Meditating on yesterday’s devotion really brings a sense of responsibility to number our days. To run the race with perseverance requires us to be trained and equipped for the challenges of life. This made me think of an area that God uses to build us up and mature us: trials and inconveniences. Yes, I know, here we are talking about trials again. I know this point can be laboured, but we can make it through together (and you can just add this devotion to your list of trials for the day).
In the Western world I think we sometimes miss the value of trials and inconveniences (it will make sense why I use the words “value” and “trials” in the same sentence soon). We are perplexed when James tells us to “count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kind” (James 1:2). Does James even know what he is talking about? I believe the early Christians had such a profound understanding of trials and suffering that they even rejoiced at being beaten for Christ (Acts 5:40-41).
Peter was one of those men who rejoiced in suffering. He gives us a secret in his letter: “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh for us, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1-2). He sets the stage by first mentioning how Christ is an example for us to follow, and then tells us to “arm yourselves” with the same mind-set. This will allow us to live for the will of God and focus on the goal.
Now, I’m sure you’re asking where the heading “Spiritual Endorphins” comes in. While I was praying through these truths, God showed me how He’s given us physical experiences to reveal spiritual truths. In particular, the metaphor we saw yesterday, that Paul uses of running a race or being an athlete, is helpful.
Although they didn’t know the exact science behind exercise 2000 years ago, I believe Paul was onto something. What happens when we exercise is that endorphins are released. Endorphins are those feel-good chemicals that we associate with pleasure and happiness. They trigger positive feelings in the body, and they reduce our perception of pain. This is why we are able to put ourselves through very uncomfortable and sometimes even torturous moments of exercise.
I believe trials and suffering have the same effect on our spiritual man. God has designed our spirit to be strengthened and experience joy when we face hardships. What has occurred these days, however, is that we are told that anything painful and inconvenient is bad – “Pray that God takes it away!” Yet this seems to be a far cry from what we read in the Bible.
Think of someone who hasn’t exercised in a looong time, or someone who is overweight, who begins to exercise. Those first sessions of exercise produce anything but pleasure and happiness; their only result is pain, anger, and possibly a visit from your last meal for a less appealing taste. But once that person endures the beginning phases, the pleasure and reward overtakes the pain. Perhaps what we need is not a release from the trial, but a mind shift for the trial. Just as we can train our physical bodies, is it not possible then to train our minds to think positive, joyful thoughts when we face trials? Wouldn’t it be great if trials and inconveniences released spiritual endorphins in us?
To take this analogy further, lifting weights or strength training does something similar. Our muscles aren’t just built; they have to be shredded and torn up so that when they heal and repair – the result is an increase in strength and endurance. And this is the same in the spiritual realm. But remember, it’s not so that we just “get through” the trial; it is to joyfully pursue our Saviour in it. Not only does God build us up when we face difficulties, He allows to enter into His suffering with Him (Phil 3:10-11). For the natural man this seems insane, but the bonds of the spiritual man are intertwined with Christ on a much deeper level, and a greater love for Him is formed. Only God can reveal this mystery to us.
In our world we don’t face the intense suffering of persecution (a Facebook post of someone slandering you for being a Christian is hardly the same as being eaten by a lion). What we do face are difficulties with our families, health, wealth, minds etc., as well as small inconveniences that we meet in our day-to-day routine. We must train our minds to value these experiences and let God release spiritual endorphins through them, so that we may be tethered to Him in a new way.