Ever had a moment when you need to know if the Bible is true? I don't mean vintage morality, quotable Christian platitudes or even epic doctrine you’ve window-shopped but never tried on.
I mean, truth in scripture that’ll bear your weight when you stand on it. A fact of God, that’ll keep you afloat in a deluge of doubt. A new reality that you perceive but can’t quite grasp, yet treasure like a billionaire’s signed check. You don’t have the money yet, but it’s coming, and it’ll change everything.
We know we ought to live by faith (Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38), but often we don’t. We live by pseudo-faith. Praying for God’s will (that’s actually our own), denying the denying of self (because crosses suck), and putting our trust in whatever power we have access to. Some examples are youth, health, our partner or friends, education, wealth, substances, beauty, good deeds, and distraction. Blah, blah, blah. Human nature is so cliché.
I know this is true about you because I know this is true about me. Because the Bible wouldn’t have to repeat this message if it were natural to us. Hebrews 11:6 says it's impossible to please God without faith and I'll add it's impossible to live by faith without holy help.
Did Paul Throw Me a Life Preserver, Or Am I Going to Drown?
So, I’m having a hard time. My kids (there are seven) are sick, and it feels like I’m at the doctor’s office or urgent care or the ER frequently addressing this. And some kids are up at night (can we abolish the ‘sleeping like a baby’ idiom? Babies don’t sleep all that well.) My little kids NEED ME RIGHT NOW. They are whiny and snotty and need diaper changes. My teenagers need me, too, in big and complex ways. The laundry is piling up. Everyone is STARVING. The dog threw up. The cat got out. The van needs gas. And I’m exhausted. My prayers are smoke signals. My water bottle of faith is down to the dregs.
And I need to know, like, really know, if Paul (the author of Romans and much of the New Testament) is telling me God’s truth or Hallmarking me.
Keep your sermons and hashtags. Keep your pretty out-of-context scripture verses and your Pollyanna interpretations of purpose. I’m not looking for cute Christianity, rainbows or unicorns, a palm tree on a beach or even a shoulder to cry on.
I need power. I need hope.
And not only this, but [with joy] let us exult in our sufferings and rejoice in our hardships, knowing that hardship (distress, pressure, trouble) produces patient endurance; and endurance, proven character (spiritual maturity); and proven character, hope and confident assurance [of eternal salvation]. Such hope [in God’s promises] never disappoints us, because God’s love has been abundantly poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:3-5, Amplified)
Paul, Are You Telling the Truth?
Right before this, he writes that I’ve been justified by faith and have peace with God through Christ. In addition to peace with God, which is incredible, I also have access by faith to grace.
Faith --->Peace with God
Faith ---> Access to grace
Pseudo-faith gives false security and a random seat in the nosebleed section. Real faith sweeps you through the crowd and into the throne room of grace.
Grace. Charis. It means joy, pleasure, and delight. Another helping of the Helper, my helper, the Holy Spirit who pours God’s creating, sustaining, transforming love into my heart.
There’s the billionaire’s signed check. The eternal promise. And faith is the bank, where the words become wealth.
Not only do I have peace with God and access to grace by faith, but Paul says this peace and access, which ultimately leads to an invincible hope, should cause me to rejoice and exult EVEN IN my trials.
For real, though?
Am I supposed to rejoice over the mommy slog of my life? Am I to exult in diaper changes and diagnoses and fatigue and mismatched socks?
Exult is a verb, from Latin’s exsultare. It means to “leap up.” Rejoice is Old French, rejoiss. It means to experience joy with force (that’s what the prefix ‘re’ means.)
How am I supposed to leap up and have forceful joy in this enduring situation? Clearly, Paul didn’t have seven kids!
But he was beaten frequently. Shipwrecked, hungry. Lonely, imprisoned. He was called names and delivered in chains. And when he wasn’t sleeping on a cold stone floor behind bars, he didn’t have a spouse and seven children to return to.
Lord, forgive me for complaining, and thank you for sustaining. This family, this life, is life. And I can do all things through you.
I've Got the Power
Here's the thing. I'm not an apostle like Paul who has had epic visions and whose writing credits include the Bible. I'm not a theologian, scholar, pastor or anything super churchy. I’m a mom. I've got children who are biological, adopted and who have been entrusted to me through foster care. I live on mission. Which is to say, I live with a limp. And that's why I had to sit long with Paul's words. As my grandmother would say, "I needed to be propped up, on my leanin' side."
Paul and I do have something in common though: peace with God and access by faith to grace. We've both got the Holy Spirit--all believers do. Salvation is our hope, eternal security is our promise. God showed his love for us by sending his son to die on our behalf, while we were still sinners. How much more peace, access, grace can we expect now that we're justified?
Faith is the Key
It’s not our trials per se that get us jumping for joy (crosses do suck), but the hope in God, the revelation of Christ, that the trials initiate, that should get us geeked.
We rejoice in sufferings, not because they’re cool, but because God is. Our hardships, big and small, ignite the fuse of faith, producing endurance (faithfulness over time) and proven character (integrity, spiritual maturity) that leads to hope. Hope for eternity and hope for today. Because if God has already taken care of the biggest thing, he is faithful to see to the smaller things.
This is not an insecure hope, as in, “I hope this works out” or in my case, "I hope Paul's words are true." Oh, no. This is a joyful expectation of eternal salvation. As C. S. Lewis said, "Aim at heaven and you get earth thrown in, aim at earth and you get neither."
It’s as though heaven's chalice has been dipped into the everlasting, overflowing reservoir of God’s love and poured from beyond the stars into the prepared human heart.
A heart prepared for grace, charis, by trouble.
No distress, no affliction, no trouble—no infusion of heavenly grace, no endurance, no proven character.
So, at least from Romans 5, an ingredient of temporal and eternal hope is some form of affliction, trouble, or distress. And here I am, thinking my enduring challenges mean God is distant. Instead, it’s actual proof that he’s right here with me.
The believers’ hardships are proof of God’s closeness, not his distance.
That makes me smile big and jump a little.
"Lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles and run with endurance the race set before you. "