Monday, October 20, 2008
Current Study: People Who Made a Difference
Today’s Topic: Growing Together
Today’s Scripture: Romans 5:1-5 “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”
I have always hated running. I don’t mind running so that I can stretch a single into a double in a church softball game, or running down a pass thrown to the corner of the end zone, or even running up the hill of a golf course to see if the shot I just hit went in the hole. But running just for the sake of running some more has no appeal to me. But I do admire those who do love to run. I admire their endurance and their perseverance. I guess my problem is I’m not much into suffering for the sake of building muscle. I’ve had to realize that one doesn’t come without the other, both in the physical and the spiritual.
The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans five that we have two things for which to rejoice – the hope of the glory of God, and the suffering that produces a full understanding of that hope. I wonder if we haven’t sacrificed true hope on the altar of leisurely and luxurious living. I wonder if we need a fresh lesson in the school of suffering to teach us to persevere. Maybe then we will develop real Christ-like character and find the true hope of glory that never disappoints us because we are living under the Divine influence of God’s love rather than love for self.
Over the weekend I received an email from a reader of these devotionals who is not on my distribution list. She gets them through a friend who forwards them to her. She pointed out something very interesting about this passage of Scripture. She discovered that growing in character isn’t an individual activity, but a group one. Here’s her story of someone who made a difference in her life.
My high school cross country coach, Bud Swanson (whose first name admittedly was Harold, but no one would ever think to call him that) was the most unstoppable man I had ever met. Daily he ran the long miles with the varsity team (though he always made sure to drop back to encourage those who were huffing and puffing). Daily he told us the importance of a healthy diet (I never drank a full can of Coke after he said it would ruin an entire week of training). Daily after practices he would have us stretch in silence and think about all the ways we could improve our mile times, all the ways we were stronger than the other teams, all the ways we were going to succeed in the next race. He’d always say that, be it a cross-country race, a hard exam or any struggle we insecure teenage girls encountered in our lives, we could close our eyes and safely jump from any unimaginable height, as long as we had a cape in which we trusted without fail. Bud ran right, ate right and thought right – and made sure we did the same for ourselves.
That’s why I was so surprised during my junior year of high school when he told us he had stomach cancer, and why – four months later – he died.
A little while after, I happened upon Romans 5, one of my favorite pieces of Scripture to read – only this time I read it differently than I ever had before: we rejoice in our sufferings, it says. Not only do I have the ability to persevere through my own suffering and find hope, but because we are all connected – because we are all hands and feet and arms and legs and ears and eyes of the body of Christ – his family, his students, and I myself were able to gain character, hope and peace through Bud’s suffering, through his perseverance.
Isn’t that great? We are connected, and when one part of the Body of Christ to which we belong suffers, we all suffer. And when we suffer together, we all grow in perseverance, character and hope. Unfortunately, our tendency is to become isolated during suffering, while God intends intimacy. If only we could get our eyes off of the need for immediate pleasure, gratification, or personal benefit, we could discover the incredible truth of hope growing through suffering.
But the needs of the individual have overwhelmed the betterment of the body. Our own personal agenda has taken priority over the building of the body of Christ. The desire to run the race has been extinguished by the dislike of training. Much of our time is spent avoiding suffering under the guise of making life better. We strive for satisfaction and stifle suffering. We pursue pleasures rather than perseverance. We chase after capital and careers instead of character. We hurry after happiness at the expense of real hope. Look around. Hope is fading. People are looking for it in all the wrong places and from all the wrong people. We may be in for a time of suffering. It is during this time that we who are in Christ will grow in perseverance, character and hope. Let’s do it together.