No. I am not a masochist. I just don’t know of another way to get in shape—or to stay there. Exercise is the application of artificial pressure to the muscles. I sit most of the day. Bummer. I use lips more than legs. So I need to be creative with my limbs. The tongue can use a rest.

Problem is—nothing changes for the better right away. It gets worse. How encouraging. You give it a try and you can’t bend over the next day.

All Christians are futurists. We live for what is not yet. Peter tells us: “Set your hope fully on the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Paul speaks of this present evil world. We’re camping out.

In the meantime, we apply the strange formula to our spiritual muscles. We do exercises in hope. We have morning workouts. Every day isn’t a ten. But it is getting better—over the long haul. After years of doing the same drills, it is going easier. But we still sometimes feel a reluctance to submit as we prepare for another session, maybe a painful one. Paul, who knew about pain, spoke of “our light, momentary affliction.”

People are always coming out with a better way to get strong. Some promise new muscle strength in thirty days. Others show pictures of an incredible hulk to make you buy in. Let me tell you: every product worth anything has two ingredients for development—time and pain. Don’t fall for any ad promising muscles while you sit in the jacuzzi or in your favorite recliner flipping the remote control.

Likewise, growth in the kingdom of God doesn’t happen without the same two ingredients—time and pain. No shortcuts. Did I disappoint you? Ask Peter who received his most embarrassing rebuke trying to talk Jesus out of pain. Ask Joseph who was given a prophetic picture of his future. Thirteen years later he arrived—after much sorrow, including a painful rejection by his brothers, taking him from favored son status to prisoner (rejection never feels good), a frame-up by a wild woman, and an unreturned favor by a butler.

Ask David, whose anointing at age seventeen from Samuel dripped with destiny. It took him thirteen years as well, after being chased around the Judean desert by a mad monarch who didn’t want to be replaced. And ask Jesus Himself, whom the Scripture says “learned obedience through the things that he suffered” and “endured the cross, disregarding the shame.” Notice He didn’t “enjoy” the cross. If these people didn’t sidestep pain, neither will you.

Don’t bait potential Christians or young believers with a sales pitch. The Gospel is far more glorious than that. It doesn’t need your hype to convince people. Jesus warned prospective clients rather than bringing out the perks.

The best advice I received for the discipleship school we were starting came from the retired principal of our Christian school in Southern California: “Under-promise and over-perform.” I was set to do the opposite.

Jesus told Paul “how much he must suffer” from the get-go (Acts 9:14). He told Peter, who wanted to do an end run around the cross, that he was thinking like the devil. Once Peter got it, he spoke brilliantly about pain. Read his letter.

Three truths can help us to embrace hardship:

  1. Pain with purpose beats meaningless suffering.
  2. Pain now means pleasure later. The opposite is also true! Ask drug addicts.
  3. Pleasure is greater when you have endured pain. Endurance is the sterling quality of end-time Christians.

Even Muhammed Ali got something right. “I hated every minute of training. But I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’” That’s you!

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