I am always excited to share with you what God is placing on my heart and teaching me. But this week I am especially excited! God revealed to me the other morning during my alone time with Him the very truth that I have been in search of for a long time now. I have asked God and pondered many times in the past the following question: Why do some Christians experience the abundant life that the Bible talks about, having joy and peace and contentment in life, and other Christians never reach that point? I have pondered this question because I want that life and I have made the decision to not settle for anything less. This particular morning God showed me something amazing. He showed me in His Word a 4 step plan to experience spiritual success and He the reason that most Christians never experience a life full of the fruit of the Spirit and contentment.
Romans 5:3-4 says this: “Not only so,” this refers to the fact that was stated before in verse 2 that we can rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. But it goes on to say this in verse 3, “but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that...” now pay attention to this part closely. This is what I will be discussing and expanding on. “...suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Now, if you are like me, you have read this a million times and it just kind of got lost on you. It did me. But God in His goodness and grace opened my eyes to the deep importance of this verse! He has given us in this verse a simple 4 step plan to experience spiritual success! How exciting is that! Okay, stay with me and I will explain. We are going to take each step one at a time. Each step is one of the words listed in the above verse, suffering, perseverance, character and hope. My prayer is that when you are finished reading this God will have opened your eyes to see the sufferings of life in a different and new way and that you will be more aware of the importance of following God in all situations. Here we go!
Step 1) Suffering. This word in other areas of the Bible is translated as anguish, affliction, tribulation, persecution, trouble, distress. A more literal translation is a pressing, or pressure. Every one of us experiences sufferings in this lifetime. The Bible assures us that we will (John 16:33). So the question is: What do we do when we experience the pressures or sufferings of life? Do we worry and become anxious. Get scared and live for awhile in great fear. Do we exhaust every effort we have in trying to solve our own troubles, or do we turn to God and seek Him for guidance, strength and comfort. People who do not call themselves Christians and do not follow Christ may not believe that seeking God is the best thing to do. However, I would imagine that most Christians would say that seeking God is the first and best thing we should do. But is that what we do? Try to remember the last trial or suffering that you experienced. What was your first reaction? For me, it was just yesterday when I experienced conflict between me and my husband. Nothing out of the ordinary, just a normal disagreement between spouses. But my first reaction was to become defensive and get angry. Even though I did see the error of my ways fairly quickly and turned immediately to God for forgiveness then guidance and strength, that was not my first reaction. I could have saved my self and my husband some high blood pressure and stress by just turning to God first. By saying “God, show me how to handle this conflict in a manner that honors you and shows love toward my husband.” By not seeking God first and relying on Him during our trials and hard times we complete cut God out of that situation and in a way are saying to Him that we trust ourselves and our own abilities more than we trust Him and His abilities. After all, when we trusted God to save us for eternity, we also received His salvation for a life free of fear and worry here on earth. He does not want us to try to handle things on our own, even if we brought the trouble our way all on our own. It is never to late to turn to God and let Him guide us down the right path. I want to add some encouragement here. By correcting my actions when I realize that I am not turning to God, I am coming closer and closer to making turning to God be my first reaction. And, actually, often it is my first reaction. So, once we are faced with this trouble and turn to God, be it eventually or from the beginning, then we will be enter into our second step, a time of perseverance.
