Steroids are Tempting
Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. Colossians 1:24 (NIV)
I’ve recently mentioned that our gym has been participating in its annual worldwide competition, which is now finished. I competed, doing OK in the masters (old man) division. I didn’t expect to win, but I’d like to be good enough to win someday. To get there though, would likely require more hard work and suffering than I’m willing to tolerate. That is, after all, how we get stronger and faster – through suffering. Muscle grows when it’s stressed. It’s an unavoidable reality that if I want to get better, I must endure some suffering. If, however, someone offered me a way to cheat – with steroids perhaps – I’d be tempted. There’s a part of me that would be interested in radical transformation without all the hard work and suffering.
I’ve often approached my spiritual life with this attitude as well. It’s my nature to seek the easiest route. So, when I’ve recognized my need to change, I’ve gone to God, asking for him to do all the work. It’s not wrong to ask for God’s help, but when I use prayer as an excuse to do nothing, I’m doing it wrong, attempting to use God like a steroid. I’ve often misunderstood faith to mean that I’ve got a magical shortcut that protects me from any discomfort.
In today’s passage though, Paul taught this important truth – We grow through suffering. He acknowledged that, though he was a Christian, Paul was still flawed. My flesh is still lacking. He chose to be thankful for his suffering because he saw it as an opportunity to identify with Christ’s afflictions and to be made more like him. God used pain to transform Paul into what God wanted him to be, so he could better fulfill his life purpose.
None of us like pain. We don’t naturally choose suffering and we’d all prefer to grow without any discomfort. We’d all like the steroid option. Trials are unavoidable though. To live on this Earth means we’ll all struggle and experience suffering. What we do with those difficulties though, is up to us. If, like Paul, we turn to God, asking him to use them to transform us, he will do so. The trials are unavoidable. In those trials, we can turn to our self-destructive nature, making things worse. Or we can take the struggle to God, asking what he wants us to do with it. In doing so, we will grow, becoming more like who he made us to be.