Get Back in the Ring
And not only that, but we* also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,
I have an autographed picture of Muhammed Ali in my office at home. No, I never actually met him, but my nephew Jason did. He lived near the legendary boxer in Michigan and saw him in a restaurant one night. Jason knew I was a huge fan when I was growing up, so he got it and surprised me.
A lot of my uncles couldn’t understand why I was so crazy about Ali. They couldn’t stand him. There was a lot of hype about boxing in those days. Ali’s personality drove the hype, for sure. They called him a bragger and a loud mouth, and they were right. He was both of those things. However, I would always respond to them in my youthful wisdom, “It’s not bragging if you can back it up”, and he always did. He was the most amazing boxer ever in my, and in many others’ opinions.
One of the things I remember Ali bragging about most was his ability to not get hit. In his inimitable way, he made up limericks about it to taunt his opponents before a fight. “I’m gonna float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Your hands can’t hit, what your eyes can’t see. Ali!”
Of course, we know Ali did get hit and he got hit a lot. In fact, his Parkinson’s disease was attributed in part to his many hits to the head. As a fighter, he fought longer than many others and in his later years he took some pretty hard beatings, but he never quit, no matter how tough the beatings got. In fact, he boasted in his beatings. Like when he took the beatings from George Foreman and called them his ‘Rope-a-Dope’ tactic in their ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ fight.
St. Paul said he boasted in his sufferings too. I know, it’s a stretch to compare Muhammed Ali and the Apostle Paul in the same analogy, but I wanted to get your attention. Boasting isn’t a good thing; it’s arrogant. However, scripture says it’s okay to boast in the Lord about what He is accomplishing in your life – especially in your sufferings. In fact, it really isn’t boasting at all, if you’re giving God the glory…it’s a testimony.
In his hymn, ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross’ hymn writer Isaac Watts said, “Forbid it Lord that I should boast, save in the death of Christ my God.” No matter what our sufferings, Paul wants us to know that they will produce endurance in our lives, if we sacrifice them all to the God’s glory. He alone can sustain us through any amount of suffering. And what’s more, God builds our character through our sufferings ultimately leading us to recognize our hope for deliverance is in Him alone.
And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
As you reach the midway point in your Lenten journey, stop and think about the fasting and self-denial you’ve offered to the Lord to this point. Hopefully, you’ve felt tempted but are staying strong in your resolve. Granted these are small things in the big sufferings of life, but we learn in small ways how to let God lead in big ways.
“…it really isn’t boasting at all, if you’re giving God the glory.”
The real purpose of Lent isn’t to punish ourselves and find new ways to suffer, but to grow closer to God in our dependence for everything, even the little things. Jesus said that real sustenance for life depends not on bread but on everything that comes from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4).
“…but we learn in small ways how to let God lead in big ways”
If you feel like you’ve failed in your fast don’t beat yourself up, give it to God. Sacrifice it to his cross and ask him for strength to do better. Get back in the ring and take a few more punches. Your suffering won’t be in vain. Remember, our God turns ashes into beauty.
Shalom for a Holy Lent,