When the going gets tough
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 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. | Romans 5:3-5
The easy way to reflect on this passage would be to forward a link to the recent relevant sermon on these words and let you watch the sermon again, but that would be cheating!
I wonder if you ever play with Scripture? I don’t mean in an irreverent way – this is, after all, the Word of God. But do you only ever read it in a strict, linear way, or do you get curious with what the human authors are communicating and allow yourself to play around with the words to gain different perspective?
The verses for today’s reflections may be familiar to some, so permit me the liberty of walking in reverse through Paul’s words so we can see the same truth from a different angle.
It goes like this...
We who are children of God have been given the Holy Spirit. He preaches the unconditional love of God in Christ to our stubborn, wayward hearts day by day, unceasing and untiring.
Because we are deep-down convinced of the love of God – the fact that it is a settled matter that the Almighty is for us and is pleased with us because of Jesus’ accomplishments, we can possess an other-worldly kind of hope. Enduring hope. Hope that is rooted in Someone more steadfast, more constant and consistent than the shifting sands of life. And the One in whom we hope will never disappoint. Note the hope isn’t ethereal or abstract. Nor is it hope of life without trouble in the here and now. It’s the hope of salvation. Hope that one day all the sadness, the suffering and the struggle will be ended and we’ll live forever in the presence of God. This hope is sure and certain. The tumult of life can rob it of neither power nor reality.
That hope is the outworking of a character that has been refined through the storms, the fire, of life. Character here is the proven-ness of a person’s faith, formed as they have refused to doubt the goodness of God through life’s toughest chapters, nor question His love, wisdom or mercy as they’ve pilgrimed through the valley of the shadow of death. Character – hard-won, with scars that tell stories – makes our confident trust in the hope of salvation bigger, stronger and more rooted, because it knows that God really can be trusted – He’s proven it through all of the tough times.
And the character? It’s birthed through patient endurance; through ‘sticking with’ and not flaking away when comfort and convenience seem preferable to costly obedience to Christ.
Did you know you can’t make diamonds quickly? They’re the product of a lengthy period subject to incredible pressure. So too the character Paul talks of, and it’s endurance that produces it.
Where, then, does the willingness to patiently endure come from? Through trials and troubles, of course. Often we see troubles as something to be run from, but Paul’s ‘sequence’ of what follows presents them more as an invitation. An invitation to growth in faith and Christ-likeness through the heat of the fire.
Consider for a moment how many times you’ve heard someone reflect that their times of most notable growth in their Christian walk was through the most painful, angst-ridden chapters of life. The times of desperation. The times of clinging with fingertips. They’re the fruitful times. Maybe not how you or I would choose to do it, but true, nonetheless.
Notice one more word… the second word ‘can’. We can rejoice. It’s not automatic. It’s not often instinctive when the wheels come off. It’s a choice. It’s sometimes a determined, dogged decision. That’s precious. To choose to rejoice in the goodness of God when faced with uncertainty and pain is a beautiful act of worship. And it’s fruitful. Remind yourself what happens when you make that choice by reading the passage again, this time forwards.
I don’t know what every single person across the two sites of Hope Community Church faces right now, but I do know that if we choose rejoicing and lean into the Father and trust Him throughout, that we'll grow in ways we wouldn’t if we'd opted out and pushed the eject button.
Hang in there. Lean in. Trust beyond reason.
God is at work.