Many of us think Christians are supposed to always be happy, and if you’re not, something’s wrong with you or your faith. We even used to sing, “At the cross … it was there by faith I received my sight, and now I am happy all the day.”
No pressure at all.
I remember the reading Job for the first time and thinking, “I don’t think Job went through life always happy, ‘like a room without a roof.’” He wasn’t alone, either. The Psalms aren’t all catchy, peppy, encouraging tunes. And, Jesus himself didn’t bounce through life in a don’t-worry-be-happy way. Scripture tells us he was a “man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3).
But Jesus was still someone who said, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.” This is a joy that comes from knowing that what you have with God is better than what you are missing in life. It comes from knowing that what he’s promised you in his Word is more secure than what you can guarantee on your own.
The Apostle Paul takes it a step further. Romans 5:3 says, “And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance” (CSB).
Rejoice in afflictions? Is Paul some kind of masochist, where he rejoices in pain for pain’s sake? Or does he like showing off how tough he is by proving he can endure a lot?
No—this is rejoicing in affliction because you know that the affliction, no matter how great, is producing something in you of greater value than a pain-free life.
Christians aren’t stoics. The Christian life is not one in which we keep a stiff upper lip, minimizing the pain around us and within us. Quite the contrary, the Christian life pushes us into the world to experience it, love it, and feel its pain more deeply.
Think about Job, who, after he lost his health, his family, and his livelihood, ripped his clothes off, shaved his head, fell to the ground, and screamed at God. Yet “throughout all this, Job did not sin or blame God for anything” (Job 1:22).
Many Christians, if they saw Job doing this, would respond a bit too much like Job’s friends. We might say, “Job, you need a faith recharge. You need to pray more. You obviously love this world too much. You need to let go and let God.”
But Job sinned not.
When affliction comes, honest lament is a good thing. We were meant to express our pain, sometimes in extreme fashion. But our lament does not lead to despair; it leads to trust. Even when we rage, we choose to rage at God. In so doing, we demonstrate trust. We may not know what God is doing, but we trust him enough with our raw emotions. And we believe, often against our own feelings, that God is up to something good through the “affliction that produces endurance.”
Endurance, you see, is the ability to keep going when you are experiencing no other earthly benefit from your faith. Affliction raises the question: Will you keep going when nothing is working out? Is God enough?
One of the pastors at the Summit recently shared his story of rejoicing in affliction:
Back in 2010, I had just come on staff at the Summit, and I prayed something absolutely foolish. I prayed that God would teach me to walk more closely to him by showing me what it meant to suffer well.
In many ways, I wish I had never prayed that prayer. And I would never tell someone else to do that. Because the next year was the hardest year of my life. A close friend died of leukemia. My wife and I lost our daughter. For months, we were in the hospital more often than we were in our own home.
I hated that season. And it took me years to even talk about it. But God walked with me in that time. And I learned what Paul says here, that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. It’s the most beautiful, most painful lesson I’ve ever learned.
Suffering in the believer’s life is like the cold that triggers your heater to come on. When the temperature in your house drops, your heater turns on, and all this wonderful warm air starts pouring out of the vents. The cold temperature didn’t create the warm air, of course—your heater does that—but the cold temperature caused the heater to kick on.
That’s how our faith works. Suffering makes our faith kick on and pours new experiences of trust and confidence—and yes, even joy—into the cold environment of suffering.
The colder the temperature gets, the hotter the furnace gets. In the same way, the greater our affliction, the more deeply we will know the joy of the Lord.