"In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed."
I Peter 1:6-7 (NIV)
I heard screaming coming from downstairs. It was the kind of screaming that made me drop everything I was doing and fly down the stairs to see what had happened. My parents were hovering around my younger brother and trying, in vain, to comfort him. A searing hot oven rack had been stepped on. My brother's agonizing screams sent chills down my spine. I couldn't watch. In an effort to cope with the screaming, I ran upstairs to my bedroom and slammed the door, throwing myself across the bed and pulling up my covers around my ears. Even though I desperately tried to ignore the screams, I could still hear the muffled cries of my brother.
After what seemed like an eternity, I took my fingers out of my ears to listen. Thinking that the worst part was over, I crept over to my door and peeked out. I could hear a soothing voice coming from my parents' bedroom. Without even realizing what I was doing, I quickly found my feet carrying me in the direction of that voice. I looked through the crack between the doorframe and the door to see my father with my brother in his arms. My brother was softly sobbing. My dad did not talk at all, just sang the words of old hymns in his beautiful baritone voice into my brother's ear. I watched, unnoticed by them both, for several minutes. The sobs gradually subsided as the singing became the loudest sound in the room. My father paced back and forth over the red square of carpet at the end of my parents' bed. I decided not to interrupt and quietly walked back to my room. I had been assured that my brother would be okay in my father's arms.
I have read Romans 5:3-5 over and over again this week, my sweet sisters. Although nothing in my human mind likes this formula, this is the way that God's plan works:
"Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."
The origin of hope that will not disappoint me is suffering. I do not develop perseverance without suffering. And my character and my fleshly nature will not change without learning to press on during very difficult circumstances. If my character remains unchanged by the Spirit of God, I will never have the kind of hope that not disappoint me. There are times when I have stepped right into the fire and not even seen it coming until I am walking on the hot coals. Suffering does not give us any warning. It is so shocking because we don't have time to prepare for it, just as my brother was completely unprepared for the agony caused by accidentally walking on that hot oven rack. His screams brought my parents running to his side. But what would have happened if he had refused their comfort?
I am begging God to give me His perspective on why suffering is part of the equation of being a Christ-follower. The apostle Paul is telling me in this passage that I am to rejoice in my sufferings. I so do not do that! I can dig in my heels and stand there screaming in the middle of the pain of my trial. I can forget that my God hears me and that He has known, since before the creation of the world, that my suffering would come.
Oh, if I could only remember that He longs to hold me, that His voice has the ability to draw me out of my pain into His comfort. Just as I watched the transformation in my brother over hearing my father's voice of comfort over his little burned feet, I need to believe that my heavenly Father promises to be with me through the fire, that as bad as it is or will yet get, I will not be set ablaze as I listen to my Abba singing over me, quieting my sobs to listen for the hope that will never disappoint me if I have the ears to listen.
Jesus, surely I would perish in my affliction if it were not for Your Word! This is the promise I cling to during the process of You changing my suffering into hope:
But now, this is what the LORD says—
He who created you, O Jacob,
He who formed you, O Israel:
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are Mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the LORD, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior... Isaiah 43:1-3