Running is not fun. You have to schedule time to do it, and you can’t be picky about the weather. You have to get off your butt and on your feet, head out the door, and begin running – there’s no further preparation. At first, it’s not so bad; the muscles begin to loosen up, you develop an effective breathing pattern, and everything feels in sync.
But there’s a point in the discipline that it really hurts. Your chest begins to burn, each of your muscles feels like deflated balloons, and you start thinking about when it’s going to end. This feeling varies depending on your physique, but if you’re looking to actually exercise, everyone experiences this pain.
When you’ve completed the circuit, however, having finished the run, there’s a euphoric feeling that overwhelms you, along with the inherent relief that the torture is over. The longer term benefits are obvious, but the immediate return is the realization that you’ve actually done it, that you’ve reached your goal.
The most devoted followers of Christ I’ve discovered are often not the ones that were raised in a church-going household with no problems, happily trekking through Sunday school and youth group, facing few obstacles on the way to adulthood and further. Instead, it seems the tested and opposed, the seasoned and the sharpened, are less likely to fall away.
The early church faced intense resistance from all corners, and even from within. Some of the other Jews, hearing about Peter allowing non-Jews access to salvation through Jesus Christ, were indignant.
“You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!” they contested.
Who was Peter to allow these Gentiles into their exclusive club? Peter had a decision to make, whether to succumb to the pressure of his peers or to testify about what God had done. Fortunately, he proceeded to do the latter, affirming to the church that all were given the opportunity to receive eternal life.
It is this resistance that shapes Peter and the church, the constant pressure and strain that builds and fortifies. In the same way, how can one expect to increase in endurance, whether running alone or walking with the Lord, if no opposition presents itself? Is it not the striving to overcome that enhances a person’s integrity?
Do not be surprised if, along the way, you become weary or discouraged. The road is wrought with strife indeed. But the crown, as Paul speaks of, is for those who endure until the end. And, furthermore, it is the testimony of those who have overcome that is the most potent for the sake of the Lord. Your listeners will, as the once maligned Jews before Peter eventually conceded, have no further opposition and become silent, and in turn glorify God.
But even if this doesn’t occur, the satisfaction of having finished will always be enough. My friends, do not give up, despite resistance, for this is truly what hardens us to become sturdy vessels for the Lord.