A Common MisconceptionThere are few things that are worse than unrealistic expectations. Everyone hates the feeling of building something up in their minds only to have their hopes and dreams crushed. This happened to me a couple of years ago when I went with my family to visit Boston. On our way up there we decided to take a quick detour to see Plymouth Rock. It would add about three hours to our trip, but we thought that it would be well worth it. We had pictures of waves crashing against a magnificent rock formation standing proudly as a symbol of America.
When we got there we looked around until we finally found it. We walked towards the water, stood behind a fence, and looked down to see a rock no more than six feet wide and three feet tall. It was nothing like what we had expected. We were filled with disappointment.
One reason we were filled with disappointment was because of the expectations that we had. I think that happens a lot when it comes to Christianity. People hear the good news of Jesus, put their faith in him, and think that all of their problems will go away. Now, their chief problem has gone away, the penalty of their sin. However, pain, suffering, hurt, and heartache are all still a part of life. Many times, people become frustrated and disappointed with God when this happens to them. The Bible though is very clear that there is difficulty in the life of a Christian.
One of the beautiful things about God is that through Scripture he gives us hope in the midst of our pain. Romans 8:18-29 is a great example of that and from it we are able to glean three incredible weapons that we can wield when we deal with pain and suffering in this world.
If anyone understands pain and suffering it is Paul. 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 gives us a pretty good rundown of all that Paul went through for the sake of the Gospel. He was always at work, he was beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked, in danger anywhere he went, never safe with the people he encountered in addition to the constant pressure and anxiety because of the churches that he ministered to. What was his response to the suffering that he faced in the world? Earlier, in this second letter to the Corinthians he writes:
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. – 2 Corinthians 4:17
Paul called all of the suffering that he went through light and momentary affliction. Why was he able to do that? He was able to do that because he was living his life through the right lens. He realized that this world is temporary and the Kingdom is eternal.
For I consider that the sufferings fo this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. – Romans 8:18
Sound familiar? It is a common theme in the writings of Paul. He is constantly urging us to set our minds on things above (Colossians 3:2). When we have the right perspective on life and eternity it allows us to give our suffering to the Lord and patiently endure.
And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes in what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. – Romans 8:23-25
Because we have our sights set on eternity we are able to handle suffering with patience. We know that the Lord is in control and ultimately he will be victorious in every area of our lives. This does not mean we sit on the sidelines and let the world destroy us, we are active participants in what God is doing in the midst of our pain and suffering. And as we patiently walk with the Lord through our hurt, he reveals himself to us.
One of my favorite singers is a guy named Andrew Peterson. I don’t think that there is anyone that is as truthful in their songwriting as he is. One of his albums – The Burning Edge of Dawn – is pretty much an album on living when you are going through difficulties. On one of his songs, The Power of a Great Affection, he sings:
And even when the shadows are long
I will sing about the Son that’s risen
That his kingdom has no end
That his kingdom has no end
Sometimes there are some dark shadows that we walk through. But we have a mighty Savior, the Son of God, who rose from the grave and defeated death, hurt, pain, and suffering. We will sing because our Good King Jesus has a kingdom that has no end that we get to be a part of.
The Spirit Intercedes
The reason why Christians have the hope of eternity is because we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:22). It is the Holy Spirit who is the one who leads and guides the believer in their daily walk. He is the fuel that propels Christians to live for Christ each and every single day. He is every bit as important as the Father and the Son in a Christian’s daily walk with God. It is a shame that many Christians do not have a healthy understanding of who the Holy Spirit is. He is always for us, and one time he is especially for us is when we are dealing with pain.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. – Romans 8:26-27
The Spirit is constantly interceding on our behalf and is bringing our prayers to the Father through the Son. God is for us and he gives us his Spirit to help us in prayer. Prayer involves us lining up our lives to the will of God. There can be no more effective way for that to happen than for the Spirit of God who dwells in us to speak to the Father for us. What an amazing gift we have been given.
God Is Working For Our Good
No matter what we are going through, we have an incredible promise that God is always working for our good. We know this to be true, but we might not have a correct understanding of what that means. For me, God working for my good is that everything will be alright. My problems will go away. I will have all that I need and even all that I want. All of my relationships will be great, I will have a full bank account, and the Red Sox will win the World Series every year. God is working for my good. We need to take a closer look at the third weapon we have been given to face pain and suffering for us to truly understand what it means that he is working for our good.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. – Romans 8:28-29
What an awesome promise that we have! God is working for the good of those who love him. This is true, but maybe not in the way you or I might like. Verse 29 is the key. What are Christians predestined for? To be conformed to the image of his Son. The goal of Christianity is to look like Jesus. God has decided in his wisdom that the Christian life will be one that is full of pain and suffering. This is what the life of Christ was like. And through his suffering he was made perfect (this refers to the process of which Jesus was shown to be fully equipped and qualified as our Great High Priest since Jesus was always perfect in regards to sin (Hebrews 4:15)).
For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. that is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers. – Hebrews 2:10-11
Just as Christ was called to suffer, we are too. This pain and suffering that we go through does not save us, but it points to the One who did. When we go through suffering by leaning on the grace and peace of Jesus we become like him. This is the sanctification tool that God has given us. Many times we complain, get frustrated, or climb in a hole when life is treating us badly. Instead, we should look forward to how God is molding us into the image of his Son. This is the good that the author of Romans is speaking of.
I am not saying that we should be thrilled when we face the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, or the onset of disease. We are created in the image of God and with that comes emotion. What I am saying is that God has given us the hope of glory that we can look forward to. He has given us his Spirit to lead and guide us in prayer through our circumstances. And, he has given us the promise that we are being renewed into the image of the Son every single day. He promised us that he would never leave us or forsake us. He also gave us weapons to wield as we face the evil that this world throws at us.