3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,
4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
5 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.– Romans 5:3-5
There are certain things we expect in certain situations. I expect that when I step into the gym for a heavy squat day that my legs will hurt and that it will take some physical and emotional wherewithal to make it through the squat session. Many of our athletes expect that Open workouts are going to hurt really bad. The expectation of pain and suffering in those workouts are a given for them. When CrossFit athletes compete at the Regional and Games level, they expect that there will be movements that are not their favorites. They know that as part of their competition they will be asked to be proficient at a particular movement or energy system that they may not be great at. This is true of every sport. There are things that are not pleasant but are required for us for our growth in the sport. Nobody likes conditioning at football practice. No tennis player like hitting hundreds of balls in the same location over and over again. However, the best not only endure and suffer through these than glorious parts of the sport but they look forward to it. The best athletes in the world will look at the parts of their sport that seem the toughest and smile. The challenge and the suffering, they know, is what makes them better. I think the biggest difference in elite athletes and mediocre athletes can be found in the delight of suffering. The understanding that suffering is a normative piece of their lives.
Ironically, Christians do not seem to embrace the same mindset when faced with daily suffering in their own lives. The idea that suffering would be a standard part of the Christian experience not only is not attractive to most Christians but we run from it. Matthew 5:10–12 calls the suffering Christian “blessed.” John 15:18 reminds us that we don’t suffer alone but in fact Christ suffered first and because of his suffering do we now endure much of the same experience. One of the best examples of suffering, as a result of a life lived for the glory of God, can be found in Joseph. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers for revealing a vision that God gave to him and while in slavery in Egypt he refused to sleep with his masters wife and she had him thrown in prison. He literally took the stand that would bring the most glory to God and honor God and the result landed him in prison for two years. If anyone had reason to throw their hands up and look up to God and ask why, it was this man. He had done nothing but serve the Lord and remain faithful and the only experience he had known as a result was suffering. Yet what do we see from Joseph? Joseph is famous for the words “what you intended for evil God intended for good.” Joseph’s mindset was always to trust in the Lord’s sovereignty, believe in His faithfulness, and rejoice in his own circumstances. Joseph did not shy away from suffering but instead boldly remain faithful to God. Joseph could have absolutely bowed to the commands of his masters wife and avoided prison. However, suffering and persecution were not things to be feared in Joseph’s mind. Joseph feared the Lord and to the Lord alone was He faithful.
The Bible reminds us frequently that, if we are living as faithful followers of Christ, we can expect to experience suffering. James 1:2 tells us to count it joy when we meet trials of various kinds. David in Psalm 119:71 tells us it was good that he was afflicted for it caught him the statutes of God. Peter in 1 Peter 1:6–7 tells us to rejoice in our current affliction for it will make our faith stronger and ultimately bring glory to God. Make no mistake, if your Christian experience has been devoid of suffering the Bible would tell you that your Christian experience has been devoid of Christ. Christ’s presence in your life does not give you license to run from hard things. In fact, Christ’s presence in your life pushes you right into the middle of hard things. No faithful Christian can go through daily living without an understanding and experience of suffering. This is a truth found throughout Scripture that most Christians like to gloss over. God’s primary desire for our lives is not pleasantry, comfortability, or happiness but instead is ultimately His glory through our faithfulness. Suffering is light and momentary according 2 Corinthians 4:17 when compared to the joy and glory of God. Consider how often we run towards hard things to make us better athletes and yet run from hard things despite God’s reminder that it will make us more refined, more holy men and women of God. This is not to say we should seek out suffering but the Bible clearly commands believers to embrace and rejoice in the midst of inevitable suffering. This is our Christian experience and God promises that He will remain faithful to us in the midst of it and refine us through it.