Sunday, January 15, 2017

Is There a Purpose in Suffering?

Romans 5:3-5
3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 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.

How often do we think of rejoicing when we have problems and trials in our lives? It is much easier to feel sorry for ourselves and be resentful about why we have been dealt such a bad deck of cards. Trust me, I know what that is like because I do it from time to time. It seems soothing at the time to marinate in bitterness and resentment. But there is only one problem with that strategy? It doesn't change the problem or change us. It really doesn't make us feel any better. Those around us pay the price as well by our handling it this way. Finally, it can even eat at our relationship with God. After all, if God really loved me, why would he let me go thorugh this?

We all know that if we are going to live on this earth very long, we are going to face trials and tribulations. This is the given. What isn't a given is how we are going to handle these difficulties. Paul teaches the Romans today in chapter 5 that although we have the hope of glory one day when we go to heaven, we can also rejoice in our trials here on earth today. He gives us a pattern for how we can turn these trials into character. Character usually doesn't get built when things are going well, but when we are disappointed by life. Someone described character as, "Who you are when no one is looking."

Character is built in those moments when you feel like giving up, and you reach out to God for the strength and perserverance. Character comes when we realize that we are powerless over the people and circumstances in our lives that we cannot control. But we can control our reactions to these people and circumstances that beset us. Ultimately though, Paul says we can have joy in our sorrows because we know God is preparing us for heaven. Though we suffer we now, we won't suffer forever. In heaven there will be no more suffering. So in that sense, our suffering makes us cling to our hope of being in heaven one day. Our suffering causes us to reach out to and trust in God in a way that could never happen outside of it.

Paul is a perfect example of this. He had a "thorn in his flesh". A personal trial that dogged him. He asked God three times to remove it, but God did not. God said to Paul, "My power is made perfect in your weakness." Though God could have removed this nuisance in Paul's life, it made Paul rely all the more on God's strength. Paul says, "If my weakness gives a clear example of your power, then i will boast in my weaknesses."

Though suffering is never fun, it can build character in us and make us more confident in our hope of salvation. We are also called on to bear each other's suffering, and in this way we fulfill the law of Christ. As we suffer and allow other people to bear our burdens, they are becoming Christ-like to us. If you are suffering today, hear Paul's promises today. God has allowed this suffering to produce in your character. As you persevere through your trial and trust in God, he is shaping and molding you for the hope you have in Him. And God has given you the promised Holy Spirit who gives you Jesus power and endurance to get through the trial, a foreshadowing of the joy you will have in heaven.

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