“Dear Mom and Dad, I’m sorry to be so long in writing. Unfortunately, all my stationery was destroyed the night our dorm was set on fire by the demonstrators. I’m out of the hospital now, and the doctors say my eyesight should return — sooner or later. The wonderful boy, Bill, who rescued me from the fire, kindly offered to share his little apartment with me until the dorm is rebuilt. He comes from a good family, so you won’t be surprised when I tell you we’re going to be married. In fact, since you’ve always wanted a grandchild, you’ll be glad to know that you’ll be grandparents next month.”
“P.S. Please disregard the above practice for my class in English Composition. There was no fire, I haven’t been in the hospital, I’m not pregnant and I don’t even have a steady boyfriend. But I did get a D in French and an F in Chemistry, and I just wanted to be sure you received this news in the proper perspective.”
Your perspective makes all the difference in the world, and it influences how you respond to problems at work, problems at home, problems with your health. Paul says that as Christians we can rejoice even in tough times because we have hope and because we know that God is working in our lives. “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance.” (Romans 5:3)
Believe it or not, suffering can be productive! It does accomplish something. Problems have a purpose. Your trials and difficulties have value. Just as in childbirth so it is in other areas of life, it is easier to handle suffering when you know there is a purpose in it, and that it is not just in vain.
Now, what exactly does our suffering produce? First, Paul says our suffering produces perseverance (Romans 5:3). The Greek word for perseverance literally means “the ability to handle pressure.” That’s what perseverance is — the ability to handle pressure, to hang in there, to never give up but to keep on keeping on. When we make it through a difficult time without giving up, our character and confidence are strengthened, enabling us to handle even more pressure when it comes in the future.
Next, Paul says perseverance produces character (Romans 5:4). This word occurs only a few times in the Bible, and it means “proven reliable.” God uses the problems in your life to produce perseverance and character. And internal character, not circumstances, produces joy. Then, Paul says, character produces hope (Romans 5:4). Remember, in the Bible, the word hope doesn’t mean “I wish” or “I want.” It means confidence in Christ’s power. Instead of destroying our hope, problems are designed to increase our hope!
Problems don’t automatically produce perseverance and character and hope. Some people go through tough times, and all that happens to them is they become bitter, angry and uptight. Perseverance, character and hope are produced in us only when we choose the right attitude.
And what is the right attitude? Joy is the right attitude. James echoes Paul’s teaching on this subject: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (James 1:2-3). Notice again, joy comes “because you know.” It’s always a matter of perspective. James continues, “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (v. 4).