Here’s the best piece of advice I received about a school we were starting. A friend said, “Under-promise and over-perform.” I gave people a sales pitch, and it was ending up better than reality. That is dishonesty, though it doesn’t feel that way. I was just being positive about a good thing.

Jesus is not like me. Surprise!.  He talks about hardships we will need to endure. He warns as much as He encourages. He wants us to know what we are signing up for. He told would-be followers, “Foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58).  In other words, get ready for tough times, not a comfortable ride.

We somehow expect that because God is good, so is the future. The Christian life will be like a wonderful vacation. That is not what we are told or sold. Peter said, “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you,” but we are. And maybe we expect that the better the Christian, the better the deal. The opposite is more often true. Look at Paul and Peter, super-apostles who suffered much and died as martyrs.

We are told to put all our marbles in the age to come. Peter, writing to exiles of the Dispersion about suffering, said, “Set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:13). He said that our “living hope” is waiting for us in eternity, and it is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for” us (1:4). Justice comes at the end of the end.

Paul didn’t remind Timothy of all the people who were saved, healed and filled with the Holy Spirit like we pastors often do. He said, “You have observed my teaching, my conduct…my persecutions, my sufferings” (2 Timothy 3:10,11). He promised that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (12). Then he added, “Evil men and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceivers and deceived” (13). Every New Testament writer said that it was going to get worse before it gets better–Jesus, Matthew, Luke, John, Peter.

Do they struggle with pessimism? No, but we do. So we give people the good news and not the “bad” news, which amounts to false hope. We give hype but not reality. And people are surprised that marriage, family, and the Christian life are harder than anticipated. Discouragement sets in because they think something must be wrong with them. Life is harder than it was supposed to be. Like the grandfather said to his grandkids, “Life wouldn’t be so hard if you didn’t expect it to be so easy.”

Dear Christian: life is supposed to be hard. Paul “encouraged” his struggling understudy with these words, “Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord…but share in suffering for the gospel in the power of God” (2 Timothy 1:8). Eternity is the payback. We live for what is not yet. So we are not pulled down by hardship. It actually gives us blazing hope! Like a pastor friend preached, “Life is hard, but God is good!”



We have many friends who are waiting. We pray for ten couples who are more than eager to have a child. Some have waited a long time and are losing hope. One has given up. I met with one of these couples recently. Waiting can tamper with two important pictures: how we view ourselves and how we view God. I asked her if waiting had changed her outlook of herself. She answered, “Not now, but it did for a while.”

Haunting thoughts have time to germinate in a restless soul: maybe I wouldn’t be a good mother. Perhaps I don’t have what it takes. Or we transfer the shame to heaven: maybe God is not as faithful as we thought. Maybe He does have favorites, and I don’t happen to be one of them. Maybe He is testing us by not giving us children. Maybe He has disqualified us because of something we did earlier in life. Questions bombard young adults in the waiting room. We feel unprotected, and Satan opens fire. In our weaker moments, we agree with his assault.

My friend said that she has made it through the worst of it. She is now at a place of relative peace. They are thinking of foster children, still with the expectation of having their own as well.

Other friends are hopeful of being married. The clock keeps ticking, and it reminds them of the inner biological clock. Time could run out. Doesn’t God see? Doesn’t He care? Why is He singling me out? Why do five friends get married and I stay single and sad? What is wrong with me? Am I diseased? Am I not beautiful? Do I not have what it takes? I thought I did. I think I do. But no one is budging.

Delay is not denial, but it feels like it. Would it be easier to wait if we knew that the promise would be fulfilled at the end of the time period?  Yes, but what if time runs out and still no child, no husband, no job, no future. I want to believe that God sees me and cares, but in my troubled times I doubt it.

In our anxious waiting, we read the words of David and feel that he understands: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy says, ‘I have prevailed over him,’ lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken” (Psalm 13:1-4).

We feel understood. Someone in the Bible who had a heart for God felt the way we feel. We are being validated. We are not alone and we are not crazy. Maybe we are being heard. Perhaps the answer is on the way.

David concludes his “how long” Psalm with confident words: “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” With you, too!


Ladies, if we men can be a bride for Christ, then you get to be sons of the Father. Home is meant to be the closest thing on earth to heaven. For many, it is closer to hell. Even with good families, we can be left with love deficits and the feeling that we are not truly valued. Many carry these thoughts throughout their life. If we want to understand God’s Father love, we need to grasp sonship. Stick with me!

