When aerobic exercise gained prevalence in the 1980s, a frequent message was no pain, no gain. Exercise gurus encouraged their participants to work past their burning muscles, believing that would translate into much greater results.
We now know that this exercise philosophy is not the healthiest for our bodies. Putting that stress on our muscles can lead to long term damage and discomfort. Yet there are still many who think that making great gains, in many facets of life, is only achieved by going the distance through pain.
While not something that medical professionals advocate, there is, however, a semblance of truth in the – no pain no gain concept. The better way to phrase it, in a Christian sense, is – no strain, no strength.
It is challenging to get stronger if you never strain to do better. This applies to strength of all sorts – physical, emotional, spiritual, or intellectual. While we shouldn’t push ourselves to the point of pain, having to struggle does help us to grow and expand our capabilities. For example, we won’t easily run a marathon if we have not acclimatized our leg muscles to long runs. It is a process that takes time.
Straining causes us to battle with an issue or task. We pound it around, work it over, and traverse through it to get to a better, stronger place. In the toiling we learn and we grow. Maturing takes place as our faith is brought to the test and persists.
In my greenhouse, my fledgling plants flourish with the heat and humidity it provides. If I take these young plants directly from the greenhouse and plant them outside they almost certainly die. Why is that? They have no strength to withstand the elements such as wind and sunshine. In order for my transplants to be successful, I need to gradually expose them to conditions outside the greenhouse. This gradual exposure helps the plants strengthen their stems and leaves in order to thrive outside the greenhouse long term. We humans are no different and God promises that He won’t test us beyond what we can bear.
Rather than run in fear when challenges seem insurmountable, they can be looked at as opportunities to test our mettle and improve. That’s easier said than done, I know. When tough times hit, being told that these are growth experiences that will make us stronger in the end is not a comforting thought. We are more likely to want to avoid the tough times than celebrate going through them. That is a natural reaction.
For me, it is usually in hindsight that I can see God’s hand at work in the rough patches of my life. As I examine the bits and pieces of my efforts to get through something, I can see God picking me up and helping me along. There is no way that I can discern strength being gained while I am in the middle of challenging circumstances. My vision is often skewed as I try to corral all my resources to deal with the tough stuff and I can easily lose focus when I try to gain strength on my own terms.
Overall, I have to trust that God knows what is best for me. Like a loving parent, He knows that sometimes I will be the better person for having gone through the rough patch with His help, than by avoiding the painful circumstances altogether.
My faith is not the same today as it was in the past. My health challenges have caused me to look at my relationship to Christ in a different way. Being put in a position where I have no control, forces me to draw on the Lord’s grace and mercy and through that I grow stronger. My prayer life is healthier and more dynamic than it has ever been. I am more vocal at sharing what God is doing in my life.
Yes, God wants us to be stronger and He built us to work through the strain to a better place in our lives. He wants us to be strong plants that survive the elements. He wants us to use the strength gained in service to others. I know that I am more able to reach out in care to others because of some of my life’s circumstances. Sure, I wish I didn’t have to learn things the hard way but sometimes my stubborn human pride forces God to knock me over the head to get His point across.
Overall it is a trust thing. Do I trust God to walk with me, no matter what happens? Do I trust that He will see me through whatever life throws my way? Trusting in God means that I know my salvation is secure because of the blood and sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. Whatever happens between now and when I see Jesus face to face at the end of my earthly life, is just a blip on the eternal radar.
Trust God to be there, no matter what happens. He is faithful.
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