Thought for the Week - 25th MarchMark Rodgers
Romans 5: 3-4
…we know that suffering produces perseverance;
perseverance, character; and character, hope.
The shaking and shaping power of suffering An older lumberjack was cutting down trees in the forest. Just as he was going to take his first strike, he heard a small bird chirping above him. Looking up he noticed the bird was making a nest in the tree. Being a compassionate man, he beat the tree to warn the bird. The bird flew away to another tree, where it again started to build its nest. The lumberjack realised he’d have to cut down that tree too. Again he beat the tree until the bird moved to another tree. By the end of the day, the bird had moved several times and was feeling harassed. It had spent its energy all day starting to build a nest before being moved on by the lumberjack. Eventually the bird caught on. Noticing a rock shelf in the distance, it flew there to start building its nest. God shakes our life in just the same way as the lumberjack shook that tree. Why does He do that? Because He is teaching us something. Every time that happens in our life, every time suffering comes in, testing comes in and shaking comes in, He’s actually teaching us something through that. He is teaching us that everything around us ultimately crumbles and falls down, no matter how strong it is. He is teaching us that the only foundation that we can build our lives upon, just like that bird, is a solid rock. The Bible tells us as Christians what that rock is. That rock is Jesus Christ. Through these times where we’re shaking and suffering, God is teaching us not to secure our lives in our possessions, our positions or in other people. Our lives have to be secured in Him. That’s the only safe place where we can build our lives. Jesus tells a parable of two men, one who built his house on sand and the other who built his house on rock. When they finished building their houses, both were built well. But what tested the stability of the houses was the storms that came. When those storms came, they acted as a revealer. As the storms beat against these houses, what was revealed was where they had built. The one man’s house began to fracture, subside and collapse as the storm raged against it. The other man’s house remained standing. That is what suffering does in our life. It has this shaking and shaping effect. God wants to be the anchor of our lives. When ships are moored off the coast, the anchor has to be secured on the bed where it is so that it’s not moved and torn away by any storms. In exactly the same way, God is wanting to be the anchor of our life. He is wanting to be the foundation of our life, which we build upon. One of the things that suffering and testing does in our lives, is that it makes us into people that we could never be otherwise. Imagine a packet of seeds. Imagine that each of those seeds have a personality. In their packet they’ll be warm, cosy, safe from the elements and happy all together. But the potential that lays ahead within those seeds can never be truly realised until they’re placed into the dark, inhospitable soil. As one is placed into that soil and pressed into that soil, suddenly it encounters an environment that’s completely alien to what it’s used to. That seed, in those moments, has a choice. It can either allow all the elements around it to overtake it and destroy it, or it can begin to persevere. As it begins to persevere internally, suddenly it begins to grow. Shoots begin to come out from that seed. Life comes out of that seed; life which brings hope. In the midst of trial and adversity, this seed is suddenly persevering. As its persevering, that persevering is producing a hope. It’s growing and growing. Its character is being shaped in that soil. That seed becomes something it could never have become without being placed in that hostile environment. Suffering has this shaking power and shaping power. It produces something. In Romans 5, Paul says:
we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.Think back to when you were at school. Think about the different types of academic tests you went through. What did it do for you? Apart from causing you anguish, pain and stress. It taught you something. It taught you what you know, and it taught you what you didn’t know. If we don’t have fair tests, regular tests, and hard tests, then we’re not going to grow much, because we’re not going to learn much. Tests have that ability of teaching us and revealing to us. Tests are a real revealer. Not just in a negative way. We often think of suffering and tests that come into our lives in a negative aspect. But there’s a tremendous positive aspect as well. Because when tests come in, and suddenly in the midst of all that, we’re standing and we’ve learnt how to cry out to God and lean on God. Suddenly we’re looking and seeing our faith is on a solid foundation. Years ago, a storm swept the Hebrides. It had winds of 170mph that swept across the island. The waves battered the shores. The following day, the locals discovered that in one area of the island a small ancient village had been revealed. It had been hidden under the sand for centuries. The winds and waves had scoured all the dirt that was on the surface, revealing something that laid underneath, hidden for centuries. God does that kind of things in our life. He brings these storms into our lives and He bring suffering into our lives, because it’s a revealer. He loves every single one of us as just the way we are. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. He demonstrated His love for us, while we were still sinners. But God loves us enough not to leave us the way we are. The Bible gives us a very powerful picture in Jeremiah. Jeremiah says these words in Jeremiah 48: 11:
Moab has been at rest from youth, like wine left on its dregs, not poured from one jar to another– she has not gone into exile. So she tastes as she did, and her aroma is unchanged.This is a picture of a people who have not gone through testing. They’ve not experienced the shaping power. The picture Jeremiah gives us is of wine-making. They would pick the grapes, store them in vats, and tread them with their feet. All of this beautiful grape juice would collect in the vat and settle down. After being trod and squished, the juice gets to rest. As it rests, all the dregs settle on the bottom. The juice begins to ferment. The winemaker would come along, grab the vat and pour in into another jar. As he poured it, he would be careful to leave behind as much of the dregs as possible. As the grape juice is poured into the vessel, all of the dregs that are still remaining go all the way down to the jar. And the winemaker leaves it. It settles, it matures. One day he pours it yet again into another vat, leaving even more dregs behind. The process would happen again and again until a beautiful, pure wine was left behind. It could only have that sharp vinegar removed because it had gone through a process of being turned out and the dregs left, time and time again. Jeremiah shows us that the people of Moab are like a vat of grape juice that has been left just as it is… dregs and all. Moab had been at rest and left alone. It had not faced testing or exile. It was therefore like wine that was left to settle on its dregs. As a consequence it tasted exactly how it always tasted, rather than beautiful wine. Her aroma hadn’t changed – it was still like vinegar grape juice. That is the shaping and shaking power of suffering in our life. Suffering is a friend. That might sound quite unusual and masochistic. As an example, consider someone going on a healthy diet and exercise program. You might suffer hunger pangs, missing food, eating lots of the same healthy food, aching legs from the treadmill etc. But that program is your friend. It’s producing something in you, whether it be weight loss or a healthier physicality. Suffering produces perseverance. Perseverance produces character. And character produces hope. It has a productive capacity. Think of gold. Gold is a substance that is beautiful. Even just 9 carat looks really beautiful. But you only really get to see what that gold is all about when you place all the nuggets into a melting pot and put it into a ferocious, hot furnace. Then you get to see what the gold is all about. All the blackish residue – the impurities – are suddenly revealed in the gold. We can be the same – sometimes it’s only in suffering that we see ourselves for who we really are. But that can be encouraging as well. When we see what God has done in our lives, and built in our lives. The gold comes out and the smelter takes a ladle and skims all that grimy, dirty residue off the surface. The fire is a revealer. It reveals something. It’s not left where it is. The fire reveals so that the goldsmith is able to purify the gold. When the gold comes out, it has a time of rest just like the wine. But yet again, it goes back into even hotter flames so that more impurities can be found and taken out. In Job 23:10 Job says this of God:
…when he has tested me, I will come forth as pure gold.That is the shaping and the shaking power of suffering. When we let God work His own way in our suffering, and when we learn like the bird not to stay in our tree when it’s being shaken, He is teaching us to build our life on the foundation that will never be shaken. He’s teaching us to plant and secure all of our life in Jesus Christ and nowhere else. Amen.