Fingernails on the Chalkboard

Fingernails on the chalkboard. Leaky bathroom faucets at 4:00 a.m. Chirping smoke alarms that can’t be found. Screaming toddlers in the cereal aisle at the grocery store. Annoying? Off-putting?

The little (and sometimes big) irritations of daily living can steal our joy and sabotage our relationships. Chain reactions occur. Dad comes home furious because his work supervisor belittled him in front of a colleague. Dad yells at Mom for parking her car in front of the mailbox. Mom hollers at Junior for tracking mud from the yard onto the just-vacuumed carpet. Junior kicks Fido. Fido snarls at Puff the cat. And Puff, well Puff always carries a grudge.

Does God want us to squirm? Does our Heavenly Father intentionally place us between a rock and a hard place occasionally? Most certainly. I believe the answer is a resounding “yes.” He allows us to daily drive over potholes to cultivate godly character.  

Listen to the words of Paul the apostle in Romans 5:3-5:

"...we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." NIV

When God puts our feet to the fire, our instinctive response is to pull away and search for the aloe vera. But we must allow the Holy Spirit to take us behind the heavenly curtain to see God’s long-range eternal purpose. Notice God’s recipe for spiritual growth: suffering, perseverance, character and hope. Paul the apostle had been through the fire himself. His words were not conjecture, they were highly personal. Persecuted, imprisoned, beaten with rods, ship-wrecked-this guy had been through the wringer. Then he writes the epistle of joy (the letter to the Philippians) from a dark dank Roman prison cell.

When, by the grace of God, you remain in the vice of suffering and allow God to do His refining work, you learn perseverance. Moreover [let us also be full of joy now!] let us exult and triumph in our troubles and rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that pressure and affliction and hardship produce patient and unswerving endurance. The Greek word for endurance is fascinating. It means holding up a stick of lumber. Can you imagine how uncomfortable it was for Moses hold the rod of God on the day the sun stood still? Joshua and the Israelite troops were battling away and the only reason they could win was if Moses’ staff was raised high to the sky like a holy cheerleader. He finally had some buddies who helped him keep his staff aloft, but can you imagine all the discomfort of feeling the blood rush down your arm and numb tingling replaced with agonizing pain and muscle spasms? When we suffer and hold our faith aloft, we become tested, tried, and experienced.

Dog trainers know the secret of God’s purpose. No matter what distractions the master-trainer places around the pet-a juicy t-bone, a petulant cat, a supersonic ear-splitting pitch-the well-trained canine never loses eye-contact with His master. In a calm voice, the master says, “Wait….wait….come!” And the doggie comes. Every time.

We must learn to do the same. Suffering’s divine purpose is to fix our eyes on our Master without wavering. Grief and loss wound us. “Wait.” A trusted friend betrays us. “Wait.” Financial reversals shake us. “Wait.” And “wait” is always followed by “Come.” God wants us to fix our eyes on Him. Take our cues from Him. Surrender to His wise wishes for our lives.

“Come, all you that are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light..” Matthew 11:28. God wants us to fix our eyes on Him. Take our cues from Him. Surrender to His wise wishes for our lives.

Perseverance produces character. Good parenting teaches a child to respond to any situation in a predictable manner. Good character is often described as “integrity” and “wholeness.” Trustworthiness is a remarkable quality. A trustworthy person is someone upon whom you can depend. A person of character has no duplicity. What you see is what you get. We must instruct our offspring to be honest, spiritual and faithful. Earnest and faithful, God’s values remain his or her bedrock for life.

So why does character produce hope? Is hope some elusive expectation that everything will turn out well in the end like some TV sitcom? Paul concludes that hope is a steady assurance of God’s deep, personal and steadfast love. The Greek word for “hope,” elpis, is a derivative of the word for God Himself, Elohim. There is no hope apart from God. Paul’s word picture describes the Holy Spirit lavishly pouring God’s divine love into our hearts and lives.

The essence of Paul’s message is that in suffering we discover the depths of God’s love for us-a love so deep and profound that our hearts are inextricably linked to God’s heart. He is our passion and our joy.

So wait. Wait. Waaaaait. Come!

“Moreover [let us also be full of joy now!] let us exult and triumph in our troubles and rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that pressure and affliction and hardship produce patient and unswerving endurance.

And endurance (fortitude) develops maturity of character (approved faith and [tried integrity). And character [of this sort] produces [the habit of] [joyful and confident hope of eternal salvation. Such hope never disappoints or deludes or shames us, for God's love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5 Amplified Bible 

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