No matter how many times I used to read this verse, my response was never “Amen.” Consider it joy when you face trials and suffer? How on earth could I do that when rejoicing is the last thing I can imagine doing in my time of suffering? And what is so great about perseverance? Then I saw an article about a group of people who had endured more suffering than I can even imagine.
Several Vietnam Prisoners of War were being interviewed; and they shared horrific tales of solitary confinement, near-death beatings, and starvation, among other various forms of torture. Then they were asked a simple question, “If you could go back and erase the years you lost as a POW, would you choose to completely avoid it?” Surprisingly the general consensus was, “No.” But why? Most of them gave some form of the same answer: because they learned things about themselves in those horrific times. They had gained, through the severe torture and isolation, mental and psychological tools that helped them out in many different circumstances for the rest of their lives. They found that perseverance, the resilience that comes with surviving a trauma, flows into other parts of life. Once you rise out of one trauma, you become stronger and more able to be able to handle trials and suffering later in life. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Look at Paul’s life in the Bible. He was arrested and imprisoned on and off throughout his life; however, his one and only concern was to bring attention and glory to Christ. This focus was so strong that even being in prison could not deter him from writing fourteen of the most influential books of the Bible. All of those trials and suffering created in Paul a hyper-focused perseverance, making him capable of facing multiple obstacles without stopping.
Think about it; for most of Paul’s life he was privileged. He was a Pharisee, and he had the full support of the Sanhedrin, the executors of the law. Only when he proclaimed his conversion to Christianity did his troubles begin. Yet, when we read about his time of persecution, we do not see him calling for rebellions or retribution; we get to enjoy some of the greatest passages on love, faith, and fellowship that have ever been written. Just like the POW’s, Paul’s suffering gave him a reason to focus, to sharpen his mind and spirit. Paul’s pain allowed him to rise up as the greatest apostle of Christ that ever lived.
We may never truly get to the point in our lives where we celebrate trials and pain, but perhaps we can learn from the many people before us, to whom great things came through personal adversity. Rising up from our pain creates inside of us a new hope, a faith that brings perseverance. This is the character building perseverance that created the tools of endurance and strength that helped the POW’s and Paul throughout the rest of their lives as they faced new and different obstacles. Without enduring deeply painful trials, we would continue to be ill prepared for every stumbling block that life throws us; but the change that comes from within us from choosing to continue facing (and eventually come through) these hard times is a life-long reward of wholeness, even in the face of tribulation.
What are some ways that you are growing through this experience?