No Pain, No Gain

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

(Proverbs 27:6)

As many of you know, I’m in the editing phase of a novel I hope to have published. The setting is dystopian – either our own world in the future or one enough like it to be almost familiar. It’s meant as an extended parable for sacrificial living and the potential to use or abuse our God-given gifts.

I belong to a critique group, which was a pretty brave act for me. Through them, I’ve received a lot of great feedback. But there’s this one guy…

He never hesitates to ask questions about what is confusing, to point out continuity issues or passive voice or a myriad of other mistakes. In fact, my submissions often come back from their time under his scrutiny riddled with comments and dissected sentences.

I could ignore his emails. I could collect a handful of people who love my writing as is and say very little. But in the long run, I would be the worse for my refusal to hear difficult truths.

As it is, I love the criticism. Not because it feels good to have your rough draft sliced and diced. It doesn’t. I love it because he pushes me to work harder, to tighten and refine and grow as an author.

Naturally, a part of me adores glowing feedback, but the reasonable part of me knows it’s the criticism which drives me to exert my mental abilities and strive toward a better product.

Similarly several years ago, my family took judo under the instruction of a dear friend (whom I often still refer to as Sensei though it’s been ages since I stepped foot on a mat or took a fall). Every time he would praise a technique I’d done correctly, I would blow it for the next 15 minutes. I finally told him, “I think I just work better with criticism.”

He believed me, and lo and behold, I did improve.

My point?

I have been reading the Word of the Lord daily for many years. Studying, memorizing, and reflecting on it are all parts of my average day. I also spend no small amount of time reading works by other Christians.

None of this is to my own credit, mind you. This desire for the Word is a gift from God; one I requested early in my walk with Him and one He happily granted.

Anyway, the more I become saturated with the Word, the more I realize that often it’s the things I want least to hear that I need to hear most.

In today’s American Christianity, there is an abundance of shelf space advertised as “Christian.” But mark my words: Just because a thing speaks of the Lord or quotes Scripture does not mean the teaching is based on sound doctrine.

In an act of audacious irony, our ancient enemy quoted Scripture to the Word made flesh (see Mark 4:6). And believe me, his kisses are profuse. He loves to keep us snuggled in such comfort we overlook the bars of our cozy cage. If I wanted, I could easily surround myself with nothing but heartwarming sentiment.

But then I wouldn’t grow.

I’m certainly not knocking encouragement – God knows every one of us needs it, and He offers it in due time. But we need an equal balance of rebuke and reproof. We need the sharp prick of a goad now and then to remind us to stay on the narrow path that leads to life just as we sometimes need a word to lift us out of the pit to soar on wings like eagles’.

Friends, the Christian walk is not one of self-indulgence and earthly pleasure. We are promised joy, but it is joy in the presence of the Lord. Pleasure at His right hand. This means that our joy will often come not in lieu of suffering but in spite of it.

And to achieve this state of “joy anyway,” we need a full complement of both correction and encouragement. Of discipline and strengthening. We need the wounds of a friend who has the long term as a goal. If we are to become more Christlike, we must also be willing to endure Christlike suffering.

To compete so as to win the prize, we have to put in the hard work of training if we are to run our race well. But the Prize will be well worth our effort!

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

(Philippians 3:13-14)

How about you? Do you tend to gravitate towards what I would call “easy button Christianity?” Or are you equally open to hearing hard truths which require some sacrifice or painful confession in order to grow in Christ-likeness?

28 thoughts on “No Pain, No Gain

  1. Iron sharpens iron… Affirmations are nice, but we grow under criticism. I too recognize the number of ‘water down’ Christian sermons or books but I have hope in the awesome God that we serve. Thanks for your amazing piece. To God be the glory.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s funny to me how we as a people tend to be so polar, swinging from one extreme (like the Puritan community described by Hawthorn in “The Scarlet Letter”) or the other (like today). We really do need both and I’m thankful the Lord is faithful to provide exactly what we need! 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Heather – I love this post. I have to have other women disciples in my life to prick my pride. When my church went through some changes several years back, it seems like we lost the desire to challenge each other. You have inspired me to change! Thank you for finding my blog so that I could find yours. I look forward to reading your other posts.

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    1. Likewise! What I read today on your blog reminds me a little of Bill Sweeney who keeps his faith in Christ vibrant even while ALS saps his physical strength.

      I also need others to prick my pride! The Lord knows it looms up in a New York minute if given the chance, and these friends are more apt to spot it than I am most of the time!

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  3. Yes! You caught me. As a pastor and (aspiring) writer, I also love to hear the sounds of praise of my work. But the only thing that helps me grow is the critical eye. Sorry… you’ll just have to accept my praise for this post and hope that someone else might take on the task of helping you grow.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Heather, this is good. I think some misconception comes into play when we interpret the word “encouragement” only in a “happy happy” sense. But, actually the word has a much broader meaning.

    It means to advise, to urge, to stimulate, to persuade, to spur on, and to inspire. It is not meant to be only in the sense of giving praise to people, but it is meant to move people towards change, growth and improvement.

