One time recently, I was reading Romans 12:12 and was struck by how I am supposed to respond to affliction:
“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (NIV).
When I wake up on the wrong side of the bed, it’s raining outside, and I have a headache from listening to the early morning chatter of four little girls, I have to admit that I don’t feel too patient. I am quick to admit that I’m “afflicted,” and I might even pray about it — that God would remove it, that is!
As in, patiently endure through it? Nope, not too often.
So I started doing an experiment. When I was tempted to grumble and complain — or even sincerely pray for God to remove affliction — I instead starting thinking about being patient in my affliction.
The headache would start pounding. “Father,” I would pray, “My head really hurts. I know you could take this headache away, but will you please help me be patient until You do?”
Patience made a big difference in my attitude! 🙂
My husband preached on the “measure of faith” that God has given to each of us (Romans 12:3). I thought about that. When I’m impatient and complaining, I am telling God that I don’t have faith in Him, and that I don’t believe He will really come through on His promises to me.
I don’t want to be grumbly. I don’t want to be a complainer. I want to be filled with faith in God!
My husband reminded us that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17, NKJV). God gives a greater measure of faith to me when I “hear” the Word of God.
Unfortunately, sometimes when I hear the Word, I’m like the man whose heart was “rocky soil,” in the parable Jesus told. He “hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away” (Matthew 13:20-21, NIV).
So why does God allow trouble or persecution anyway?
- Lamentations 3:33 says that God “does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men” (NIV). Yet we are sinners and have rebelled against Him. He would not be a righteous God if He did not punish us (see 2 Thessalonians 1:6). So some of our troubles come as a consequence of our sin.
“Who can speak and have it happen
if the Lord has not decreed it?
Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
that both calamities and good things come?
Why should any living man complain
when punished for his sins?
Let us examine our ways and test them,
and let us return to the LORD.
Let us lift up our hearts and our hands
to God in heaven, and say:
‘We have sinned and rebelled
and you have not forgiven'” (Lamentations 3:37-42, NIV).
- John 3:19-20 says that affliction, in the form of persecution, comes as a result of sharing the light of the gospel with unbelievers, because it shows people their sin. Who likes that? So we shouldn’t be surprised that they don’t react very well.
“Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (John 3:19-20, NIV).
“Why did [Cain] murder [his brother]? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you” (1 John 3:12-13, NIV).
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12, NIV).
- Ephesians 3:13 tells us that sufferings help us bring eternal glory to others.
“I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory” (NIV).
Paul went through some major suffering as a result of bringing the gospel to the Gentiles (2 Corinthians 6:3-10), but amazingly, he claimed that these were just “light and momentary troubles,” worth enduring because of the eternal glories of heaven brought to the lost.
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NIV).
So how should I act when hard times come?
- “Be patient” (Romans 12:12). Why? Because it shows love to others.
- “Rejoice” (Romans 5:3). Why? Because we hope in the glory of God, another reference to eternity.
- “Be of good cheer” (John 16:33). Why? Because Jesus has overcome the world.
- “Endure” (2 Thessalonians 1:4). Why? Because some day, God is coming back!
- “Be faithful” (Revelation 2:10). Why? Because we’ll receive the crown of life.
- “Be joyful” (2 Corinthians 7:4). Why? Because our suffering helps others.
- “Comfort others” (2 Corinthians 1:4). Why? Because we know what they’re going through.
- “Faint not” (Ephesians 3:13). Why? Because someone else will have eternity because we helped them.
- “Do not be moved” (1 Thessalonians 3:3). Why? Because God will protect us from the evil one.
- “Fix your eyes on eternity” (2 Corinthians 4:18). Why? Because what we can see today is temporary; what is unseen is eternal.
Being patient in affliction is only the beginning. Enduring, with joy and cheerfulness, is a lot more difficult.
But when I fix my eyes on Jesus, on my eternal home, and on my desire to see others with me in heaven, then I can see my “afflictions” for what they really are — “light and momentary troubles.”