Just a quick reminder that Ruth and I will be at New Life Church, Oshawa, Ontario, September 23 to help celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary. I will be speaking at 11 o’clock and again in the afternoon and Ruth will be singing at both services. If you are in the Oshawa area, please do come out and join us in a day of worship and praise. Or if you know someone in the area that might enjoy the worship and fellowship please let them know. You are all invited and everyone is welcome.
3 “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;
4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.
5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5
A few years ago I decided to read the National Geographic top 100 books on travel adventure. I gave the list of books to my nearest used bookstore and every week she would find me a couple of the books on the list. I learned very quickly that I didn’t want to be trapped on the top of Mt. Everest, fall off a mountain in South America, canoe down the Amazon, or fight giant bugs in some tropical rainforest. I was quite content to sit in my favorite chair, reading about other people’s adventures. One thing I did learn, however, was that each of these explorers and adventurers were people of character and those characters were developed by long periods of suffering and perseverance.
Paul wasn’t exactly talking about travel adventurers when he penned these words close to two thousand years ago. That in its self is amazing that we can read such an ancient text and it reads as if it was written yesterday. The concepts and thoughts are as true today as the day they were written.
Here is a question for us, how often do we glory in our sufferings? Or do we ever look at the long picture when suffering to see where our suffering might lead and what strengths we might develop from going through the process? Few of us would equate character development with suffering, yet, if we think back over the times when we have hurt the most we often become stronger for the experience.
I love Paul’s logic and how suffering ends up as a means to an end. In other words, suffering isn’t just suffering, but when we put it in perspective we grow spiritually and emotionally through the experience. Our suffering leads to perseverance and perseverance leads to character growth and that growth leads to hope.
Since there are many new readers of this blog I would like to take a moment to tell you a bit of my story. Just over twenty years ago I was diagnosed with MS and the end result was I had to go on a long-term disability. I was told at the time that within three years I would be in a wheelchair and after that the disease would continue to grow worse. The result was that for sixteen years I drifted spiritually. I believed in God and knew Jesus loved me, but I couldn’t wrap my head around the reason I had become sick. It just didn’t seem fair.
It was only when I came to the place where I stopped trying to figure out the impossible that I was able to rest in Christ. What exactly does that mean? It means that I realized that God is sovereign and there is a reason for everything that happens and I am wasting my time trying to figure illness out. The bottom line is we live in a fallen world where people get sick and it has nothing to do with how good or how bad we are, it is simply illness.
So what does my story have to do with the verses of Romans 5? I wouldn’t say that I’ve become an expert on perseverance or that I now have an amazing character because I don’t. But the last part of the verse, “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,” has become very real to me.
Through my experience I learned hope and that hope has never put me to shame. The reason for that is “God’s love has been poured” into my heart. Many of you reading this blog know what I’m talking about because you’ve experienced that as well. Your religiosity, and preconceived views of how God works and your strivings have flown out the window in light of bathing in the love of Jesus. This love comes when we allow the Spirit to pour that love into our hearts. This is an amazing gift from God—the gift to receive and give love.
My heart breaks for Christians who are holding on to their denomination, their doctrinal stance (nothing wrong with these, but they are not the core of what it means to be a follower of Jesus) to bring them happiness and security. It is only when we wrap ourselves in Jesus’ love that we are truly set free. Galatians 5:1 reminds us, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourself be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
In Jesus we have been set free from the yoke of slavery that is our striving, our working, demanding more and more of ourselves to please God, and instead allowing the love of God to flow over and through us. You don’t quite believe me, then read Galatians.
One last thing, we are called upon to stand firm and that is important, because it is very easy to become discouraged in our walk with Jesus. Our natural response to crises and storms in life are not to look at the big picture but just like me, for sixteen years, cry out why me?
For those of you who are going through suffering let me encourage you with this thought, I wouldn’t change those sixteen years of wondering for anything. The reason is I have discovered the grace and love of Jesus in greater fullness than I ever experienced before in my life. I rest assured of His grace and live within His peace. Yes, there are times I’m discouraged and feel self-pity, but they are not a way of life. These feelings pass and I breathe the sweet air of Jesus’ love again and again.