DISCOVERING JOY IN THE PAIN
“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
During my high school years in Long Island, I did a lot of competitive running in track and field and cross country. For many people, running is not the most enjoyable thing, but for me there is something about it that is so enjoyable – even though it can be terribly challenging.
When I was a freshman, our cross country coach would have us run fifty miles a week on average – a combination of training, trials and then races. The training was difficult, and the races were hard, but the trials that prepared us for the races were the worst. Actual races seemed easier because there were crowds cheering you on, a sense of expectation to win, and a chance to challenge the other competitors. All these things gave a great sense of purpose. But during a trial, I was essentially racing against myself, and it was very hard to see the purpose in the middle of the run when tiredness, pain and a level of suffering kicked in. Crazy thoughts would sprint through my mind – thoughts of giving up running, thoughts of playing a sport like golf or tennis instead, thoughts of stopping and not finishing the trial.
However, if I captured those thoughts and redirected them to the vision of winning the upcoming race, it was like a switch flipped over in my mind. Faith would immediately take over. Where my legs had begun to slow down, a strong belief – a strong remembrance of the ‘why’ – would overwhelm the pain in my body. Adrenaline and a feeling of euphoria kicked in. Circumstantially nothing had changed. No one said anything to me out there in the middle of the treelined dirt tracks of the five mile run, yet joy would rise up in me.
Trials are tests that challenge faith. I realized early on that our coach had the best in mind for us when he pushed us to our limits in the trials. If we could develop physical and mental endurance and perseverance he knew that we would have the upper hand in competition. We would be lacking nothing on race day. We would be, in a sense, complete runners. Our coach also knew that the greatest motivator to pushing through those trials was discovering the joy of running. He would make us write in a journal after every training and trial. This was a powerful exercise for me because in processing my thoughts I discovered a joy in the pain. I liken this to daily prayer. Prayer helps us to discover the ‘why’ before and after a trial. Prayer is that great journalling invitation to daily write our burdens, needs and cares down so that any weight may be lifted off of us and we can rediscover the joy of why we run for Him.
By allowing trials into our lives, our Heavenly Father proves that He has the best in mind for us. He knows that without the testing of our faith we will not develop the perseverance we need to make it to the finish line; He knows that without a spirit taught to push through the severity of our circumstances or inner struggles we will stop running. And stopping is the last thing that God envisions for us; it is the last thing that our church family needs; and it is the last thing that you and I want to happen.
Just because we feel like stopping or giving up doesn’t mean something is wrong. It usually means something is right. It means our heavenly coach is pushing us forward, allowing resistance to build perseverance in our hearts. He loves us so much, and He is the greatest coach, inviting us to follow His training schedule for our faith. He doesn’t want us to stay immature or incomplete in our faith; He will finish what He has started in us [Philippians 1:6]. He doesn’t want us to just limp across the finish line of life; He wants us to discover the joy in each trial – not an earthly temporal happiness, but a taste of heaven. The trial runs I went through before a race gave me a taste of the joy to come – the joy of crossing the finish line of the race. If I had not learned to persevere in those trial runs I would not have discovered that joy.
Let us find pure joy in knowing that whatever we are facing, trials are not sent to hurt us but to make us stronger in Christ, and in turn make us more Christlike.
Run in such a way as to get the prize [1 Cor 9:24].
The prize is Jesus, and He is worth the perseverance.
// Pastor Josh Kelsey