Author Marshall Shelley, who suffered the deaths of two of his children, says: "Even as I child, I loved to read, and I quickly learned that I would most likely be confused during the opening chapters of a novel. New characters were introduced. … seemingly random events took place. … But I learned to keep reading. Why? Because you know that the author… will weave them all together by the end of the book. Eventually, each element will be meaningful. At times, such faith has to be a conscious choice. Even when I can't explain why a chromosomal abnormality develops in my son, which prevents him from living on earth more than two minutes ... even when I can't fathom why our daughter has to endure two years of severe and profound retardation and continual seizures ... I choose to trust that before the book closes, the author will make things clear."
Living in the spirit puts into perspective the heartaches and suffering of the flesh. When you choose to live by the Spirit, the problems of the flesh are secondary in terms of whether you are alive or not, healthy or not, how you handle the problems of the flesh… You can crush my body, I can get diseases, hurts, tragedy can strike my life, but this old world has no power over the Spirit of God in me… God, the author of my life, will make things clear. The sufferings of this world are secondary, oh, they are very real, but secondary because suffering is in the world of the flesh. I choose to live by the Spirit.
No one gets a free ride through life. My brother-in-law Tom Tjoelker sometimes says, “if you live long enough you will get cancer.” His father, Lawrence, died of cancer about age 50. Into each life some rain must fall. It’s part of the story. No one lives in the sunshine forever. When my father died, I was amazed how often I heard the question, “Why do the good ones die young.” I don’t get that question, the better question, why are we privileged to live as long as we do?
Different ways to deal with suffering: denial… anger… blame others… or
Accept and learn from it…this is the response we find in Rom. 8: really only two options in facing suffering: become a victim or you can become a student. If you see yourself as a victim, you are focusing too much on the flesh, and you have quit reading the story. But if you choose to be a student, you are simply turning the page to see how the story continues. When you are guided by the Spirit, suffering is never the end. God will make things clear. Being a student means asking yourself, “What have I learned from this? What is God trying to say to me? How can I grow from this painful experience?”
READ Rom. 8:18. The sufferings of this life, although they are terrible, are not even worth comparing with the greatness of the glory that will be revealed to us. This is birthed in our spiritual nature… That is a revolutionary perspective on life. If you ever let that thought grip you–that what God has for you is incomparably greater than what you are going through right now–it will revolutionize the way you look at your problems. God is a brilliant author of your life story. The story God writes, if you choose to read all the way to the end, is a story of victory, a story of hope, a story of tragedy to triumph, a story of suffering to glory.
As the scripture continues, Three Unchanging Truths regarding suffering. The story God writes has rules.
Rule # 1: Our Suffering is Temporary. Rom. 8:19-22
We live in a frustrating world, don’t we? Nothing works the way it is supposed to. You buy something, it breaks, you fix it, it works for awhile, and then breaks again. Esther has had about five phones just quit on her! Things wears out and you have to replace them. That’s what Paul means when he says the creation was subjected to frustration. Nothing lasts forever, nothing works right.
But it’s not just creation, it’s also you and me. We don’t work right either. Our bodies don’t last forever. People are born with problems. When my grandfather was alive, he used the Good News Bible. At the end he had Parkinson’s disease. One of the heavily underlined scriptures was Ecclesiastes 12:1-5 (GNB). A wonderful description of old age… READ. I’ve heard some of you say, “Getting old isn’t for whimps”
Rom. 8:21 speaks of the “bondage to decay.” We live in a decaying, frustrating world.
Yet what else does verse 21 say? “The creation itself will be liberated…” Rom. 8:22 compares the suffering to the pain of childbirth – the suffering gives way to the joy of a new baby, new life… When God is the author, the suffering turns to glory, the pain results in new life. You may not know the turns and twists in the story of your life, but you know God will make the story clear.
Rule #2: Our Suffering is Educational. Rom. 8:23-25 READ
We groan inwardly, Paul says. Anyone feel sorry for yourself this week? As we wait, we groan…. The kids complain in the backseat of a car trip, “Are we there yet?” We complain because of a job we hate. nothing to eat in the house? When I was a kid growing up it was customary to have a roast beef on Sunday afternoons, and guess what, we kids complained, “Roast Beef” again! We groan because of unfulfilled dreams. / our bodies break down. / marriages break up. / children go astray. We groan because our friends disappoint us.
Why does God allow such groaning? Why doesn’t he do something about it? Doesn’t he know what we’re going through? Doesn’t he care?
