This blog entry is inspired by Ray Stedman’s sermon on Romans 5:3-10. You can check out the link here.
The Greek word for suffering defines it as a ‘tribulation’ or something that causes distress. In Romans 5:3-5, Paul makes it clear that our response to suffering should be to rejoice. This is backed up by other verses in the Bible:
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:12-13, NIV)
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” (James 1:2, NIV)
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12, NIV)
Joy is not simple stoicism/ hanging in there/ or enjoying the pain. It is not pretending you’re happy. Christianity is never fake. Philip Yancey once wrote back to an email I sent him asking about disappointment and trusting God. I have posted my email and his response below:
Dear Mr. Yancey,
I just needed to ask you a question that a friend and I have been arguing about for a while now. We were discussing disappointment and trusting God and my friend basically said that if you trust God or if you consult him on all areas of decision-making, it’s possible to never feel disappointed with the answers he gives you, because your trust is complete and whole in him. However, just from my experience I believe that its possible to be disappointed with God’s answer but to trust that his way is right and true and to obey despite your personal desires. Does that mean my trust in him is not complete? Because I occasionally still feel disappointment?
I know you’re a busy man and probably won’t have the time to respond to this but I hope you do. I have felt an enormous amount of condemnation regarding this and although I have read my Bible nothing has jumped out that has been a clear word on this. I’m not looking to be proven right. I just want to get some perspective from someone who seems to have more insight on this.
Thanks very much!
Here is a portion of his reply:
It is my firm belief and personal experience that God does not want us to turn into automatons when we decide to follow him. I believe God wants us to come to him with our whole heart, soul and mind, not leaving anything of ourselves stuffed in a closet or relegated to the back shelf. Therefore, we will bring the struggles of our will vs. his will to the relationship with God, just as in any other relationship. I can think of numerous examples in the Bible where this was true, and the person involved was disappointed but chose to accept God’s will over his own. Think of Paul and his thorn in the flesh. Or of David, longing and pleading for his and Bathsheba’s son not to die. Or Abraham and Sarah wanting a child before they were old and gray. We can go on on and on with the examples of deferred gratification in favor of God’s best. The best response to your question is to recommend the book of Psalms: it’s full of disappointment, even anger, yet has been the believers’ prayer book through the centuries. That says it well, I think.
I respect your friends’ point of view, but I like yours better. Listen to your own heart. You can trust it.
While this does not necessarily speak directly to joy I believe it still relates. Joy is not hiding your disappointments or hurt from God. In fact the Bible acknowledges this:
“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11, NIV)
So we acknowledge that joy is not faking happiness – the question then remains…what does it mean to rejoice in our sufferings?? Ray Stedman defines it as thus: “an awareness that this suffering has done something of supreme value; therefore, you wouldn’t have missed it. But you wouldn’t have chosen it, either!”
So how does one rejoice in suffering? Mr. Stedman explains that we are able to rejoice because we know something – we know that suffering produces perseverance, character, and hope. There is a point to our suffering. It is not for nothing. It produces perseverance (or steadiness) – the ability to be patient, to stay under pressure and not panic. It also produces character – developing you to be a strong and reliable person. A person that can withstand the test of disappointments and hurts and pain. Finally suffering produces hope – hope that God is continually perfecting us to become more and more like Christ, transforming us into His image.
I will quote Mr. Stedman on this last point on rejoicing in suffering:
“I know some Christians who are suffering, but are not being made steady and reliable and confident. Instead, they are being made bitter and resentful and angry, even to the point of denying their faith. Suffering, you see, does not produce these qualities automatically. You can go through suffering as a Christian and be filled with anger and rage and resentment against God. What makes the difference?
As Paul explains here, the difference is in seeing your suffering as evidence of God’s love, and not his wrath. Then you will experience that love in the midst of the suffering. The Holy Spirit will shed abroad in your heart an experience of the love of God so rich and radiant and glorious that you will not be able to help but rejoice in your suffering. But, if you see your suffering as evidence of God’s wrath, you will be rendered frustrated and angry and resentful and miserable.”
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