What does it mean to be extreme? What would a life of extreme joy look like? Picture in your mind a person who lives a life of abundant joy. A spirit of utmost resilience who endures, who perseveres, and despite all logical reasoning continues to have an abundant joyfulness.
It Makes No Sense
It is Winter Olympic Season. I delight it watching the Winter Olympics. Figure skating, hockey, skiing, snowboarding, and curling. There is not a winter sport I don’t enjoy watching.
The Winter Olympics are extreme feats of athletic artistry that leave me captivated with wide eyes and dropped jaw. I will sit there in awe-inspired amazement for hours. I watch the Olympians compete in sports that I can not believe human beings are capable of doing.
I find myself asking, are these Olympians really the same species as me? In my head I put up this side by side picture of me in my comfy cupcake printed fleece pajamas and my bowl of popcorn feet up on the couch in my fuzzy purple slippers against gold medal world champions who seem to be able to fly through the air with elegant flips and spins and land remaining upright arms wide open.
I have no realm in my imagination to comprehend how they can do what they do. Any attempt at imagining myself in these feats of daring end with the need for major immediate medical attention. That is just in my mind. Honestly, I could not even survive getting off a ski lift unscathed.
Yet, these Olympians can do it. I will watch them do it. The world will see the extreme abilities of these athletes in the coming days and weeks. They will glide on their skates, their skis, and their boards down the hills of a frozen bell curve right out to the extremes of what we never even imagined was possible.
This awe and amazement is not just for Olympians. They are not the only ones who live in the extreme realm outside of what seems logically possible. There are some who live lives of extreme joy. A joy that can glide over frozen opportunities, that ski down hills of adversity, and remain standing with arms lifted high. In our world, that just does not seem possible.
This world we live in has been a place of pain and anguish since the fall. It does not matter what time period you look at, pick up any period piece of writing and you will find death, destruction, and suffering. They were not good old days, they were different days. All the days have problems.
So if suffering is a given at all times, how can one live a life of extreme joy? How you can you have the presence of suffering and still have joy?
Olympic athletes can accomplish extreme feats of athletic prowess because they have extreme training. Training that will contain pain, agony, and suffering. Suffering is the training ground that develops perseverance and enables the radical to become realized.
Extreme athletes embrace their training, they immerse themselves into intensively focused skill development plans and they strain towards what lies ahead.
They do not avoid. They do not run away. They step forward, fall forward, roll forward, and tumble forward. Even if they need to be picked up by professional medical personnel, they get back up and press on. They sweat. They suffer. Then they soar.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,
whenever you face trials of many kinds,
because you know that the testing
of your faith produces perseverance.
Let perseverance finish its work so that
you may be mature and complete,
not lacking anything.”
James 1:2-4 (NIV)
Those with extreme joy will face trials, difficulties, and temptations directly. With steadfastness they will not avoid, run away, or try to prematurely end their training. Just like the extreme athlete they step forward, fall forward, roll forward, and tumble forward.
They may even need to be picked up by professional personnel. It may be for physical medical attention, but it might also be a professional counselor needed to help nurse wounds of the mind, spirit, and soul in addition to the body. They sweat. They suffer. Then they soar.
Suffering is the training ground that develops perseverance and makes the final victory sweet.
Pioneer & Perfecter
“And let us run with perseverance
the race marked out for us,
fixing our eyes on Jesus,
the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
For the joy set before him
he endured the cross,
scorning its shame,
and sat down at the right hand
of the throne of God.”
Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIV)
If there is one who has experienced extreme suffering, yet endured and persevered it is Jesus Christ.
I love how these verses from Hebrews describe Jesus as both pioneer and perfecter. We do not usually use these words to describe the same person. A pioneer is often the originator or inventor who starts something new, rough around the edges, a prototype with issues to be worked out. A perfecter is the one to take what was new and brings it to ideal form, without defect, not lacking in any detail of design.
Jesus not only opened up a new line for us to find forgiveness, grace, and reconciliation to a relationship God the Father, Jesus perfected it. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus is ideal in form, without defect, and possesses absolute perfection in design.
