Romans 5 (ESV) Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Digital art by Jesus painter
In a recent conversation with my mentor, we were discussing the last several years of my life. I expressed how I was disappointed and frustrated with some of the things that have happened both in my personal life, family and in ministry. He replied, "Todd, American's don't like to use this word, but you have been suffering." I paused and thought about it and he was right. I don't like the sound of that word. It makes me uncomfortable and honestly I'd rather not think about it. But there are also two sides of suffering: suffering that is caused by my own sin and suffering that is caused by the sin of others; one is internal and the other is external. But often God uses these sufferings as opportunities to grow us in ways, otherwise not possible.
Why are we, especially as Christian's, struggling with this issue of suffering? Central to our faith is Jesus who suffered, he experienced opposition, rejection, betrayal, beatings, crucifixion and the wrath of God, all leading to his death. I'm sure none of us would continue in our faith in Jesus unless there was more. I'm talking about hope. We have hope that Jesus endured his suffering and has power to conquer all of our sufferings as well.
My mentor shared this little nugget of wisdom with me as we continued our conversation. He shared Romans 5:3-5. First it should be understood that, we have been justified by faith in Jesus, and through this faith we have obtained peace with God and we stand now by His grace (undeserved favor) and we rejoice and hope in the glory of God. So when we suffer, we experience God's word of perseverance (endurance), and this work of perseverance produces a tried character which also produces hope that does not disappoint. First, we take these words and put them in columns: Suffering Perseverance Character Hope
Then we consider and list, where have I been suffering? Is the suffering due to external factors or internal factors? Am I persevering through this? What aspect of character is God growing in me? Or am I just complaining or ready to give up? Do I have hope that God is using this experience to further develop me into the image of Christ? Or am I lacking hope?
I'm taking time to get a big picture view of the last few years of my life. How is it all connected? What is God's bigger plan in the midst of suffering? I'm talking with God and asking Him tough questions. I'm talking to others like my mentor and other wise believers who have traveled this road before me. I'm seeking God's face through prayer and the word. Over the last several years, I would not have chosen to go through trials in ministry, conflicts, health issues, my wife's cancer journey while taking care of a colicky baby, moving and reestablishing ourselves and opposition to the gospel. But in the midst of it all, if we can take a moment and pause, breath and reflect we may just see what God is up to. Afterall He is a God who loves us deeply and He has the best of intentions for us. Suffering is like a fire that purifies. It brings to the surface areas of tension between the flesh and spirit, it refines character and yes it is a test. At times I feel that these sufferings are unfair. Why me? Or Why is this other person not going through this test Lord? But wait a minute. God's grace and love are undeserved, they are gifts in and through Jesus. Why should we complain? Instead let us rejoice and be thankful!
As I look back, I can now see reasons to be thankful and rejoice for the sufferings that I've been through. I see opportunities to witness to others who didn't know the power and love of Christ. I see character growth. I see God's hand of provision in times of trial (we didn't cook a meal for at least 6 months while Laina went through cancer treatment). I see God helping me to change from a timid, shy and insecure young boy, into a man who endures in following Christ and bringing the gospel hope to others who are suffering. And I'm sure there is more if I take time to reflect some more.
How have you been suffering in your life? Is it due to the sin of others or your own sin? Is God using these as opportunities to help you persevere, grow in character or hope in Jesus more? You are not alone friend. Jesus knows every aspect of our suffering and has experienced suffering himself. Also other believers are able to walk with us in our times of weakness, trials and suffering too. Please let me know how I can pray for you. And would you pray for me as well?
God's peace in Christ Jesus our Hope.
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