on Ripping Your Muscles

Shabbat shalom!

Muscles are peculiar, in that if you want to improve them, you have to rip them.

And I don’t mean that in a metaphorical sense. I mean that, quite literally, if you want stronger muscles, you have to cause them acute trauma—that is, work them until they start tearing. The body responds by repairing the damage and then adding a little extra muscle to prevent future tearing from the same activity.

The process almost seems backwards. How could you possibly make something better by damaging it? You don’t improve a building by slamming a wrecking ball into it; why on earth would tearing muscle tissue be a step toward strengthening it?

And yet, impossibly, that’s the way God designed our bodies. We don’t grow stronger by making sure our muscles never experience any stress—on the contrary, it’s in pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone that we develop.

Consider the sinner

Speaking of things that seem backwards, there’s an apparent “inconsistency” that most followers of God tend to notice—and have noticed for thousands of years. Asaph noticed it too, and recorded it in the book of Psalms, saying, “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the boastful, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Psalm 73:2-3). He goes on to express his disbelief at those who “set their mouth against the heavens” and still “have more than heart could wish” (Psalm 73:9, 7).

It’s hard to make sense of these prosperous sinners, “the ungodly, who are always at ease; they increase in riches” (Psalm 73:12). That those who so brazenly defy God can lay claim to such impossibly comfortable lives seems like some sort of divine mistake. Asaph cries out, “Surely I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocence. For all day long I have been plagued, and chastened every morning” (Psalm 73:13-14). It’s a slightly more poetic rendering of the often unspoken questions that linger somewhere in the mind of almost every Christian—namely, “God, why are the unrighteous around me living in such luxury while I feel punished for remaining dedicated to you?”

So what is it, then? Is God failing to see that His people are suffering trials while those who hate Him are living the high life?

Chastened for what?

Certainly not! One of Asaph’s complaints, that he is “chastened every morning,” alludes to a key Biblical principle that the author of Hebrews would later be inspired to record as, “For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:6).

And it’s backwards. To our tiny human conception of how the universe should work, it’s totally, impossibly backwards. When we do good, we feel we should get good. Instead, we seek to follow God and get…chastened? What’s the point? If God is going to cut us down for performing the very commands He gave us, why not join the sinners in the lap of luxury?

A spiritual workout

Because muscles, that’s why. It’s the same impossible-sounding principle: Before we can become stronger, we must first be torn. Just as physical strength doesn’t come from sitting on the couch all day, spiritual stamina cannot be built in the absence of trials. God shows His love by chastening because that chastening makes us stronger. The trials we face under the watchful and loving eye of our Father in heaven are the very ones that He uses to shape our character into something that belongs in His Kingdom.

It’s why we have verses that tell us to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4). The difficulties you are facing aren’t some arbitrary punishment for trying to do good—they are the fiery trials that God has allowed in your life to make you perfect.

The sinners who Asaph spoke of in Psalm 73 are the spiritual equivalent of a morbidly obese man sitting on a couch, one hand in a bag of Cheetos and the other holding a funnel cake. They’ve faced no challenges and built no character—and beyond that, their lifestyle is ensuring that what muscle strength they do have is in a constant state of atrophy.

Asaph was ultimately inspired to see to the end of such people, writing, “Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction. Oh, how they are brought to desolation, as in a moment! They are utterly consumed with terrors. As a dream when one awakes, so, Lord, when You awake, You shall despise their image” (Psalm 73:18-20). The wicked may prosper…for a time. God may delay His judgment on their sinful actions…for a time. But in the blink of an eye, their prosperity, their comfort, and their riches can vanish, and they are reduced to nothing.

The crossroads

So you have a decision to make. You can continue on this path of chastening and trials. It will be hard, and you’ll face the wrath of our adversary the devil at every turn. Every day of the rest of your life will find you on the battlefield, defending your salvation from an army of demons who would rip it from your grasp.

Or you can walk away and join “the ungodly, who are always at ease.” You can live easy, for a time, until your foot slips and everything you call your own vanishes like smoke. And that will be it. The end. All your existence frittered away on trifles while your character, your spiritual strength, atrophies into nothingness. You will have no future to look to, no hope to rescue you.

Meanwhile, we on the battlefield will be fighting with a vision burning within us, knowing that “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10).

Yes, we face trials and tribulations. Yes, the ungodly around us are prospering for a time. And yes, at first glance, it seems backwards and unfair. But when I consider that our trials and tribulations are preparing us to be kings and priests in an eternal Kingdom where the very causes of tears have ceased to exist, where death and sorrow have passed away into a distant memory, where “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18), then I have only one conclusion:

The Kingdom is worth every trial.

Until next time,

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