The Prize is in the Process

Micks Memo logoAs I joined friends at a Rotary meeting today, there was a discussion of the growing prize of the Power Ball Lottery. Normally frugal minded and even-keeled people, they were planning on getting a ticket and fantasizing about what they might do with the mega wealth and free time it might bring. Mind you, the chances of winning are less than the chances they would be struck by lightning today. We like shortcuts, rewards without investments, gains without pains, perks without perspiration. Deep in the human psyche is a belief that being blessed means being free of toil, constraints, and discomfort of any kind.

But Scripture (and experience if we are willing to admit it!) teach a very different truth. That truth links effort with growth, development and ultimate fulfillment. The proverbial wisdom of James states this at the outset of his very practical letter to Jesus’ followers…

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.      James 1:2-4 (Msg)

I can vouch for this; but I have also seen cases where it doesn’t seem to work out this way. Is James’ writing trustworthy or just wishful thinking? “Tests and challenges” provide an opportunity. They expose the nature of our faith. Job is the Scriptures’ poster-child for tests and challenges. He and his unnamed wife show the extreme responses. After suffering tremendous losses, Job bows in worship refusing to affix blame to God, while his wife advises him to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9). Most of us fall somewhere between these extremes.

The next year will almost certainly bring some “tests and challenges” our way. To experience the benefit described in James’ wisdom it takes mental/spiritual discipline, effort and endurance. We have to have enough faith to believe that hardships can be used by God for good and that He has allowed even our greatest challenges; whether they originate with our own poor decisions, someone else’s evil intent, or a circumstance that defies the assigning of blame. That kind of faith gives us a reason to persevere and a lens to look through as we seek God’s purpose as we endure. Another benefit of challenges is relational connection that binds us together. We are called to bear one another’s burdens. Facing hardship together is the path to authentic connection. Without hardship we can forget how much we need each other and how great it is to live life together.

jan 10Life is not a destination, it is the journey. The prize is in the process.

This weekend we will focus our whole service on the return of our team from Guatemala, hearing the amazing things the team did and learned during their recent trip. You won’t want to miss it!

Looking forward to seeing you!

Mick