I watched one of my nephews preach for the first time last week. To say I was proud would be an understatement especially when he used one of my favorite chapters in the Bible, Romans 8. In this season of my life, I have used Romans 8:28 as my mantra.
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
It was even brought up at lunch yesterday, and a discussion about its meaning ensued. For me, the meaning has been simple. Good will come from whatever circumstances we find ourselves in.
We as followers of Christ are not guaranteed a life without hardship. In fact, Jesus himself told his followers to expect it. (John 16:33). But it doesn't make it any easier when life brings you to your knees. On a particularly rough day a couple of weeks ago, a friend sent me this verse.
Romans 5:3-4(ESV) 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
Any time I think of endurance, I think of training for a marathon, the body building endurance to run faster, longer. I would imagine it's not a painless process. I wouldn't know personally as I've always said if you see me running, you should run too because something is definitely coming after us. But I think it's reasonable to assume that a person doesn't just get out of bed one morning and decide to go run a marathon. They have to strengthen their lungs, their legs, their core to be able to succeed in finishing the race.
Humanity endures tragedy every day. We suffer large-scale loss from weather catastrophes like hurricanes and tornadoes, mass violence, and even genocide continues in some countries. Some tragedies land on our doorstep like the loss of a loved one or an incurable illness.
The questions are inevitable. Why does God allow these things to happen? Why do we have to suffer? Why do bad people things happen? Many answers have been given, but I will be brutally honest, I've never liked any of them. The truth is we live in a fallen world. Our mortal bodies go through the cycle of birth, life, and death. They are susceptible to illness, to pain. As humans, we grieve the loss of life no matter what the age or situation.
One of the youth members at our church asked me what if I was wrong about my belief in God. What if I lived my whole life and at the end, there was no heaven, no God? From the perspective of those that don't share my belief system, I understood the question. We Christians can seem odd to the outside world. It seems like we have a lot of rules, most of which prevent us from having any fun. We worship something we can't see. And let's not forget our reputation of being judgey and hypocritical. I have heard it said that people use their faith as a crutch to help them deal with life.
My friend, my faith is not a crutch; it's a life raft. And I cling to it as a woman caught in a raging sea. My answer to the young man was that my belief wasn't as much as what happened at the end of my life but how I lived my life. I cannot imagine walking this life without Jesus. When the difficulties of life come, and they will come, we are able to endure. Not on our own strength, but on His. Our endurance of strife and hardship breeds hope. Hope that we will see our loved ones again, hope in healing, hope that all things will work for our good. And the knowledge that there is not one step I will walk alone. Not today. Not tomorrow. Knowing I am not abandoned in my time of need. I know that in every pain-filled step I have walked these past few months, I have not taken even one of them alone. I endure this illness now because my hope is not in me, not in my doctor, but in the One that has seen every tear I have cried, that has held my hand through the doubts, the anger, and the fear.
I have watched friends and loved ones endure unspeakable heartaches. Lives changed forever, scars that will never heal this side of eternity. I have seen them search for the good in their loss. I have seen the struggle. But I have also seen them praise in the storm. I have seen them place their hope in something bigger than themselves. When circumstances were beyond their understanding, I have seen them trust in the God who has promised to sustain them.
Life isn't easy. There will be moments of joy mingled with times of incredible sadness. We will suffer loss and celebrate life. And in all things, we will endure. And our endurance will give us hope.
I have always loved this song and it speaks to the heart of those who mourn.