Romans 8: 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
Two of the most successful track programs in the world, the Jamaican sprint program, and the Kenyan distance program, have facilities that would be considered impoverished compared to U.S. or European training facilities. I recall watching an Usain Bolt documentary which gave the viewers a grand tour of the UTECH training facility in Jamaica. Rusty weights perched on a teetering bench, and runners sprinting on half dead grass, was the unlikely setting for the development of the greatest sprinter ever. Likewise, one of the greatest distance runners ever, Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge, is a self-made millionaire, but most of the time he lives like a pauper. Do these athletes thrive despite these conditions, or perhaps because of them?
Kipchoge believes that: “when it comes to the marathon – the event at which he’s been undefeated since 2013 – maintaining a ravenous hunger is not just helpful; it’s a fundamental requirement”.[i] When you race a marathon you put both your body and mind under severe duress so Kipchoge believes it is necessary to train in adversity. “Athletics is not so much about the legs,” Kipchoge said. “It’s about the heart and mind.” Kipchoge obviously feels that training in a pampered environment would not create the grit or hunger necessary to be the world’s best. And this same story plays itself out with many other sports including soccer players from Brazilian ghettos, or boxers from impoverished American neighbourhoods. These athletes have an incredible hunger and pain tolerance that came from years of suffering and trials.
It is no different for Christians. Without exception, when I see a solid mature Christian, who walks humbly yet with conviction and purpose, their story will have one consistent piece – pain. There is no way around it. To become more mature in your Christian faith, it must come through trials and pain. If you consider yourself to be a mature Christian, can you say that you welcome adversity? Do you find joy in your suffering? James 1 tells us that we should: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1: 2-4).
The secret to finding joy in our suffering is not enjoying pain – that would be masochistic. The secret is recognizing that the pain will bring reward. In that place, we can welcome the pain and even relish it, like an athlete pushing themselves to the brink of collapse in a practise. “Bring it on!”, they scream defiantly to their coach.
When you next face trials, make the decision to thank God for choosing you. Even if you must do it in tears, thank Him for choosing to develop perseverance in your life, and for maturing you as a believer. While the choice to persevere or step back will always be yours, when you choose to move forward, God promises that He will never leave you to fight the battles alone. God says: “He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.” (Psalm 91:15).