Monday, January 31, 2011

Suffering Produces True Hope

"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."

Romans 5:3-5

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.

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.

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Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!