There’s No Getting Around It: “First Things First” & “No Pain, No Gain!”

first-things-firstGood day, marathoners in and for Christ. (1 Corinthians 9:24; Hebrews 12:1; 2 Timothy 4:7) Pull up a seat at The Training Table and get ready to nourish your heart!

Feast of the Heart exists to help bring about Christ-centered “reformation, revival, and constructive revolution” (Francis Schaeffer, Death in the City) so that God will be glorified and people blessed.

Reformation… we seek to abide by and serve up the true truth, pure doctrine of the Bible

Revival… we seek to model biblical Christians living in word and deed

Constructive Revolution… we seek to spread the true gospel right where God has planted us with urgency, compassion, and radical self-abandonment

Let’s pray for our hearts; and feast—so no spiritual famine starves the faith!

“Got Good Counsel?” Whether milk or meat… Listen closely.

I’m certain you’ve had “one of those days” or even weeks or months, when a theme, a consistent message, or reoccurring—sometimes quiet, sometimes blaring—voice provides a reminder from the Spirit and through people about something relevant to your life, right? The Spirit’s good counsel can come from within and/or from without… but in Christ it will come! The question is, a) do we believe this is true? b) will we consistently put ourselves in a state of heart, a time and a place where we’re more prone to listen, to hear, to discern? c) and when we do, do we have a course of faith-in-action to follow the Spirit’s lead—in word and in deed?

So, here’s a recently [for the umpteenth time] reoccurring message for me, proffered respectfully: “No Pain, No Gain!”

The journey of discipleship, sanctification, holiness, Christ-likeness, separation from this world, while serving in the world, is damned hard… but joy-full… and well-worth any and all sacrifice, pain, and effort to achieve!

Oh, and let’s deal with the intentional expletive right off: it’s “damned hard” for a very legitimate reason: separating, tearing, teasing hell and entropy from one’s heart is not for babies or the faint-of-heart… albeit the trust and faith of a child is tantamount to victory!

Ever since The Fall (Genesis 3) all things “have been damned”—tainted by Satan and his hellish, worldy, and fleshly ways. But Christ has reversed the curse! Has the Spirit changed course and reversed it in your own heart?

As a heads-up, the meat of this Training Table feast is in the form of a message from Charles Spurgeon [below]. Please… oh please… chew your food well.

It takes into account “putting first things first”, “the gain at the end of the pain”, our fallen and very heart-harmful tendency to mix up ends and means, and the main reason why: E.g., an idol-motivated will to grab the gain devoid of the pain; to idolize the ends and hate the means of getting there; to win the gold while skimping on the grit, sweat, and toil of training; to envy the top-floor, corner office while being disgruntled about starting in the basement; to emulate Christ sans the sacrifice; to lust after great sex too impatient to wait for the covenant and context of marriage; to grasping after all sorts of the world’s fruits while neglecting The Law of the Farm—the clearing and care of the soil, the seeding, the fertilizing, the weeding, the pruning, the rotation… the season after season CARE that must take place before the CROP of sweet fruit comes in due time.

The wisdom and patience of “first things first”, “embracing the pain in favor of the gain”, is born, redeemed of God and cannot be short-circuited. And yet we’ll be damned if we don’t ignore this Given of God in 10,000 different ways… every day.

Such Rich Fare!

The topic of “first things first” and “no pain, no gain” in the spiritual life is so wide and deep that it’s pert-near impossible to not offer a multi-course meal. But, suffice it to say two things compete for ascendancy in my heart: 1) all “marathoning” is helpful, but not equal, and 2) The Church of Christ, it’s leadership in particular, should stop agonizing and apologizing for the law of first things first and the required patience in and through the pain in order to get to the gain.

And I’ll keep these short…

1) Like so many fallen Image Bearers [E.g., all Adam’s progeny], I have worked myself practically to death trying to achieve hard things in life. Ultra-this and ultra-that in athletics, learning, consulting, neediness, and idol-vanities of innumerable varieties… I’ve also “run some tough marathons” through trials of various and heart-shattering kinds as well. And I’ve been massively blessed by the “training and enduring.” It’s all of God, in Christ, and through the Spirit.

