“God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer and irresponsible God?…God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best.”
So, I thought it would be a good idea to start going to the gym. You know, lose a few pounds, try to keep my middle-aged back forty from becoming the back sixty. Work on turning my chicken wing biceps that flap in the breeze into actual muscle. Tighten things up that are currently loose; shore up parts that have long since taken on the texture of of jello and cottage cheese. I thought it would be a good idea.
You see, one of the perks of this particular gym is a “free” hour with a professional trainer.
Yea, sure. I’m a sucker for “free”. Let’s do it.
Eight-o’clock Wednesday morning I met with Dane, a seemingly nice young man, relatively the age of my own son. I assumed he would put me on a treadmill, have me do a few weight machines. Start this aging body at an easy pace and work up to things, right?
For an hour Dane had me lifting and lunging, stretching, pulling, pushing, bending, twisting, jumping and squatting. About thirty minutes in Dane didn’t seem quite so nice anymore. Apparently he had mistaken me for someone who actually wanted to get in shape. (Never mind that this is what I had told him prior to this session.)
The following day I realized that the term “free” in this case was relative only to money as I was paying dearly for the hour of training. In my mind Dane had grown horns and a pointy tail. Surely he had been trying to kill me. Muscles used for everyday activities like moving from standing to sitting or vice versa and walking up and down stairs were now screaming that I was a total idiot for trusting him. Others parts of my anatomy that had obviously not been heard from in years joined the cacophony letting me know that they were quite content to be flabby, soft and loose. After all, the status quo wasn’t that bad was it?
Wednesday I met with a trainer with the intention of improving my physical shape. Thursday my flesh was in rebellion, throwing out plenty of seemingly justified reasons to drop out. After all, the cost in terms of pain and work was more than I thought I should or could pay.
I don’t know about you, but I find that my spiritual “flesh” has a similar reaction to spiritual training.
I want to get in good spiritual shape. I want to grow, exhibit more love, more peace, more patience. So, trainer Jesus says, “Okay, let’s do it.” Then he brings to me people who try my patience and are irritating and asks me to love them. He allows difficult and confusing circumstances to come my way and asks me to trust him. He permits unkindness and injustice to touch me and tells me to forgive. He doesn’t take away the pain, but keeps on pushing, pushing me beyond what seems kind or reasonable.
My “flesh” rebels. Jesus doesn’t feel like a friend. He’s starting to look like trainer Dane.
And then the Spirit whispers through the Word:
“My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either. It’s the child he loves that he disciplines the child he embraces he also corrects.”
Hebrews 12 (The Message)
Jesus reminds me that in the moment no training seems pleasant. It feels more like punishment, but in the end it results in the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
You see God’s grace is free. Salvation, acceptance and love is free. But spiritual maturity takes training, work and pain. Trouble is, I want it to be free and easy, just like I want to be physically fit, but I don’t want it to cost me ache and struggle and sweat.
But in those quiet moments, when I am alone with trainer Jesus I find that I truly want something more than the easy life. I want to know Him, walk with Him and bear the fruit of His righteousness in my life. Hearing “Well done” will be worth the struggle. I am encouraged to continue in the training He sends and to push through the temptation to quit.
You see Jesus isn’t just a trainer standing by me, urging me on. He is the trainer IN me, giving me strength, enabling me to do what I didn’t think I could. And that makes all the difference.