Monday, May 23, 2016

Let This Blessed Assurance Control

“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5

He had played it perfectly all week, but now barely into the third canon, he found himself stuck, forgetting the next note, and stalled in his performance. I could see it in his expression: he was embarrassed. Before him, the audience of parents, fellow young pianists, and a local piano prodigy, waited silently. Quietly from behind him, his teacher prompted, and he recalled the missing note, completing the balance of the piece flawlessly. But I could sense his disappointment, and the rise of claps of encouragement did little to assuage his despondency. I had prayed for his brother and him for many nights, not only for clean performances, but that they would play to the glory of God. In fact, I was praying as he climbed the stairs to the stage, bowed, and began. As the remaining performers played, I sat pondering the purpose of this letdown.

At the end of the recital, a graduating senior among the students rose to offer her farewell speech and to share what she had learned over the course of her six-year tutelage. “I learned to persevere,” she revealed--when a piece was challenging, when practice meant a balancing act with her studies, and when faced with a tragic error in a public performance. The investment made in piano practice and performance built character traits of excellence, self-discipline, and fearlessness.  I was glad for her words, so well timed after my son’s upset. Setbacks like my son’s, and his pushing through to recover rather than giving up, would serve to build resilience and tenacity. At the end of her adolescent music education, this young lady looked back with joy at every hardship she faced along the way, knowing that each was integral to her development into a polished musician. And so her message to those still plodding through, and particularly to those discouraged by less than stellar recital performances, was that a hopeful culmination awaited those who would persevere.

My husband and I have long prayed another prayer for our sons: that they would each grow to have the mind and character of Christ. More than any earthly success, we want them to know Christ and be conformed to his image. As I considered the young woman’s words, I thought of the passage above on trials and endurance (or perseverance), and their curious pairing with rejoicing. I thought, too, to my husband’s sermon message earlier that morning: “Christ, in the process of conquering sin in our lives, ordains the difficulties we face as believers to mold us into his likeness.” God is as sovereign over the mundane as he is the crucible. Neither is without divine purpose, nor divine grace to endure to its intended purpose in our lives. In fact, the trials are themselves divine grace, because they produce in us hope. Later in 8:24 of Romans, Paul says, “hope that is seen is not hope.” Presently, my son cannot see how his pushing through to finish his piece after failure has accomplished something greater than if he had played his piece flawlessly. Similarly, on a weightier level, we cannot naturally see God at work through the trials and suffering of this life—that they are changing us and conforming us so that we will endure to the end. And so the word of God and the people of God are the means through which our hearts and minds are directed towards hope. But as well, there are markers in our lives where, having come through trials, we can look back and recognize his hand both guiding us into them and supporting us through them. It was painful in the moment, and for some of us, pain remains a constant in our lives, yet we can see the goodness of God and the good plan of God more clearly than one who has lived carefree.

Paul ends with a guarantee: “hope does not put us to shame.” Our hope rests in the love of God, and his faithfulness to sustain us through every circumstance.

Prayer: Lord, when trials and suffering come, give us the grace to endure. Give us a sure conviction that as believers they serve your divine purpose to mold each of us into your likeness for our salvation and your glory. God of hope, fill us with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit we may abound in hope (Romans 15:13).

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