirit. It would be helpful in a later edition to add a chapter on the Spirit and how he moves in our pain.
A Helpful Guide
I highly recommend When Life is Hard to those who find themselves lost in their faith due to suffering and hardship. This book is not going to hold your hand through a trial, but instead it will define and focus your relationship on Christ in the midst of suffering and its aftermath. This book is also incredibly easy to read and does not require advanced understanding of the Bible to capture the heart of what MacDonald is teaching and sharing.
It is a hard hitting book and might be a bit much for people who are initially dealing with the shock and hardship of a trial. After the initial emotions have settled and questions start arising about why God would allow bad things to happen, When Life is Hard can be a tremendously helpful guide. MacDonald’s heart for people comes through on each page and his own hardships make it easy to accept him as a mentor and guide. I highly appreciate the insight I gained from reading through this book.