We had a staff appreciation event involving sports where people were “randomly assigned” to teams. One team included star athletes. It is amazing how Google randomly selected this Dream Team. Did I tell you who won? You guessed it.
I wasn’t asked to join that team. I’m not an athlete. I can’t hit, catch or throw a ball. I can play badminton, but that is not a competitive sport.
For some “crazy” reason, when I wasn’t thinking, I joined my high school cross country team. If I was bad at ball sports, I was really bad at running sports. How bad was I? During a regional meet where we competed with six other high school teams, I ran dead last. How far back was I? It was a cold November day in New Jersey. The other team members already finished running the 2 1/2-mile course. They were in the van; with the engine running, the heater on, enjoying hot chocolate. I, on the other hand, had a full half mile left to run.
Whenever I reflect on my high school cross country days, I’m reminded of the Scripture verse that says, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
No one likes suffering. I certainly don’t. Hope is wonderful. Hope sounds like fun. To get to hope, we have to persevere in our sufferings. When we are suffering, God invites us to press on when every cell in our being wants to walk away and find the easy path. It’s when we don’t quit, when we don’t give up that God takes us to the next section. It says, “Perseverance produces character. God wants our character to reflect that of his Son.”
Addressing our character is a refining process. It’s as if there is a filter God takes us through. It removes those character flaws, those blind spots, those behavioral issues that trip us up and prevent us from being all God has created to be. That reminds me of the Scripture that says, “Why do I do things I shouldn’t do and not do the things I should do. Wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death.” Sometimes I feel as though I am running through life with my shoes tied together. I keep tripping and falling flat on my face, breaking my nose each and every time.
During those tough cross country meets I learned never to quit. I learned never to give up. I learned to press on and to press in, even when it didn’t make sense, especially since I wasn’t going to win or at least place in the top five and score points toward my varsity letter.
Where is the thankfulness in the storm of life (notice I didn’t say “storms” but “storm)? It is in the storm of day to day living I grow stronger. The result – I shake off those character issues that trip me up, thus making me stronger. The life I live I live by faith in the one who died and gave His life for me.
Everyone wants hope. Hope is not crossing your fingers and believing everything will work out well. Hope is richer and deeper than that. It’s not driven by my feelings that all is going to be well (and I am a “feelings” person). Scripture tells us that to go from suffering to hope, we have to go through two intermediary stages, “endurance” and “character.”
The Rev. Tony Marciano is the president/CEO of the Charlotte Rescue Mission. He is available to speak to your group. Go to www.charlotterescuemission.org and go to contact us – just ask for Pam.