I started doing a different exercise recently as part of my ongoing desire to keep at least reasonably fit. I have exercised quite a lot over recent months, but the change suddenly led to some significant aching of my muscles. It was not that I changed the intensity of exercise, it was simply that I was doing something different. The plus side of this obviously is that I am strengthening a different muscle.
Such an experience is in many ways parabolic of the way the Lord works in our lives. We can be moving along with our spiritual disciplines and generally doing well with them. As a result we can be feeling that we have some strength in the Lord.
Then suddenly the Lord introduces something into our lives which tests out an aspect of our character or lifestyle. Suddenly we feel the pressure and are wondering what has hit us. it may be a new colleague at work; it may be an illness; it could be opposition to your ministry in church. It could be a multitude of things. We can feel that it is a massive inconvenience that this this intrusion into our lives has happened and even be feeling pain which we had never anticipated.
But we must know that the Lord has bigger and better plans and that He is testing new muscles. It is, of course, not so that we will give up because of the muscle pain, but rather that through it we will know that our spiritual muscles are being strengthened. This is so that we might have a renewed character and purer lifestyle.
So we relate to the words of Paul who says in Romans 5:1-5
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith[b] into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 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.
Let us be quick to rejoice in the purpose of our suffering, rather than in the pain of our suffering. And as the old motivating phrase goes for all gym participants: “no gain without pain.” So let us endure well for the Lord, knowing that in our testings He is working great things.