James says it like this: “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested your endurance has a chance to grow, So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed you will be perfect and complete needing nothing.” James 1:2-4. Paul says something very similar in our focus passage today: “… we also rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance character and character hope. And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Clearly the message is the same – God does not want us to give into or sit around complaining about our troubles and sufferings. Actually, instead of complaining or wallowing in a “woe is me” attitude He calls us to rejoice or to count it an opportunity for ‘great joy’. The question begs to be asked though, how does one rejoice in real and present suffering or stop to consider it an opportunity for great joy?
Throughout my lifetime, God has given me – and my family – many opportunites to learn the answer to this question, but yesterday he gave me yet another example through my daughter Abi. She was having a particularly difficult day. It was definitely a day laced with troubles and sufferings, both physical and emotional. I could tell through several texts that I received that she was struggling and even distraught at times and I expected to find her like that when I arrived home. However, when I walked in the door – while I found her to be tired and emotionally drained there was no sign of the woe is me, overwhelmed attitude I expected to find. As she relayed the devastating phone calls and the frustrations that had occurred she began to share how she had cried many tears, and how she had cried out to God, until her head hurt. Then she said something that blessed my heart –
“I finally started listing all of the encouragement God had given me.”
She explained how, in a moment of anguish, she had cried out to God specifically asking for encouragement As I listened to her list them out for me and describe all of the ways she could see God’s fingerprints I was blessed and rejoiced over her greatly! Then as I sat down to read today’s passage I knew Abi had practiced exactly what Paul had encouraged the believers to do. In the midst of her suffering, in the heartache and the unknown and the fears and frustrations, in the hardship and real and present needs she had found a way to rejoice. Earlier in the day, in the wake of yet more disappointment and apparent “tested faith”she texted me to say: “I know God has this and that’s what I keep trying to remind myself but I just needed encouragement and I don’t know why He couldn’t give it.” Yet, there – in the midst of it all – God had led her to begin naming even the tiniest of ways that she had seen His fingerprints. I’m not sure she would say she rejoiced “in the cause” of her suffering, however, she certainly had found a way to count the suffering an opportunity for great joy which did indeed lead to a visibly and audibly enhanced character of peace, producing an obvious deepened hope in our God.