New Living Translation (NLT)
|Photo by SCPO Todd P. Cichonowicz, |
U.S. Navy [Public domain]
Faith and Endurance
2 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
New recruits to the US Navy and Marine Corp know all about The Crucible. Each one must train for months under grueling conditions to pass the ultimate test of mental and physical endurance. Boot Camp was not designed to be fun, as anyone who has been there can tell you. My daughter joined the USMC fresh out of high school, and spent her 18th birthday being pushed nearly to the breaking point by her Drill Instructors.
Every moment during those three months of training is spent separating those who just don't have what it takes from those who can reach deep inside themselves for strenth. Those in charge of overseeing this transformation don't take the time to be gentle. They don't have time to waste! They know that in only 12 short weeks, they have to take naive kids who've likely never known a day's work and prepare them for the ultimate test of endurance, will, and strength. Hopefully that final event before graduation will be the worst that military life ever throws at them. But all too often, it is just the beginning.
For some reason, people have this crazy notion that when they accepted Christ, they'd just been given a free pass from anything difficult. They sincerely believe that their ticket to paradise is going to be on a luxury cruise ship, and that God has promised them a life of ease. Then when things get tough, they start shaking in their boots, their faith crumbles, and they give up.
It's a sad commentary, isn't it? Becoming a Christian is actually very much like joining the Military, only without a Recruiter telling you what to expect. There really is no excuse, either, because throughout the New Testament, Paul warns of persecution much worse than what most of us will ever face. Because he properly prepared those in his charge, they were well equipped to move through life rejoicing in even the smallest victories.
This day and age, we usually train on the fly. We haven't been taught what to expect, or how to handle the unexpected. As a result, we are way too easily discouraged. We read these sentimental poems with photographs of footprints in the sand, and think that our walk with Christ more closely resembles trudging through quicksand.
So let's change all that right now. Let's take a look at Paul's life after salvation and see if we can't shift our perspective. Hopefully we will never have to walk a mile in his shoes, but the day is coming when those who love God will be put to even greater tests than he did.
2 Corinthians 11:23-28
New Living Translation (NLT)
23 Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. 24 Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. 26 I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. 27 I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. 28 Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches.
Can you imagine suffering that much for any reason? It's bad enough to be thrown in prison, beaten, flogged, and threatened with death, even for someone who has committed a crime deserving of all those things. But Paul was innocent! His only crime was witnessing to others about Jesus. He had to float in an ocean like shark bait after one of many shipwrecks. He'd been homeless, starving for food and water, shivering in his sandals without even a blanket to keep him warm. He'd been the victim of more crimes than most characters on a soap opera. And on top of all that, he had to worry about the newer Christians he was trying to teach and give encouragement to! He had to settle their squabbles and give them tough love, and I can only imagine sometimes he might have wanted to turn his back on the whole stinking lot of them.
But he didn't. Instead, he felt honored that he had been accepted as a defender of truth and freedom. With every torture he survived, he rejoiced, because he hadn't been broken. Every day was one step closer to the ultimate test, to The Crucible, where he would be proven worthy of his rank. And still he would press on, always anxious to reflect well on his Commander In Chief.
Yes, I know, you're not Paul. I'm quite happy to say that neither am I. But I do wish I was more like him. I whine and complain when I can't afford to go out for a steak dinner, and pout if I have nothing left after paying bills. If Paul could see what a wimp I am, he'd roll over in his grave. But even though I slept through Boot Camp and missed the Crucible, God's teaching me to overcome my weaknesses. I may be a slower learner, but my reward will be the same.
New Living Translation (NLT)
12 God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.