Romans 5:3-5 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. 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.
This is a justly famous passage, but many people leave off, or simply ignore, the very last part of it, and that is the key to it all. The first part sounds very noble, but many people would protest that their faith simply isn’t that strong, and they allow their sufferings/tribulations to tear them down instead of building them up. What makes the difference is the assurance that God loves us, and that has to be a supernatural revelation by the Holy Spirit. We tend to think of the Holy Spirit in terms of power, which isn’t unreasonable considering Acts 1:8. However, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, and God is love. (1 John 4:8) When we open ourselves to be filled with the Holy Spirit, as we are told clearly to do, (Ephesians 5:18) we open ourselves to the love of God, and that is wonderful beyond words. When you find someone who is “operating in spiritual gifts” but they are not loving, it may not be the Holy Spirit they are full of. As has been said, everything God does is love, even when it is stern correction. That’s why refusing to forgive is so deadly. (Matthew 6:14-15) Refusing to forgive, to love, is refusing God. Sadly, some people are so deceived they choose eternity in hell over releasing a hurt and loving instead. We want to receive God’s love for ourselves, but to do that in truth, we’ve got to allow it to flow through us to others as well. That is, frankly, very difficult at times, but nothing is impossible for God. (Luke 1:37) We try to separate our problems, and our lives, into different boxes, but it is all connected. Going back to this passage, to get through suffering, we need to let God’s love flow through us to those around us – even including the person or people who might have caused our suffering. As Paul said, we can do everything through Christ who strengthens us. (Philippians 4:13)
This certainly applies to me as much as it does to anyone. I don’t feel I have had acutely severe suffering, particularly compared to even my wife – so how is my character? I’m certainly not to seek suffering, but when it comes I am to rejoice in it, knowing that God loves me enough to grind down my imperfections. As a pastor I am constantly dealing with people who are suffering, or at least think they are. The thing is, suffering is largely subjective: if you think you’re suffering, you are. In teaching medical English to Japanese I teach such things as, “I have a stuffy nose.” The text has a side note that some people might say, “I’m suffering from a stuffy nose.” I point out how ridiculous that is, but many people are just that way. With no sense of perspective, their little bumps in the road look like Mt. Everest! The difficulty for me is in helping them gain perspective without putting them down completely. The key, once again, is opening up to the loving Holy Spirit of God. I am to speak the truth in love, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide my words, so that the truth may indeed set people free from the lying traps of the devil. (John 8:32)
Father, thank You for this strong reminder. You know who comes to mind! I pray that I would be Your agent to help people choose to forgive, recognizing their own need for forgiveness, so that indeed, Your kingdom may come as Your will is done, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!