Persisting in Faith through Struggle and Stress

Daniel Ritchie

Everyone intuitively understands that disabilities can be hard to live with. They can even put a strain on your faith—some disabilities more than others.

Imagine, then, being born without arms. This is the affliction God gave to Daniel Ritchie—pastor, evangelist, speaker, and author of My Affliction for His Glory: Living out Your Identity in Christ and his new book Endure: Building Faith for the Long Run.

Ritchie has faced ridicule his entire life for being physically different. In his books, he shows not only that living for God has helped him cope, but also that the Scriptures have provided a solid foundation for building his faith. He sees many examples in Scripture that directly apply to his life—and to the lives of all those who are set apart for Christ.

Coping with being different

Ritchie is incredibly different from everyone he meets. Growing up, he felt like his identity, worth, and purpose were on shaky ground. Even though his parents loved him and told him Jesus loved him, he struggled to believe in that love—especially as the words of school bullies hit him and he endured unkind stares. He was insecure about what God and others thought about him.

His identity started to change when he came to Christ at 15 years old. Christians discipled him and pushed him toward Scripture. They pointed him to Psalm 139, assuring him that everyone had been fearfully and wonderfully made. It encouraged him to know that God’s wonderful works were present in him, disabled or not.

John 9 was one passage that gave Ritchie hope. There he learned about a blind man that Jesus and his disciples came across. They asked Jesus who sinned, the man or his parents, to produce this blindness. Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3).

The blind man of John 9 was made disabled and then healed in order to display the work of God. And Ritchie immediately recognized the parallel: God must have a purpose for his disability, too. God’s word gave him a sure foundation—a foundation of hope that God would show his redeeming power in something the world would consider irretrievably broken. Ritchie came to understand that the purpose and worth he received from being part of God’s plan were far greater than any he could find in the words of others.

I can do all things through Christ

Ritchie also laid claim to Philippians 4:13; in a way, it became his verse. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

However, as Ritchie tells the story, he came to realize that he was taking this verse out of context. In the first chapter of Philippians, Paul is at a point in his life when he doesn’t know if he’s going to live or die. He doesn’t even know if he wants to live. He says, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Phil 1:23). Paul decides, however, that remaining on earth was better for the Philippians’ sakes—for their “progress and joy in the faith” (1:25).

In the more immediate context of Philippians 4, Paul says that, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Phil 4:11). It is this statement that sets up the famous (and infamously misused) Philippians 4:13. The “all things” Paul can do through Christ aren’t meant to include winning basketball championships or overcoming adversity—or living successfully without arms.

No, they are “contextually delimited,” Ritchie explains; “Paul is speaking of the various circumstances he’s just named.” That is, whether he was hungry or full, in loss or had everything, he “can do all things through him who strengthens me” (4:13). Paul keeps this theme in mind as he writes, ending the next paragraph with, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (4:19).

Once Ritchie picked up the skill of reading Philippians 4:13 carefully in context, he realized that the verse was not a helping of self-actualization with Jesus, like a religious cherry adorning the top. No; Ritchie saw that his contentment and strength were supposed to come through Christ. His supply of hope, his everything, is rooted and bound up in the glory of Christ.

Examples in Scripture help build your faith

Even if “I can do all things through Christ” wasn’t meant to be a pick-me-up, you-can-do-it, you-go-man bromide, Ritchie has found plenty of other reasons in Scripture that believers should hold on to hope through struggle and stress. Often these reasons come through stories. Ritchie has noticed that people gravitate toward stories, and he thinks that’s why we see so many narratives all through Scripture.

In stories, Ritchie says, we get to see examples of those whom God has used to do his will. We see people whom God has shaped and molded. Think of the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11–12. And yet we also see how significant characters in the Bible failed—and then “came to themselves” and turned to God from within that failure. All of this was encouraging to Ritchie.

“Whatever we’re going through, we dip into the well of the word and come out with both encouragement and challenge—and a push to face whatever is next.” It’s “beautiful,” Ritchie says, to know from Scripture simply that “we’re not alone.”

Ritchie’s experience with disability is, in a sense, exotic—uncommon, unexpected. But his struggles against sin are none of those things. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man” (1 Cor 10:13). Ritchie says he must, like the faithful and yet sinful people of the Bible, fix his eyes on Jesus. He focuses his heart, hope, purpose, his everything, on Christ—and he knows that’s how he’s able to run the race for the long run.

Building faith through Bible study

Ritchie offers a number of tips on finding encouragement in Bible study.

Read large chunks of the Bible at a time to see the full context, he advises. Books such as the epistles are especially meant to be read in one sitting. Absorb Scripture without taking chapter and verse breaks into account, he says. Know the various kinds of literature the Bible contains—poetry, story, prophecy, epistle—to understand how to interpret and apply each passage appropriately.

Too often we skip over the nuances of Scripture, Ritchie says; we need to take time to dwell and study, to “meditate day and night” like the blessed person of Psalm 1. Ritchie even recommends studying Hebrew and Greek, the original languages of Scripture. Ritchie echoes the standard advice to Bible readers—advice that remains standard because it still hasn’t reached everyone who needs it: pay attention to the historical context; write your notes in a journal or notebook and revisit them; follow those cross-references in tiny print in your paper Bible (or click on them in your Bible software).

Ask questions, Ritchie says. Ask God what he’s calling you to do through the passage of Scripture you are studying. How can you apply those words to yourself, your family, your church, or your community? Let the Bible shape you as a person, a parent, or a coworker. Let God’s Spirit use the Bible to transform you.

Talk about the word, Ritchie encourages. God has given us his word not only for our benefit, but also for us to share it with those who don’t know Christ—and to speak life into those who do know him.

Finding encouragement in Bible study

Ritchie speaks movingly of the trials he has endured, especially before coming to know Christ. There are going to be times when we feel beaten up or tired, times when we don’t feel like God is there or that he cares for us, loves us, and stands behind us. Ritchie counsels: those are precisely the times we truly need the word to pierce through our defenses. We need at those times to dig into books of the Bible that talk about the love of God. Try 1 Peter, Philippians, Colossians, or 1 John, Ritchie says. You can even find encouragement from books such as Numbers and 1 Chronicles, he adds.

The word of God can encourage you even if you can only study it in small doses, Ritchie says. And perhaps he gives more standard advice because it still needs to be heard by so many people: even if you can only spend a few minutes with God’s word, do it. Get to know your God through his word. Be faithful to use one of the greatest gifts that God has given us for his work, Ritchie says, and you will find encouragement in it.

Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version.

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This article was originally published in the March/April 2022 issue of Bible Study Magazine. Slight adjustments, such as title and subheadings, may be the addition of an editor.

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Randy A. Brown

Randy A. Brown is a freelance writer, author of the Easy Bible Marking Guide, and owner of BibleBuyingGuide.com where he reviews Bibles, software, and related materials in all price ranges.

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