Paul writes to the Romans, showing the difference between living by the law and living by faith through the work of the Spirit. He uses the word “law” twenty-three times in Romans 7, showing the futility of a “we try harder” mentality. We can’t pull of the holiness thing by resolve. It brings a strong inner tension. How can I win over sin? Chapter 7 ends with Paul feeling enslaved.

Chapter 8 breaks out with a different reality: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” How? The Spirit is mentioned 22 times, demonstrating God’s answer to human effort. He writes that “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship (“adoption”). And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The  Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings, in order that we may also share in his glory” (8:13-17).



It is received, not achieved. Paul had done well by human standards, but it was all effort. Then he traded the merit system for the mercy system. He got to shed his performance mentality by going low and received status as a son by faith in Jesus Christ.


The Father leads His kids step by step into their appointed destiny. We don’t have to make it up as we go. We are guided. Call it the GPS of the Spirit. And it works. Sons prove their relationship with the Father by the Spirit’s guidance (13). The inner compass is a Person.


They have a family–for ever. Sin left us feeling guilt, shame, and condemnation. We wondered if the cycle could change. It did. We are forgiven, cherished, valued, and appointed to represent a good, good Father.


We discover that we belong. We’re on the inside, not the outside. Slaves have a boss, not a father. They are unsure about their future. Sons have an inheritance, because the Firstborn shares His with us. We are called co-heirs. Glorious future. John Wesley described his conversion as exchanging “the faith of a servant for the faith of a son” (quoted in F. F. Bruce’s Commentary on Romans, p. 167). We learn to say, “Abba” and receive His love!


Present hardship only reminds us of what is to come. Short-term pain will be translated into long-term gain. I get it!



Which letter of Paul’s is most joyful? Philippians. How did the church at Philippi begin? Injustice, a brutal beating, and a night locked with stocks in a prison cell. It led to the conversion of the jailor and his family, then many others. Paul suffered well, and his test became a testimony. That happens when people choose to live above the circumstances. Our biggest obstacles are not our circumstances but ourselves. What do we learn about suffering from a letter full of joy?



“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in his name but also to suffer for his sake” (1:29). We normally think of suffering as a burden. How could Paul call it a gift? Because suffering produces perseverance, character, and hope (Romans 5:3,4), good fruit and great joy.



Paul spoke about chains four times in the first chapter. His imprisonment allowed him access to the palace guard. Imagine being chained to the apostle Paul for four hours. Sooner or later you are going to hear the good news. Paul wrote that “it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ” (1:10). God is a purposeful God. We don’t go through hardship meaninglessly. If you are facing difficulty, look for a miracle masquerading behind the misery.  Hey, he’s writing his letter from a Roman prison. And we’re reading it two thousand years later. That’s a long time on the market!



It is not live or die but obey or not obey. “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:21). We learn not to fear death but disobedience.



“…he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross” (2:9). Suffering was written into His journey to earth. He told the men on the way to Emmaus, “Did not the Christ have to suffer and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:46). If suffering was a part of His job description, won’t that also be true for ours? Then it means that fellowship with Him would include suffering with Him. Paul wanted “to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his suffering” (3:10).



“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (4:12). Happiness is situational for most people. If things go well, then I am, too. If things go wrong, I’m down. Paul embraced a mindset that allowed him to live on top of situations. Rather than riding the roller coaster of circumstantial happiness, he found meaning in suffering and gave thanks in all seasons. A really wise way to do life.


“Are you a masochist?”

“No, a realist—like Jesus: “In the world you will have tribulation.” Or like Paul: “Suffer hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” We’re in a war, not on a picnic. Or like Peter: “Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” Hard—yes; strange—no.


When Jesus left heaven, He wasn’t thinking, “Going to be fun.” He didn’t enjoy the cross—He endured it! “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”


Hebrews says, “He endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). “He shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be pleased.” Choose holiness, and happiness gets thrown in (Heb. 1:9). Choose happiness—and lose it.


Moses “chose to be mistreated with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward” (Heb. 11:26,27). Sounds like short-term pain and long-term gain.


He was a prince. He could have picked any princess. Is sin pleasurable? Yes—“for a short time.” But then it morphs into guilt and shame. Did Moses choose right? He put out a rod and the sea backed up like a mountain. He turned a rock into a river—in the desert.


