Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. . . We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised s faithful. (Heb. 10:23)
It’s one of those phrases that can stop us in our tracks, thinking we must have read it wrong.
Glory in our sufferings? Endure them, yes. Try to be patient in them, sure. But glory in them? Who in their right mind would want to do that?
If we’re not too put off by our initial reaction, we keep reading and discover what Paul means. We don’t glory because we’re suffering, but because we can rely on God through our suffering. We can glory in what that suffering can generate.
There’s an athletic parallel we can draw here. The serious athlete, whether amateur or professional, knows it will take suffering to reach their goal. They don’t glory in suffering for its own sake; what keeps them going is the glory the suffering can produce. They begin their training in the knowledge that in order to reach their full potential, they will have to work through exhaustion, pain, injury and sometimes loneliness. Having committed themselves to their goal, they either learn to persevere or they must set a different goal.
For the dedicated athlete, perseverance is both physical and mental. Pain is not their only struggle. If they don’t have the strength of character to keep working when they’re bored to tears at the endless repetitions of training, frustrated with teammates, fed up with not winning, or disappointed in their own performance, they won’t make it. At these times of mental stress, it’s character that carries them. Accepting they don’t know everything and need coaching to succeed will keep them learning and following. If they can’t or won’t accept coaching and correction, they’ll fizzle out when the going gets tough.
Professing to be an athlete means developing both the body and the character to reach your potential. It means avoiding the temptation to take shortcuts that will disqualify you from achieving your ambition. When injuries happen, the professional athlete will set interim goals to first heal, and then rehabilitate the body to heal the lingering effects of the injury.
Athletes who persevere through the trials of constant training and develop a strong character gain a legitimate hope of fulfilling their goals. They will reach their personal best, and aim to be the best in the field.
Professing Christians must also be willing to put in the work, persevering not only through suffering, but through all the times they don’t feel like it, aren’t in the mood to be challenged or stretched, or when they’d really rather be doing something else than being in training.
If I profess to belong to Jesus, I must realize that my strength comes from Him, and He will bring me through. My character will come from knowing pain, physical and emotional injury, and exhaustion. The crucial thing will be learning to know God on a deeper level in the pain. That knowing will come through willingness to accept correction, learn from His Word, and follow it. My hope will increase as I experience God in my healing, and trust Him to guide my rehabilitation.
Then, I will be truly able to “run in such a way as to get the prize.” (1 Cor. (:24) I haven’t got there yet, but I’m still in training, still learning, still pressing forward, and still looking forward to the ultimate prize!
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3:12-14)