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Strengthening character by enduring trials

I know that challenge leads to hard work and that hard work produces results. People who expect to be given all the good things in life just because they were born to privilege or come from a certain strata in society, or because they enjoy a particular nationality or racial pedigree, are living these days in a kind of fantasy. A person might be able to get a foot in the door because of some kind of favour or entitlement, but if that person cannot produce, then that person either gets bypassed or replaced. Perhaps companies used to be able to support a mediocre worker and consider it as “overhead”, but I suspect those days are gone. Nobody can afford that anymore.

And hard work is hard. It is painful. It takes energy, time, and it occupies the mind. Hard work is, in itself, a challenge.

The main point I am trying to make, however, is not about the economy. The main point is that trials, troubles, afflictions, ordeals and things like that build endurance, and enduring under trial produces character. Nothing of value comes easy. In fact, if it comes too easily, people do not respect or value it very much.

I know this process well. By this time I must have a fantastic character! (Some people might say I am just a character).

I also know that no one escapes the sense that he or she is struggling from time to time. It is a subjective thing. That means that whether one person is struggling because he or she could not get an appointment at the spa and another person is struggling because he or she could not put food on the table this week, both people can feel as if they are maxed out.

This is because we each have a relative and subjective experience of life. I can only know life from my perspective, viewed through my eyes, given my background and current position in the world. As my existential friends would say, “You are worlded, and you are situated.” That means that the world I know and in which I live and find interest, is MY world, and it means that I am always living as part of some kind of ongoing and unfolding situation. This is true in psychology as well as philosophy, but in psychology we tend to call this kind of thing being part of a system. In gestalt therapy we call it being “of the field”. I am not simply responding to an environment, I am part of the environment. It affects me just as I affect it. However, I can only respond from my place in the environment, and I can only know the world from my embodied state within it. I cannot know it from yours.

So, into this way of living and being God intercedes to discipline His children, and for each of His children he brings challenge, hardship, and various kinds of trials, not as punishment or because He lost track of them, but because His eye is fast upon each one with a view to building endurance and strengthening character. And for each one, it often seems as if the whole thing is more than one can bear or that God has forgotten us or even that God takes some kind of satisfaction in our suffering.

Knowing this, I recently met some people in whom the process seems to be on overdrive. There is a group of young people on the Island right now who are here as members of Youth With A Mission (YWAM). One comes from Canada. One comes from Kansas. One comes from the state of Washington. One comes from Bermuda, and two come from Iran. Together they have been training in England, and they have come to Bermuda for a short stay, visiting churches and other groups of people.

My wife and I had the chance to get to know them, especially the ones from Iran. Our curiosities led us to inquire what it is actually like for Christians in Iran, because we hear various stories, and I, for one, never really know what is real and what is hyperbole. The two people we spoke with cannot return home to Iran because they would be picked up and prosecuted for evangelising. The penalty would be death. They cannot risk much contact with family as the means of communication is compromised. Imagine what it must feel like to be far away from people you love, not knowing if they are safe or what is happening for them, and not knowing if you will be able to remain out of Iran or will be sent back there, with a sure belief that you would be thrown into prison if you did go back, brutalised, and perhaps even executed. That has got to weigh on a person.

That is a trial of faith. That makes the cute little saying, “Into each life a little rain must fall”, seem ridiculous. Nobody is following me around in Bermuda, keeping track of my activities, documenting with whom I speak, swooping into my abode, or confiscating my computer, or listening in on my phone conversations. Nobody is being arrested for participating in Cornerstone's Street Evangelistic Ministry. Nobody is having their pictures taken outside the building after attending Better Covenant's worship service. Nobody's friends are being interrogated because they associate with someone who participated in the social service activities of Wesley Methodist, St John's, or Christ Church Warwick. Nobody is sent to a mental hospital simply because they became too enthusiastic at Radnor Road or Touch Through Me Ministries.

Just insert your particular church in the blank. How would you feel if your life were in danger because you wanted to belong to that place and because you found meaning for your life of faith in worshipping there?

When you sit across from someone who could quite possibly be imprisoned and tortured, or even executed for what he or she believes, it changes the perspective on just what is difficult or seemingly unbearable in this life. I have not yet shed blood for what I believe. Not yet.

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Published February 14, 2012 at 1:00 am (Updated February 14, 2012 at 6:26 am)

Strengthening character by enduring trials

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