- Romans 5: 1-8
- Matthew 9:35 – 10:8
- Psalm 100
REJOICING IN SUFFERINGS
I invite you to think for a moment about that Olympian champion, the one that sat on the sofa every day watching TV, checking their internet, and reading books. The one that slept in every morning, had a full cooked breakfast, eating anything they wanted, when they wanted, partying with their friends any time they liked, and taking it easy. On the day of the meet, the simply went out and effortlessly won gold because they were just the best.
What do you mean you never heard of that guy? Apparently it’s not that easy to be an Olympian Gold Medalist! There may be suffering involved on the road to glory: it takes work, effort, consistency, perseverance, and faith to become perfect and complete, lacking nothing! Rapid success stories happen, true. But the reality is that most “overnight successes” come at the end of years of hard work and those witnessing the “success” part too readily assume the “overnight part.”
Joy comes in spite of our pain! To have joy in spite of difficulties and struggles is not to deny pain; it is to recognize that they can co-exist. The same way a pregnant mother can go through the agony of childbirth and still have joy in thinking about what is to come. She knows that there is a beautiful light and life at the end of these painful hours.
This morning, Paul says that we are to “Rejoice” in Suffering! And the reason that Paul gives for this is that suffering produces “endurance”: in other words
- intestinal fortitude
Paul goes on to say that this endurance will produce character, and character produces hope, and out of hope comes an outpouring of love into our hearts.
James 1, verses 2 to 4 say something similar:
2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
I want to talk this morning about cultivating resilience, which enables us to remain positive and focused. Resilience is a quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever – they rise from the ashes, rather than letting failure overcome them and drain their resolve: a basic ingredient for happiness. So, Paul tells us to “rejoice in our sufferings” – note: he doesn’t say you will only suffer once. There will be sufferings – did you hear the S? And yet, we are to rejoice, because this is how we learn and grow!
Paul says suffering will lead to endurance, and this will, in turn, lead to having character (that is, who you really are, when all the layers are peeled away – when no one else is looking!). Said another way: suffering produces steadiness, steadiness produces reliability, and reliability produces hope. If we prove ourselves to be reliable, even in the face of hardship – there is hope!
How many of you here today have survived every day of your life so far in spite of the ups and downs?
Amazing! You have survived everything that life has thrown at you so far! Every one here today is a survivor. But here’s the challenge: it is not enough just to be here – you should be better for it! Better equipped, greater patience, more understanding, a higher level of emotional intelligence, empathy for your fellow man or woman. How do you make this happen, faster and easier on yourself and those around you?
For starters, I would say that the first step is acknowledgement: recognizing that you are in a situation that is outside of your comfort zone and that makes you feel that you are under threat. The reason I say this is that when you are in denial, “this isn’t happening to me”, it’s impossible to actually act! You can’t make any decisions about something that isn’t happening to you! So, step one is admitting that you have a situation.
But I invite you to be careful in your choice of words: transform “hardship” into “challenge”, giving yourself the possibility of seeing opportunity and to make this a productive situation. What do you want life to look like on the other side of this adversity? Remember: your success rate so far is 100%: how will you come out of this one?
Step two, is getting a handle on your emotions. The signs of a resilient person is that when they are in a difficult situation, they keep calm, evaluate things rationally, and come up with a plan, and so they can act. The biggest emotion we have to face is fear – fight or flight or lizard brain (paralyzed by fear, shutting down). Imagine how many times the word “fear” is dealt with in the Bible! John 14: 27 says
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. … Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
Or Joshua 1:9
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged…
Or even Psalm 23: 4
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…
Our human response is we try to hide our fear – we mask it:
- with anger (anger feels much more powerful than fear!);
- with frustration (“I don’t know what to do” sounds better than “I know what to do, but I’m too scared to do it”);
- with stoicism (I’m bearing this – rather than getting off my butt and doing something about it, because I would hate to make a decision and be wrong).
When you identify your fear or fears, you can then identify the possibilities that lie on the other side: opportunities. Managing emotions requires that we grow deeply in emotional intelligence – so much to learn from difficult circumstances!
