Hope in the Face of Suffering

I was sitting in church one day a few years ago, trying to gather hope and confidence around me like a pillow fort.

In that moment, the enemy shot an arrow of doubt into my mind. I instantly felt foolish for trying to hope in the face of suffering. As quickly as the arrow came, the Lord raised the shield of scripture in my mind, the shield of Romans 5:5.

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Romans 5:3-5 (emphasis added)

Hope does not put us to shame. What an encouragement at that moment that looking to the Lord and hoping in His word would not put me to shame. I didn’t need to feel foolish for hoping for what I could not see. Not long after that scripture moment, I published a blog post focusing on the last part of the verse, which you can read here if you want. But when I revisited this passage this summer, it doesn’t take long to see that the hope does not come first. It comes after enduring painful circumstances:

  • Suffering
  • Perseverance
  • Character
  • Hope

Hoping for something often means you are waiting on something else: waiting on test results, waiting to have children, waiting to see if your marriage turns around, waiting to see if your finances balance out, waiting to see if ministry opportunities will open up.

Sometimes the Lord may give you a directive, a step to take that’s super clear. And that’s great. If you have been given a clear directive from the Lord, then you should follow it up with immediate obedience. But sometimes in the absence of a clear directive, we put far too much emphasis on picking an exact right next step and miss the fact that God is focused on who we are becoming and there is often more than one right “next” step that we could take. More than a prescriptive formula for what to do in these verses, we do actually see an emphasis on who we are becoming.

I’ve always cringed a little at this progression because let’s be honest, it doesn’t look like fun. (First stop: suffering). Let’s look a little closer though.

Suffering is the great initiator to this holy process, which we will all cycle through at different times throughout our life. Can’t go around it, can’t go under it, you got to go through it (Extra points to whoever can tell me what children’s book this is from).

Perseverance is next and it doesn’t grow in the sun; it grows in the shade. Suffering provides you the set of circumstances with which to build perseverance. Difficult circumstances build perseverance because you don’t get the zing of immediate gratification with answers or with control. You instead have the opportunity to practice delayed gratification of being content with no or different answers, and leaving control with who it actually belongs to: God.

This in turn builds character because you become someone who can have patience, who can trust the process, who doesn’t have to have all the answers, who does the right thing even when no one else notices or cares. That’s what character ultimately is: who you are and what you do when no one else is around to hold you accountable or give you an award.

But how does character lead to hope? Because as you become who Jesus wants you to be, you become more and more acquainted with who He is. And understanding and embracing the presence of God in our lives is indeed what gives us hope. It gives us hope when in the midst of transition, when we are struggling, or when our lives explode before our very eyes. And that is true hope that cannot be shaken.

If we stick with the process, if we press into God’s presence, hope is born from character, which is born from perseverance, which often is born of suffering. So if you are in the midst of suffering, first of all, I am so sorry. But I would also encourage you to take some time to reflect on what God may be doing in your life. I don’t know all that the Lord is wanting to develop within you in this season, but I would encourage you to shift your focus onto who you are becoming through the process rather than on specific outcomes. I don’t know about you, but whenever I have been able to do that, the God of hope meets me every time. He will do the same for you.