The thing that amazes me sometimes (and here I am preaching to myself also!) is how often we are surprised when bad things happen. No, I am not suggesting that people ought always to be looking at things pessimistically or be a “gloomy Gus” all of the time, or become a “nattering nabob of negativism,” but if we look realistically at this fallen and sinful world, what should surprise us are the good times when everything comes together exactly as planned, not the bad times when things seem to be falling apart at the seams. In fact, when we get overly comfortable with the blessings of this life, I fear that we also lose our hope of heaven — we cling to these things and fear that which is to come.
Now, I will freely grant that there is nothing wrong with praying for a peaceful, quiet life — that is a intensely Biblical thing to do. At the same time, the Christian should always understand that times of trouble will come because we are not yet in the glorified world and that it is often during these times of trouble that God shows his most profound grace in comfort…and no, it is not Mother Mary that comes to us…but it is God’s Holy Spirit. But how shall we face such times?
Many times, Christians approach such times, desperately clinging to hope and praying for endurance just so they can get through to the other side. And, to be entirely honest, this is a completely human and normal response. I can’t tell you how many times I have ministered to people, in the midst of a crisis, and the focus is, “Just get me to the other side of this.” And, I must confess, that has been my own reaction at times — endurance is a Biblical virtue.
Yet, Heidelberg presents a somewhat different approach that offers us an overall wisdom that is greater than our natural response. Heidelberg states that because of God’s providence (that he governs all things that take place in this world), our response is to strive for patience in the midst of suffering. And while patience is closely related to endurance, there is a difference between patient endurance and desperately seeking to get to the other side of what it is that you are facing.
The why, as to our patient endurance, is obvious. God has ordained whatsoever has come to pass and he has ordained it for our ultimate good, which is to be conformed into the image of Christ. What may not be as clear is the advantage of this approach to times of trouble. When you are simply focused on “just getting through” then it is the trouble and just the trouble that pretty much consumes your focus. When you approach trouble with patient endurance, you are not so much focused on the trouble as the opportunities within the trouble to point to Christ. One thing that I most commonly pray, when I am praying with people in the hospital, is that God would use this hospital stay to point others toward Christ — whether doctors, nurses, caregivers, staff, or roommates.
There is a residual benefit to this mindset. It makes seeing God’s hand of sustaining mercy to you much easier. And maybe, just maybe, this “residual benefit” is one of the reasons that people prefer to grit their teeth and just get through it. Once we are on the other side of the “just get through” mindset, there sometimes creeps in a notion that we got through because of our own strength. When we face trouble with the patient endurance that only God can grant, and are faced daily (even moment by moment) with the grace of God’s sustaining mercy, it is a humbling experience. And being humbled is most commonly not a pleasant experience — but it is for our good and for our sanctification is it not? For Christ demonstrated the truest humility in coming down and taking on flesh — even the form of a poor servant. Shall we not be willing to do the same? Our opportunity to do so, very often comes in the guise of troubles that we must face with patience.