The Bible often compares spiritual training to physical training. One of the sayings I hear often in exercise and fitness classes is, “Trust the process.” You have to stay with it. You can’t quit.
I can’t tell you how many people I have seen start the regimens only to quit three weeks later. Things got hard, they got a little sore, and they stopped. They thought the pain wasn’t worth it. Growth comes through difficulty.
Our spiritual life of faith is very much like physical conditioning. Faith grows in times of difficulty and suffering. Many times, we seek to get out of the difficulties of life, or at least to shorten them. The blessing is on the other end of the suffering, however. By removing, shortening or avoiding troubles, we really are hurting ourselves and stifling our growth.
Of course, this doesn’t mean we go looking for problems. That would be crazy. God allows these things to happen for our growth.
Suffering has value
Paul wrote: And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope (Romans 5:3-4).
The word Paul uses for “afflictions” means “tribulations” and refers to pressures, hardships and sufferings. The word is about the distress brought about by circumstances.
Most likely, we all have been there in our lives. We have work pressures, school pressures and family pressures. We experience hardships. We are distressed by the events that happen to us and all around us.
Interestingly, Paul says we are to rejoice in our afflictions. Doesn’t that seem counterintuitive or backward?
Suffering makes us stronger
My wife and I cook with a pressure cooker. As you may know, it works by the pressure building up in the cooking chamber to cook the food faster. My wife makes yogurt, stews and all kinds of things in it. I use it to make chicken broth.
If I were to make a broth through the traditional method, it would take 10-12 hours on the stove. Using a pressure cooker, the broth is done in less than 3 hours. The pressure shortens the process. The pressure creates the change.
Likewise, in our lives, pressures, afflictions and sufferings have a purpose. Hard times produce strong people. If all you ever had were good times, you would be a weak person. The difficulties of life make you strong.
Suffering is valuable, and we can rejoice in our suffering because suffering produces character and hope
Suffering produces character and hope
Largely, we have rejected the idea that suffering has value. In rejecting the value of suffering, we are robbing ourselves of endurance, good character and hope. Good character is made on the proving grounds. It is the result of being tested.
We stay faithful no matter what because endurance through troubles produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This doesn’t mean we want trouble or suffering to happen.
Biblical hope is based in the character of God. Biblical hope is the confident expectation that God will do what he says he will do. Biblical hope is trusting in the promises of God. Biblical hope knows the flood is coming but trusts God will return us to solid ground.
Biblical hope is seeing the armies of Pharaoh bearing down on you with your back to the Red Sea but trusting God to make a way when there is no way. Biblical hope is when you are in a prison singing at midnight because you know God is not going to allow his precious children to be destroyed. Biblical hope is when we draw closer to Christ because we know he is where our help is found.
Suffering has value because when it is endured, it produces proven character and hope.
How will you handle suffering?
Will you come through suffering stronger and full of hope? The difficulties of life either make or break us.
If you have taken shortcuts or avoided the problems of life by running away from them, ignoring them or preventing them, then when the real hard times come, you will not be able to stand because you will not be strong enough. However, when you faithfully endure the hard times of life, you will find what was meant to break you only made you stronger.
Benjamin Karner is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Laredo. For more about him and his ministry, please visit his website.