2007 05 27 pm FINDING GOOD IN SUFFERING Romans 5:1-5
FINDING GOOD IN SUFFERING
1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
A young lady about 16 years old gave her testimony at church one evening. Christ had dramatically changed her life, and she was overflowing with joy and enthusiasm. In the course of her testimony she said: "Since I gave my life to Christ, I don't have any problems. He takes care of me now and I am happy all the time." Her statement reminded me of the tagline a certain radio evangelist uses when he signs off: "You don't have any problems, you just need faith in God."
There is a hint of truth to this idea--Jesus does encourage us to cast all of our cares upon him and let him take care of them for us, and therefore we don't have to worry about them. But this attitude also reveals a common misconception many people have about the Christian life: When you live for Christ he will reward you by making your life trouble-free.
This simply is not the case. In fact, scripture promises just the opposite. Paul said, Philippians 1:29 For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake. Peter said, 1 Peter 4:12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; (NKJV) Jesus said, Matthew 5:45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
Everyone's life is filled with sunshine and rain. Sunshine isn't always evidence that God favors you--even the evil get some sunshine. Rain isn't evidence that God is punishing you--even the righteous have to face the rain. Suffering is a part of life that everyone must endure. However, when it comes to suffering, Christians have some advantages. The obvious one is that God will help you through hard times. A second advantage is that no matter what kind of problems you face, God has promised to use them for your benefit, and for his glory.
Paul said... Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. So when you suffer, whether it is illness, mistreatment, job problems, relationship problems, money problems, or whatever it may be, it is crucial that you approach your suffering with the right attitude, so that you will ultimately benefit from the problems you face. What is the right attitude? Paul shows us in Romans 5:3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance.
This is the attitude that we must have whenever we face hard times. An attitude of rejoicing. Now, don't misunderstand me. Our attitude doesn't have to be some kind of phony, Pollyanna way of thinking that says, "Hooray for me. I am suffering! I'm in pain and my life is coming apart at the seams. Aren't I lucky?" This is not what Paul means. We don't rejoice because of our sufferings, or for our sufferings--we rejoice in spite of our sufferings. This would sound like crazy advice, except there are two factors that make rejoicing in suffering a reasonable idea:
1. God will help you through the problems.
2. Your problems themselves will help you too, and work to your advantage.
Think of it this way. Pretend that you are prisoner of war and you have an evil taskmaster who tries to make you weak and powerless by forcing you to carry a heavy boulder on your shoulders all day. Some of your fellow prisoners give in under the strain, and stop trying, and let the boulder crush them completely. But you keep carrying the weight. Soon you discover that carrying that boulder isn't making you weaker, it's making you stronger. Eventually you have the strength to cast the boulder aside and overpower your captor and earn your freedom.
This is exactly what your problems can do for you. You can give up and let your problems destroy you, or you can use them to become a stronger and better person. No one in their right mind would choose to suffer, but when it happens, we can rejoice in the fact that the suffering isn't going to beat us; we will eventually win the battle.
This is why we rejoice in suffering; because there are certain benefits that we can claim whenever we are faced with it. This is what we will look at today:
What Good is Suffering?
There are three advantages to suffering that I want to point out. First...
1. It helps you handle pressure.
Paul said in Romans 5:3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance, suffering produces perseverance. The Greek word for perseverance means literally "to handle pressure." Suffering puts us under a tremendous amount of pressure, so Paul is saying, "Being under pressure teaches you to handle pressure."
You cannot be successful in any field unless you learn how to handle pressure. When we saw Michael Jordan sink a three pointer at the buzzer to win the game for the Bulls, he made it look so easy that we forget that most of us would crack under that kind of heat.
You make the shot and you're a hero; miss it and you're an overpaid bum. How does Jordan handle it? For him, it's all in a day's work. He has been in this situation countless times, and he has learned from success and failure how to handle the pressure of a close game.
In the story of David and Goliath, at first glance David seems to be an inexperienced kid who appears out nowhere to slay the giant, but that was not really the case. David could handle the pressure of facing Goliath in battle because he had endured similar pressure fighting lions and bears who threatened his sheep. (1 Samuel 17:34-35 But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep his father’s sheep, and when a lion or a bear came and took a lamb out of the flock, 35 I went out after it and struck it, and delivered the lamb from its mouth; and when it arose against me, I caught it by its beard, and struck and killed it.) Enduring those pressure-filled situations gave him the strength to face the pressure of fighting Goliath.
You can rejoice in suffering because, at the very least, your problems will help you develop inner-strength. They make you tougher. A second benefit of suffering is...
2. It gives you character.
Romans 5:3-4 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope.
Have you ever been house hunting, and the agent said "I've got a great property for you to look at. It's an older home, but it has character." When a real estate agent says it has "character" it's about like saying a blind date has a "good personality." You know the house may not be beautiful, but most likely it will look like it has weathered some storms.
