Life hits us sometimes with a cycle of suffering. Something goes wrong, or little things pile up, and circumstances seem to come at us in waves. We experience pain, we suffer loss or hardship, life is just hard. The road gets rocky and it’s all we can do to just hang in there. In Romans, Paul says that God offers another cycle we can ride:
“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 boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5, NIV)
An Easy Cycle to Get On
Often when bad things happen, there is a cycle that goes like this: First, question WHY has this happened? WHY ME? Then DOUBT that God has your best interests at heart. Shake your fist at God, or ask Him to fix your circumstances and conclude He’s not interested. Then decide that this faith stuff is useless. Move on in bitter cynicism… it’s a cycle of pessimistic pain, isn’t it? When we respond to tragedy from an earthly point of view, it’s understandable that people end up bitter or even hopeless with nothing to live for.
There are many things that enter our lives and create scars, leaving regret or anger behind. Paul says that hoping in God’s glory is not one of them. Think about it: would it ever be a bad thing for us to reflect on the glory of God and how it relates to us? Could stopping to think about your Creator have any impact on your life? Does God really ever do anything, and does He care about us?
A Different Cycle
In fact, Paul asserts that there is no way our lives have not been affected by glory in every sense–past present, and future. We have been justified through our past adherence to faith, so that we NOW have peace with God and access into His grace. His grace seasons our everyday life with spiritual insights, forgiveness, and love. It offers us a different way to relate to life, and to God. And because of this radical new relationship with God, we can stand confidently in hope that He will take care of the future. It turns difficult circumstances into a choice: either THEY shape our perspective, or GOD does. Participating in God’s glory offers us the opportunity to exchange hardship for hope, and to live with a different view of a cycle of pain…
Mark Twain’s touching brief narrative “A True Story, Repeated Word for Word as I Heard It”, recounts the life story of Aunt Rachel, a former slave whose life had been filled with hardship and loss. Young Samuel Clemens only knew her as a joyful soul, and recorded this exchange before she told her story: ‘She would let off peal after peal of laughter, and then sit with her face in her hands and shake with throes of enjoyment which she could no longer get breath enough to express. At such a moment as this a thought occurred to me, and I said: –“Aunt Rachel, how is it that you ‘ve lived sixty years and never had any trouble?” She stopped quaking. She paused, and there was a moment of silence. She turned her face over her shoulder toward me, and said, without even a smile in her voice: –“Misto C — , is you in ‘arnest?”
Aunt Rachel then told of her life as a slave, and of being separated from her mother and father, and eventually her husband and 7 children. Her tale is heart-wrenching, full of life-changing pain that obviously touched the young Sam Clemens, who recorded it for us. But in spite of her hardships, Aunt Rachel lived in a state of joy, and recounted a story of redemption about her youngest son Henry that enabled her to have a different perspective about “trouble”. Her gratitude for goodness and her appreciation for redemption allowed her to experience joy in the midst of sorrow.
Our suffering in this present world, when appropriated by faith and reshaped by perspective, bears fruit that remains, and Paul (certainly no stranger to suffering) offers a broader view. IF we can hope in the glory of God, then adverse circumstances produce perseverance; perseverance produces character; and character begets hope. God validates that hope with love, a cycle of productive pain that allows for character building instead of cynicism. It’s a much better cycle than the other one, don’t you think?
Your Life Story
Sometimes life will knock you down. You’ll find yourself retreating,
As things come in relentless waves, just beating, beating, beating…
Paul declared that suffering provides a chance to boast,
And when we’re at our least sufficient, God is at His most.
Lifting up our hearts to God can really change our story,
So we can find His peace, and apprehend the hope of glory.
When things occur that outstrip our ability to cope,
Persevere and pray, and call upon the God of Hope.
Circumstance and sin can’t win as long as you allow Him in,
And He will change the hard refrain of pain into your gain.
If you’re hopeless, take a step to God in faith, because
Events can never shape your outlook any more than God does.
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