“If we endure, we will also reign with Him”  – 2 Timothy 2:12

For the Oakland Raiders and their fans this has been a very tough year. I had the privilege of being with them in Seattle recently when they played the Seahawks. I reminded the guys during chapel that we learn more about our colleagues and ourselves during moments of defeat than in those times of victory.

I couldn’t help but think back on the segment I wrote in my first of three books on football and faith – Crunch Time. Much like the frustrations of a losing a big game, at times life can also be full of disappointments. With the advent of salary caps, free agency, and parity within the league, teams that only a few years ago seemed unbeatable can quickly become a struggling franchise.

Blame starts popping out and finger pointing begins as the press, the fans, and the management begin to analyze the situation. Within days of a disappointing season, a once successful coaching staff could be at risk of being terminated. Many fickle fans start venting their frustrations on the radio talk programs as if the host of the program had the power of the team’s senior managing partner.

It is interesting to me that a corporate executive can have a bad day at work and life goes on. A stockbroker can choose the wrong stocks for his clients and still remain in business. But if a coach, quarterback, receiver, or field goal kicker has a bad day then millions will hear about it through radio and television programs and news clips throughout the week.

While football resembles a chess game, it is still played with folks who make mental errors, or have physical limitations, and are an exhaustible resource. Consequently players will make bad decisions, will occasionally slip on the turf, or miss a critical assignment. The struggles and emotional pain players feel through these failures is real and painful.

As important as football might be to some folks, the fleeting grief felt in a loss or bad season may be partially soothed with next week’s win or next season’s high draft choice. Most good coaches or players, who are let go because of a dismal season, will usually find a team willing to give them another try.

Conversely there are individuals who feel the unrelenting and deep pain of enduring trials. For instance, those suffering the challenges associated with fighting a terminal illness, or a family 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 or trials and sufferings some 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, trust, obey, and 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 (Revelation 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.

We read in scripture how James and John were arguing over who would have the position of highest prestige in His Kingdom (Matthew 20:20-23). They recognized how eternal rewards would eventually be honored. What they didn’t fully grasp was the suffering they would endure to obtain such powerful positions in God’s Kingdom.

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 so our character might be refined.
  • 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 on a football field or at home 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.