The word translated character can also be translated proof. Another good term is staying power. When you weather storms you have a chance to prove to the world what you're made of, and prove to the world how God is faithful to protect you through trials.
Bible teacher Steve Brown says that whenever a non-Christian gets cancer, God allows a Christian to get cancer so that the world can see the difference. I believe this statement is made to simply make a point: a believer endures difficulties differently than a non-believer. God's presence in the life of a believer gives him the power to endure, and the proof is in the end result. When you endure suffering, you develop character; you develop staying power.
All kinds of records have been set in major league sports. Most have them to do with a player's performance in a single-game, or a particular season. Cal Ripken Jr.'s record (he played more than 2632 baseball games consecutively) is different. It is not a record that can be attributed to talent, but character. He has proven that he had the drive to hit the field every day, even when his body hurt, or his head ached, or his nose was runny, or he had personal problems, or he was in a slump, or he didn't feel playing that particular day. We don't have to wonder if Cal Ripken Jr. was a great player; his record is proof that he was.
When you endure suffering, you develop staying power. Staying power proves to yourself and to the world that you mean business.
A third benefit of suffering is one that, quite frankly, doesn't happen that often...
3. It helps you develop optimism.
At this point, some of you may think, "What are you saying? How can suffering produce optimism? The way I see it is that suffering makes people weak and miserable and negative."
Well, the fact is, often it does. That's because people "waste" their sorrows and do not let the Holy Spirit work in their lives when times are tough. They focus on their problems and continually ask "Why Me?" instead of using their problems to become stronger. However, if you approach suffering with the right attitude, you experience a complete transformation. Paul said, Romans 5:3-4 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope.
Let's take a look at the word hope. Too often, we use it as a synonym for "wishful thinking." For example, say we have scheduled a family picnic and the skies become cloudy and gray, we might say with resignation "I hope it doesn't rain." Unspoken is the thought, "But by all appearances it will, and there's nothing I can do about it." That's not hope, that's just helpless, wishful thinking.
Paul used the word differently. He used it to mean "facing life with confidence, knowing God is in control." By Paul's definition of hope, we would react to the rainy skies with the attitude, "It may be cloudy and gray, but not even the rain keep me from having a great time with my family this afternoon."
Suffering produces an attitude of confident optimism, because once you have suffered you realize that problems aren't all they're cracked up to be. They have limitations, and there are some things your problems cannot do. For example, they cannot separate you from God's love. They cannot destroy your happiness. Romans 5:5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
They cannot keep you from living life to the fullest...unless, of course, you allow them to.
A pastor told of a friend named Gene who is a bull rider. Every weekend he drives somewhere in the southwest and rides in a rodeo. I went with him once to a small town in Oklahoma where they were having a county fair, and, of course, a rodeo.
He had drawn a pretty mean bull, and he knew it would be a tough ride. That's an understatement. A ride is supposed to last 8 seconds; his lasted about a second. When the gate opened up and the bull came out of the stall, before his back feet had hit the ground Gene was already in the dirt.
Unfortunately for him, it wasn't over. His hand was caught in the rigging, and the bull drug him around the arena for a while. When he finally got loose, the bull speared him once or twice before the clowns came to the rescue. On the way home, Gene said, "The toughest part about getting throwed" (and he did say throwed; he's an Okie) "...the toughest part about getting throwed is having to wait a week before I get another chance to ride. I know what I did wrong, and I know I'll get it right next time, but I've got to wait a whole week to do it!"
After the beating Gene had just taken, most people would have said "That's it for me. I'll find a new hobby." But Gene wasn't afraid of getting thrown. He had been thrown enough to know that it wouldn't kill him (most likely), and he left the rodeo that night convinced that next week he would do better!
That is hope. Some people would define it as crazy -- and do you know what? It does seem a little crazy to have a hopeful, confident, optimistic attitude in the face of suffering.
In the midst of his troubles, Job's wife gave him some rather cynical advice: she said, "Curse God and die!" In other words, "Give up! How long can you keep hanging on to this foolish belief that God is in control?" Well, we know what happened to Job--eventually his fortune, his health, and his family was restored, and Job 42:12 Now the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; for he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand yoke of oxen, and one thousand female donkeys.
When you suffer, and you stay with it, you become stronger and your problem becomes weaker.
What good is suffering? Well, when you suffer the right way...when you rejoice in your sufferings...when you approach hardship with the right attitude...you discover that suffering doesn't beat you down, it builds you up. It makes you stronger. God has the ability to take any trial or hardship or crisis or negative situation you face--and cause it to work to your benefit. (Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.) What may appear to be a curse in your life can actually become a blessing. (Nehemiah 13:2 because they had not met the children of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them. However, our God turned the curse into a blessing.)
Nobody likes to suffer, and nobody in their right mind would choose to suffer, but followers of Jesus Christ need not fear suffering. In fact, when it comes (and it will from time to time) you can rejoice in the midst of it, because the end result will be that you become stronger, and God is glorified in your life.