When my son, Allen, was in middle school, he started lifting weights at The Gym in Woodstock. Although his DNA never gifted him with extraordinary size or strength, his determination and disciplined workouts, combined with Roy Marshall’s coaching, maximized his ability. At one point, he held various state records in his age and weight class for powerlifting and he easily surpassed his father’s abilities.

How does something like this happen? How do smaller muscles become larger? How does one increase his or her endurance and capacity? By continually pushing back against resistance.

Athletes in all sports know that if they want to improve their strength and performance, they must not only practice but consistently train in the face of increasing resistance. For a weightlifter, this means adding pounds over time. For a runner, it means longer or steeper courses. For a hitter, it means swinging a heavier bat until it feels natural. There are no other means whereby the human body can increase its strength except by repetition with added resistance.

This obvious truth from the physical realm also instructs us spiritually. There is little or no growth in our souls unless we persist through some type of resistance. While we may clamor and complain about hardships and difficulties, these are the very “weights” that can increase our spiritual capacity if we choose to use them as such.

If we are to grow in our love, we will only do so if we continue to show love to individuals who resist, repeal, or mock the love we show them. Although our natural inclination is to drop the weight and walk away, if we persist in our efforts, our spiritual love muscles grow stronger regardless of the effect on the other person, and we become more like Jesus who loved even the most unlovely.

Similarly, while we all want pleasant circumstances in life, these generally do not increase our joy. Rather, when difficulties and burdens threaten to steal our joy and we “rejoice in the Lord always,” as Paul prescribes in Philippians 4:4, our joy aptitude jumps. This spiritual fruit of contentment didn’t abound any more naturally for Paul than it does for the rest of us, but he tells us that he “learned to be content” no matter his circumstances. He pushed back with joy in the face of joyless conditions.

Do you want stronger faith? Continue believing and hoping in spite of life situations that are impossible or overwhelming. When there is no reason to hope, other than God, hope anyway. When there is no reason to believe, other than God, believe anyway. And as God brings you through these times, you’ll come out of them on the other side with biceps of a wrestler, for you pushed back against those forces that sought to defeat your faith.

To quote Messianic Jewish Rabbi Jonathan Cahn in his Book of Mysteries, “When all hell comes against you but you shine with the light of heaven, that’s when you grow stronger in God and in all these things.”

It would unthinkable for a bodybuilder to sit around and wait for God to miraculously gift him with a buff physique. So too, it’s foolish for us to think God will somehow miraculously impart to us great peace, patience, kindness, holiness, or self-control. Although he can and occasionally does give us grace for certain trials, most times he chooses to build these qualities within us little by little over several days or years as we react to the resistances that are already around us.

Although we may not be working out with barbells and dumbbells, we’re all in life’s gym and encounter resistances of various types and amounts each day. Instead of asking God to immediately remove them, let’s thank him for them and appropriate them for our growth and strengthening. Blessings, George

George Bowers Sr. is the senior pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren and has authored 13 books, including a weekly devotional, “Blessings Volume II,” which is available at Four Star Printing and Shenandoah Stuff. He can be reached through www.georgebowersministries.com or at gabowers@shentel.net.

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