Ask the apostle Paul. He said, “Our light, momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal weight of glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17). Light pain—long gain. It’s called eternity. And “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul” (Acts19:11). You just said “extraordinary” twice!


Ask Peter, who said, “In this you greatly rejoice [future salvation], though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials… “ (I Peter 1:7). Pain now—pleasure later! He didn’t get it at first (Matt. 16), but once he got it, he really got it.


Ask any champion. Cassius Clay, an Olympic boxing champion who later became Muhammed Ali, said, “I hated every minute of training. But I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now, and enjoy the rest of your life as a champion.’” Works for athletes and artists, for investors who pinch pennies, and for Christ-followers. Say it: short-term pain—long-term gain!


People who choose short-term gain…

  • struggle in their marriage and don’t know why
  • act like victims who deserve a better life
  • choose to be happy—and it eludes them
  • spend their life regretting what went wrong


People who choose short-term pain…

  • bring you joy, because it is not about them
  • are willing to serve others at their own expense
  • live with hope, because the best is yet to come
  • look to the future with joy rather than to the past with regret


Let’s reform the pizza-at-your-door “NOW” generation and call them the “NOT NOW” generation! King David, in a moment of “now” weakness, surrendered to short-term gain. Shattered his family. Horrendous long-term pain. Joseph chose short-term pain—slavery, loss of job, jail term. It meant rising to the top as the second most powerful man on earth. Way to go, Joe?






“For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). How long is “momentary”? “In this [future salvation] you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials” (I Peter 1:6). Even a lifetime is short when compared to forever.

Most people reverse the process, and that is also true: short-term gain, long-term pain. The gain of a secret affair and the loss of respect from children who once almost worshiped Dad. An exciting high followed by a five-year addiction. The ease of two hours of nightly TV, and a marriage that goes flat. The joy of video games for ten years and a job at Wendy’s with the inability to get married and support a family. And they question what went wrong.

Try to avoid pain, and you just increased it. Accept it as part of the process, and you are preparing for exalted joy. Take the easy path, and your engine will stall out when you need it running.

Take your cue from Jesus, who “for the joy set before him, endured the cross despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). He didn’t enjoy the cross—He endured it for the long-term gain behind it.

Or read I Peter, that often puts suffering and glory in the same sentence. Peter didn’t like the thought of suffering when he first heard it from Jesus. When he got it, he really got it!

Even the gateway to life tells the story: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. The gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt. 7:13,14). Did you hear the word “easy”? Going to hell is easy. Is hell itself easy? Talk about long-term pain…

Any pain you have been avoiding that you may need to embrace? Perhaps…

The pain of confrontation. Jesus brought this gift at awkward times, like dinner parties, when people compromised truth. Integrity will get you in trouble, but you will hear the applause of heaven and sleep well at night.

The pain of going without. People who fast say it turns to a feast, because it increases revelation, not immediately but eventually.

The pain of exercise. Go ahead—apply artificial pain to your body. Do it now, and when you’re eighty you will be thankful. Paul told Timothy that “physical training is of some value” (I Tim. 4:8). Hey, we’ll take “some.”

The pain of accepting insults. Paul received them with gratitude, knowing that what humbled him brought grace, which meant great gain. Learn to live above offense and walk into a sea of joyfulness. A friend once said to me, “Just so you know, Paul, it’s almost impossible to offend me.” Sounds like wisdom.

The pain of saying no. Moses “chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.” He “regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward” (Heb. 11:25,26). The exchange rate in eternity for suffering now is out of this world. Cash in your trials and resistance to sin for great payback in the new earth. We dare not tire. Victory is near at hand. Your no to sin is accompanied by a strong yes to divine pleasure!


What can you say to a friend who feels like giving up, who can’t take the hardship anymore? Here’s what I did say:

Jerry, I certainly feel for you. I can’t imagine how I would be feeling if what is happening to you happened to me. I have wondered what to say. Here’s my best shot. Hope to God it helps.

Today we need to remember the scores of pastors in China, who are doing what they have done for years, preaching the Gospel. And the government is doing what it has done for years, throw them in prison—some for the tenth time. They may stay there for five years. Someone told me that you can’t trust a minister who hasn’t been in prison. He’s the real deal. They refuse to be angry at God—or even the government. It is not about them and their welfare. It is not survive or else. It is obey or else.

