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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Suffering? Consider it Joy? (Part 1)

Everywhere I turn I discover those who are suffering and need encouragement to keep going. Don’t let this title fool you, because joy is the result. There is a verse in James 1 that I wish to explore, and it has ended up to be at least a two-day devotional. If you need greater faith and joy, then I ask you to stay with me these next two days, and I pray that somewhere in these words you will find hope to believe.

Following a friend's stroke, she shared a dream with me. In her vision she was a small child walking down a long road. The school bus had just dropped her off. Home waited. In fact, she could see it in the distance, but the road offered many obstacles, and made it difficult to maneuver. Her tiny legs barely jumped over the large ruts, and her arms, weighed down with books, barely carried their load.

The long road home, I thought as she shared her dream with me. This was a phrase that had bounced around in my mind for years, and one that I had never explored. However as my friend's story unfolded, it suddenly came to life. Life is a long road home. Some appear to have an easier road to travel. Others are faced with incredible odds and pitfalls, and in the severity of their journey, they hopefully discover the perseverance that will carry them to the end.

“Consider it pure joy,” James 1:3-4 imparts, “Whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance! Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be complete, not lacking anything.”

Why am I tested? Why do I suffer? These are questions each believer asks. Spiritual maturity can only be achieved through perseverance. It is a goal, a promise, and constantly a journey. This work must be finished in order for us to handle life’s unexpected circumstances. What a riveting image! There is a work going on in each believer, and it can only be completed through a willingness to endure! The Lord’s perfect will is for faith to spring up in the midst of heartache. It is my decision whether I learn the lesson or not. I should reach for spiritual awareness that is ripe and full of the grace of Christ to meet each insufficiency in my life.

The end result of hardship should be patience. We are to consider suffering as beneficial, because trials can inspire spiritual growth. I Peter 1:7 reads, “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Christ.” The trying of your faith, of what you believe, should develop the ability to persevere. 

Paul states in I Corinthians 10:13 that nothing has happened to us that isn’t common to anyone, but we should remember God is faithful. He will not let us be tempted and tested beyond what we can bear. With each test, he will also provide a way to stand up under it. Many Christians consider I Corinthians 10:13 as Christ’s promise to always take them out of difficult circumstances when they have become too much to handle. Sometimes God does reach down and miraculously deliver us from the most frightful situation. But sometimes He doesn’t. Might God be telling us that His grace is more than sufficient to handle the pressure, and He will provide the means to stand strong? Perhaps he is telling us that our ability to handle hard times will grow as a result? 

A great principle is offered in Romans 5:2-4. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

I endure well in order to achieve peace and joy. I rejoice in my problems and suffering because endurance is produced. And that endurance produces character and hope within me. Hope does not bring disappointment, but brings anticipation. I hope because in faith I was saved through Christ. Faith is being sure of what I hope for and certain of what I cannot see. Hope that needs to be seen is not hope at all. That is the “show me, Lord” frame of mind that says, “I kind of believe, Lord, but let me just see enough, so that I can really believe.” It is not the kind of hope that just trusts that the unseen will come. It is certainly not the hope that understands how to wait patiently.
Do we all want the kind of hope that waits patiently? Yes! Tomorrow I want to explore how waiting patiently is the same as hoping, and the promise of joy is the greatest result.

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