But—get this!—a) NONE of the obsessive spending of myself, for any of these passing fancies or commendable strivings, is comparable to the Spirit-led sacrifice of putting first things first or “the proper pain for Godly gain.” EXCEPT, b) the suffering and sacrifice involved in building endurance in any realm of life does to add much value in the endurance and perseverance of the Saints [the Sprit’s + our own—Matthew 16:16-23; Luke 22:31–34; James 1:12; Romans 5:3-5] in the spiritual life.

All “marathoning” is not equal: I know well how to hurt while running, skiing, snowshoeing 80+ miles a week, but “running the good spiritual and servant race” (1 Corinthians 9:24; Hebrews 12:1; 2 Timothy 4:7) is very different: in marathon-speak, “hitting the wall of pride, pretense, egotism, and self-centeredness” is a challenge like no other.

But if I, if we, haven’t hurt or sacrificed in other realms of life, no character-building or endurance is likely in the spiritual realms.

Why? Our natural and sinful bent is to avoid suffering—in preference to comfort. And idolizing, seeking comfort only [E.g,. only] begets the avoidance of pain, and the elusiveness of any gain. “Christians living in a culture of comfort” is a subject I’ve written much about… and feel very deeply about. In our day, in the Western church, Christians have become worldly in many ways, but one of the biggies is an aversion to suffering of most any kind. I needn’t go into why that’s a significant problem, right? (Romans 5:3-5; 1 Peter 2:21; 4:12)

I my case, when I’m deeply challenged in the spiritual-emotional realm, without even thinking about it, my remembrance, my mind, heart, and spirit goes to specific times and places where I have hurt… bad… and yet endured in atheltics and in other realms of life. “I can do this…,” I remark to myself. “I’ve been blessed to endure before.” (James 1:2-4)

2) When comfort, convenience, accommodation, sloth… is victorious, all else takes a distant last place. And this is one of those repetitive sirens of Satan I hear in still-small and lusty-loud ways these days: far too many in the church—beginning with leadership—apologizing and agonizing [in a host of ways] for how arduous, painstaking, strenuous pretty much anything is in the faith. Whether the tendency in the church for “the painless path to gain”, “the semi-comfortable, small-sacrifice journey of discipleship”, or the “lest we err towards legalism” [so don’t insist on anything] proclivity… The Church needs to set things, get things, straight!

Akin to much of life pertaining to leadership, the complex motivation tied to mitigating the discomfort(s) of the led in doing the right thing… is complicated. But leadership of all stripes needs to dig deep into the propensity to “avoid the messy.”

Emotional ambivalence, the warring of competing and opposite ideas and feelings, is actually a window into our heart that God uses to cleanse, sanctify, and conform the heart more and more into the likeness of Jesus’ heart. We dare not avoid, or enable others to do so, at any cost!

  1. “First things first” is how God ordained the order of the universe WAY before He made man: please get used to it. The five days of creation prior to God creating the first human being wasn’t as much as “God warming up” as it was God doing first things first—and then the accumulation and acclamation of God’s Image Bearers came to pass… and not before.
  2. The inherited Sin (Genesis 3) and habitual sinning (James 4:17) of mankind requires there be PAIN to realize any GAIN! If pain be your bane you will not realize any gain along the journey of faith. The pain involved in the gain is made up of the separation of Adam’s Sin and our habitual sinning from our heart. It’s about fighting tooth and nail against entropy. It’s about transforming stone into flesh (Ezekiel 11:19)—and this is a partnership between the supernatural person and power of the Spirit AND our willinginess, obedience to humbly and gratefully comply.

And this cannot [E.g., will not] happen without some PAIN! But, but, but there’s temporal and eternal JOY and BEAUTYDELIGHT and CHRIST-LIKENESSTEARS OF REDEEMING GRACE… and as the reward (Colossians 3:23-24), the prize (Ephesians 1:17), the comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-7), the fruit (Galatians 5:22-23), the glory (1 Corinthians 10:31), beloved of God (1 John 4:7-8).