Today we need to pray for the persecuted church in Africa, where throngs are fleeing for their very lives—and many don’t make it. Those who do refuse to recant under threat of the loss of life or limb. It is not about them. It is about their eternity.

Paul could speak. Look at the grocery list of his hardship (2 Cor. 11). None of us has anything close. Yet he was able to say to the Colossians: “I rejoice is my sufferings for your sake” (1:24). He called suffering for Christ a gift to be received rather than a burden to bear (Phil. 1:29).

And Peter told us not to be surprised at the “fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you” (I Peter 4:12). Unfortunate—yes; strange—no. Difficult—by all means; strange—hardly. Suffering is democratic; we all go through it, but all in different ways. Peter followed with this exhortation: “But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (13).

We live for the age to come. We live in the now; we live for the not yet. Like Peter, who went through great hardship and probably died crucified upside down, you can learn to “set your hope fully on the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:13). We’re not home yet. We are called strangers, aliens, and sojourners. So we don’t settle down, as if this is all there is. When I am faced with hardship, I try to look beyond the horizon.

All of which enables us to do what the champions in the Hebrews Hall of Fame (Heb. 11) chose to do—put their marbles in the world to come. Like Jesus, we endure, for the joy set before us. If we have joy now, we enjoy. If we do not, we endure. It may be the most important quality for end-time believers who know it is going to get worse before it gets better. But the better is “out of this world!”


No. I am not a masochist. I just don’t know of another way to get in shape—or to stay there. Exercise is the application of artificial pressure to the muscles. I sit most of the day. Bummer. I use lips more than legs. So I need to be creative with my limbs. The tongue can use a rest.

Problem is—nothing changes for the better right away. It gets worse. How encouraging. You give it a try and you can’t bend over the next day.

All Christians are futurists. We live for what is not yet. Peter tells us: “Set your hope fully on the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Paul speaks of this present evil world. We’re camping out.

In the meantime, we apply the strange formula to our spiritual muscles. We do exercises in hope. We have morning workouts. Every day isn’t a ten. But it is getting better—over the long haul. After years of doing the same drills, it is going easier. But we still sometimes feel a reluctance to submit as we prepare for another session, maybe a painful one. Paul, who knew about pain, spoke of “our light, momentary affliction.”

People are always coming out with a better way to get strong. Some promise new muscle strength in thirty days. Others show pictures of an incredible hulk to make you buy in. Let me tell you: every product worth anything has two ingredients for development—time and pain. Don’t fall for any ad promising muscles while you sit in the jacuzzi or in your favorite recliner flipping the remote control.

Likewise, growth in the kingdom of God doesn’t happen without the same two ingredients—time and pain. No shortcuts. Did I disappoint you? Ask Peter who received his most embarrassing rebuke trying to talk Jesus out of pain. Ask Joseph who was given a prophetic picture of his future. Thirteen years later he arrived—after much sorrow, including a painful rejection by his brothers, taking him from favored son status to prisoner (rejection never feels good), a frame-up by a wild woman, and an unreturned favor by a butler.

Ask David, whose anointing at age seventeen from Samuel dripped with destiny. It took him thirteen years as well, after being chased around the Judean desert by a mad monarch who didn’t want to be replaced. And ask Jesus Himself, whom the Scripture says “learned obedience through the things that he suffered” and “endured the cross, disregarding the shame.” Notice He didn’t “enjoy” the cross. If these people didn’t sidestep pain, neither will you.

Don’t bait potential Christians or young believers with a sales pitch. The Gospel is far more glorious than that. It doesn’t need your hype to convince people. Jesus warned prospective clients rather than bringing out the perks.

The best advice I received for the discipleship school we were starting came from the retired principal of our Christian school in Southern California: “Under-promise and over-perform.” I was set to do the opposite.

Jesus told Paul “how much he must suffer” from the get-go (Acts 9:14). He told Peter, who wanted to do an end run around the cross, that he was thinking like the devil. Once Peter got it, he spoke brilliantly about pain. Read his letter.

Three truths can help us to embrace hardship:

  1. Pain with purpose beats meaningless suffering.
  2. Pain now means pleasure later. The opposite is also true! Ask drug addicts.
  3. Pleasure is greater when you have endured pain. Endurance is the sterling quality of end-time Christians.

