1 Therefore, since we have been made righteous through his faithfulness [or faith], we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 We have access by faith into this grace in which we stand through him, and we boast in the hope of God’s glory. 3 But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, 4 endurance produces character, and character produces hope.
Ancient Greeks invented the literary form of the “tragedy,” a story that shows humans growing stronger and more noble through enduring terrible suffering. In Romans 5:1-3, the apostle Paul seemed to echo the idea that enduring suffering makes us stronger. But Pastor John Ortberg noted, “At the end he added as a climax what would never have occurred to a noble pagan: “and character produces hope.”*
Lord Jesus, so often this world seems dark and dangerous, and I feel like giving up. Nurture the flame of your hope in my heart as a force that can carry me forward in your kingdom’s work every day. Amen.
* John Ortberg, Who Is This Man?: The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012, p. 195.
“We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” -Romans 5:3-4
Pastors are notorious for being unhealthy, so in the last six months I’ve developed a regular routine. Every other day or so, I go to the gym, start with some cardio, and then move on to squats. Like a stereotypical guy, I have ignored my lower body for most of my life, so it's been humbling to focus on muscles that I’ve never invested in. And I do mean humbling! When I began, I squatted maybe 65 pounds. I’m a pretty big guy, so I felt pretty self conscious. (Luckily the average age at my gym is 65, so no ladies to impress…) Initially it felt awkward, but day after day, I’ve gotten the hang of it. I only go up 5 pounds each session so I don't hurt myself, but slowly I’m beginning to get closer to a respectable amount of weight. The awkward feeling is gone and I feel the muscle building in my body!
It’d be nice if I could stay healthy by sitting at a desk (or on my couch), but our bodies are built in such a way that if we don’t push ourselves, we will drift towards unhealth. To be healthy, you MUST push yourself. If you don’t use your muscle, it will fade away. Period. You have to exhaust it, tear it, strain it. Too much and you injure yourself. Too little and the muscle becomes weak, incapable of its intended use. There’s a sweet spot where endurance and strength emerge from the strain.
And life is the same.
Our scripture today talks about life obstacles, stating that “trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” And on first glance, it can seem like a ridiculous conclusion. “Yay! More trouble for my life!” said no one ever. None of us like the strain of life problems. But just like muscle, we grow when we face resistance.
Think of it this way. Have you ever met someone who has faced very few trials in life? They are disoriented by the slightest hiccup. These are the people who curse out Starbucks employees for getting the wrong drink—who are constantly stressed by simple things. If their spirit were a muscle, it would be straining under the slightest weight. In stark contrast to this, have you ever encountered someone who has faced adversity over a lifetime? The small problems don’t even faze them. They’ve had their spirit honed and tested. They’ve grown in endurance.
This morning I had coffee with a man who spent the last three years in prison. “It was the strangest thing, but I felt proud when I walked out of there. It was like I became stronger.” He went on to say how the little problems no longer feel like problems. He’s grown through an experience that would have been difficult for any of us. He became stronger through adversity. His life literally fell apart and yet he feels stronger.
God gives us a choice on how we face adversity. You can go through your day and through your life and see yourself as a victim of circumstances. You can make mountains out of anthills. You can count all the ways things are weighing you down. You can feel helpless against the tide of life problems.
Or you can begin to lift them, one day at a time—just like weights at the gym. You can build your muscle of endurance. You can hone your spirit and your character.
You can grow stronger because of it.
*Note: Like lifting weights, sometimes we lift too much and permanent injuries can happen. So if life has given you too much weight, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t lift it alone. If this is you, consider reaching out to a pastor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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