"And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know
that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by
the Holy Spirit, who He has given us."
There are times that I read a passage over and over and somehow miss the rich treasures of truth it contains. I did that with this passage. When I have been dealing with something hard, I have complained to God that I would be able to stand up under the trial if only He would give me some hope. The same type of thought occurs to me when I am watching a friend go through a trial that I am not sure that I could handle. Meditating on this passage gives me such a new perspective. A friend once told me that rejoicing can be looked at as return to your joy, which for a Christian is always going to be centered on Christ. So when a trial comes my way I need to make a conscience decision to return my focus to Christ. Sometimes He will lead me to take action in the trial, and sometimes it may be something He will lead me to patiently wait through the trial. That is hard, because in my tendency towards black-white thinking I want a formula for enduring trials that works every time. If I pay attention to His leading and do what He asks of me, I will see that He has allowed the trial for a purpose. That purpose is always so that I can grow in Him.
The reason God allows suffering in my life is to teach me patience or perseverance. As I stay focused on Christ my character is molded to be more like His character. Think back on His life. What did Christ do when he faced trials? He turned to His Heavenly Father and He prayed. Maybe, just maybe I would do well if I did the same. If I seek Him, He will faithfully reveal His will in each situation. Maybe He will lead me to continue loving someone who is acting unlovable. Maybe He will lead me to confront sin. Maybe He will call me to praise God in the midst of pain. Maybe He will ask me to trust the Father's sovereignty when circumstances are confusing. Maybe He will ask me to become bolder in the face of fear.
The last thing that is produced after godly character is hope, which is what amazes me the most about this passage. I have always wanted the hope -- the firm confidence in Christ -- to come first. This passage makes it clear that we don't need to ask God for faith or hope but I need to choose to obey and trust the Lord in trials and that He will then produce hope in me. My perspective needs to be that God is good and faithful and I can take Him at His word. When He allows something to happen to me, He is also doing something in me and hopefully doing something through me. In that process, as I persevere God will develop His godly character in me and then I will have hope! In other words our faith will become mature. It is a neat concept that God is developing and maturing the faith He has planted in me.
Finally, the last part of the passage promises that I will not be disappointed in hope because God sheds his love into our hearts via the Holy Spirit. Several years ago I shared this passage with one of my discipleship groups. Some of the girls have expressed that they do not feel close to God. The truth is that we are all close because He lives inside of us. The way we get the feeling of being close is to choose to obey and trust Him through trials. As we obey our hope matures. Then we are confident in the love He has put inside of us and it isn’t something we muster up.
One of our sons is allergic to soybeans and when he gets some in his system he will double over and look like he is dying. One night he had eaten something that had soybeans without knowing it and his girlfriend's family called us because he had doubled over. They checked him into the Emergency Room and he was there when we got there. We were stuck there for about 6 hours. In the mean time the pain subsided and he was merely drained. I looked around and asked the Lord in my heart why we were really there. I noticed a young girl who was crying, and pretty soon her siblings and grandparents were there with her. Her mom was critically ill and had been rushed to surgery. Several times during that evening I felt led to pray for them. The next week a friend of mine canceled a Bible study that we did together to go to a funeral. Later when we talked, I found out it was for the mom of the girl I had seen. She shared with me that the lady was her daughter's best friend's mom and her daughter was having a hard time dealing with it. I told her we were there when they brought the lady in and had been praying for her throughout that night. She shared that with her daughter and it seemed to help her daughter to know that God had provided special care for them. I will be honest, it was frustrating to be stuck there once my son felt better, but at the same time I really felt God had brought me there to pray for this family I didn’t even know. I also know that it also taught me to be more patient, to be less self-centered, and to love strangers by praying for them. I was so thankful that it ended up being an encouragement to my friend's daughter in the midst of tragic circumstances.
I invite you to join me in practicing rejoicing in our sufferings. They are never fun and I definitely would never purposefully seek them out. At the same time, I wouldn’t want to waste suffering by having the wrong perspective and attitude about it. I would like a hope-filled, love-filled heart…if suffering produces that, maybe going through trials is worth it after all.
Prayer: Father, so often I think if I could handle things better if I just had a little more faith. But in truth I am to choose to obey you and abide in you in the trials and you will develop our character and mature our faith so that we have hope. Thank you for your precious Holy Spirit who fills us with your peace that passes all understanding. Amen.