Prison or Classroom
Through Him we also have access by faith into this [remarkable state of] grace in which we [firmly and safely and securely] stand. Let us rejoice in our hope and the confident assurance of [experiencing and enjoying] the glory of [our great] God [the manifestation of His excellence and power]. And not only this, but [with joy] let us exult in our sufferings and rejoice in our hardships, knowing that hardship (distress, pressure, trouble) produces patient endurance; and endurance, proven character (spiritual maturity); and proven character, hope and confident assurance [of eternal salvation]. Such hope [in God’s promises] never disappoints us, because God’s love has been abundantly poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Life is all about perspective. If we see difficult people and painful situations as threats, they become prisons for our souls. Like inmates in medieval dungeons, we languish away for days and weeks, wishing the problems would just go away, or we try frantically to get out any way we can.
Whether our problems are caused by our own mistakes, the sins of others, natural disasters, or anything else, our difficulties can, instead of dungeons, become classrooms where we learn life’s greatest lessons- if we’ll pay attention to them.
In some circles today, Christian leaders teach that God wants everybody to have peace and plenty, lots of money, and all the happiness in the world. That may sell books, but it doesn’t help much when God allows difficulties to take us deeper into a relationship of trusting Him. In his letter to the Romans, Paul recommends a different perspective, one that sees problems not as prisons but as classrooms where God gets our attention, transforms our character, and gives us strong hope in the things that are most valuable- His will and His ways. Eventually, the lessons take us to the heart of God, where we experience His kindness and love more deeply than ever before.
We all experience difficulties. Will we see them as prisons or as classrooms?
There is nothing in my life that has not been filtered through the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The Bible is filled with stories of those who chose to allow their difficulties as classrooms rather than prisons. It’s not that the situations were easy or something they just breezed through. Many of them had hard lessons but their success was in the fact that they allowed their difficulty to be used for learning rather than destruction.
How we respond to life’s challenges determines the outcome. Paul opens his comments in Romans 5:2 by saying, “Through Him (Christ) we have access by faith into grace by which we firmly stand.” In order for us to face life’s challenges we must have a relationship built on faith and trust in God. It is in the fiery trial that our measure of faith is revealed and if our roots aren’t anchored in Christ, the wind of adversity can blow us away.
Jesus, in the parable of the sower makes this observation:
The one on whom seed was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and at once welcomes it with joy; yet he has no [substantial] root in himself, but is only temporary, and when pressure or persecution comes because of the word, immediately he stumbles and falls away [abandoning the One who is the source of salvation]. And the one on whom seed was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the worries and distractions of the world and the deceitfulness [the superficial pleasures and delight] of riches choke the word, and it yields no fruit.
Some years ago when I was working construction, some of my work was done for a mobile home dealer. As we set up the homes, one requirement was that they were anchored. We ran anchors deep into the ground and ran straps from the house to the anchor and locked it down so that when the wind blew, the house would stay on its foundation. Quite often it was difficult getting the anchor deep into the ground and there was the temptation to leave it shallow, but we knew that in doing so we were placing the family at great risk in a storm, so we anchored deep. This is what Jesus is saying to us in the parable. Anchor deep. Dig down until your life is anchored to the foundation of Christ.
In the second part of the above text, Jesus also tells us that we can allow “the worries and distractions of the world and the deceitful ness of riches to choke the word.” Even as I’m writing today, I’m aware of the many who have chose to no longer associate themselves with the church. For them, the worries of the pandemic, or the fact that church gatherings have taken on different forms and their belief that someday everything will go back to the way it was before the pandemic has made a prison of their circumstances.
The second thing that Paul tells us in Romans 5 is “Let us rejoice in our hope and the confident assurance of the glory of God.” If your head is hung down in defeat and despair and like Peter, you’re focused on the storm rather than Christ, you will drown in your adversity. Many are those who have given in and given way to the despair of the calamity rather than digging deep into their trust and hope in God.
The third thing that Paul says is somewhat shocking for he says, “And not only this, but let us exult in our sufferings and rejoice in our hardships.” This was not written from a man who knew nothing of suffering and hardship. Perhaps he was one wha had suffered more than most. In his letter to the Corinthians, he enumerates some of his hardships.
“Are they [self-proclaimed] servants of Christ?—I am speaking as if I were out of my mind—I am more so [for I exceed them]; with far more labors, with far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, and often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent adrift on the sea; many times on journeys, [exposed to] danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own countrymen, danger from the Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger on the sea, danger among those posing as believers; in labor and hardship, often unable to sleep, in hunger and thirst, often [driven to] fasting [for lack of food], in cold and exposure [without adequate clothing]. Besides those external things, there is the daily [inescapable] pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel [his] weakness? Who is made to sin, and I am not on fire [with sorrow and concern]?”
2 Corinthians 11:23-29
In his letter to the Romans, Paul says that he chose his hardships to be classrooms so that he might learn more of God, deepen his faith and trust in God and as his weaknesses were revealed to rely more and more on the power of God. You might say he learned to make lemonade out of his lemons.
Paul tells us that adversity has a purpose if we will make it a classroom instead of a prison. He says, “hardship produces patient endurance, and endurance, proven character, hope and confident assurance.” Whatever you are going through, look for the lesson. Perhaps God wished to reshape that part of your life. Perhaps He is allowing discomfort to motivate you for change. Whatever the case, God never allows adversity for the sake of adversity. He never allows us to experience hardship and suffering without having a purpose for them. We read often Romans 8:28 and I think sometimes we think that God is working only in good things but that verse says “All things work together for the good…..”
I realize that the pandemic has been stressful. It has brought many changes to our lives in unprecedented ways. Some would say that it has wrecked havoc in the church and caused us to give up a lot of our norms. Some have chose to let the pandemic to put them in prison and like a prisoner their whole focus is the day they get out. They are like ships in a storm who have lost their anchor and are tossed to and fro by the unceasing waves of adversity.
Thankfully others have made the pandemic a classroom rather than a prison and have sought the creativity of God and while they recognize they are in a storm, and while they, too, long for a pre-pandemic world again, they choose to learn new lessons and discover new means to live and to enjoy life and the blessings of God. You see we all can choose how we face adversity. Listen to the words of a man such as Paul who had more than his share of change and hardship.
“Such hope in God never disappoints us, because God’s love has been abundantly poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
Whatever the outcome of the pandemic or your personal hardship or adversity, remember that because God’s love has been poured out on us all these things can be a classroom to teach us deeper truths and greater trust in the One who loves us.
So we choose to rejoice in our adversities knowing that in adversity we seek and find more of the presence and power of God.
I’ve said this often, “Adversity doesn’t make us, it reveals our character. I truly believe we as the people of God and the church are in defining moments. Will we allow the adversity to define us and to conquer us or we we allow God in the adversity to define who we are and what we will do? We get to choose.
Dr. John Thompson