The Bible says God allows our pain for a purpose. READ Rom. 8:24-25. Keep on reading the story determined to see it all the way through to the end. On occasion I read classic literature. A few years ago I decided to read Moby Dick. What a thick and boring and tedious book: It must be 100 pages before the main character arrives on the scene, Captain Ahab. Hundreds of pages on whaling, and blubber… I was determined to read all the way to end, the truth is that this is how my stubbornness comes out, I wanted to say I did it. I kept on reading. When I got to the end, I was amazed at how the story all came together, the haunting story of Moby Dick.
God is the author of your story. When you find yourself groaning, in distress, suffering, keep on reading. You know victory is coming in the end. When you keep on reading in assurance that all will be well, it is called Hope. Hope is a settled confidence in the face of suffering knowing that God will someday keep all his promises. When you live with an expectant hope, patience is produced…
Our suffering is educational in that it teaches us hope and patience–two qualities that can’t be gained any other way other than by living life. You cannot learn to have patience by reading about it. You can’t be a hopeful person without something to hope for… READ Rom. 8:25. You only hope for that which you do not have. If you have it, you don’t have to hope for it. I don’t hope for a beautiful wife because I have a beautiful wife! But if you don’t have it, then hope teaches you to wait patiently for it.
What is it that we are waiting for? Paul calls it “our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23). We’re waiting for the day when our bodies will be redeemed, when we can turn in the old model and get a brand new one from the Lord. Sound good? There is coming a day when you won’t grow old and you won’t get cancer. You won’t need drugs to make you better. Jesus Christ will give you a brand new body. Right now you’re trying to scheme your way into a better situation. But eventually you’ll say, “Lord, if it takes forever, go ahead. Take your time. My hope is in you. I will keep reading to the end of the book.”
Temporary/ Educational & Rule #3: Our Suffering is Beneficial. READ Rom. 8:26-27
It sounds strange to say that our suffering can somehow be beneficial to us. How can cancer be beneficial? How can the loss of a job be beneficial? How can a broken marriage be beneficial? How can tears at midnight be beneficial?
Our text explains it this way: Our suffering reveals our weakness. It strips away the mask of self-sufficiency and reveals our helplessness. It makes us say, “I’m not as strong as I thought I was. I’m not invincible." Verse 26 says the Spirit “helps” us in our weakness. He sees when we are in trouble and he comes to our aid. Paul tells us that the Spirit “intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express." I like the little story: A father, walking past his 5 year old daughter’s room one night, proudly noticed she was on her knees in prayer. Listening in, he heard this curious prayer- "abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz"- repeated several times. When she was finished, he asked her what it meant: "God is really smart," she said, "when I don’t know what to pray about, I just say the alphabet and He figures it out for me"
Have you ever been in a situation so desperate you couldn’t pray? Have you ever been so emotionally exhausted that you tried to pray but the words wouldn’t come out? There are times we don’t have the words, it’s too much… when Esther was born… then when Bianca was born Sally…
One person made this observation: “The more you care about something, the harder it is to pray for it…It’s easy to pray for people you don’t know because it doesn’t matter that much [to you personally] whether or not your prayers are answered. The more you care, the harder it is to pray. When it comes to those things in your life that really matter–your husband, your wife, your children–those things are hard to pray for because they are close to your heart.”
Paul is telling us that in your weakness, when you feel desperate about the things that truly matter to you, and you don’t know what to say, the message is, “Don’t worry. That’s enough because there is someone inside you who is praying for you.” When you come to the moment of complete exhaustion and can no longer frame the words, you don’t have to worry. The Holy Spirit will pray for you. In your weakness he is strong. When you cannot speak, he speaks for you.
The problem of suffering is real. I don’t know why the world is the way it is, broken relationships, fighting, personal struggles, illness, disease, but I do know that the author of your story is a good writer. Patiently wait for the end of the story to be revealed. It is a good story, even if we can’t figure out the purpose for problems in the middle of the book. Read with hope. The problems are temporary. God will bring everything together in his time. The Spirit himself will come alongside you praying when you run out of words. Suffering is temporary, victory is assured in the end. Suffering is educational, keep living life in the Spirit with hope and patience. Suffering is beneficial, for when you are weak, the Holy Spirit himself is strong and knows the right words. When heartaches and difficulties visit your life and your home, keep on reading, for God only writes stories of victory for those who trust him. Amen.