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Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,
and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
(Rom 5:1-5 ESV)
I hate to admit it, but to me the Scripture passage above always seemed to start at soaring heights, only to plop down with an ungraceful thud.
I would start out reading words that promised to make all of my life's sufferings worthwhile, promised to make sense of the pain. Promised to make me dare to hope again...even though for many years I had hated hope with my whole being.
Yes, yes, that's what I want. I need to know that this agony called life will be worth it all in the end! So tell me...why won't hope put me to shame? It always has, you know. Hope strings you along and then drops you in the dust and grinds your face in the shards of your shattered dreams. Hope is a cruel trickster, a sadistic torturer who preys on weaklings who are stupid enough to believe its lies.
So tell me...why doesn't hope put me to shame?
"Because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."
With apologies to Tina Turner, what's love got to do with it?
Want to confuse an Olympic hopeful? Tell him to keep sweating and agonizing because...what? He'll get gold and glory? No, he'll get God's love poured out in his heart. He'll look at you like you're nuts. Love is nice, but that's not what he's suffering for.
Romans 5:5 may be a nice sentiment, Lord, but love isn't what I'm suffering for. You'll need to do better than that if you want to convince me to hope again.
Let those words simmer in your ears. "Love isn't what I'm suffering for."
Are you sure? Maybe it's not your goal for your suffering, but could it be His goal for your suffering?
Love is what Jesus suffered for. True, He suffered for sin...ours, not His. But He didn't have to do that. He could have just annihilated us, or tossed us all into damnation without a backward glance. It was His love for us that brought Him to Bethlehem, to the dusty streets of Israel, to Calvary, to the grave.
And that journey took Him back into glory, as the firstborn from the dead, followed by all those that He purchased for Himself with His own blood.
Either He was a fool, or love is worth suffering for.
Maybe...just maybe...love is the only thing worth suffering for.
As my prayer life has become increasingly focused on aligning my priorities with His, I'm finding this whole messy "love" business is becoming more central. And because I'm such a self-centered person, love is something I mostly grieve because of its weakness or even absence in my life. Only occasionally do I get to rejoice because of how strongly love has poured out of me.
Every sin you and I commit is, at the very least, a failure to love. Unquestionably, sin is always a failure to love the Lord with all our heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, which is the most important commandment. And most sins also spring from our failure to love our neighbor as ourselves, which Jesus says is the second most important thing we should do. And each of these failures harms us and harms those around us. Sometimes the wounds are deep and lasting.
The more I kneel to pray God's priorities, and the more I see the wounds I cause when I choose my own priorities over God's, the more I find myself pleading for God to fill me with love for Himself and for others.
And suddenly Romans 5:1-5 begins to make sense.
"Hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."
The words of encouragement won't make any sense until your priorities line up with His. But when they do, you'll find the encouragement runs deep. (See Ps 37:4 for another example of this truth...that promises depend on priorities.)
"Lord, I am choosing to hope in Your love for me, and in the outpouring of Your Spirit that will change my heart into a loving one, so that I will love both You and my neighbor as I should. And I am trusting you that this growth in love will make all of life's sufferings worthwhile."