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When Hard Things Linger

How God Redeems Our Suffering Not Just in the Future, but Even Now

by Natalie Abbott

"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." — Romans 12:12

Note to the reader who is suffering:

As I write this and think about you, I realize that these words will probably fall far short of your needs. If I was your friend, if I was privileged enough to know your struggle, these are not the words I would say to you right now in the middle of your pain. Instead, I would listen to you, cry with you, and pray with you. Yes, at some point I would likely offer you advice on enduring this difficult season. But it would be at a time when you could hear it and receive it. And frankly, now may not be that time for you. If you do choose to keep reading, I pray it will minister to you in some small way. 

Be patient in affliction. 

This is a command. From God. For me and you. God is asking us to patiently endure when we suffer. And honestly, it feels like a lot. Last week we talked about another tall order: being joyful in hope. We saw how difficult joy can be in our vulnerable position as people who have no control over the things we hope for. But we discovered that joy is possible when our ultimate hope is in Jesus. Today, we’re going to tackle the next command in our verse: be patient in affliction. And realistically, this next command feels like we just leveled up significantly in terms of difficulty. 

How do we patiently endure affliction?

Sheesh. It’s a really tough question, one I’ve been struggling with for days…and the practice of which I’ve been struggling my whole life to live out. So know that I’m not an expert! I’m just another ordinary believer trying to understand and live out God’s commands. What I can say at the outset is this: if God commands it, he will enable it. This is a truth we can squarely stand on (one we saw hold true last week). Knowing this, we're going to look again into Paul’s letter to the Romans to find out how God enables us to patiently endure affliction. 

How can we have hope in hardship?

Last week, I told you that Paul intentionally put the string of commands in Romans 12:12 together because they are interrelated. In two other places in his letter (Romans chapters 5 and 8), Paul talks about hope and suffering together. We’re going to look at Romans 5 today to answer two questions: How are hope and suffering (seemingly opposite concepts) related? How can we be patient in our afflictions? Let’s read the following passage with those questions in mind:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. 
— Romans 5:1–5, ESV, emphasis mine

In verses 2 and 3 we see the repetition of the phrase “we rejoice in”—”we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” and “we rejoice in our sufferings.” How can we be joyful in hope and suffering? Paul tells us that our joy is rooted in our salvation. Because Jesus has given us peace with God, and we right now stand in grace (no longer in condemnation for our sins), we can rejoice! We rejoice in the future hope that our glorious God will one day return and make all things right and until that wonderful day, we can even rejoice in our present struggles. Why? Because this is not the end of the story! Paul later says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18, ESV). We can have joy because we know that our suffering will only last a night, but a new day is coming when all our tears will be wiped away by our Savior. 

But what about our right-now afflictions? 

Do we just hold onto future hope and patiently endure? Or is there more for us in our suffering? Is God at work in us now as we suffer? If we keep reading in our passage, we see that we don’t merely rejoice because we know our suffering has an expiration date. We rejoice because we know that God works even our suffering for our good. Paul tells us that our suffering is like a training ground, increasing our ability to patiently endure. Did you catch that? The very thing he commands in Romans 12:12—to be patient in affliction—is  precisely what affliction creates in the Christian: patience. Moreover, as we grow in patient endurance from our hardships, it deepens our good character. We become more like Jesus when we suffer like he suffered for us. And as we grow in Christlike character, we also grow in confidence that our hopes will be met in Jesus. So, our suffering makes us patient, and our patience makes us more like Jesus, and our Christlike character produces hope! Suffering produces even more hope in us! Hope in Jesus. Hope that does not put us to shame, but overflows with joy, because our God has loved us and saved us and given us his own Spirit to guide us through our present suffering and back to himself. 

I don’t know about you, but I need this twofold message of joy in my own suffering! I need to know that God himself will end all suffering and make all things right, and that he is working even now through my suffering to make me right! This is the hope I need—a future hope to help me see past my suffering and a right-now hope that increases even as I suffer. 

Natalie Abbott

Natalie Abbott is the co-founder and chief content officer of Dwell Differently. She lives in Missouri with her husband and 5 kids.

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