No pain, no gain!" I can still hear those words resounding from my junior high P.E. coach. We should have known something was going to be different about physical education when they handed us "army fatigues" cleverly disguised and labeled as "P.E. uniforms", herded us into a giant room filled with lockers and showers, gave us approximately 30 seconds to change into our P.E. uniforms in front of perfect strangers, and then perform calisthenics for 40 minutes (a form of torture in and of itself) only to be rushed back into the musty locker room to shower and change back into our civilian clothing so as to leave no evidence of the torture that we just endured. No more "four square" and "kick ball" with a big, bouncy, red rubber ball. Now we had to run around a big track in weather sure to cause us to burst into flames, or at the very least collapse with heat stroke while standing, let alone running. It was followed by push ups and pull ups and sit ups and every other "ups" our coaches could conjure up in their militant minds! I am absolutely positive our coaches were aspiring to be boot camp sergeants some day. At any rate, I was certain they had every intention of preparing us for war should Uncle Sam decide to lower the drafting age limit from 18 to 12. Little did we know they were preparing us for war~ high school physical education!
Yes, no pain, no gain. Many of us seek to walk the path of no pain. It’s the path of least resistance, one that allows us to walk out our daily lives as Christians without actually having to live it out. There are a number of what we would call "valid" reasons for this, but the majority are rooted in fear. Jesus calls us to walk in faith not fear. Faith moves mountains, fear falls before them. Faith opens the door for healing, fear keeps us from seeing the door. Someone once said, "Face your fear, and it will disappear." So simple, yet so profound a statement that we cannot ignore its meaning.
You see, facing one’s fear is like facing our junior high P.E. coaches every day. It’s painful! Yet every year they take hundreds of children and teach them valuable tools for their future. We need to have endurance, strength, and flexibility to prevent injury and premature aging. As children we run and play naturally, but when we hit puberty something changes in us physiologically that causes our energy level to be greatly reduced. If we were allowed to walk in the path of least resistance, chances of us growing up to be lazy are pretty high. But our coaches desired to give us the tools, as painful as they were to learn, in order to prevent us from succumbing to these changes. They were stretching us and helping us grow.
It is the same with Jesus, He desires to give us the tools to help us face changes, obstacles, or outright spiritual battles in our lives and gain victory. These tools, however, are rooted in faith not fear, and due to our stubborn nature, usually require pain to obtain them. Not that God walks around striking us with various afflictions in order to help us grow, but He will take our painful situations and use them to teach us how to live a victorious Christian life.
Let’s look at James the first chapter. Here James talks of trials. Trials are painful, sometimes even unbearable, yet each and every one of us go through them. James tells us to count it all joy when we go through various trials (vs.2). However, in the midst of trials joy is not exactly first on our list.
When I went through the trials with my health, I was not counting it all joy! In fact, there were times that I would have given anything for the path of least resistance to appear in front of me and relieve me of my suffering. Yet Jesus had a gift for me, a gift that could only be granted through intense suffering.
The day He granted that gift I was lying in the hospital after my seventh and final surgery. I truly felt as though I would not survive another minute in the intense pain I was enduring. If I did survive it physically, I feared the loss of sanity. In an attempt to keep a hold on my mental faculties, I repeated the name of Jesus over and over. Just at the moment I felt myself slipping away, Jesus imparted a gift of compassion deep into my heart. It was so deep in fact, that I felt it as it pierced my heart, and as soon as it did, I knew exactly what it was. At the same time I understood that I received it because of the trial that I had endured for three horrific years. It wasn’t until four months later that I was without pain, but I was so grateful for the level of compassion God had granted me. Understanding God’s compassion from the depths of my heart, was what I gained for my pain.
Now when I face a trial, I truly understand that enduring in the trial will enable me to receive the gift or the promise that comes as a result of persevering. It is this promise that we are to count as joy when we face various trials (vs. 2). The promise of "all things working together for good, for those who love the Lord and who are called according to His purpose" is to be our joy. It is what we gain for our pain.
I love you my friends,