“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” 2 Corinthians 4:17
Annually there are twenty-one Ironman Triathlon Events held around the world to ultimately pick a field of 80 athletes who compete in Kona Hawaii for the coveted prizes associated with the culminating event. Five of these qualifying events are held in the United States, including one in our community – Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
It has been a privilege to meet the dedicated men and women athletes associated with these events. As you discover their commitment to excellence, you can’t help but be impressed with their dedication, perseverance, discipline, and self-motivation. They understand pain and suffering. Many athletes practice for months working as much as 8-10 hours a day on their fitness, form, and skills.
An Ironman Triathlon is about as grueling as it gets. Think about this – swim 2.4 miles in cold water, bicycle in the wind 112 miles, and then run/walk 26.2 miles in the heat of the day. The premiere athletes, who finish in the top two or three positions, complete the 140 mile course in eight and a half hours. For many the day is much longer, lasting up to 17 hours.
Louise and I have worked various aid stations, the bike trial with paramedics, and the Medical Tent where some of the less fortunate athletes end up with an I-V drip and a host of nurses and doctors tending to their wounds, exhaustion, or dehydration. I have volunteered to be in the Medical Tent working in the capacity of Tent Chaplain.
Having done this for many years there were experiences one doesn’t soon forget. It was interesting to see people who were pushed to their physical limits as many had to be carried into the tent. After the medical people provided care, I had the privilege of listening to the frustrations of folks who had to drop out. Hopefully, I offered some encouragement from my years in the ministry and working as chaplain with a few NFL teams and police and fire departments.
In discussing the Ironman Contest with some of the participants, I learned that success comes to those who are conditioned, focused upon the goal, and persevere through pain. Someone once said, “The highest award for a person’s toil is not what he/she gets for it, but rather what he/she becomes by it.” Whoever penned those words must have known the hardship Christ endured. They were familiar with the kind of pain and suffering so many followers of Christ have experienced. The quotation also testifies to the importance of the process, not the reward.
There are individuals who feel the unrelenting and deep pain of enduring trials of daily living. For instance, those suffering the challenges associated with fighting a terminal illness, or a family who were abandoned by the mother of the house because she felt she needed a less stressful life, or the business associate who had a major financial reversal, or a conscientious pastor who suffers endless slanderous attacks from a few disgruntled parishioners.
There are all kinds of trials and sufferings we will face. Scripture is filled with people whose great character was molded by the amount of pain and distress they endured. From their stories, we are reminded that with suffering comes the opportunity to honor, to trust, to obey, and to know God more intimately. Peter, the long-suffering disciple, reminds us, “And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace…will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:10
While we live out our lives on earth, sufferings and trials can teach us to develop patience and perseverance. I’m thankful that in Heaven we won’t need to work on these traits, as our primary role will be that of praising and worshiping God (Rev. 4-5). We are promised that as we learn to endure today’s trials and tribulation, we can expect to receive great rewards in eternity. The greater our earthly challenges, the greater opportunity there will be to glorify God. It is our reward for the long-suffering.
The Lord wants us to realize that at the end of every trial contains opportunities to:
- Gain a greater understanding of God’s mercy, kindness, goodness, love, peace, strength, comfort, and goodness.
- Further develop our patience, perseverance, and compassion to refine our character.
- Comfort others with the love and encouragement we have received.
- Obtain the satisfaction and the joy that builds our future capacity to glorify God.
Whether experiencing life as a triathlon athlete or in your home or at your workplace, there will be challenges and sufferings. That is what makes life – life. People who are successful in coping with suffering know that God’s grace and love is sufficient to comfort and encourage them through their dilemma. God can take the familiar to teach the incredible. He can turn our nothing into something.
What do you suppose Paul meant by this statement: “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” Philippians 3:8 How can you apply this to your life?
Can you contemplate the meaning of this verse: “If we endure, we will also reign with Him”. 2 Tim. 2:12