Saturday, November 12, 2011

Impediments to Spiritual Growth--Pain

This is a repost of # 1 in a series.

There is an old adage, probably derived from sports, it is, "No pain, no gain."  I heard that many times growing up, as I was active in sports and faced the pain of training as I pushed myself to new levels of strength, fitness, toughness, speed, and endurance.  Why does someone push himself/herself like that, out of comfort into pain and exhaustion..time and time again?  It is because they have a goal in mind, a prize to be won, a victory to be achieved.  The goal, or prize, or victory is considered valuable enough, important enough, precious enough, to be worth the price of the pain paid for its achievement. All for what?  A temporal prize that will fade away with time, soon to be forgotten, if not by the individual, then by those who come after;  a faded ribbon, a rusted trophy, a yellowed and crumbling newspaper clipping, or an obsolete CD or DVD; a prize that will be burned up along with the rest of this world when God destroys this universe to make way for the new heavens and new earth.

But many gifted athletes are not willing to push themselves to that point of pain and exhaustion, they are not willing to become uncomfortable, and are willing to take what they can get without the sacrifice.  These are the ones who had such great potential, but never lived up to it.  Their goal was not worth the pain involved for its achievement.

Spiritual growth, spiritual maturity is much the same.  It does take sacrifice, and is at times painful and exhausting.  In Christianity, the ultimate goal is to become like Christ, in fact God promises in Philippians 1:6 that He Himself will complete that work He began in us until the day of Christ Jesus, but we have our part to play which is why we are to work out our salvation while God is at work in us.  So effort and striving are still required of us for us to continue down the path of Christ-likeness, and Paul uses the metaphors of the athlete and the hard working farmer in II Timothy 2 to give us an example of the discipline and effort required to advance and grow in our Christian maturity. 

Unfortunately, just as many athletes are not willing to push through the pain and endure the exhaustion, so many Christians are not willing to undergo pain and endure weariness to become more like Christ.  Mark Dever has made the statement that we, in our culture, are addicted to comfort.  It is this addiction to comfort and its corresponding aversion to pain that are one of the impediments to our growth in Christian maturity.  It cripples our discipline and hampers our efforts.

Christian growth, spiritual growth, growth in Christ-likeness, the continual conformation into His image is often painful; not necessarily physically painful, but mentally, spiritually,and emotionally painful.  Confronting our own sins, shortcomings, foibles, and weaknesses is uncomfortable for us; and only if we view the goal of being more like our Blessed Savior as worthwhile, as desirable above all else, as precious to us, will we engage the pain and endure the weariness that is required for confronting these things about ourselves and achieving victory over them.

Let's face it, none of us likes pain, none of us wants to be weary, but the reality is that pain is necessary and is useful in perfecting us.  It is when we seek to avoid the pain of self-examination and self-confrontation, and refuse to be wearied by enduring that battle that our Christian growth is stunted or stopped.  In seeking to make our lives more comfortable, we make our lives less glorious.  Yes, it is true for those of us in Christ, that if there is no pain there is no gain; but we must remember that He Himself is our gain, He is our very great reward. In words of Paul "To live is Christ, to die is gain."

Is our Lord's eternal pleasure more important to us than our temporal comfort?  Is our desire to hear Him say, "Well done, My good and faithful servant.  Enter into the joy of your Master."  greater than our desire for personal comfort?  Let's pray that it is, and ask Him to make it so.

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