"...we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 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" (Romans 5:3-5).
This verse has proved to be a strong source of comfort to believers throughout the ages. While the subject of suffering is not the typical jumping-off point for a letter, it is important for us to understand God's intended purpose for our struggles.
None of us who've lived for any measurable length of time have been exempted from painful circumstances. The older we are, the more we can point to difficult times that have left indelible marks on our lives – after which we will never be what we were before.
Our Heavenly Father is never absent from our pain and by His design, He shares in our grief. D. A. Carson said, "Christianity is uniquely comforting because only the Christian God plunged into the suffering we experience." What an amazing God we have!
God uses the experience of suffering to develop our perseverance. The verse above from Paul in Romans helps us to keep an even keel when we find ourselves being forced to navigate the stormy seas of life. It is in light of his own long-term trials thatPaul writes, "…suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character and character produces hope." We are all too often like the disciples – overwhelmed by the storm and waking Jesus up to let Him know the predicament at hand and failing to recognize His power over all things.
God also uses suffering as a means of bringing His children to maturity. Even the sufferings of Christ were the ground in which His obedience became full-grown. It is staggering to consider the fact that, "Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered" (Hebrews 5:8). If suffering was the means whereby the sinless Christ became mature, then how much more do we need it in our sinful state?
Adversity enables us to prove the genuine nature of our faith. How often have we been helped by seeing the hope and fortitude worked out in the lives of believers enduring the most dreadful of conditions? It is often in these circumstances that we learn to cry out, "Abba, Father!" proving the genuine nature of our faith.
Trials also humble us and remind us how dependent we are on our loving Father. We learn these lessons best not in isolation, but in the local church, in the fellowship of God's people. It is our responsibility and privilege to encourage each other by taking a genuine interest in each other's welfare. Next Sunday, resolve to inquire of someone how they are with a view to entering into their suffering or sharing their joy. My father often reminded me that a joy shared is a joy doubled and a burden shared is a burden halved.
"What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!" (From the hymn, What a Friend We Have in Jesus)
With my warmest Christian greetings,