As Martin Luther so accurately, marvelously, and anecdotally [by experience] said, “Oratio, meditatio, tentatio!” It is “prayer, meditation, and trial,” that is the prerequisite for learning and living the True Truth and Love of God. The third necessity should give us [major] pause:  Luther called “tentatio”, the trials and  suffering of life, “the touchstone for learning”: treating the pain, the trials of our life, with the redemptive care and course of the Trinity is seminal, essential to Christian gain, growth, and effectiveness (Matthew 5: 13-16; 1 Corinthians 13; Galatians 5:22-23). “In fiery trials, one is humbled and broken. It is then that a leader, disciple is made most teachable. In difficult times, the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit often shines brightest. Broken hearts make for receptive minds.” (Steven Lawson, The Legacy of Luther)

A hardened heart, bent on avoiding pain… and left unchecked… will result in enmity, animosity of the gain. And this is very bad.

So, lastly before the firstly of Spurgeon’s feast below, if and when The Church is sinfully faint-hearted, emotionally immature, “subservient to seeker-friendliness”, too worldly, or just plain ignorant or cowardly about speaking the truth in love pertaining to the necessity of pain on the journey towards the gain… please, oh please, be discerning. Be freed by the truth. Provide loving, constructive feedback. Offer your witness to the paradox of the pain: it is the doorway to the greatest gain and the full measure of the manifold pleasures of who we are in Christ.

The Heavenly Rule, C.H. Spurgeon*

“Laban said, ‘It is not so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn.’” (Genesis 29:26)

“We do not excuse Laban for his dishonesty, but we are wrong not to learn from the custom that he quoted as his excuse. There are some things that must be taken in order, and if we would win the second we must secure the first. The second may be the more lovely in our eyes, but the rule of the heavenly country must stand, and the elder must be married first. For instance, many men desire the beautiful and well-favored Rachel of joy and peace in believing, but they must first be married to the tender-eyed Leah of repentance.

Everyone falls in love with happiness, and many would cheerfully work for fourteen years to enjoy it; but according to the rule of the Lord’s kingdom, the Leah of real holiness must be loved in our soul before the Rachel of true happiness can be attained. Heaven stands not first but second, and only by persevering to the end can we win a portion in it. The cross must be carried before the crown can be worn. We must follow our Lord in His humiliation or we will never rest with Him in glory.

My soul, what do you say—are you so vain as to hope to be an exception to the heavenly rule? Do you hope for reward without work, or honor without endeavor? Dismiss the idle expectation, and be content with the despised things for the sake of the sweet love of Jesus, which will more than repay you. In such a spirit, working, and suffering, you will find afflictions grow sweet and hard things easy. Like Jacob, your years of service will seem like only a few days on account of the love you have for Jesus; and when the dear hour of the wedding feast shall come, all your toils will be as though they never happened—an hour with Jesus will make up for years of pain and toil.

Jesus, to win Thyself so fair,
Thy cross I will with gladness bear:
Since so the rules of heaven ordain,
The first I’ll wed the next to gain.”

Stay put for a while. Digest for as long as it takes. Journal what and how the Spirit is leading you. Share your hopes, dreams, and fears with another. And pray… “My Father Whom art in heaven… please hear my prayers for ______ …”

See you soon back at the Training Table,

More Resources:

A Hole in Our Holiness, by Kevin DeYoung

The Discipline of Grace, by Jerry Bridges

Discipleship in 3-D, by Alistair Begg

A Plan for Growth

The Ordinary Christian Life, Tabletalk, Magazine, Ligonier Ministries

*Devotional material is taken from “Morning and Evening,” written by C.H. Spurgeon, revised and updated by Alistair Begg. Copyright (c) 2003, Good News Publishers and used by Truth For Life with written permission. Today’s Bible Reading material is taken from McCheyne Bible reading plan and used by Truth For Life with permission. Scripture quotations are taken from Holy Bible: English Standard Version, copyright (c) 2001, Good News Publishers

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