The Hamster Wheel

Hamsters must be the most physically fit rodents on earth. Rather than letting them sit around stuffing their jaws with little pellets of food, their owners supply them with an exercise machine, the hamster wheel. You know what it looks like, and if you’ve ever had a hamster of your own, you know what it sounds like at 3 AM! The hamster runs in the wheel, and if you think about it too long, you can almost start to feel sad for them. They exert so much energy, but never actually get anywhere. Maybe you can relate.

Our hurried lives are often punctuated by setbacks, frustrations, and, to use the apostle James’ word, trials. While you’re in the middle of one of these setbacks, you feel powerless to get out of it. No matter how hard you push or how fast you run, you just can’t get out. As they say online, “The struggle is real.” What’s worse, it’s not always apparent what we did to deserve the trial we’re facing, and it can sometimes feel like God has abandoned us to go it alone. Thankfully, God knew that we would fall into this “Hamster Wheel Perspective,” and in James 1:1–18 we’re told two things that get us out of the hamster wheel and on with our lives. First, there is a purpose to our trials (Jas. 1:2–4), and second, we’ll be rewarded for our perseverance through them (Jas. 1:12).

There seems to be little purpose to the hamster’s ceaseless running. Clearly, he’s going nowhere and fast. Not so for the believer! God has begun a work in us and He promises to complete it (Phil. 1:6). He has stretched a path in front of us, and though it may prove difficult at times, His purpose is for us to reach our goal and to finish our race. Life is not a hamster wheel. Each trial has a purpose as God shapes us and molds us into the image of His Son, Jesus (Rom. 8:29).

In addition to never actually going anywhere, the hamster doesn’t win anything for running in his wheel. It’s a mindless exercise in futility. But, Christian, we are promised a wonderful reward for our perseverance. James refers to it as “the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (Jas. 1:12), and Paul calls it a competitor’s “prize” (2 Tim. 2:5). Both argue that it is a motivation for our perseverance.

So when you find yourself facing an obstacle, give up the hamster wheel perspective that keeps you from seeing its point. Remember that God is at work to change you and make you more like Jesus, and that He promises a great reward for your faithfulness to Him through it.