No Pain no Gain?

Having being involved with sport most of my life I can easily relate to the concept of “No Pain, No Gain.” The most memorable of these has to be the arduous task of cross country that was seemingly placed on our shoulders every wednesday afternoon in P.E sessions come rain or shine. The infamous runs across the often waterlogged terrain somehow brought the class together. We used to run in small packs of similarly paced runners like some re-enactment of band of brothers, encouraging each other onwards as we battled through the wind and rain. It was on one of these co-erced adventures that one lad, so desperate for air, jokingly offered five pounds to one of his asthmatic comrades for his inhaler, proof perhaps of the severity of task that we undertook. There was always such joy at seeing the finish line, joy that I’m sure is felt by desert trekkers when they finally stumble across water in a parched land. What was always guaranteed at the end of runs was the little pep talk from the PE teachers.  Hands on knees and saturated to the brim with water the words “No pain no Gain” would be lectured to us in a way that only P.E teachers seem to be able to do.  What was true, however, was that almost every week my time would become quicker and quicker; no pain no gain indeed.

This notion, however, has been something I’ve only every attributed to sport. The rest of my life seems to embark on the journey of making everything simpler or easier in that I do my best to avoid difficult or challenging situations and thus eliminating risk for the safety of well trodden paths. This concept is even reciprocated in the prayers that I pray. I often pray that God would take me out of situations of pain or hardship, or the times where I’ve said to God “Why won’t you answer this pray, it will make my life so much easier.” I think we’ve all had times like that and yet recently I’ve been challenged by my own experience in the world of sport, challenged in a way that alters my previous worldview of life and its adversities.

I had the privilege of spending a few days with a friend recently who studied at a rather picturesque bible college. As well as catching up we also spent a session in the gym that was situated there and it was here that the notion of “No pain, No gain” first started to relate to my own life and not just the hustle and bustle of sport. Its common knowledge in the world of the Gym that to get stronger you have to push your muscles to the limit, lifting heavier and heavier weights with every session. As we took it in turns to lift the other would encourage and when they started to struggle, gently push them to continue ensuring they didn’t give in. There reached a point where my body started to groan under the pressure of the heavier weight and the temptation to give in, to ask my friend to take the weight off me grew. Yet under his encouragement I pushed on and when the reps started to push my body to the limit he would place his little fingers under the bar I was lifting and gently apply the slightest of pressure to assist my lift. It was amazing how even that little bit of added pressure helped push home the last few reps.

Yet isn’t this an analogy of life? Or at least I find it true for me. Just like when I was in the gym and running cross country there are times where I find life hard, perhaps feeling a million miles away from the finish line. Even recently the last few months have been painful and there have been times where I’ve wanted to give up where my prayers have been “why God? Why won’t you take me out of this situation, life would be so much easier.” Just like the moment in the gym where I wanted to give in and have my friend take the weight off me I ask God to relieve my pain. It reminds me of my last two gap years working at the church I’d become a Christian in. I look back on those two years like a veteran soldier would on his previous battles, still nursing scars and bruises. They were undoubtedly the two hardest years of my life and I’d never been pushed so far spiritually, mentally,emotionally and physically  There were times when I wanted to give in, times where I almost did, times where I cried and times where I wished I’d never signed up for the job. Yet a year on and still fresh from the scars I see the growth that has been developed in me, the way I’ve grown wiser from the experience . In true reflection every time I’ve faced hardship in my life and even moments where I’ve wanted to throw in the towel on my Christian journey I see the way the hardship has shaped me into the man that I’m growing to be, often proving to be greater times of growth than in the times where life is plain and easy. Instead of asking God to just relieve me from these moments surely its about asking God to grow me in that moment as well and asking God what challenges are you going to put before me in order that I can grow. I think thats the beauty of doing life with God that through every moment of hardship he is there willing us on and when it seems like the moment is about to overcome us he gives us the strength to overcome it.

There is of course a balance to be met and I know of people who have faced terrible pain that I can’t begin to fathom and the question of “Why God” still echoes around my mind. Jesus promises that we will find rest in  him (Matthew 11:28) and it is important that we do find rest and relief from the battles we face in the world and  its important that we pray that and comfort people who are hurting. Yet  in scripture we see how God also pushes his people to grow them, Jonah is challenged to go to Ninevah, Moses is challenged to speak to Pharaoh (Exodus 3:11), Gideon is called to be a leader despite knowing his weakness (Judges 6:15) and Jesus is tested in the wilderness (Matthew 4). Despite feeling weak God showed the power he had placed in these men and the power and strength that comes from walking with God. God used the illustration of the Potter in Jeremiah 18 to show how he shapes his people so that they may grow in their walk as the people of God. Heres the challenge that I learn from this, that as well as asking God to heal me I also ask God to grow me by challenging me.

I hope we all want to grow as disciples and I’m sure that, whether we know it or not, God is pushing us so that we can grow to be more like Jesus in everything we do. Its encouraged me to trust God with the battles I face in life and to ask how can he grow me everyday and in particular the things I find difficult. A part of it is facing difficult situations or conversations head on knowing that God is not only be there with me, but will also grow me as his disciple in the process. There is always a time for rest and recovering is an important part of the growing process – even in the world of sport rest is fundamental if you want to grow and not burnout and this is echoed brilliantly in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. Are you needing to be challenged or are you needing rest and recovery?

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

“God would you challenge me today so that I can grow and when it gets difficult will you give me the strength to overcome it. I pray that in life you will give me the power and the determination to push on in things that are hard when it is right and also that you will give me rest and recovery from battles that have been painful when it is right to. Lord heal me of the pain that I have and may you grow me too in the deep pain that I face every day. Continue to grow, nurture, sustain and develop me as your son/ daughter. amen”