"For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose." (Philippians 2:13)
There's a well-known slogan from the gym-rat world: "No Pain, No Gain." During my days as a personal trainer, my sworn duty to my clients was to be consistently pushing them to the brink, to progress and intensify their training regimen so that their bodies were forced to adapt to the temporary torture they were enduring. At the moment it was painful. I remember being called all sorts of names. I had one client, in the heat of a grueling set tell me where to go, how to get there, and even offer their assistance! However, over the long haul, those who would commit to trust that their trainer knew what he was doing would always have the same response: "Thank you."
When it comes to physical health, there is a temporary sacrifice that will, over time, produce a long-term benefit. The problem for most people is they won't look past the sacrifice. They focus on what they can't have, be it sweets, fast food (it's not really food, but that's a subject for another post), sodas, beer, and the list goes on. I've had my share of clients who were always looking for a way to make the workout easier: they'd come in late, argue and barter ("Come on Mr. Trainer Man; don't make me do the planks and I'll buy you a Starbucks drink!"), or just not fully engage in the workout. Again, their focus was on the wrong thing. They wouldn't look past what might be temporary pain and see the ultimate gain.
I've come to realize that God's plan for us is much the same. I know many believers who are not fully involved and enjoying the benefits God has for us because they aren't willing to look past momentary earthly inconveniences. In the same way training clients used to attempt to negotiate with me to get an easier workout, these folks waste their spiritual lives trying to rationalize holding on to something that will ultimately forfeit God's best.
On the front end, all the new fitness client sees is a nutrition plan that is absolutely foreign to most of them, and a weight-room where their passive muscles cry out, "we don't want to do that! It hurts!" In the same way, on the front end, what the follower of Jesus sees is a cross. Jesus' call to His would-be followers has not changed, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23). There is a strong temptation to focus on what we must give up and so many decline His challenge. At that moment it appears that God is some how attempting to cheat us out of something.
However, just like the training client who trusts her trainer and follows the plan; the believer who simply takes Jesus at His word and follows realizes two things. First, He never called us to give up anything that He didn't replace it with something better. Second, we only wish we had started following sooner, because God really does know what He's doing in our lives.
I've been a fitness nut for over three decades now. At times my pursuit has been more intense than others; but all-in-all their has been a consistency in my life when it comes to nutrition and exercise. Today, physically speaking, I am blessed with amazing health. I wake up most mornings energized and ready to go, have the energy I need to get through each day, have the same waist measurement as I did when in college, take zero prescription medications, and at annual physical time get to hear my doctor say, "if all my patients were like you, I'd have to find another line of work!" Here's the point: 30 years in... I'm not paying the price for good health, I'm enjoying the benefits.
It's the same way with God! Take up your cross daily, keep your eyes on the prize, and you'll soon realize that you aren't paying the price of discipleship, but enjoying the benefits. The apostle Paul put it this way, "Our light and momentary troubles (i.e. the momentary pain of sacrifice) are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all" (2 Corinthians 4:17)... and YES, eternal glory will begin to shine forth on this side of eternity.