The “Brave New World” of the 21st Century requires a “Brave New Discipleship” strategy.

Troubles are Training Exercises in Disguise

Posted on: April 11, 2017


Imagine it is December 31, and you have made the New Year’s resolution to become physically fit. So you go down to the gym, purchase a membership, and ready yourself for a fitter future.

You take New Year’s Day off to enjoy the holiday and on January 2, you hit the gym. And there, to your surprise, are exercise machines!!!

“Exercise machines?” you think. “What are exercise machines doing here?!”

Then you look more closely. There’s a bicep machine. “I don’t want to work on biceps!” you say to yourself.  You turn left and there is a machine to work on your core. “Dumb machine. Core workouts are brutal. Who wants to do that?!”  You turn right and confront a machine to work out your quads. “Who wants to do quads?” you cry. “That kills!”

You stand there, bewildered. Everywhere you look are exercise machines. “Who wants all these stupid machines?” you wail. Why did you ever sign up for a gym membership? All it does is inflict pain!

Well, of course, no one would actually do this. We all know enough to understand that when you enroll in a gym, you are enrolling in strategic and progressive pain management, designed to take your unfit, flabby muscles and gradually turn them into fit and toned muscles, capable of feats of strength of which your previous body could only imagine.

Yet, we don’t seem to be able to make the mental transition to the spiritual world.

The reality is, when we become a Christian… or when we decide to get serious about our Christian life… we enter a spiritual gym. And inside that gym are spiritual exercise machines, placed there by God for the specific purpose of making us spiritually fit and powerful.

Instead of actual machines, however, there are life-experiences, designed to strengthen a given spiritual capacity.

There might be an unpleasant neighbor, designed to make you more patient and understanding, or a physical malady calculated to increase your compassion toward others. Or there might be a financial crisis intended to develop your eternal perspective, or a dead-end job, meant to strengthen your faith.

As Christians, because we tend not to view life as a spiritual gymnasium… but rather, as our own Disney movie that is supposed to have just enough conflict to heighten our appreciation of the happy ending… we tend to resent trials and see them only as impediments to a full and happy life. Trials may cause us to wonder if God really loves us or if He is really good.

But if we view life as a spiritual gymnasium and the difficult experiences of life as spiritual exercise equipment, then we can actually welcome challenging experiences, knowing that they build spiritual strength.

It is as James said: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But let endurance have its perfect result that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

Frankly, it takes a very spiritually mature person to actually consider it joy when encountering trials. The Apostle James was way further down that road than many of us.

But one step toward that perspective is to at least see the spiritual potential of trials, to envision the eventual benefit of them, and to look forward to greater spiritual power and eternal reward as a result of going through them.

As we do that, we take a major step toward actually being able to consider it joy when we encounter trials.

The capacity to do this, of course, requires the development of an eternal perspective, viewing the things of earth in light of eternity. As long as we hang onto a temporal perspective, wanting this life to go only as we want and plan, trials will always be a cause for frustration and resentment.

Now, this is not to say that trials will ever be easy. If they were easy, they would not qualify as trials. But if they are viewed as spiritual exercise machines, designed to transform us into spiritually powerful persons, capable of greater love, deeper joy, fuller worship, and greater impact, then we can appreciate them for the results they will bring, rather than resent them.

And when we get to that point, we are a small step away from actually considering it all joy when we encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of our faith produces endurance… and letting endurance have its perfect result that we may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.


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