Being a Tough Christian

I was amazed recently to hear an interview with a man who is considered by many to be “the toughest man in the world.” The man’s name is David Goggins, who is described by Wikipedia as “retired Navy SEAL and former USAF Tactical Air Control Party member who served in Iraq and Afghanistan… ultramarathon runner, ultra-distance cyclist, triathlete and world record holder for the most pull-ups done in 24 hours.”

I was impressed with Goggins’ description of the first time he had run a 100 mile race. He did this with no marathon training whatsoever. He was not even a runner.

He describes sitting down at one point and being unable to stand back up, so that he had to use the restroom on himself right where he sat. He describes the small bones in his feet being broken, kidney failure, severe shin fractures, and tendon inflammation so severe that he had to tape his entire lower legs into what were essentially giant, unflexing pegs for the last 20 or 30 miles of the race. He describes exactly the kind of intense pain that you would expect from someone who is running 100 miles without ever having trained as a runner before.

As I heard this tale, I had to question whether I was truly aware of my own ability for mental toughness. I thought of 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”

Maybe when you read this passage, you think it means that God will give you a fairly easy and obvious way out of any temptation you might face. Maybe we want to believe that the paths through our trials will be simply a matter of trusting God and it will all be over in a jiffy.

But all that the text says is that He “will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able.” And apparently, human beings are able to endure tremendous suffering and difficulty.

We are told that He, “with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” This is a sure promise from the LORD. But bear in mind that humans have endured all kinds of long, painful situations such as being prisoners of war or being trapped for days or weeks under rubble before finally finding a way of escape.

You might or might not be physically able to run 100 miles, even if you truly gave it your all. But the temptations you face, with the LORD’s help, you can overcome if you refuse to give up. But do not expect it to be easy.

We will need to draw on the LORD for tremendous strength if we are to bear the tragedies and the ailments that are sure to come our way.

“But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.” (1 Peter 4:13)

“The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Romans 8:16-17)

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Do Not Mistake Mental Ability for Spiritual Maturity

Ever since I was little, I have had a very easy time memorizing things. During Sunday school, this meant that I always knew the right answer, and was often the one to raise my hand and share it. And in Sunday school, knowing the right answer can seem an awful lot like being a spiritual elite.

I was also always able to read on a grade level that was above my actual age. As a result, I enjoyed reading from the Bible during Bible classes. I often volunteered to do so, while other children, who struggled with reading and often needed to take long pauses to sound out words did not volunteer very often to read for the class. And as we all know, volunteering to read in class is a mark of spiritual maturity, right? At least, it felt that way.

I also had a general knack for public speaking. I was hardly nervous even the first time that I appeared before a large group to deliver a devotional. I am strong at thinking on my feet, and could speak articulately with minimal notes. And as we all know, a young man who excels as speaking is spiritually mature, right? And public prayer is public speaking, too, so of course I was always ready to volunteer for that, as well.

I got a perfect score at Bible bowl. After that, I was the standard that others were encouraged to emulate. “He has such a love for God’s Word!”

I made good grades at a Christian university, too. Excelling at a “Christian college” is spiritual, right?

But these accomplishments, as much as they have to do with memorization, reading ability, articulating thoughts verbally, etc., have virtually nothing to do with spiritual maturity. Reciting facts from a book, or dictating a book aloud, are mental skills, not spiritual ones. Repeating sound doctrine is important. But LIVING sound doctrine is what really counts, and I have never been an expert at that.

I share all of this for a couple of reasons.

One reason is that I wonder how many young people who are average or below average in their ability to read aloud, or memorize facts, or speak publically, have been wrongly made to feel spiritually inferior. What a shame, to turn someone off to the church for reasons like those.

But another reason is because all of that praise about how much I loved God’s word, and how well I spoke and how I was such a leader in the youth group, etc.; it kind of sunk in. And because of that, I kind of did feel like I was spiritually mature. And that blinded me from my own spiritual brokenness. But we must all realize our own brokenness before we can appreciate Chris’s sacrifice for us, and before we can understand the narrow way that He now calls us to follow.

Whether you feel like you are “smart” or “dumb” by worldly intellectual standards, do you know God? Do you talk to Him? Do you listen to Him? Do you obey Him? Do you trust Him when things get tough? Will you follow Him anywhere? Will you step out of your comfort zone? Will you confess your sins to your brothers and sisters? Are you spreading the gospel? Do you even believe the gospel? Are you a doer of the word, rather than a reciter of it? Are you doing what is in the best interest of your family, of your church, and of the lost, or are you serving yourself first and foremost?

These are the questions I am convinced we need to be asking. Not how well we perform on academic exercises.

I will leave you with a final teaching from the mouth of Jesus in Matthew 21:

“‘But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, “Son, go work today in the vineyard.” And he answered, “I will not”; but afterward he regretted it and went. The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, “I will, sir”; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you.'”