When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives, my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends.
James 1:2, Phillips
Most of my physical challenges are due to the misalignment and flexion deformity of my knee replacement. One of the biggest problems with this knee is the very limited range of motion. I do my daily PT routine, but the things that I can do on my own are not enough to keep the deformity of my knee joint from getting worse. So, every couple of weeks, I see a manual therapist to help stretch the soft tissues and break up fascial adhesions around the joint. This is very helpful, and together with my daily routines, keeps me walking and able to do steps.
These last couple of weeks, I wasn’t able to do my regular PT because I came down with a bad respiratory virus. Because of that, my most recent visit to the manual therapist was quite painful. (Hang in there, I’m really not just going to complain through this whole post!) He did a technique called “muscle stripping,” which is very effective for breaking up those adhesions and stretching out the soft tissues around the joint. It is a more intense kind of therapy than what I usually get. He’s had to do this a few times, and it is always very helpful, with lasting results. On the down side, it is also extremely painful, and although I knew this from experience, I was eager to receive the treatment.
I needed this treatment to address the stiffness of the leg that was partially caused by neglect of my daily routine. Now, let’s think about our spiritual “stiffness.” The above verse from James, from the Phillips paraphrase, tells us that we should welcome trials as friends. There is nothing like a difficult trial to show us our spiritual range of motion. Sometimes, when we get focused on the troubles of our lives, we can forget to seek wisdom in Scripture, to pray, and to cry out to God. Instead, we try to “fix” the situation ourselves. When this happens, we become weary and begin neglecting our spiritual disciplines. In the process, we can get worn out, worn down, and spiritually stiff.
James tells us a better way. Instead of resenting the trial and seeking to escape, which draws us away from Christ and toward self, we should look at them as friends sent to help us become more like Christ. Read the next part of the above passage in James:
Realize that they [trials] come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character, men of integrity with no weak spots.
While I don’t enjoy muscle stripping, I do call it my friend because I know that it will help me gain the flexibility I need in order to be able to strengthen the muscles around that joint. One of the biggest problems with an inflexible joint is muscle weakness. If you can’t bend the joint, you can’t challenge the muscle to grow. Trials are like muscle stripping. They are unpleasant and often painful, but they are necessary if we want to grow spiritually. Through trials, God strips away the stiffness that enters our hearts through sin, neglect of spiritual disciplines, emotional pain, or idolatry. All of these things can cause us to turn from Him.
While I was suffering with the flu, I couldn’t muster the energy to make myself do the home therapy necessary to maintain my knee. I am so thankful that my therapist knows what to do! Through a painful process, helped me get back with the program and keep my mobility from spiraling downward. In the same way, I am very grateful to God for sending trials to accomplish the same things on a heart level. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not giddy with anticipatory glee when trials come. But I am very thankful that my God loves me and desires my growth in Him, and this is what enables me to be thankful for my trials. Thankful for the stripping away of the sin that sticks to my heart and makes me stiff. Thankful for the softening of stubbornly knotted rebellion, allowing humility to grow in my heart. Thankful, indeed, that my Therapist knows what to do. Hallelujah! What a Healer! What a Savior!