At the beginning of each semester of college, students file into advanced mathematics classes by the thousands. They find their seats and prepare to suffer through the sometimes arduous process of absorbing complicated concepts and theorems. They will struggle to expand their understanding and broaden their conceptual faculties. They will take detailed notes and study vigorously to prepare themselves for the many exams they know they will face in the coming weeks. For most, it does not promise to be enjoyable or fun, but hard work.
Isn't it odd that they would willingly subject themselves to such suffering? Even more, prior to enrolling in one of these advanced courses, each student has already submitted to a variety of other math-related classes, already endured complex lectures and trying exams.
And here's the real kicker: they are paying a great deal of money to be there!
One might wonder why. Why suffer? Why submit to the unhappy process of class after class, exam after exam? Why not avoid the whole unpleasant mess?
These students are taking the long view. They endure the suffering and occasional anguish because they are not focusing on any one class. They know that the classes, the lectures, the tests are not the point. The point is that by passing all of those classes, by persevering through the disagreeable process, they will eventually earn a diploma. A diploma can be used to get a high paying job, a coveted status level, or perhaps access to the next level of education needed to accomplish one's life goals. They are in it for the payoff.
This same principle also applies to the Christian walk. Do you realize that on the day you submitted to Jesus as your Savior and Lord you were enrolled in "Christlikeness University"? Your professor is the Holy Spirit, your textbook is the Bible, and your tuition has been paid in full at Calvary.
The apostle Peter (a respected alumnus) described some of the course schedule in 2 Peter 1:5-7:
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love (NIV).
Where are you in life? Faith 101? Self-control 102?
Just like in any earthly college, this eternal education includes times of teaching and the necessity of study and practice. And, yes, there are exams. The textbook calls them trials and tribulations.
Have you ever wondered why the Scriptures exhort us to rejoice in tribulation? Has that ever seemed to you to be an unreasonable request? "Rejoice"? "Consider it all joy"?
The Scriptures are encouraging us to take the long view. We must realize that those tests are merely a necessary part of the learning process. Not fun, but necessary. If we only look at the trials, we will become discouraged. We must remember that the trials are not the point! Here is how the apostle James (another alum) put it:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4, ESV).
James isn't telling us that we are to rejoice that there is a trial. He is exhorting us to look at the long view. We must concentrate on the fact that the trials are an indication that we are on our way to a goal. We are earning a diploma: becoming like Jesus.We are becoming like Jesus
The apostle Paul said:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable (1 Corinthians 9:24-25).
So, the next time you are faced with a trial, take heart! You are enrolled in the finest educational program in the universe. The textbook is proven, the Professor is unequaled and the Founder of the institution has already foreordained your graduation:
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers (Romans 8:29, NIV).