"For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth." ~ Deuteronomy14:2

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Godly Character Building 101 - Hope is the final link in the chain that begins with our suffering

“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. 3More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and 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
"Hope" appears three times in Romans 5:1-5, and it is tied to justification and the doors that open to us. In verse 2, hope motivates us to rejoice that we can look forward in positive expectation of God's glory - What an awesome opening that is to us! Is it any wonder that Christians can be optimistic about life in the face of all the evil we are aware of? The goal is so great that it is worth more than all the burden of being human, dealing with our sins and the repercussions of others' sins. Our hope does not disappoint or bring us to shame because it is based in the reality of God and His promises. The common hopes of man may or may not come to pass because they are fragile and frail at best and in many cases utterly false. Yet, the believer's hope is no fantasy because it is firmly anchored in the person and promises of the Creator God. The activity of God among us produces hope. This is drawn in part from verses 3-4, where Paul says that trials, borne while God is part of our lives, produces perseverance, character, and hope. Because of this hope a person is never embarrassed through failure because God, who is our hope, never fails. God loves us, and He communicates His love to us through His instruction, fellowship, and discipline. Through these, we come to know Him and His faithfulness. As our admiration for Him grows, these things motivate us to purify ourselves to be like Him (I John 3:1-2).
"All things work together for good.” That’s Romans 8:28. But how do they work together for good?
One part of the answer is Romans 5:3-4. The sufferings of life work together for good because they promote our spiritual growth. That’s a radical thought. For most of us, trials are merely some-thing to be endured. We grit our teeth, we grin and bear it—if we grin at all. Paul says no—we rejoice in the hard times because we know that God is working in the hard times to produce something beautiful in us. These verses describe four stages of spiritual growth through suffering:
1. Suffering:
The word means “to press down.” Suffering is that which presses down upon us. It happens to all of us. No one is exempt from difficulty. No one gets a free pass. The message is simple: Suffering is the believer’s servant, not his master. Not only do trials not overthrow the blessings of God, they themselves lead into the blessings of God. The King James Version brings this out when it says that tribulation “worketh” patience. What a great thought. The hard times of life are sent by God in order to produce something good in us. Please write it down: God is not in the business of making it easy for you to go to heaven! Life for the believer is not meant to be easy or pleasant. Salvation is free, but the road to heaven is mostly uphill. In the future we will become; until then we must overcome. Please note. We don’t rejoice in the fact of our suffering. That would be odd and pathological. Suffering by definition is distasteful. We rejoice in what we gain by our suffering. And what we gain in the end far outweighs the pain we go through. God accomplishes certain things in suffering that he could not accomplish in us any other way! That’s the ground of our rejoicing.
2. Perseverance:
The first thing that we can learn in suffering is perseverance. The Greek word is hupomone. It literally means “to bear up under” something. It is “the ability to remain in a difficult situation without giving in or giving up.” It is the fortitude that not only survives trouble but is made stronger by it. “Here is a fact that should help you fight a bit longer. The things that don’t kill you outright, just make you stronger.” You could also translate this word by “endurance” or “patience.” It’s the quality that keeps a marathon runner going after he “hits the wall.” It’s the quality of “stick-to-it-ness” that keeps a Thomas Edison working after he’s tried a thousand ways to make a light bulb. I’m sure you’ve heard the story of the young man who asked the preacher to pray that he would develop more patience. So the pastor bowed his head and prayed, “Lord, please send this young man more trials. He’s had it too easy, Lord. Send him some hard times.” When the young man protested that he had asked for patience not hard times, the pastor showed him the Scripture that says, “tribulation produces patience.”
3. Character:
The word is dokime. It means “proven character.” The word was sometimes used of silver ore that had been passed through the fire so that all the dross was removed. The pure silver that was left was said to be dokime—i.e., it was the “real thing.” In a similar sense, we sometimes speak of a person having a “sterling” character. We mean he is a man of the highest moral values. Suffering, Paul says, produces perseverance and perseverance eventually produces “proven character.” How? First you endure the hard times without complaining. Later you develop godly perspective as you realize that God has a purpose even in the darkest moments of life. This is the experience of the inexperienced sailor going through his first storm at sea. The storm terrifies him because he doesn’t know if the ship will survive. As the days pass and the storms come and go, the sailor gains confidence that no matter how bad the wind and waves, the strength of the ship is greater than the worst of the waves. He has faith in his ship because the sea has failed to sink it.
Job 23:10 speaks to this point: “He knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”
Only an experienced believer can say that. You don’t learn that truth in Sunday School; you learn it in the School of Suffering. That’s why the testimony of older believers is so important. When a man reaches the end of his life and looks back, he can say with conviction, “Jesus led me all the way.” His words have meaning because he has known heartache, disappointment, and the “agony of defeat.” But he also knows that God has never forsaken him—not even in the worst moments of life.
Ray Stedman said it this way: God is in the process of making veterans. He delights to take raw, untested rookies and put them in the crucible. When they come out, they aren’t raw or untested and they aren’t rookies anymore. They’re veterans, men and women of “proven character.”
Write it down, my friend. Suffering lies along the path to spiritual maturity. All the saints of God have discovered this truth. Ask Abraham and he will point to Mount Moriah. Ask Jacob and he will point to the stone pillow. Ask Joseph and he will point to a prison in Egypt. Ask Moses and he will point to the backside of the desert. Ask Daniel and he will point to a lion’s den. Ask Peter and he will point to his denials. Ask John and he will point to Patmos. God’s blessings are poured out in bitter cups. (cf. Kent Hughes, Romans, pp. 108-109)