Jesus endured horrific suffering to the extent of the cross for the extreme joy, the resurrection and redemption on the other side.
Olympic athletes may be on the extremes of the bell curve accomplishing things beyond the scope of our imagination, but Jesus blew away the bell curve with His sacrifice on the cross so that ALL could come, not just the few on the extremes.
Jesus made way for the masses in the middle who look to the extremes in wonder and feel mediocre in their pajamas. The highest reward, the greatest joy, is found by those who believe in Christ and grow in Him.
We can find Jesus exactly where we are at. Through the suffering, the trials, and the temptations of daily life we will find our training grounds for extreme joy.
Like Olympic Athletes, we can not do it alone. We have God the Father who is all powerful, ever present, and all knowing. We have Jesus Christ who is our savior, redeemer, pioneer, and perfecter. We have the Holy Spirit who is our helper, equiper, comforter, and teacher. We are blessed to train with the BEST!
Live It Out
Extreme joy looks so appealing. The suffering, trials, and temptations of the training grounds, not so much. The circumstances that test our endurance can feel a lot like trying to embrace a porcupine.
The past couple of years in my life have felt like they have contained more tumbles, falls, failures, bruises, brokenness, sweat, and suffering than any before. Since 2016 my family has experienced relational turmoil both within and with connections outside of our home, physical ailments, financial failures, heartache from shattered hopes, stress, striving, and loneliness.
There have been moments of exhaustion and frustration which make me want to search for a expedient escape rather than searching for a way to persistently persevere. In those most painful moments it is intensely tempting to seek immediate relief by avoiding, running away, or numbing oneself. None of those paths will lead to a place of extreme joy.
We gain endurance day by day. Joy comes along the way.
The past few years have been hard on me. Hard on my marriage. Hard on my family. While we feel like we have been tumbling down a ski hill with arms and legs and skis flailing about, we have been enduring. How do I know, because we made it to today.
Not long ago, in an attempt to get a selfie of my husband Eric and I together, we got this silly picture in the process.
My sweet friend Connie saw the picture and said, there is joy in this picture. As I reexamined the image, I had to agree. There is a joy there. A brief flash of sweet victory in the insignificant moments of daily life. Extreme joy from enduring the suffering, trials, and temptations.
What temptations, trials, and sufferings are you facing in your life’s circumstances right now? What situations are making you want to run away or escape? What do you want to avoid? What feelings and frustrations do you want to numb?
Now take those answers right to the Holy Trinity in prayer. Ask for help, guidance, wisdom, revelation, and knowledge for a training plan to help you endure, persevere, and get you to a place of extreme joy.
Share that prayer request with other believers. Identify if professional help is needed in any areas. Ask for help and support from friends and family. You may be surprised how many people love you so much that they are looking for opportunities to give to you.
Seek out scriptures related to the identified struggles. Write them on note cards. Text them to yourself. Put them on post-it notes in your work and living spaces.
As I sit here, I wish I could tell you that I know it is going to get better for us. But, I can not do that. I have no idea what the future holds for us. I do not know if it will get better, or if we are on the verge of getting a whole lot worse.
What I do know for certain is that there will be suffering, trials, and temptations. I know without a doubt that I am going to want to run away, escape, and numb those hurts.
I can say with confidence that we are blessed with the best to get us through. God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Not to mention the faithful fellowship within the family of Christ, so many talented, gifted, caring, loving, and tender individuals connected together.
All this working together for extreme joy awarded by the golden grace of God.
Pray Through It
We do not want to hug a porcupine. We do not want to embrace the suffering and the trials. But, we do want to endure, to persevere, to become resilient, and to experience extreme joy.
Please train us. Please use and work in the circumstances of our daily lives. Help us to process the pain, recover from the falls, strain through the sweat, and find solace in the suffering.
May we be able to hold our hands up in the glow of Your golden grace and radically shine with an extreme joy that makes no logical sense to the world.
In the pioneering and perfecting name of Jesus, amen.