With the Seattle Mariner baseball season on the horizon, it seems like a good time to talk about suffering and endurance. Last year’s Mariner advertising slogan was “Ready to play.” Unfortunately, they forgot to complete the slogan with an adverb such as “well,” or “adequately.” Consequently, last year we experienced another Mariner season that surpassed our lowest expectations. Rumor has it the official slogan is slightly tweaked this year to “Ready to play better than last year. . . We really mean it this time.”
Regardless of how dire things might look, hope does spring eternal in the form of a new season. Who knows, this could be our year to win more games than we lose. And if we win our first game, well the sky is the limit. At least until the batting averages settle into a mediocre grove. Ah yes, Mariners baseball, let us persevere as we rejoice in our suffering.
In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Roman church, he gives us insight into the power of perseverance. In chapter five he tells us to rejoice in our suffering because suffering leads to perseverance, and perseverance leads to character, and character leads to hope, and hope does not put us to shame because we have put our trust in Jesus.
At first glance, this progression seems a bit confusing. However, deeper study shows the logic of this powerful scripture. First, suffering is a reality of existence. As sure as the Mariners exist, suffering will exist. Even so, this is not bad news because when we suffer God will provide the strength for us to endure. As we stand our ground in the face of suffering, the character of Christ rises up within us. Having God’s character grow in us gives us hope that God is, in fact, with us and for us.
As our character changes, we are able to live with greater uncertainties, confusions, and persecutions. Consequently, suffering produces hope that does not shame us or embarrass us. We have hope that leads us toward genuine spiritual growth and transformation. Therefore, we rejoice in suffering!
I want to encourage you to hold onto Jesus in the midst of your suffering. Spiritual maturity is rooted in enduring. Sadly, many Christians miss out on developing a mature relationship with God. Instead of persevering, we run away or pull back in the face of struggle. Pulling back can have many different expressions. Some pull back by disconnecting from relationships or communities. Some retreat through abandoning their previous commitments to give God their first and best offering. Ultimately, pulling back is the process of abandoning our God inspired path in the face of unforeseen hardship.
This might sound strange to some, but I want to challenge you to embrace the power of endurance. Too often we define fulfillment as the ability to free ourselves from difficulties, trials, or hardships. Too often we try to improve our lives by avoiding any behavior or community that will bring us hardships or struggles. Unfortunately, this avoidance stunts our spiritual maturity and witness.
The Bible calls us to a different path. Jesus is said to have learned obedience through the things he suffered. Paul tells us that it is a privilege to share in the fellowship of Christ’s suffering. In other words, spiritual maturity is frequently rooted in confronting trials head on. In the face of suffering, we are not like those who shrink back. Instead, we stand our ground with a bold confidence that he who began a good work in us will continue to perform that good work until Christ returns.
So please remember that suffering is not an obstacle to experiencing abundant life or spiritual growth. Although suffering is not pleasant, if we endure we will develop spiritual maturity that will increase our character and hope in God! In other words, don’t lose heart Mariner fans. . . It’s a character building year!