Tuesday, 31 December 2013
The plan for 2014 (Romans 5:3-5)
What are your goals for 2014? Can I suggest, if you are a Christian, that your greatest goal should be to grow in holiness? Wouldn't it be great if this coming December you could look back and say, 'I may not be all that I ought to be but by the grace of God I am more like Jesus than I was twelve months ago'? Can I invite you to pray, 'Lord God, I ask you to do what you need to do to make me more Christlike this year'? However, beware, for such a request is an invitation to be stretched.
In this morning's passage the apostle Paul explains, 'we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.' This year God will send suffering our way whether we like it or not. The question is 'will we react to this pain in a way that makes us grow'?
Let's look at God's plan for our lives in 2014!
1. God plans to give us hope through pain.
You may want a year of comfort and ease but God has a better plan for you. He plans to let you suffer. But what do the sufferings of Romans 5 involve? Some Bible scholars say these sufferings include all the pain that we go through in life - including sickness and bereavement - whereas others limit this suffering to the ridicule, misunderstanding and opposition we endure because we are Christians. In reality both these sources of pain provide an opportunity to grow.
Jesus warned his disciples that in this world we will have trouble. Martyn Lloyd-Jones suggests that there is nothing more suspicious for a Christian than never to have trials. Our trials remind us that God is interested in us.
We will face the trial of opposition. I have a book at home entitled 'The Intolerance of Tolerance.' Our world claims to be tolerant but increasingly it despises people who hold true to Biblical truth. When we say that Jesus is the only way to God we will be labelled fundamentalist. When we say that God's design for sex is between a man and a woman in marriage we may be mocked as being puritanical or despised and called homophobic. We can't expect that a gospel that says that without Jesus we are hell-deserving sinners in desperate need of God's forgiveness will always receive a warm welcome. Perhaps the only way to avoid people's displeasure is to keep our beliefs to ourselves or compromise our message, but such actions are to ignore God's call. We don't take seriously enough Jesus' warning, 'beware when all people speak well of you.'
Some of us may lose friends this year because of what we believe. Some of us may be mocked because we are Christians. All of us will hear opinions on the TV and radio that make us feel uncomfortable and marginalised. These things hurt. But we are to glory in our sufferings.
Martin Lloyd-Jones, who believed that the sufferings referred to in these verses include all the pain that we face in life, explains, 'when a Christian is taken ill, or when things go wrong for him, of course he does not like these things ... (But) the trials and tribulations make him think of The Lord Jesus Christ again, the One he is always likely to forget.'
Pain produces a step-by-step pathway to growth. It makes us pray. It causes us to ask God for strength. In the midst of everything we may discover that he is trustworthy. We see that he is committed to keeping us going and moulding us. Our hope increases in the fact that nothing will ever separate us from his love.
'Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.' In 'The Pursuit of God' A. W. Tozer writes, 'It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.'
2. God plans us to experience hope through feeling his love his love.
This year God plans to give you hope through pain. He also wants us to have confidence in his love. 'And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.' Christians have no reason to fear being humiliated on the Day of Judgement for we now belong to God. Indeed, we can know that we have experienced God's love because of the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
Every Christian has the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. One of the ministries of the Holy Spirit is that of assuring us that we belong to God. Later in this epistle the apostle Paul writes that by the Spirit we cry, '"Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children' (Romans 8:15-16). Here he pours God's love into our hearts.
But if he pours God's love into our hearts why do we feel insecure? Why do we feel emotionally dead towards God? Why do we not have more joy?
There are many reasons why we may fail to feel the love of God? Some are down to our own failings. We won't feel much of God's love if we don't spend time thinking about him and talking with him. We may inhibit this ministry of the Holy Spirit if we grieve him by refusing to forgive and love each other. But some of the reasons we fail to feel the love of God are more innocent. We may have grown up in an emotionally deprived home and so we are not good at feeling anything. We may have an emotionally difficult parent and we subconsciously imagine that God is like them. We may misunderstand the trials that we are going through and feel that God has let us down. We may be insecure by nature. We may be passing through a time of depression. We might not have grasped how amazing God's grace is.
This year ask God to help you with any barrier that inhibits you feeling his love. Let him show you where you need to change. Face the scars you hold from the past and get help to work through them. Realise what it means to be secure in God's grace. Take time to rest if you emotions are numbed by burnout. Learn more about God and enjoy time with him. Sing your faith (for singing has a unique way of affecting the heart). Ask God to enable you to feel the love of God being poured out in your heart,
Richard Roberts died of tuberculosis at the age of thirty-six. He wrote, 'Frequently, all around me thought me about to expire. My cough was dreadful, so were the pains I felt in my chest and side; and above all the languor which oppressed me for a while seemed almost overwhelming. But while I was thus sinking I felt more of the consolations and supports of religion that I had ever experienced before. Oh, with what strong and assured confidence was I enabled to look up to my Redeemer, and how gladly would I have resigned my soul into His hands! What glorious manifestations of His love and mercy did He make to my soul, and how I rejoice to believe that in a few days more I should be with Him in glory eternal!'
Sometimes the Holy Spirit ministers to people in dramatic and unique ways but often he works by gradually increasing our confidence. He works through the word He inspired applying Biblical truths deeper into our heart. He may remove the obstacles that inhibit us from feeling God's love. Maybe by the end of this year you will be able to declare, 'I do not yet feel absolutely certain, but I feel more certain, that God is good and that he cherishes me.'
So what are you goals for 2014? God's goals for you are not that you have a pain free and easy year. He has better goals for us. He wants to make us more like Jesus. He wants to shape us through trials. As we endure we will realise that he is trustworthy and we can grow in the sure hope that nothing can separate us from his love. He wants us to feel. Christianity is about both the head and the heart. God wants you to feel the Holy Spirit pour out God's love into your heart.
In twelve months time you will not be perfect but by God's grace you will have grown. You may have passed through pain but you will have reason to rejoice. You might not be perfectly assured but you might be more confident that God is good and that he is good to you. This year God plans to give us hope through pain. This year God plans for us to feel his love.