Step 2) Perseverance. To not give up. To keep on keepin' on! A remaining behind. I am going to camp out on this step more than the others because there is a lot involved in this step. So hang in there with me and I think you will be as blessed as I have been. If we are going to have spiritual success, meaning that we experience God here on earth, to sit in His presence and fellowship with Him now, not wait until we get to Heaven, there are a few things that we need to be aware will likely happen during the step of perseverance. Notice I said be aware of and not beware of
We first need to be aware that we must be intentional and consistent in seeking God. If we don't make sure that we seek Him though time in the Word and prayer everyday, we will slip right back into our old habits of being lazy in our relationship with Him which will in return lead us right back into the worry and fear that we once lived in. If you have still yet to experience the release of fear and worry in your life, it may be because, like I discussed in the first step, you were not turning to God in times of trouble. If you do turn to Him during times of trouble, but you have still yet to experience a life free of worry and fear, it may then be because you have failed to ever push all the way through the time of perseverance to the end. I know, because that is what keep me from it, til now! Perseverance is hard and at times it will seem easier to just give up. But if you do, you will not receive the good that is waiting at the end. If you are realizing, as I did, that you do give up when it gets so hard to push on, don't loose heart. You've got what it takes. Continue reading because I hit on this area more in the “be awares” to come. It is because it will be hard that the intentional and consistent effort of spending time with God is so important. It is through spending time daily with God, always, but especially during the perseverance step, that God will give us the strength and courage we will need to see this thing though to the end.
- Second, we need to be aware that during this period God will begin to show us areas in our life that need change. Alright, this is a “be aware” moment but not a beware moment! This gets hard and can be scary but trust God that He is taking you to a much better place. Change is not listed in the verse that we are studying, but I know from my personal journey and watching others grow in their relationship with God as well that anytime we seek God and are looking for His will in our lives, He will begin to show us the areas in our life that are not part of His will for us. When God reveals these things, you may be tempted to think that change will be too hard, that you can't do it or it may even be an area that you really enjoy and don't want to change it. But know that God has a plan for your life and it is good (Jeremiah 29:11). He also knows the very things that are keeping you from experiencing that good plan that He has for you. Trust Him when He shows you that there is something in your life that needs to go and let Him help you, in the words of my pastor, to give it the Holy boot!
- Third, be aware that you got what it takes to make the change, to persevere, and to keep on keepin' on! I know that change and perseverance is easier said than done, but push forward and do so holding fast to this truth, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. ” (2 Timothy 1:7 NLT) When we accept Christ, God gives us His Holy Spirit and with it comes power, love and self-discipline. You already have within you what you need to see this thing through!
- Fourth, be aware that you very likely will experience fear and timidity, or cowardice, but at the same time, be aware that, like the verse above says, it has not come from God. Satan wants to implant fear and timidity in you and if you allow Him to do that, you let him win. KNOW that Satan is working hard to get you to give up, to get lazy once again in your relationship with God, and to keep you from receiving what God has in store for you and leading others to Christ as well. If we have accepted Christ as our Savior then our salvation is guaranteed and Satan knows that he can not take that away from us. The only thing that he can take is our witness and testimony to that salvation. Do not let Satan win. God says to us in His Word that “no temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13) Fear is a temptation that is very common to man. So when we are tempted to fear and coward away from following God into the unknown, that is what is unknown to us (very known to God) call out to God to provide you a way out and He will be faithful. All you must do is obey.
- Fifth, be aware that if we persevere we will receive the reward in God's perfect time. The Bible says that “ If we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us” (2 Tim. 2:12) “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12) “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9) “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” (Hebrew 10:36) I could go on and on listing verse after verse of God's promises to bring us good if we just endure, continue doing good, do not give up, remain steadfast. As someone who has has finally, after many times of giving up during the perseverance step, by the grace of God began to seen these things through to the end, I can tell you that the rewards He gives is better than a bonus check of all the money in the world! Not only that but looking back now I can see that the things that God wanted me to change were the very things that were bringing me a lot of the sufferings that I was experiencing. Therefore, when we choose not to persevere and we give up, go back to the way things were because we think it will be easier, we have been deceived! Because in doing so we not only keep God from bringing us into the abundant life He has planned for us, where we find an ease in life, but we also choose to hang on to the very thing that is causing us trouble over and over again. For this reason, many Christians never get victory over anger, selfishness, additions, etc. But, OH!!!, when we do the hard thing and follow God to where He wants us to go, then we can have victory, which brings us joy!
