Sunday, February 6, 2011

Rejoicing In Suffering

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Romans 5:1-4 NKJV

How many of us can truly say we rejoice in suffering? I expect the answer is not too many, which is certainly understandable from a human point of view. Nobody likes to suffer hardships, difficulties, temptations, or times of testing, yet if we look closely at the scriptures they make it perfectly clear that not only are we going to experience them, they should be expected. Now to many that might seem to be just the opposite from what we should expect since our God is a God of love, and it seems reasonable to presume that He should reward us for our faith by removing trials from our lives.

Yet not only do we find ourselves experiencing hardships, from the communications I have been receiving lately from many believers, it seems that more and more of us are finding ourselves in some extremely troubling situations, myself included. Why? Well I believe it might not come as a surprise to you to find out I think it is because our time is rapidly running out!

From all accounts it would appear that even the most skeptical believers are now wondering just what in the world is going on in our world. Even unbelievers are questioning events by using Biblical terms such as tribulation, apocalyptic, and even judgment. If we accept the premise that the end is near, does it not make sense for us to believe that we will experience more opportunities to exhibit our faith? After all, if we believe the signs are pointing to the end of the age, don't you think Satan has that figured out as well? If so, just what would you expect his reaction to be? It seems reasonable to expect he would go on the offensive with a vengeance!

Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. James 1:13 NKJV

Although trials do not come from God, He certainly allows them to occur in our lives, so the question we must ask is "Why"? I may be wrong, but from my study I have come to the conclusion from my own life that God allows us to go through trials and suffering for at least three reasons.

One; Testing is an opportunity to show God our faith in His promises.

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Hebrews 11:6 NKJV

Anyone who has experienced love in their life understands the difference between "saying" you love someone and "showing" you love someone. When I was a young believer I remember someone speaking on faith and using this illustration. You may say you have faith that the airplane can fly, but if you never actually get on one you have never demonstrated your faith. When trials come into our lives as believers we have an opportunity to show God we really do believe by exercising our faith in the promises He has given us to deliver us through them.

Two; Testing is a measure to show ourselves where we are and where we fall short.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. James 1:2-4 NKJV

As I have said before, one of the reasons I like Paul so much is that he constantly compares the Christian life to a race, and I had the opportunity to compete in track for many many years. Now I can truly say I never got to the point where I enjoyed working out, but I knew it was necessary if I wanted to get better. I very much enjoyed the actual races because it was an opportunity to measure my progress and see how much I was improving. Undergoing trials in the Christian life is not necessarily enjoyable, but without them we would never know if we were making progress and growing in our walk with God. Every time we suffer, we know from this verse that God is using it to produce patience, which in turn helps us to mature.

Three; Testing is an opportunity to witness to others.

Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. 1 Peter 4:16 NKJV

If you think about it, what better way to show the world we are different than to show them by how we react to troubles? I don't know about you, but every day I have opportunities to see how unbelievers react to trying situations. I think we could all agree that the common reaction is with anger, frustration, impatience, and most likely language unbecoming. I also think we could all agree that these are the complete opposites of what we, and God, would expect from someone who truly believes. Have you ever had an occasion to witness and glorify God because someone saw you experiencing trials or troubling situations and wondered why you reacted differently? Going through testing and trials may not be enjoyable, but what a wonderful way to show unbelievers that having faith in the promises of God produces a peace that is unexplainable according to the standards of the world.

As I said at the start, I have heard from many of you who are going through some very difficult times. If you look closely at the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 you might notice what Jesus says at the end of every letter; it is the phrase "To him who overcomes". The Greek word for overcomes is nikaƍ, which means to conquer, to carry off the victory, come off victorious. There is a promise of rewards for those who overcome, yet it would be impossible to be an overcomer if there were not trials to overcome. Rejoice in suffering for as believers the trials we face give us the opportunity to glorify God.

Keep watching.