    And, if you think about it, if all we ever do is praise people and if we never tell them anything that would encourage growth and change, then are we really loving them like Jesus loves us? And are we helping them?

    All negative is bad, but so is all positive. We need both in order to grow.

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  5. i know you will not keep this. But religion kills people daily. The Scriptures speak about Christ, Luke 24:44 but you are unwilling to come to me, John 5:38-40 Man is totally depraved and without him electing them and were talking about the sheep, they would not have come, lest one boast. 1 Corinthians 1:30-31 Christ is MY RIGHTEOUSNESS and HOLINESS. John 6:37-40, 29. READ THESE verses they might help you to stop striving to be right with god, and actually because of the doing and dying of the lord Jesus Christ AS OUR SUBSTITUTE Penal substitution. we are righteous. we do not live righteous, but we are righteous, as imputation of our sin was given to him 2 Corinthians 5:21-23 and his righteousness was given to us. He SUFFERED OUR WRATH FROM HIS FATHER. Zechariah 13:7 thus satisfying the wrath of god in our stead, as he lived the perfect life. Christ is my work, My works before God, is Christ, anything else is filthy rags which God looks down on completely and forever. Free will is a lie and God’s sovereign election is only true, ROMANS 9 i will have mercy on whom i will have mercy. Stick that in your hat and smoke it. Salvation in its completeness is from the lord, Jonah 2:9………………..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well thanks for stopping by! I agree that Christ alone is my righteousness and holiness – I have none of my own., as your citations which are familiar to me point out. However, I also know that we are all God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” When striking out in my own power, I wander astray; when following my Shepherd, I am blessed by His peace and joy.

      Again, thanks for stopping by and God bless! 🙂

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      1. If you mean my first and second response to your blog, i was a little harsh, i am sorry as well. Please read these two blogs i think it will give you insight to what i am saying. They are about Ephesians 2:10 ty bless your reading.

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      2. Don’t mention it. I did read the posts and agree with Jesus being the sole source of righteousness. There is no question in my mind – everything I do, I do for love of Him. If, in a moment of weakness, I take my eyes off Him, I am prone to stumble and I always, always deeply regret it. I look forward to that great Day when I leave the place of my sojourn and arrive Home, no longer to struggle against sin!

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      3. Do you agree with the workmanship that christ has for us is to walk by faith and Philippians 1:29 says faith is a gift given to his sheep. It is been given to you to believe/have faith in his name and to suffer for his names sake. Meaning we suffered an end of our old life in Adam, by being crucified with him Galatians 2:20. Were not mended but ended and Christ alone is our life. He is our pleasure and works before God, we do not need any works of our own, in fact if we do have any works other than faith it is sin, and simply denying Christ’s finished works.

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      4. Hmm, I guess I’m not so sure about that one since James wrote that faith without works is dead (Jas. 2:14-18) and Jesus Himself told the disciples that “he who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me…” (John 14:15, 21). I see where Phil. 1:29 says it’s been granted to not only believe in Christ but to suffer for His sake… which I am acquainted with, though not like some.

        I agree that it is only faith in Him and His completion of the Law that saves, so if by “works” you mean trying to earn God’s favor by doing good things, I’m with ya. However, it’s quite difficult to live in this world and do no works. Writing a blog could be a “work.” So it depends on what you mean, but I don’t like to split hairs. We’re told not to wrangle about words which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers (2 Timothy 2:14, NASB) so I must be careful for the sake of my Lord’s reputation that my words honor His sacrifice and bring Him glory.

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  6. he already ran the race that we could nor would run and we rest in Him Their is only one who runs the race to win, That would be Christ ran as the sheep’s rest Hebrews 4, so run in such a way to win, means do not run in vain as the Israelites who trusted in their own works of righteousness rather than the finished work of Christ on his owns behalf. So understand it is his running, and not ours that matters. It is not his and ours, than we would both have something to boast brag about, and their is no bragging in the Christ glorying gospel. Now repent or perish, you have been warned, prove that your a sheep and hear. but since you wont, god did not die for the goats, for they will not hear. So sad so bad, The kisses of a friend Christ to his own, tells us and rebukes us that it is not about us, but solely about him. Sheep will Never talk about themselves but HIM HIM HIM HIM HIM HIM HIM. Bye Now. i have to proclaim the gospel to those he died for.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. My life is dramatically different from before I knew the Lord. I was angry, hateful, a heavy drinker, a user of others, and in a self-made prison of pain and sin. My Lord stepped in and set this captive free – praise Him!

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      2. so your saying your life is more peaceful amen, but if your saying that your life is actually getting to be more like Christ than this is wrong. Chris has become to us Righteousness and Holiness, we do not have any and he does not expect us to, for we can only have one righteousness most have His righteousness and their outward works, that denies Christ’s works on the cross, which are done, not do. Our life yes might look better, outwardly to us and others, but it does not have Christ’s righteousness and ours, again this is not biblically, i hope you can see this.

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