Even Muhammed Ali got something right. “I hated every minute of training. But I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’” That’s you!


God’s got our happiness in mind. He has an eternity all planned out. It is impossible to dream about it in a way that could be close to its reality. It will far exceed our wildest imagination.

Meanwhile, this momentary experience on the earth gets us ready. We are called aliens and exiles. We don’t belong here. Most earth-dwellers figure this is all she wrote and are desperately trying to make the most of it. They wonder why we are not joining the rat race. They think we are strange for restraining ourselves, not indulging, not at least trying to collect a few toys.

They don’t understand that we would rather be righteous than rich. If they could catch on that we have already been given the kingdom, they might get a handle on true value. We have an inheritance that beats granddad’s millions.

Nobody oversold the short term on earth. Jesus said we would have tribulation. Paul was told by Ananias at his first interview “how much he must suffer for Christ’s sake.” And Peter wrote not to be surprised at “the fiery trials.” Hardly a sales pitch; we were forewarned. This short stint is tough.

Some are still thrown off balance when it proves harder than expected. Entitlement makes some think they deserve more. The payback, however, comes the next time around. We live for the world to come. Or in the exhortation from Peter, “Set your hope fully on the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:13). In other words, put all your marbles in the kingdom that is not yet here.

Happiness has already been taken care of. This short bleep will be done “in a little while” (I Peter 1:6,7). It doesn’t even register on the screen of eternity. Don’t make an issue out of it. Just die to yourself, take up your cross, and live with passion until the King returns. If you grumble about the dirt in your sandwich or the crabby neighbor, you’re not getting it; this is temporary. No pain in the age to come, no tears, no goodbyes. We can live with trouble now, because we know what is coming. We don’t need to pursue happiness, because the King is coming. And when you live for the upcoming wedding and eternal honeymoon, joy slips in the back door.

So go low, work your heart out, serve others unselfishly, and go to bed tired (that’s what sleep is for). You won’t regret it. Guaranteed!


So Paul lands in prison. God uses it for good. It’s all about a mindset.

We experience plenty of losses—freedom, sleep, health, time, money, relationship, hope. Our loss may really be a gain. What is devastating us has not devastated God. Before you make your experience a setback, look again; God may want to turn it around. To see God make setbacks into advances, understand that…

It’s not what happens to us; it’s what happens in us. Paul writes, “I want you to know brethren that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12). I read recently that God is not as concerned about where He takes us as what He makes us. Paul was confined—God was not. If we live circumstantially, our attitude will rise or fall depending upon what is going on out there.

Paul could have said, “Bummer” for the jail time and waited it out until release. Not even close. Imagine being chained to the apostle for a five-hour shift of guard duty. What does that solider talk to his buddies about later?!

Our outlook impacts others. “Most of the brethren have been made confident in the Lord because of my imprisonment and are much more bold to speak the word of God without fear” (14). As Zig Ziglar says, “Your attitude determines your altitude.” Paul’s friends decided that if he could preach the gospel inside a prison, they could certainly do it outside. Your attitude affects others, for better or worse.

We can build an immunity to discouragement. “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry…What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (15,18). I have urged our young adult leaders that when discouragement knocks at the door, don’t answer.

Paul’s competitors tried to antagonize him by preaching when he couldn’t, thinking to make him jealous or annoyed. Didn’t work. His friends just upped their preaching in light of Paul’s imprisonment.

In difficulty, we exercise faith, even when tempted to choose fate: “I’ll probably be here the rest of my life.” He said, “I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, this will turn out for my deliverance” (19). This is not “whatever will be will be” theology, turning prayer into a futile exercise. Often in trials we discount the power of prayer. Not Paul.

We obey regardless. We don’t control the outcome of our obedience. Paul determined that Christ would be honored in his body “whether by life or by death” (20). Survival was not the issue; surrender was. The Bible calls death an enemy, and the last enemy to be destroyed (Rev. 20:14). And yet even death itself was converted into a gain for Paul. He wrote, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (21). What a mindset!

We accept suffering as a gift. “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict which you saw and now hear to be mine” (29). Peter and the other disciples, after being beaten, left the Sanhedrin rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for the name” (Acts 5:41).

Bottom line: Paul got thrown for a gain. So will you. Just watch!