is to stretch. And the only way to stretch is to push yourself to the very limit of what you can handle…and then push some more.
It’s uncomfortable. Unpleasant. Painful, even. But I don’t know of any shortcut. Improving means going farther than you ever have before, being stretched in ways you never expected to be stretched.
Of course, that discomfort is rarely something we’re eager to experience. Much easier to stay within the range of motion we’re used to, to never reach so far that it hurts, to compare ourselves only to the people we’re more flexible than.
But that’s no good. That’s not how growth happens. And so, more often than not, God puts us into situations where we’re forced to stretch—forced to operate outside our comfort zone, forced to choose between feeling the burn or falling short. Sometimes that means trusting God in ways we’re not used to trusting Him or looking at parts of ourselves we’re not used to looking at. Sometimes that means stepping out in faith; sometimes that means standing still until we see the salvation of the Lord.
It can mean a lot of different things, but always, always, it means stretching. Coming to what we thought was our limit and then going one step further. That’s how we grow. That’s why God allows us to experience pain and discomfort and trials and hardship—sometimes as a result of sin, but always because it ends with us being more flexible. More capable. More prepared for what lies ahead.
It’s no coincidence that God styles Himself as “a refiner’s fire … a refiner and a purifier of silver” (Malachi 3:2-3). Refining silver requires melting it down, scraping away the impurities revealed by the heat, and then reshaping the whole thing. If you happen to be silver that’s aware of its surroundings, then not one of those steps sound pleasant.
But again, no shortcuts. Stretching and refining only work the long way round. The alternative is staying where you are, as you are—never changing, never improving. For a Christian, that’s not enough. That’s why we “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). We don’t enjoy the pain, but we understand that the pain means we’re moving toward perfection. The stretching, the refining—both have a purpose, a goal, a finish line worth moving toward, no matter the cost.
Next time you find yourself being stretched, remember the reason you’re being stretched—and then keep on reaching. You’re that much closer to lacking nothing.
Until next time,