When our son’s battalion was caught in a hurricane during a month-long intensive field training exercise, the war games were not halted due to the dangerous weather conditions. Actual war never allows for time-off. Therefore, whatever hardships occur in the course of training, become part of the training. Hardship is such an integral part of soldiers’ job descriptions that fulfilling their primary objective becomes their focused, uncompromising duty. They learn to avoid whatever would detract/derail them in achieving their objective, and to push through personal difficulties including lack of sleep and/or food, injury, and other objectionable conditions.
The Apostle Paul was very deliberate in his instructions to Timothy: “Endure hardship with us as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs – he wants to please his commanding officer.” (2 Tim 2:3-4) Most of us enjoy basking in the glory and love it is to know Jesus. But, Paul had suffered enough for his faith as to have a very realistic approach to carrying out what he was called to do. Both for Timothy and for us, Paul wanted the reality of the cost of discipleship not to deter or impede our actions. If we aren’t focused on achieving the objective – what God has called us to do/be – the hardships that invariably come can derail us.
Paul’s hardships included being beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked, lacking basic life necessities, and being opposed by ruling classes – even some early Christians. While most of us do not face those extremes, we are confronted with our own hardships. They may come in the form of opposition through political correctness or even Christian legalism. But perhaps the greatest opposition is those things that are internal to each of us. These are characteristics of the old nature (before we received Jesus as Savior) that wage war against who we are in Christ – new creations. When we stepped into life in Jesus, we unfortunately did not leave behind things like pride, selfish ambition, needing to be in control, stress, lust, fears, anxieties, etc. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Gal 5:1) So, the promise and reality of freedom is ours. But, part of our daily training is to recognize what is not of God and to choose to line up with Him by refusing to participate with it. We must drill and hone skills that utilize the spiritual weapons God has provided so that we can partner with Him to put off old ways, and replace them with what God has designed for us.
To fulfill our calling in Christ, the process of becoming more like Him is not just a good idea, but a necessity, and therefore, part of our objective. Are we, like good soldiers, embracing the trials and hardships that come with life as part of our training, or are we whiners and complainers? Chances are, if we’re doing the latter, it is generally from a misguided belief that life in Christ shouldn’t be so hard. But, strength training IS hard. If we are to “be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power” (Eph 6:10), then hardship becomes part of our “normal,” and we are “made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.” (2Tim 2:21b)