Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Rejoice in Suffering?

"Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we 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."
Romans 5:1-5

Rejoice in suffering? Oh, everything in human rational fights this concept! We are raised to avoid conflict, pain, problems and heartache. We are taught that life is supposed to be safe, happy and comfortable. Even in church we are taught theology that centers on human reward and ease. Many Christians accept the gospel of Jesus on the basis that you believe in Jesus, flee from hell and get heaven when you die. We teach our children “Jesus Loves Me” and John 3:16. We center sermons on what we need to do, how we need to live, what God has done for us and what we should do for Him.

These things are good, but if left completely alone will remain an incomplete picture of life.

When we base our mindset on happiness we will be severely disappointed. Happiness is built on a person’s desired wants and circumstances. Joy originates from knowing God Himself. Joy is not found in avoiding something bad. That is called “relief.” Joy is only found in being given something good. Joy is even more wonderful when that “something good” was not deserved, earned or expected.

So, how can we rejoice in suffering? I thought we escaped suffering when we dodged hell and believed in Jesus? I thought God wanted us to be happy? Ah, there lies the misdirected motive! What if we change our perspective to think: treasure Jesus because He alone is worthy of treasuring. Treasure Jesus. Seek Him at all costs. He is God, He is worthy and He is good. Love Him no matter what. Worship Him regardless of the pain. Spread His joy with others. When you examine suffering in that light it seems, well, appealing.

Look at Romans 5 again:

What We Receive:
1- Justification by faith
2- Peace with God through Jesus
3- Access to grace by faith
(Did you notice the Scripture does not say comfort, money or possessions?)
What We Do:
1- Rejoice in the hope of the glory of God!
2- Rejoice in our sufferings!
(Did you notice it said “rejoice in sufferings” not “avoid pain?”)
What God Does with Us:
1- Produces endurance through suffering
2- Produces character through endurance
3- Produces hope through character
4- Produces no shame through hope
(Did you notice God does not promise comfort but a process of sanctification?)
Verse five tells us the how and why:
"because God's love has been poured into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."
James, the brother of Jesus, also understood this process of sanctification. He writes:
"2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.
7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways."
James 1:2-7
Numerous sermons are preached on James 1:2-4. Pastors communicate, intentionally or not, something like this, "If you are having a trial, try to keep your head on straight and see the good in life. God wants you to be happy. God will not give you more than you can handle. He just wants you to grow. So, if you are having a trial, count it as joy that you are becoming more perfect! Try to laugh a little, smell the roses and know that the trials will end someday! God, we ask You to take away the pain in life. We ask that You would help us to feel better, have more money, buy nice things, oh, and to serve You too." Ok, that may be a little drastic, I admit. Those may not be the exact words that flow from the mouths of Christians, but it is how most Christians today live.
In my Bible there is a section break between verses four and five. Maybe it is just me, but my mind has never connected verse four and five how it did two days ago. The end of verse four says, “lacking in nothing” and verse five starts with “If any of you lacks wisdom.” Was James making a joke here? We all lack wisdom! Follow my train of thought for a second, please.
Trials produce steadfastness and steadfastness, once it has its full effect, causes completion and a lack of nothing. Yet, we all lack wisdom and we all want wisdom. What produces wisdom? Suffering. Therefore, this is an indirect command to ask God for suffering, tests and trials! If “lacking in nothing” happens when we have been steadfast through trials, then asking God for wisdom will undoubtedly cause trials!

It is no wonder the next phrase says, “but let him ask in faith.” You are going to need it! What does the next part mean when it says, “with no doubting?” The original Greek word diakrino means to “waver, doubt or dispute” and comes from the root word to “select, choose or question.”

When asking God for wisdom we must have full confidence in Him and the way He chooses to produce the wisdom we have requested. We must not waver or dispute His plan. We must release the desire to select, choose or question the method of God’s production of wisdom in us! If we doubt in this sense we are like a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. We cannot ask God for wisdom without accepting the trials, pain and heartache. If we ask for wisdom and yet refuse suffering we are double-minded and unstable.

Suffering produces steadfastness. Suffering produces wisdom. Wisdom comes with suffering. James did not say it would be easy. Suffering is never easy. Our flesh will never want to experience pain. This is why Paul encourages us in Colossians 3:2 to,
“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
When we reach this level of maturity we can join with Paul in proclaiming:
“7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.”
Philippians 3:1-16
Even after saying all this, there is a problem with pain. (See my previous post here-Oct 18, 2005) Christians believe God is all-loving and therefore think He should not cause us pain. We also want to believe that He is all-powerful and therefore struggle with the idea that He would cause us pain. We have a tendency to look towards heaven and cry, “This hurts, take it away!” This attitude, in essence, is pride. We think we know what is best for our lives. What if Christians, instead, sank to their knees in humility and prayed, “Not my will, but Yours, oh God. Refine me. Mold me.” What if we agreed with Job when he wept and worshipped:
“Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”
Job 2
“20 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said, “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away;
blessed be the name of the Lord.”
22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.”
Job 1:20-22
Look where Christ’s humility led him: death by Roman crucifixion.
“And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Philippians 2:8
What if we viewed pain through the eyes of true humility? And what is true humility? Humility is not expecting to be treated better than Christ was. Humility sees the end- glorifying God- as the ultimate purpose of life. Every thing else, pain or happiness, laughter or tears, money or poverty, is nothing compared to knowing God and glorifying Him.
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Philippians 4:13
“8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.
For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
2 Corinthians 12:8-10
The end and ultimate goal of my pain is Christ’s exaltation. I am weak; He is strong. I will boast in His strength, for I have none. So when I face weakness, insults, hardships, persecution and calamities I want to cry,
Blessed be the name of the Lord!
The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis

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