Romans 5:2-5 "...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, whom He has given us."
Suffering. It can be defined in many ways: anger, torment, torture, pain, and even distress. Depending on your situation or the severity of what you're going through, it can mean something different to everyone. Sometimes it could mean losing someone close to you. It could be going through a health crisis yourself. It could be having to endure a job you do not enjoy or losing a job completely. It could be financial in nature. I hope it's not, but it could even be all of the above. Yes, everyone can relate to varying degrees of suffering in their lives.
Over the last few days, I've really focused on these verses in Romans 5. Almost immediately, God brought my focus on some things in my own life. Suffering? No, I can’t honestly say I’m going through any major suffering in my life right now. Knowing about what some of my friends are going through, my life circumstances are trivial, at best. Distress. Yep, that’s probably a better word to describe what I’m going through. I am trying to process changes at work, changes that don’t settle well with me in many respects. And at home, we’re waiting on God to answer prayers and give us direction for the future in some areas of ministry. So am I really going through suffering? Not really, but I believe these verses apply just as much to my life as they do to anyone going through difficult situations.
Paul says that I should rejoice in Christ, regardless of my circumstances. I’m reminded of that first and foremost. Then the verse says to rejoice in my sufferings. Hmmm. It’s easier to write than to actually do, you know? Rejoicing during trials and rejoicing that we have trials in our life is not second nature to me. In fact, it’s just plain unnatural. It’s against human nature and definitely not something we can accomplish in our own strength. And why should we rejoice in our sufferings? Because God tells us to, and because of what It produces in us.
Suffering produces perseverance. The King James Version says it produces patience. I personally like the term perseverance better. Maybe it resonates with me because I don’t consider patience to be one of my best qualities. But perseverance? Yes, that’s something I strive for. There’s one thing I don’t like being called, and that’s a quitter. I like to finish what I’ve started and endure til the end. I like the satisfaction I get from knowing I didn’t just finish, but I completed it with excellence.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve quit at many things in my life, and when I do, it usually leaves me feeling empty inside. Of course, there’s always exceptions to the rule, and for me, that exception came in eighth grade when I decided to go run at a track meet with my little Christian school. I had no preparation, no experience, and I signed up to run a mile against other schools that actually had a team and people prepared to do such things. I showed up ready to run, with no idea what I was in for. Now, I was an athlete and in good shape back then, but I was still no runner. The gun went off, and so did I. I knew nothing about pacing myself. I sprinted as hard as I could the first few yards, but I quickly realized I was in over my head. I made it one time around the track, and I promptly jogged right off the track. I can't even remember how I got home, but I know quitting that event was the best decision for me. It was quit or die, so quitting was the favorable option, wouldn’t you say?
As I go through suffering and times of distress, I hope I have learned to pace myself in Christ. I have to be training in this Christian life, growing and becoming more like Christ daily. Then when trouble comes, I won’t have that feeling of just wanting to give up. From what I understand from running (not that I speak from experience for sure) but the more you train, the easier it is to run. As Christians, Coach Christ is right there with us. He’s there in the good times and the bad. He’s cheering us on, encouraging us to be our best. But just like every student with a trainer, we have a choice to follow the instructions given. God so wants us to persevere through the trials, and when we do, ultimately that builds our character.
Character. It’s one of my life goals, to be known as a person of character. Not for me or my own reputation, but because of Who I represent. You see, I am a princess, a daughter of the King. My every action and reaction to a situation is a representation of my God.
I can't help but think of the movie The Princess Diaries. In it, Anne Hathaway's character of Mia found out she was the daughter of royalty. She then had to re-train her brain to how she acted and reacted to situations so that she could be a model representation of her family and her country. Isn't that the same with our Christian lives? Once I make a commitment to Christ and commit my life to God, I become royalty, heir to the throne. And just like Mia needed to represent the country of Genovia well, I also need to be a representation of my King in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. (I Timothy 4:12)
Back to the passage, though, the Bible says that it's through persevering through the trials and suffering in our lives that character is built. Difficulties help me grow, and I should rejoice in the pain that I'm experiencing because I know that through it, God is growing me to become more like Him...to build my character. Of course, it's up to me to have the right reaction to things. How quickly I can hurt my character and the One whom I represent by choosing the wrong attitude toward my situation!
Then finally, the passage says that character produces hope...and HOPE does not disappoint us. Why? Because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. HOPE. I have hope. I know where my Hope lies. It's in God alone. But what kind of hope do people have that are going through suffering who don't have a relationship with Jesus Christ? Hope in the doctors? Hope in the medicine? Hope that things will work out ok? Yes, they may have 'hope' but it's not in the One who can offer eternal peace. And that's the only hope that the Bible is talking about here.
No, I'm not going through any major suffering right now...just a little distress. Regardless of the severity, I want these Scriptures to be true in my life. I want to rejoice in suffering so that I persevere. And as I persevere, I want my character to be built so that I become more like my King. And I will place my hope not in earthly things but in the eternal; my hope is in God!
Thank you, Lord, for reminding me to rejoice, endure, and keep a check on where my hope is placed!