Step 3) Character. The third step of character is actually more of a reward than a step and it is intertwined with step two because it is something that we obtain through perseverance. As a matter of fact, the same word translated as character in the NIV is translated as experience in the Kings James Version. Character received though experience. I believe that perseverance through times of sufferings is one way that God prunes us, rids us of the things that produces no good (John 15:1-8) and makes perfect the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, Galatians 5:22-23) that is within us, or makes us more fruitful. When we obtain these traits through endurance and experience they become who we are, hence the word character. It becomes our new norm. Where before we would react with anger to a situation, we now react with patience. Or before, worry, we now have peace! This will bring glory to God and people will want the love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control that we have. That is when we can share with them that we received these traits through giving our life to Christ and then following Him to the life He has for us through obedience and perseverance. This is, after all, the ultimate purpose for every Christian here on earth, to bring honor, glory and praise to God and to lead others to Jesus Christ.
Step 4, Hope! Just like character, hope is also more like a reward than a step. The way that the world sees hope is as wishful thinking that one day, when all is said and done, maybe, just maybe, we will come through this thing called life with some kind of happy ending. However, that is far from the definition of the hope that the Bible speaks of here. This hope that we see in Romans 5:4 and we are told that we receive out of our new character is the ability to know that we will have that happy ending. God places hope in our hearts so that we can see that the future is good for those that love God and keep His commandments. In this hope we can also see the struggles of life for what they truly are, a temporary suffering that God will use to bring us good. Before we persevered and received character and then hope, it was hard to see through our struggles to the good that could come from them. However, God is so good that He allows us to have hope, so that, when the next struggle comes, and it will, although we may not be able to see the exact good that will come through the suffering, we can have hope! We can know that good will come, if we persevere.
God does not bring us any bad. Satan has made that his job. But God can and will take that bad and put it to good use if you will allow Him to do so (Romans 8:28). Only God can take a bad thing and use it to give us a lasting character that brings contentment and hope. And that is only the good that it brings us. Even when we begin to handle new sufferings and trials in the Romans 5 four step way, we may still have pain and troubles that are left over from something that we suffered in our past. It may have been a suffering that was forced on us by someone else or suffering brought upon us by our own sinful actions. But the same 4 steps still apply. Give that suffering and pain to God and ask Him to begin to heal you from that pain and help you to move past it. Although God is very capable of taking that away in an instant, I think the majority of the time we are called to a time of perseverance because as we have already learned, it is through that time of perseverance that we receive character and hope. Genesis 50:20 says, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” God will use our struggle, perseverance, character and hope not only to give us a full life but to most importantly lead others to Him through His Son Jesus Christ. WOW! God is great! However, many people face the troubles of this life without believing that our God can do all this with their pain. I can not imagine living without the hope that God's Word gives us and thinking that the pain I have endured is for nothing. This alone is enough reason to take courage and persevere to the end when it gets hard, so that others can witness what wonderful things our God can do. To conclude, I want to revisit the question that I presented earlier: Why do some Christians experience the abundant life that the Bible talks about, having joy and peace and contentment in life, and other Christians never reach that point? Hopefully by now the answer to that question is clear. I pray that God has made this personal for you. Not because I wish to condemn you for what you are doing wrong, but because in order to receive a life of joy, peace and contentment we have to examine what it is that is keeping us from it. This type of life is not just available to preachers and preachers wives. God has intended this life of abundance for every single Christian. I pray that from this moment on, every time we are tempted to give up and go back, that God will make me and you keenly aware of what we will be missing out on if we do and then that He would give us the strength to push onward! Don't give up, my sister or brother in Christ. Don't give Satan even a tiny sliver of pride that he was able to take from you any part of what God wants to use as a witness to His love and what He can do with a hurting heart. Recognize your suffering for what it is, temporary pain for an eternal good. Persevere, and I guarantee that it will be worth it!