This past week I had the privilege of listening to Paul Byrd talk to our staff at school. Paul is a retired major league baseball pitcher. He was speaking specifically on principles that cause Christians to stand out as leaders. However, he said a couple things that really caught my ear and as I thought more about them I couldn’t help but find those truths prevalent in Scripture.
What he said was simple. In a study of the best, most elite players in professional sports, they all sought greater challenges than those provided on a daily basis. What he meant was they found joy and excitement in the greatest trials and biggest challenges. The best pitchers love coming into the game with the bases-loaded no outs. The best basketball players love being down by 15 points in the fourth quarter. The best boxers love knowing that in that final-round they have to get a knockout or they will lose. All great athletes see potential threats as enjoyable challenges. They were not content with the easy win or watching as someone else took the pressure on their shoulders. They wanted the pressure. They wanted the game on their shoulders when it mattered. The best athletes in the world do not run from pressure or challenge. They florish in the midst of it and that challenge is for them the most enjoyable part of the game.
Paul knows this truth all too well. When Paul wrote the book of Romans he divided it into subsections about salvation. His first four chapters draw out in great detail what it takes to be saved and what it means to be saved by faith alone gaining the righteousness of Christ through that salvation. However, in Romans 5 he makes a shift. Romans 5 specifically talks about the content of our hope as a result of righteousness by faith. Romans 5:3–5 says this, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Paul spends four chapters telling us the position of strength and the position of security we find ourselves in when we are saved by faith alone. Christ himself has saved us. We are not held to the faith by our own strength but through the strength of Christ. That’s the position of power and security we have. Paul, coming off four chapters about this truth, immediately launches into the implications of that security. We can rejoice in the midst of suffering because of that security. We have such a strong position of faith because of Christ’s work that suffering does not derail us but instead motivates us. In the same way that elite athletes have faith in their abilities and find themselves flourishing in the midst of tough game situations, Christians can find themselves rejoicing in the midst of suffering in trial and persecution because of the position of strength we have in Christ alone. Paul does not call us to shy away or run from suffering. He calls us to rejoice in the midst of it.
This theme is riddled throughout Scripture. Paul is not the only one who makes note of that. James mentions it saying in James 1:2–4, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Job, in the midst of likely the Bible’s worst instance of suffering, says, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him.” (Job 13:15) Lastly, the Psalmist sums up this idea best in Psalm 66:10–12, “For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; you laid a crushing burden on our backs; you let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.”
What each of these Biblical heroes knows is that pressure is God’s avenue for development. This is the reason the most elite athletes in the world don’t run from high-pressure situations. They thrive in the midst of it because they know the development that comes in those situations. They enjoy the threat. Many Christians have a false understanding of God’s design and desire for our lives. We believe what God wants most for us is our happiness. There’s just no biblical evidence to this end and if God’s goal were our happiness he would’ve failed every major Biblical character. God doesn’t fail. God’s greatest desire for our lives is not our happiness but our holiness. Holiness, and the process of becoming more holy, happens best when pressure is applied. This does not always necessitate happiness but it does create joy. Ask the most elite athletes in the world what they enjoy or have enjoyed most about professional sports and they will tell you those high-pressure situations in which the game is on the line and everything rest on their shoulders, regardless of the outcome, were the most exhilarating and exciting parts of their career. The most elite look for challenges. The mediocre shy away from them. God desires that we might rejoice in the midst of trials.
We can rejoice in trial because of three things:
The knowledge that He has saved us and nothing can change that.
This trial is creating in us a greater holiness.
God is most glorified when his people make much of him in the midst of challenging circumstances.
When you look at Christ, is your greatest desire happiness or holiness? Do you run from suffering and trial as if they were things to be avoided rather than situations to flourish in the midst of? Nobody likes hard things. However, the Bible is full of truth that hard things happen. How do you react when hard things come your way? Do you rejoice in the midst of them and count them all joy or do you yell and argue with God about why in the world he would let that happen?
As you think through this struggle and pray about your own heart in the midst of this concept take a look at this song. This is one of the most influential lyrics in my life right now.
Shane and Shae: Though You Slay Me