“we rejoice in our sufferings…”
Romans 5:3 (ESV)
“Into each life a little rain must fall, some days must be dark and dreary” (Longfellow). I think we can all understand and agree with Longfellow. Each of us has known those dark and dreary days; some of us may be facing them even now. Adversity, persecution, trial and hardship – these are experiences common to everyone, in one way or another. How we respond, however, defines our character.
Jesus warned his followers that “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20 ESV). Facing adversity for your faith, being persecuted for your beliefs, dealing with hardship because of your decision to live in righteousness and peace; all of this is to be expected for those who follow Jesus. If you are truly living for Christ, you will face persecution.
There are those who, when faced with adversity, react poorly. In anger they may lash out at those who stand in their way, or in defeat they may resign and run from their problems. “Fight or Flight” are the two recognized biological responses of all animals facing acute stress.
There is a third response; it is not biological, it is spiritual. Romans 5:3-5 tells us to 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.”
This third way, the way of rejoicing in the midst of suffering, is a work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is not natural to us. But when God is with us, we will face difficulty with:
- Faithfulness – Consider Job. He lost everything, his farm, his house, his family – only his wife was left, and she told him to just curse God and die. Job’s response, however, was one of absolute faithfulness, “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21 ESV). The overarching message of Revelation is that in the midst of the calamity, persecution, and general mayhem of the last days, God is still on His throne, and He has a plan of salvation for His people. In spite of your trials, because of your trials, trust in the Lord.
- Humility – Every time we face hardship, or we are persecuted by others, it is important for us to humble ourselves before the Lord. Sometimes the adversity we face may be God’s way of disciplining us, weaning us from sin, teaching us to lean solely on Him. Ask yourself, “How have I been wrong? How have I contributed to this problem? Am I guilty of doing to others the thing that is causing me suffering?” You may be completely justified, you may be suffering unfairly, but each us of may learn, through humility and a teachable spirit, how to grow and mature through the struggles we face.
- Grace – How much better would the world be if we treated one another, especially in times of great crisis and stress, with the same grace that God has given to us? Jesus said in Matthew 10, “Freely you have received, freely give.” In Jesus we have received the free gift of grace, the salvation from our sins, as God overlooked our sins and transgression to bring us forgiveness. As He has forgiven and welcomed us, so we are to forgive and welcome one another. Grace under fire offers forgiveness and seeks forgiveness.
- Love – One of the greatest questions we can ask in the midst of our suffering is, “How can I, even in the midst of adversity and trial, show the love of God to those around me?” In the course of our struggles we come to know how God’s love has been poured into our hearts, until we come to the point of overflowing, so that God’s love spills out into the lives of others. As we respond to adversity with love, we can encourage and equip those around us to do the same.
Friends, suffering is not easy, nor is it enjoyable; but neither is it without purpose. Whatever you may be facing today, may God’s Spirit equip you to face the day with Faithfulness, Humility, Grace, and Love, and may your trials bring you closer to the Lord.