4. Hope:
The final result is “hope.” Once suffering has done its work, we have first perseverance, then tested character, and finally hope—the confident expectation that we will not be disappointed. As we discover in the darkness that God is there to sustain us, that gives us hope to keep on going. What starts with suffering ends with hope.
Suffering actually strengthens our hope when we respond in a godly fashion. “The tears of time may become glistening pearls in the eternal crown.” The wonderful thing is this: As God completes his work in us, we see ourselves becoming kinder, gentler, more compassionate, less irritable, wiser, and more trustworthy.
We look back and say, “He’s doing it! God is keeping his promises!” Yes he is, and it wouldn’t have happened without the trials of life. The price is high, but the end result is that we become better people—refined, purified, tested, and yes, strengthened by the things we have suffered. Best of all, we discover that our sufferings have an eternal reward: “Hope does not disappoint.” Not in this life or in the life to come. Nothing is wasted in a believer’s life. Our worst trials are down payments on something wonderful to come. He’s shaping us - Billy Graham tells the story of a friend who went through an incredible series of setbacks. In the process he lost his job, his fortune, his family and his future. The only thing he had left was his faith in God. One day as the man was walking through the streets of a major city, he stopped to watch some workmen who were repairing the spire of a great cathedral. His attention was fixed on a stone mason who was chipping away at a triangular piece of stone. At length he asked the man what he was doing. The worker motioned upward to the spire and said, “Look all the way to the top.” When the man did, he saw a tiny triangular space near the peak of the spire. The worker said, “I’m shaping this down here so it will fit up there.” Tears filled the man’s eyes as he realized, “That’s what God is doing in my life. He’s shaping me down here so I will fit in up there.” Indeed, the painful experiences of life are part of God’s shaping program for you and me. He’s shaping us for heaven while we’re living on earth. (James Montgomery Boice, Romans, II, p. 531)
Hope is the final link in the chain that begins with our suffering. We rejoice in suffering because we know that through our pain God is working out his purposes and developing perseverance, character and hope within us. That’s the fourth great permanent benefit of justification.
The fifth and final benefit is mentioned in verse 5. Therefore since we have been justified by faith, we have … assurance of God’s love. “And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” The final benefit is God’s love poured out in our hearts. The word is in the perfect tense, which means that we could translate it “has been poured out like a river and is continually being poured out moment-by-moment.” Those who know Jesus have the continual experience of the love of God being poured into their hearts.
An Intercessor’s Prayer for Suffering:
Lord, this morning in the midst of an overwhelming sense of the true magnitude of the battle ahead, I bow my head, bend my knee, and seek Your Face. Amazingly, I am not frightened by this battle, rather, I am beginning to see its end time purpose. There is great joy in my heart today as I know that with my eyes focused on Your Face, I can make sense out of what looks on the surface to be confusion, ridicule, despair, and hopelessness. As I pray for wisdom and the Holy Spirit’s power, I feel my resolve to fight against the blinding grow. As I pray asking the Holy Spirit specifically for His vision, I am beginning to understand how deadly Satan’s counterfeits can be. As I pray I somehow know that we must defeat these attacks against the Body of Christ by firing off missiles of truth. As I pray I also feel the need to ask You, Lord, for more warriors to walk alongside. I ask You to set free the chosen ones who are being held back for just such a time as this. Somehow, my King, my spirit recognizes a hunger I have never felt before. I know I don’t fully understand this hunger right now, but in Your timing I am confident it will be filled to the brim, enabling me to walk taller and stronger. I honestly don’t know why I am surprised at the sense I have of Your Presence this morning, but the reflection of Your work being accomplished on the earth somehow makes me stronger, and gives me the courage I need to move forward in Your Holy Spirit power. O how I yearn for the day when I will have no more questions. I know is possible to have an assurance of faith far stronger than what I presently have -- and this alone gives me courage to keep on, keeping on. I am sustained this morning by Your clarity of vision helping me to see how far I have come and cautioning me not to retreat. The path ahead is full of opportunities for service and for victories -- I only need to look where You have planted Your truths and bask in the reflected power and joy to be found there. My prayer today is for strength of purpose for those in the Body of Christ who are about to retreat. I am reminded that many are called but few are chosen -- and it makes my heart pound knowing that those who are called are now beginning to mobilize together. What a powerful army that surrounds me. My warrior prayer heart screams out for my brothers and sisters to listen and obey the call You have on their lives, and to lay aside their fears and anxieties and pick up the sword they are given to fight this fight. I pray for Your chosen ones to recognize that even though they often feel lonely and vulnerable, and even though they suffer much for the cause of Christ, their devotion and passion will see them through. They will grow stronger as they forge ahead -- through the pain and sorrow, knowing that Your grace will be sufficient for their every need. I also pray, Jesus, that You would begin lighting the candles of Your faithful ones everywhere on the earth so we can easily recognize one another. Ignite the Holy Spirit’s passion in all of us and take captive our minds and our hearts. May all who respond to Your call be given wisdom, clarity of vision and Holy Spirit fire to sustain them. Help us find the solutions to the things that appear to be unsolvable. Create in all who are called to fight, a holy desperation and resolve that focuses their hearts, minds and spirits on Your calling. Grant Your chosen ones eyes to see with the flint of an eagle's eye, and give them that same calm in the midst of a storm. Help them to soar above the turmoil in their lives. When Your timing is right, help them to focus all their strength on whatever challenges are in their path by adjusting their flight to overcome. Help them to recognize the opportunities they are given in the face of attacks. Help them to overcome and overpower the enemy and send him fleeing. Open the gates for Satan’s retreat, and slam them shut so he can never attack again. May all we do bring you the honor and glory! Amen

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