The Illusion of Ease

6/01/2012

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The Illusion of Ease

I recently started going to the gym again on weekdays during lunch. Armed with a stomach full of oatmeal and distant memories of what it takes to build muscle and lose fat, I’ve been toddling in three days a week or so and occasionally in the evening or weekends. Like Samson, my relationship between hair length and strength seems to be proportional!

Earlier today I drove to the gym, swiped my little card, and changed in the locker room. My gym bag contained everything I needed…except for sneakers! And so I politely asked the attendants (who were 25 years my junior) if I could train without shoes. In order to lessen the liability in question, I assured them I would be quick and that I would not use free weights—just machines. They said, “yeah, sure.” (I think they felt pity for the old man in his gym socks!)

So I proceeded to do a quick twenty minutes or so of chest machine exercises. For a guy who has been lifting free-weights, it actually felt pretty good and there was no danger of dropping anything on my foot. When I finished, I honestly felt like I had gotten a good workout—pumped, tight and tired.

That was the illusion.

You see, there will come a time when my joints won’t accommodate the stress of free weights, but I’m not quite there yet. Experience has taught me that despite feeling good, today’s workout did not prepare me for anything. I will not be bigger or stronger tomorrow, the next day, or whenever it is that I remember to take my sneakers to the gym. While it was better than nothing, the stress was still inadequate to the task.

The trials in our lives work much the same way. We all want things to go smoothly, to be able to “just relax” and to live our lives free of stress. That’s fine for a while, but we need the stresses to grow—just as a muscle needs to be stressed in order to prepare itself for the next trial. James writes,

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds,because you know that the testing of your faithproduces perseverance.Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be matureand complete, not lacking anything. – James 1:2-4

Trials are “pure joy”, the Bible says. Why? Because with each trial, you are growing and building toward completeness.You are on the journey…and that’s good news! It’s great to coast on a bicycle but first you have to pedal. The view from the mountaintop is great, but as Phillip Keller notes, the best grass is in the valley—that’s where you feed. My mother-in-law is an avid reader and if she reads a book that is enjoyable but offers no real sustenance, she’ll describe it as “macaroni and cheese,” and I’ll know exactly what she means—it tasted good but did little to help her along her life’s journey because it didn’t challenge her.

Every trial in our lives is an opportunity. That’s why missionaries are often so deep—they have faced trials that you and I may never face and come out on the other side. Certainly Phillip Keller’s A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 would be less complete if he hadn’t faced drought, rustlers, poisonous snakes and a thousand other difficult situations.

You will face a trial of some sort today, so be ready. Ask God for the strengthand persevere. The journey to Completeness is not an easy one but it’s worth the trip. And don’t forget your sneakers!

 

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