Uncertainty breeds fear.
Fear feeds lies.
Lies lead to panic.
Panic produces anxiety.
Anxiety generates uncertainty.
And the hamster wheel commences.
A close friend told me today that they had never felt anxiety before in their life, until this past weekend. My heart broke for them.
Having suffered through depression and anxiety, I would not wish that stabbing knife and brain explosion on anyone.
My friend is a young parent of three, owns a pizza restaurant/bar that can only do carry out because of the current health crisis, they had to layoff 25 employees, they've lost a significant amount in their stock fund in three weeks and before that financial loss the offer they made on their dream home was accepted and they have to move in a few weeks.
That would do it.
Since they are a believer, I can share with them about the peace that transcends all understanding and the hope that we are assured in Christ. But then I realized that through this crisis, the peace and hope we have as Christians is not available to all. And my heart breaks all over again.
Yesterday I wrote that some who aren't believers would say our faith is illogical and irrational. The verse I am about to jump in to would be one they would point to to prove that argument.
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. Romans 5:3-5
Trials develop endurance.
Endurance creates character.
Character strengthens hope.
Hope produces joy.
At face value, it is. But let's dig in.
In this verse, Paul points to a benefit of salvation we experience immediately. For those in Christ, our suffering matters. It counts for something. For those who die without Christ, suffering is merely suffering. It is pain and loss and frustration, resulting in no particular benefit, and coming to no resolution. For those in Christ, however, suffering has a point, since we're destined for something higher. It accomplishes great good in us.
Of course, Christians still suffer. Being in Christ does not end our problems but that suffering produces something Paul calls "endurance," which itself produces other powerful, positive characteristics in us. Endurance is the ability to keep going when we feel like stopping, as long distance runners train themselves to do. In this context, endurance is about our ability to trust God for longer stretches of time and through greater degrees of difficulty. Suffering, in other words, is an opportunity to trust God at a deeper level through harder stuff. Like a shelter at home order for 15 days.
James introduced his letter with this exact idea when he said, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness" (James 1:2–3).
Paul and James both see this reality as reason for rejoicing. They understand "rejoicing" to be a choice we make to declare even our hardest circumstances as God's good for us, in the sense that He is calling us closer, and to trust in Him more deeply. His end goal for us is always joy.
Joy is a perspective to hold and a lens through which you choose to see all of life. It's a lens you look through even in the dark and difficult moments of your life because joy is not based on events, joy is the emotion of hope.
I know that worshipping during worry is a hard concept. I am not going to pretend that I am great at it. I don't feel happy when things are hard. But when I take my anxious heart off the hamster wheel, and put it on the path to hope, I know the end of the road is always joy.