My children “accuse” me of being an incurable optimist. When I say that 2015 is going to be the best yet, they respond, “You always say that.” And I answer, “I know, and am I right?”
The apostle Paul was on his last lap. He had run a tough race. He worked harder than anyone else, had much prison time, severe flogging, exposure to death, forty lashes minus one five times, three beatings with rods, a stoning, three shipwrecks, and in danger multiple times (2 Cor. 11:23-26).
So did things get better for Paul? That is the only time we hear about his grocery list of suffering. Otherwise, he calls a life of pain “our light and momentary troubles” (2 Cor. 4:17).
2 Timothy 4 is in many ways one of his saddest chapters. Paul sits alone and cold in a dark, damp prison awaiting sure execution. He has been forsaken by a comrade, stripped of his rights as a Roman, abandoned at his trial. And yet he is able to say four incredible things, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness…” (2 Tim. 4:7,8).
We all have to live with ourselves. Fighting is not easy, but Paul called it good. He picked his fights well. And the fight of faith is a good fight. Some cave in and fight lesser battles. For them it does not get better.
He also knows that he has no unfinished business, which is a great way to step out of this life. And the suffering did not cause him to throw in the towel. He endured, knowing that what was coming was wonderful beyond words. Did it get better? Absolutely.
But not for Demas. Paul says a few verses later to Timothy, “Do your best to come to me quickly. For Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me…” (v. 9, 10). Demas was a working buddy of Paul’s, not a fresh upstart. He had been running a good race. But worldly attraction pulled him out of the contest. And it got worse and worse. Repentance gave way to regret. Suffering for Christ turned to shame. Selfishness overtook self-denial. Demas could not say, “Every day is getting better.”
But you can, if you run your race well. “The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that grows brighter and brighter until full day” (Prov. 4:18). “But we all with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord are being changed into that same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18).
The challenges are increasing, but so are the opportunities. Does it get easier? Sometimes it gets far more difficult. Troubles increased for the Apostle. But so did the fruit of a persevering life. We go from strength to strength, from glory to glory, from victory to victory. Have a great 2015!