Romans 12:12 gives three short commands–the second one is “Be patient in tribulation.”
In the description of love that we find in I Corinthians 13, the first adjective it uses is patience: “Love is patient. Love is kind.” An older English synonym for patience is “long-suffering.” One translation I’ve seen for that first phrase is “Love suffers long and is still kind.” That is what it means to be patient—to suffer long and still be kind.
Patience is hard—and perhaps especially so in this instant culture in which we live. Yet God commands us to be patient. And what specifically are we to be patient in? We are to “be patient in tribulation.” So this is not just patience while waiting in line at Disneyland for the ride we really want to go on; but this is patience while explaining a simple task to your child for the 47th time, this is patience while pursuing reconciliation with a spouse who is angry with you, this is patience to respond graciously to a co-worker who continually aggravates you, this is patience on the long road of chemotherapy when the prognosis is not favorable. This is patience in the midst of tribulation, in the midst of suffering.
Suffering feels like our biggest problem and avoiding it like our greatest need—but we know that there is something more. Sin is actually our biggest problem, and rescue from it is our greatest need.
There is a link between the two. Suffering exposes the sin in our hearts in a way that few things can. When our lives are trouble-free, we can confuse personal satisfaction for faith. We can think that God is good, and we are pleased with him, though we might be pleased less with him than we are with the ease of our lives. Then, when life is hard—especially when life remains hard—the allegiances of our hearts become more apparent. Suffering will reveal sin that still “clings so closely” to us (Heb. 12:1)…
Suffering is an indispensable tool that God uses to reveal and weed out sin in our hearts, so as we obey this command to be patient in suffering, God purifies our hearts and deepens our relationship with Christ. We don’t like to think of suffering as vital to our growth in Christ, but for this reason, it is. Jesus said “Blessed are the pure in heart…” and if suffering is a primary means by which God purifies our hearts, then there is actually great blessing in any suffering that causes us to see the weight of our sin and cling more tightly to the Gospel of Christ.
Ed Welch continues: “Seeing the weight of our sin is the beginning of power and confidence.”
When we see our sin, we are seeing the Spirit’s conviction, which means we are witnessing spiritual power, but that power feels different from what we expect. It’s not like worldly power. Spiritual power feels like a struggle, or weakness, or neediness, or desperation. It is simply, “I need Jesus,” which is the most powerful thing we can say. It means that our confidence is not in ourselves or in either our righteousness before God or our reputation before others. Our confidence is in Jesus, and that confidence cannot be shaken. Just imagine: no more hiding from God, no more defensiveness in our relationships. When we have wronged others, we simply ask their forgiveness. Our security in Jesus gives us the opportunity to think less often about what others think of us. It gives us freedom to make mistakes and even fail. No longer do we have to build and protect our own kingdom.
Wow! What a liberating perspective! “I need Jesus” is the most powerful thing we can say. So often, saying that feels like weakness or failure or inability, but it is not. It is spiritual power–not because we are powerful, but because the One on whom we’re depending is unmatched in power.