The Toughening Process

“Suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3)

Like it or lump it, we are toughened by the things that happen to us. The process has three stages.

It produces perseverance (or endurance). That is to say, the very endurance we need in suffering is produced by it, just as antibodies are produced in the human body by infection. I’m not glad of the infection but I’m glad for what it produces. I cannot learn to stick it out without suffering, because without that suffering there would be nothing to stick out!

Secondly, perseverance produces character (or “experience” in the old version). “Character” is the quality of someone who, in the old expression, has “gone through the mill”. Interesting, isn’t it? If you have “gone through the mill”, then you’ve been pushed and pulled in every direction,  but ultimately, what comes out is a good, useful product. So it is with us. Don’t you know someone who has “been through it” and come out strong? They have character.

I always think of Matt and Beth Redman and their poignant song “Blessed be your name” with its mature reflection on this point. It’s a song of experience and trust. Character. “Suffering produces endurance and endurance, character.”

And character produces hope. Hope here means the happy certainty of final glory. When you have been through the mill and come out triumphant, your triumph is not in your own ability to withstand pressure but in your developing insight into what God is doing, and into what he will do, ultimately. “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it…” Ultimately, even in the mad roller-coaster ride of our lives, HE is centre-stage, number one, the hero of my life, not me. He is working to transform my character so that it radiates with his glory. I expect it. I anticipate it, and I see all this “stuff” happening, as part of the journey into it.

And that’s the link that is always there, between suffering and glory. So if in v2 we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, then in v3 we rejoice in our sufferings too, because glory is the end and suffering is the means to the end.

Both and. Not either or.

And Paul –who knew very well what it was to go through physical pain and hardship– selects an interesting word to describe his response to suffering. In English, you choose between saying “I’m pleased” or “I’m happy” or “It’s ok, I guess.” But Paul pushes it up a notch: “I’m delighted” “I’m thrilled” “I’m ecstatic”. He uses a word that describes punching a fist in the air and shouting YES. I EXULT in my sufferings. I gloat over them, not because of what they are but because of what they do, pushing me into Christ, developing my resolve to be in him.

Help me to trust you when the going gets tough, my dear Lord, knowing that that’s exactly what it takes to make me tough. I give you permission to so work in my life to make me like you.

Lord, let your will be done.

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