Most of us have, at some time, heard someone say something like, “Never pray for patience because then you’ll have it tested.” I’m not sure where that originated, but it’s a pretty stupid statement. Of course, when I hear someone say something like that I never say, “That’s stupid!” That would be very unpastoral of me. Confession time: I may never say it, but that’s what I’m thinking. Looks like I need to be more patient with people like this. And that actually speaks to my the point of this article.
We often pray for greater faith, or mental/emotional strength, or endurance, or even patience…and we ought to. James 1:5 says “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” If we’re feeling spiritually weak, we should beg the Father for greater strength.
If we’re honest with ourselves, when we make these kinds of supplications, we sort of expect God to blast us with fully realized greater faith or whatever. Like Steve Rogers getting injected with the Super Soldier Serum or Peter Parker being bit by a radio active spider, we expect to wake up some kind of spiritual giant. In reality, spiritual strength, endurance, or whatever are grown the same way as their physical counterparts: through hard work, stress, and strain.
I am not a runner. I hate running. But in my twenties I was going to be placed in a situation where I was going to need to be able to run great distances carrying a good deal of weight. Knowing this I began to prepare. Setting myself a course and a deadline, I began to run every day. My first day, I couldn’t even get a block without having to slow to a walk and catch my breath. Each day I pressed myself a bit further until the day came when I was able to run my entire course flat out without taking a break. I achieved greater endurance by straining myself and reaching for it.
“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” Philippians 3:13-14.
The trial is God’s answer to the prayer. It is through the trial that we develop the spiritual maturity we’ve been praying for. That is why James tells us to “count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds…(1:2-4)” Believe me, I did not take delight in the act of running. I hate running. But I kept the goal before me and each day I was able to get a bit farther without taking a break, I did count that as joy until the final day when I ran the whole course at full speed without stopping. I fell to the ground, winded, in agony, and exulting in my accomplishment. I had never felt so glad while feeling so bad.
I’m not writing this from some ivory tower removed from the cares of the world. This is currently the hardest time of my life. Every day is a struggle to get through. Each week sees some new setback. The pain is real and despair seems to hover over me, threatening to engulf me if I let it. And each day, God brings me something from His word (usually in the Psalms) which gives me just the boost of strength I need for the day. And each day I don’t drown is one more day I can praise God for his care. This article is written in the midst of the pain and suffering and agony when I so wish I could just wake up as some spiritual super hero. Alas, each day I awake as only me. And each day God reminds me that His grace is sufficient for me, and His power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
We should ask the Father for the peace that passes understanding, or faith, or strength, or for endurance, etc. And we should ask expecting the trial…and strain forward to what lies ahead.