The score is tied. Time is running out. The fans are on the edge of their seats. The favorite is on a roll and victory is in sight. It all boils down to the next play. If it’s successful, we come away with the bragging rights.
Then it hits. Disaster. In an instant, the picture changes. It’s over, and the wrong guys won. It’ll be a long trip home for those fans.
In athletics, it’s a loss. In life, it’s a setback. Our momentum is gone and our attitude goes from high-energy to high-anxiety. The prospects for the future seem dim, and our desire to keep going is reduced to a trickle. Why did this have to happen?
We may never know the reason for our circumstances or whether the problems are consequences of our past choices. But one thing we do know: We are not the first to face this agony, and we won’t be the last. The "why" might never be clear, but the "what" is all too real: Every human on the planet goes through tough times, the just and the unjust alike.
There is no escaping it. And it will make us bitter or better — our choice.
The Bible has an important message from God on this subject in the fifth chapter of Matthew. It says that "God causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust." Everyone goes through tough times, whether they are close to God or not. Some of the great heroes of the Bible endured hardships that would cause most to throw in the towel.
Paul was imprisoned and beaten on numerous occasions. Job lost his family and all his possessions. Most of Jesus’ disciples died a martyr’s death. And Jesus was tortured and executed for the sake of us all.
Why are we required to endure pain and hardship in this life? Does God take pleasure in seeing those who love him suffer?
God loves us (believer and unbeliever alike) more than we could ever love another. But in that vast love for us is a great truth: Pain and hardship cause us to reach out for help. God calls us to turn to him in our dark times for the strength we need to endure and to grow. And he will reward us with newfound comfort, endurance and joy.
Athletes grow in their skills, attitude and endurance as they encounter the hardship of competition. Christians do the same. As we compete in life and face difficult opponents, we draw on God for strength and the wisdom to overcome our circumstances. And he assures us that he will not give us more than we can handle; he knows our limits better than we do.
Hardship and difficulties prepare us to serve him by serving others. No one enjoys suffering. But the benefits to us, and others, far outweigh the pain.
• To contact the Rev. Jim Bush, a pastor of Heartland Church, e-mail jimb@heartland church.net. All religious leaders in the Tracy community are invited to write columns for Reflections on Faith.