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Endurance Training

This article was originally posted in May 2020.

I’ve been thinking a lot about spiritual endurance lately. At times I’ve felt myself getting weary, and I know I need endurance to respond correctly to ongoing trials. We will all have difficulties as long as we live on earth. It will be a rare moment when everything is going our way. I’ve noticed something about myself when I’m going through hard times, and maybe it’s true about you, too—I sometimes find that I’ve put “expiration dates” on my trials. Even when I’m handling a difficult situation fairly well for a time, if that situation lingers and my patience is stretched I am tempted to give in to sinful thoughts, attitudes, and actions—even if they’re the ones I’ve been fighting (for a time) not to give in to! I sometimes justify my sin simply because I think I’ve handled things well enough for long enough.

But the reality is that I need endurance to obey no matter how long our Father allows a trial to last. I want to live for the Lord over the long haul. I want to handle the circumstances He brings in God-honoring ways for as long as He brings them.

Athletes understand the need for training in endurance. I’ve been reading about people around the world who are training at home during the physical-distancing orders. Even though they have not been allowed to leave their small apartments or homes, many have shown great creativity in coming up with ways to continue training. People are running marathons on their balconies, in their yards, and even in their rooms. They see the benefits of continuing their training and, in particular, endurance training.

We need to see the need for spiritual endurance, and actively pursue it!

What is endurance?

First, we must understand what endurance is. It is the ability to bear up under a load or great pressure, like a weightlifter bears up under a heavy load. He struggles and strains with all his energy as he lifts a large weight, keeping it up off the ground for the allotted time. Steadfastness, patience, fortitude, and perseverance are other words used to describe this quality.

In the same way that someone who has physical endurance doesn’t tucker out after the first lap (to switch metaphors), the person who has spiritual endurance doesn’t give up or give in to sin as a trial goes on. He continues to bear up under the trial, responding to it in God-honoring ways.

How do we get endurance?

Throughout Scripture we learn God uses trials to produce endurance. These trials are also referred to as “tests”, “tribulations”, and “temptations.”

James 1:2 says, “The testing of your faith produces endurance.” Romans 5:3 puts it this way: “Tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character.”

Just like a runner builds his endurance by running longer distances and a weightlifter builds his strength by lifting heavier weights, we build spiritual endurance by “lifting” the heavy load of trials. This process requires hard work and is often uncomfortable. God uses trials to produce endurance as He builds up our spiritual strength.

But simply gritting our teeth and surviving a trial isn’t enough: trials don’t automatically produce endurance and proven character. In fact, every trial, trouble, or difficulty is not only a trial, but also a test! Every trial places us at a crossroads and we must choose either to trust and obey God or to doubt and disobey Him. God produces endurance in us as we obey Him and His Word in the trials we encounter.

We’ve seen this in our own lives. We can look back and see times when we’ve faced a trail and, by God’s help, chose to obey. One test that God brought into my life was a time when I faced significant health problems and was unable to carry out any of my normal activities. This season lasted way beyond what I thought I could handle. And yet today I can see that God used that extended trial to build my endurance and to change me.

Where does endurance come from?

The runner or the weightlifter may not know his physical limits. But we know that the Lord will allow us to face only the load that He Himself will help us bear. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says it this way, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”

So what is this way of escape? How does He actually give us this strength? We often face trials we do not feel we have the strength to bear. And we’re right! We don’t! We need God’s strength.

In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul was facing a huge trial. We’re not told exactly what the trial was, but he calls it “a thorn in the flesh” and he wanted it to go away. In fact, he repeatedly “implored” (a pretty strong word meaning “to call for help”) the Lord to remove it.

But God didn’t remove it. Instead God said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Paul then responds, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

Wait. What? I thought we were talking about getting stronger, not weaker! Like so much in the Christian life, God’s ways are often the opposite of what we, in our human wisdom, expect. He works in paradoxes. The way up is down. The last shall be first. The weak will be strong.

Did you notice how comprehensive Paul’s list of trials is? Weaknesses, insults, distresses, persecutions, and difficulties. I don’t see much wiggle room there. No omissions. Again, typically Paul, it’s all covered. In every trial we can be content like Paul; and we can have power, Christ’s power, to face that trial. Acknowledging our own inability and weakness, we must cling to Him and His strength.

What about when we simply don’t know how to handle a trial? When we don’t know which way to turn? James 1:5 tells us we need to ask God for wisdom and He promises to give it. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” The next verses warn us that we must ask for this wisdom trusting completely in God, without faltering in our confidence in Him.

What are its benefits?

Trials then, rightly handled, produce endurance—that tenacious ability to withstand pressure. But what are the results of having endurance? The benefits are immense. James 1:4 puts it this way: “Let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect [mature] and complete [whole], lacking in nothing.”

Romans 5, another text that deals with endurance (here called “perseverance”), states, “Tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:3-5). God uses endurance to produce spiritual maturity, strength of character, and unshakeable hope.

So that’s how I can endure trials with joy and obedience—because God is working in me to produce all kinds of good things. Romans 5:3 says, “We exult in our tribulations.” James 1:2-3 states it this way: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.”

With God’s help we can pursue spiritual endurance and seek His strength to obey, no matter how difficult or lengthy the trial.