Monday, December 22, 2008

Suffering & Optimism

Well, this is the last in this mini-series of posts on Suffering. This last benefit is one that, quite frankly, doesn’t happen very often. The reality is that suffering produces optimism. It is hard to be optimistic when you’re getting pummeled! Optimism and suffering don’t seem like they go together, but they do.

At this point some of you may think, "What are you saying? How can suffering produce optimism? The way I see it is that suffering makes people weak and miserable and negative."

Well, often it does. That's because people "waste" their sorrows and do not let the Holy Spirit work in their lives when times are tough. They focus on their problems and continually ask "Why Me?" instead of using their problems to become stronger. However, if you approach suffering with the right attitude, you experience a complete transformation. “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance (produces) character; and character (produces) hope” (Romans 5:3-4, NIV).

Too often, we use the word “hope” as a synonym for "wishful thinking." For example, say we have scheduled a family picnic and the skies become cloudy and gray, we might say with resignation "I hope it doesn't rain." Unspoken is the thought, "But by all appearances it will, and there's nothing I can do about it." That's not hope, that's just helpless, wishful thinking.

The Bible uses the word differently. The Greek word in Romans 5:4 means "facing life with confidence, knowing God is in control." With this definition of hope, we would react to the rainy skies with the attitude, "It may be cloudy and gray, but not even the rain keep me from having a great time with my family this afternoon."

Suffering produces an attitude of confident optimism, because once you have suffered you realize that problems aren't all they're cracked up to be. They have limitations, and there are some things your problems cannot do. For example, they cannot separate you from God's love. They cannot destroy your happiness. They cannot keep you from living life to the fullest...unless, of course, you allow them to.

I read about a bull rider by the name of Gene. Every weekend he rides in a rodeo. Once in a small town in Oklahoma he had drawn a pretty mean bull, and he knew it would be a tough ride. Now a ride is supposed to last 8 seconds; his lasted about a second. When the gate opened up and the bull came out of the stall, before his back feet had hit the ground Gene was already in the dirt. Unfortunately for him, it wasn't over. His hand was caught in the rigging, and the bull drug him around the arena for a while. When he finally got loose, the bull speared him once or twice before the clowns came to the rescue. On the way home, Gene said, "The toughest part about getting throwed is having to wait a week before I get another chance to ride. I know what I did wrong, and I know I'll get it right next time, but I've got to wait a whole week to do it!"

After the beating Gene took, most people would have said "That's it for me. I'll find a new hobby." But Gene wasn't afraid of getting thrown. He had been thrown enough to know that it wouldn't kill him (most likely), and he left the rodeo that night convinced that next week he would do better!

That is hope. Some people would define it as crazy -- and do you know what? It does seem a little crazy to have a hopeful, confident, optimistic attitude in the face of suffering.

In the midst of his troubles, Job's wife gave him some rather cynical advice: she said, "Curse God and die!" (Job 2:9). In other words, "Give up! How long can you keep hanging on to this foolish belief that God is in control?" Well, eventually Job’s fortune, health, and family was restored to him and "the Lord blessed the latter part of Job's life more than the first" (Job 42:12, NIV).

When you suffer, and you stay with it, you become stronger and your problem becomes weaker.

What good is suffering? Well, when you suffer the right way ... when you rejoice in your sufferings ... when you approach hardship with the right attitude ... you discover that suffering doesn't beat you down, it builds you up. It makes you stronger. God has the ability to take any trial or hardship or crisis or negative situation you face--and cause it to work to your benefit (Romans 8:28). What may appear to be a curse in your life can actually become a blessing (Nehemiah 13:2).

Nobody likes to suffer, and nobody in their right mind would choose to suffer, but followers of Jesus Christ need not fear suffering. In fact, when it comes (and it will from time to time) you can rejoice in the midst of it, because the end result will be that you become stronger, and God is glorified in your life.

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