The third step in resilience is a little crazy: you need to be delusional! And by that I mean: you need to set the bar to recovery WAY HIGH! Crazy successful people and people who survive tough situations are all overconfident. And by overconfident I mean… a delusional sense of self-worth. But wait!! – wasn’t step one and step two about acknowledging where you are and what you are feeling? Yes. But now I am asking you to go all out in believing:
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me…
Yes, you need to clearly understand and acknowledge the situation, but be overconfident about YOUR ability to get yourself through and out of the situation successfully. Remind yourself of your strengths and accomplishments. Remember: so far your success rate at making it through difficult days and situations is 100%.What does successful look like this time?
Step 4 in the process is something continual: Preparation. Whether you are in a difficult situation or not, you should always be in preparation. Luke 12:35 reminds us:
Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit.
And likewise, 2 Timothy 4:2
… be prepared, in season and out of season…
It’s impossible to prepare for the unknown, but we can constantly improve ourselves, practicing good habits and overcoming our bad habits. Habits are what will come through in times of difficulty. Think of common habits you have: breathing, walking, putting on your seat belt…
When I was 22, I spent 7 hours preparing and training for the most important 10 seconds of that day. I arrived at 8 a.m., with a group of about 20 other people, and we trained, over and over and over again, lying on the floor, standing up, hanging from harnesses in the air… and when they felt that we were actually ready, they put us all in an airplane, with parachutes on our backs. And when we reached an altitude of over 3,000 feet, one by one, we jumped out of the plane.
I have complete amnesia about those first five seconds of the jump – no sense of falling, no sense of the wind rushing past my face, nothing! All I remember is my security check: arms in position, knees bent, one thousand, two thousand, three thousand, four thousand, five thousand, Check (over my right shoulder), check (over my left shoulder). Parachute properly deployed! We were static line jumping, in our first solo jumps from the plane. I do remember the last 5 vital seconds of the experience – the landing. There are really only 10 seconds in a jump that are the most important: the first 5 and the last 5: making sure your chute is open (otherwise releasing that chute and deploying the reserve – if that happens, go back to step one!), and landing on the ground. You don’t want to collapse your chute 3 stories up in the air, otherwise you could break both femur’s as you plummet down straight onto your legs! But we spent 7 hours preparing for those 10 seconds – and hardly any time at all on how to actually control your parachute, turns and having fun. Just pay attention to your headset and what the instructor is saying and you’ll be fine.
What does your preparation for the hard times in life look like? Does it bring you hope? I had hope as I jumped out of the plane – not one, but two parachutes on my back, and knowing that I knew exactly what to do if there was a problem with the first one. I was as ready as I could be. There is an amazing adrenaline rush on the other side of fear!
Step five, is kind of obvious: hard work! Whatever the situation is that is bringing you suffering, there are things you will need to do! Whether it is the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, a drop in income, or the ending of a relationship, there is work to be done. After acknowledging the situation, and facing your fear or pain or loss, and getting delusional about your ability to survive this, relying on all the preparation that you have brought to this moment in your life: you have to actually stand up and do what needs to be done!
Proverbs 14:23 reminds us:
All hard work brings profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.
It’s not enough to talk about what needs to be done and what you are going to do. You actually have to do it! I understand the desire just to stay in bed and pull the covers up over your head and give in to mind-numbing sleep! I am sure that we have all been there – plagued by the depression. Step one: get up! Take the first step!
“Survivors take great joy from even their smallest successes. That is an important step in creating an ongoing feeling of motivation and preventing the descent into hopelessness.”
It is those small victories that carry you forward – one more step, one more challenge, one more day.
And finally, help: there’s a time to receive help and there’s a time to help others. Having caring, supportive people around you acts as a protective factor during times of crisis. It is important to have people you can confide in. And sometimes, in our most challenging moments, what our souls and spirits need is to reach out and help others. It is when we find a sense of purpose in our lives that we transform the most. For example:
After her 13-year-old daughter was killed by a drunk driver, Candace Lightner founded Mother’s Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Upset by the driver’s light sentence, Lightner decided to focus her energy into creating awareness of the dangers of drunk driving.
I’m thankful for her impact – she reached me, as a teenager, teaching me two important lessons: never drive drunk and never, ever get in the car with a drunk driver. So, I was usually the designated driver. Candace Lightner will never know me, or the thousands of teenagers whose lives she saved: but she made a difference! Are you making a difference?
This is where we find hope and an outpouring of love in our hearts!