I hear many times a day about the weird times we’re living in. Although they are weird to this present generation, they aren’t new within the course of history. This isn’t the first time there’s been a pandemic, social unrest, rumors of wars or financial collapse, and a volatile political climate. It is, however, the first time for us to experience it, and seemingly all at the same time. Weird might be an understatement. Over the last few months, I’ve spoken with many friends and clients who have described having a growing uneasiness about the future. At times I share this feeling, which may be a combination of dealing with the circumstances that are already here while bracing for whatever may come next.
The space of not knowing what’s next or when ‘normal’ may return can feed anxiety, an increasing sense of heaviness, or hopelessness for the future. It’s times like these when we see just how not in control we are. So if we’re not in control, who is, and just how rocky will this road be? When on a rocky road with curves that go around unknown bends, hope is a pretty good traveling fellow to have with you. Hope is important because it’s the expectation of good things not yet seen. God knows all about hope and how to get it. He writes about it many times throughout the Bible because there hasn’t been an age that didn’t need it. His word to the ancient world about hope applies just as much now as it did then. A scripture that God has laid on my heart lately is Romans 5:3-5, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” It seems ironic that the road to hope is paved with suffering. One might think that suffering is the very thing that extinguishes hope. The mental block for me is trying to make the leap from suffering to hope without considering what happens at each step, and what is needed to persevere in the first place.
Perseverance is continuing in a course of action even in the face of difficulty. In order to persevere in something, there needs to be discipline. Discipline is another word that God has put in my mind recently, which is pretty useful when you think about it as a training tool, instead of a punishment. Athletes discipline their bodies, scholars discipline their minds, and anyone pursuing any new skill or ability will have to discipline, or train, themselves up for that skill. Perseverance is a skill, it doesn’t just happen on its own without strength being put into it. There’s no way I’d race through a marathon just by jumping up and throwing on some shoes. I’d have to train, practice, and commit my mind and body to the task first. Discipline is a key ingredient to perseverance.
So how does discipline relate to the idea of perseverance and hope in Romans 5? Let’s play this out with an example. The time to start exercising and eating well isn’t once you get sick, it’s beforehand because you can better persevere through a sickness if your general physical health is good. It’s the same with our spiritual health. When we discipline ourselves to pursue our relationship with God on a daily basis it builds the spiritual chops needed to be sustained in times of suffering. By already being close to God, we can use His strength to help us persevere when we enter into hardship.
It’s in this process of perseverance that we see His character, as well as our own. When the chips are down we learn a lot about ourselves, what we’re made of, and where our faith really lies. If we’ve been disciplining our faith all along, we can actually see God’s words come to life and work in us when we need it the most. The closer we are to God, the more His character is infused with our own, and the better we’re able to see an eternal perspective to our present problems. That is when hope is ushered in, and the belief that we are more than these circumstances, and that a sovereign, good, and loving Lord is at the helm.
I believe discipline is at the beginning of this formula because we can’t hope in a God we don’t know. So, how can we discipline our faith? By committing, even and especially when we don’t feel like it, to the actions that are needed to nurture any relationship: communication, pursuit, and fellowship. Communicating with God can be a simple prayer, or just talking in your head with Him. Pursuing God through His written word reveals not just who God is, but who you are to Him and His promises for you. Finally, fellowshipping helps us relate to and learn from other’s experiences that can reveal God’s nature. Simply put, we build our faith by consistently spending time with the object of our faith, and by intentionally prioritizing the relationship, even at times when it is difficult.
I have to admit, few people would call me disciplined. I struggle in this department, but because it is important I am committing myself to the effort. Times are difficult, but they will not last forever. There is a real reason for hope, and there is a pathway for finding it. If you are feeling fearful or struggling to have hope in your life, we are here to help you find your path.
You can call (225) 341-4147 to talk with Cheryl or another Crossroads counselor.