I find, daily, that my hope is being refined and deepened by suffering.
There is not a day that goes by in which I do not suffer in some way, with some anxiety or fear, with the state of the world, with broken friendships, through physical aches and pains, fatigue, spiritual persecution. If I survive the day, I am weakened, more weak than the day before. I wish I could say that I’m not afraid, that I have no anxiety in my life, that there is nothing that causes me angst, but the truth is, I’m battling all of these.
In church yesterday the message was about hope—how we can’t hope in ourselves or in anything in this world, only in Jesus, His Word, His Kingdom Everlasting. The pastor said if I hope in “having it all together” here on earth—a life of total freedom, without trouble or persecution or any harm, then I’m hoping in the wrong thing. That hope is not possible, for as the pastor pointed out, as a Christian, I am bound to suffer, in some measure as Christ suffered.
But the hope is that Jesus overcame this world, that He is alive and well, seated on His throne, in heaven, governing His heavens and His earth. I take great comfort in this. I take great comfort in His Word, where I can find the answer to any dilemma, any heartache, any pain—the answer is God’s overwhelming, everlasting love.
It is difficult to be a Christian when I am suffering, and still maintain a good attitude, as Christ did on the cross. His attitude in that moment is nothing short of a self-induced miracle. He chose to endure the wrath of God: His Father’s complete, absolute, unmitigated wrath, which destroyed Him in every imaginable, and in every unimaginable, way.
But He went to the cross with the best attitude. He may not have wanted to endure the suffering, but when He saw that this was the only way to follow His Father’s will, He accepted it. Not only did He accept it, He embraced it. He found joy in it. In the moment of His greatest pain, somehow inside Him He found the character to sing and praise His Father, as only He knows how to do, because He loves His Father that much.
His attitude was the same as if you asked a child, “Hey, wanna come outside and play, and we can go exploring?” And as a child, excited about the fun of the exploration, you’d go. Of course, in no way am I equating a child’s play with Christ’s suffering on the cross, as if there was a similar experience. There isn’t. I’m comparing the attitude between the two, which is exactly the same. You and I would have a great attitude about playing and exploring in a field; Jesus also had a great attitude, the best attitude, in suffering so torturously, so excruciatingly, for our sins.
What is the proper attitude to have, then, in whatever caliber of suffering I endure? It’s to be totally optimistic. Totally hopeful. Always thinking good thoughts. Maintaining ultimate self-control. Embracing the ones who hurt you. Enjoying the experience. Being patient when there is no way out, when you are truly doomed. Believing in the unseen, no matter how impossible. Having faith that you’ll breathe again, even when blood is clotting in your lungs. Loving. Simply loving. Jesus revealed all of these traits while suffering on the cross. He did so at so great a cost. He wagered Himself, and all His character, for His enemies, who had none. It is sobering to consider my Savior’s attitude when He held His arms out for me as I butchered Him.
Those same arms now hug me. They hug me every day, in every suffering, protecting me, even when it is difficult to maintain my hope. And I’m so thankful He does. I’m so thankful I’m embraced in His grace. In these difficulties, in their honing and refining, Jesus grooms me, cleaning off the dross around my spirit, scooping out the slag in chunks, here and there, so that my spirit can breathe and grow, deepen and expand, stretching out toward eternity. It’s nourishing. Being pruned is painful, but eternally nourishing.
And if I am to discover Jesus, and fall in love with Him, this is the only way. If I want to discover His character, His good attitude, then I need to be willing to have the same positive attitude in my suffering—to consider it pure joy (James 1:1) whenever facing difficulties and trials. Again, this is very difficult. And very rewarding.
And the most rewarding by far. I write soberly on this topic because I’m in the midst of some spiritual persecution as I pen these words. While suffering is bleak, the Word of God is much better. Just absorbing myself in His Word, reading John and 2 Corinthians and the Psalms bring me deep comfort—far greater than any pain or suffering I endure. Suffering is hard, but it is not the end; rather, it’s a tiny blip in the entire heavens that will soon be crushed under Jesus’s heal.
And what remains? Life. Everlasting life. No pain. No tears. No suffering. No persecution. Total freedom. The freedom to dance and sing and laugh and hug and play and love. What a freedom! Forever! That freedom is real. It is guaranteed to a Christian when he puts his faith in Jesus Christ, repents, and serves Jesus as Lord. His freedom will never end. That is the hope I have. The hope God promises me.
I have hope that I will one day be in the presence of Jesus Christ, worshiping Him. There is nothing better.
“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:28)