The Apostle Paul must have been one twisted individual. How else would you explain his words:
“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.” (Rom 5:3 NLT)
Seriously Paul? Rejoice in problems and trials? Surely there’s a better way to develop endurance.
Or is Paul on to something?
There were a lot of opportunities for Jesus followers to suffer in Paul’s day. There was open persecution of the worst kind. Yet in the face of all this, Paul continues his spiel:
“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.” (Rom 5:3–5 NLT)
So I have to ask, what is the context of suffering today? In Paul’s time, he’s referring to suffering because of faith. While there are some places that Jesus followers suffer greatly for their faith, North America isn’t really one of them.
On the other hand, I wonder if some of life’s other trials might be ways to prepare us and strengthen us in our faith?
No doubt Paul suffered. Do a quick review of his life and you’ll find beatings, stoning (and left for dead), and a shipwreck with a deadly snakebite just for good measure (See Acts 27:21 – 28:6). And yet Paul endured in his faith.
I wonder if his early experiences in suffering prepared him for these bigger trials?
Earlier, Paul had some unknown problem that he begged God to remove. Paul called it a “thorn in my flesh.”
“Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me” (2 Cor 12:8–9 NLT)
And so Paul carried on… climbing the ladder of suffering:
- Suffering to endurance
- Endurance to character
- Character to hope
- Hope… which does not disappoint
Paul suffered extremely… and yet Paul had an extreme hope. His formula was true in his life.
But is it true for us?
Our Journey with Suffering
There’s a critical step in Paul’s ladder of suffering. He assumes that when we suffer, we will persevere… we will endure. And frankly, I think that’s where many encounters with suffering get derailed.
If we fail to persevere, we can’t climb any higher on the ladder. We won’t develop the kind of character that leads to a hope that doesn’t disappoint.
So we just have to try harder… right?
Well, yes… and no.
Have you noticed the use of the plural? WE have to try harder. I think WE have to come together in suffering and support one another. I think WE have to rely on another party, the Holy Spirit to remind us, and to comfort us. I think WE is the key to enduring long enough to develop character.
And I think too many people who suffer do it alone.
Is it worth reaching out to others? Is it worth sharing our trials and suffering?
I don’t know if you’ve ever considered the fact that extreme circumstances often help us get in touch with extreme resources we didn’t even know we had. You’ve probably heard more than one example of someone lifting a car off a pinned victim.
But these are rare, and temporary situations.
What if there was a way to develop that strength (i.e., endurance) in our soul?
I think it happens most often in suffering. Think back on your life for a moment. When did you grow the most spiritually? In times of calm and peace? Or in times of trial and suffering?
When we are tested beyond our limits, we get a glimpse of what God can do. There’s something about us that usually only lets God work when we’ve reached the end of our rope.
That’s when we experience a peace that passes understanding… grace that is sufficient for our need… and a hope that does not disappoint.
They say that an object stretched can never return to its original size. In the case of a human that has been stretched by experiencing God’s work in their lives amidst trials and suffering, that leaves us with two options:
- At some point, we give up on God. But having been stretched, we find nothing to fill our new size, and we end up as a husk of our former selves… lifeless, without hope. Or…
- We allow God to live in us. We become deeper, stronger, larger in life and in love, as the God of the Universe takes up residence in our hearts.
Only one of these options will leave us with a hope that does not disappoint.
“And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love” (Rom 5:5 NLT)
My prayer is that you would not suffer in silence today… and that you are filled with God-sized peace and grace, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
What has been your experience with suffering? Have you seen Paul’s pattern at work in your life? Share your stories with others.