Someone of note once said something to the effect that irony is difficult to define and explain, but people know it when they see it. I apprehended the irony of a situation earlier this week when I first attempted to publish the post I am now writing. After having completed the post, I accidently exited the browser and lost the entire post. Granted, the suffering was minor. Nevertheless, it was discouraging just the same. And the full irony of the situation will become evident as I now try and re-create the post.
I recently finished reading the classic Puritan work entitled The Bruised Reed. Richard Sibbes, the author, was an Anglican theologian and preacher in the late 1500s and early 1600s.
The book is excellent, and I particularly recommend it as published by The Banner of Truth in their Puritan Paperbacks series. Sibbes addresses suffering throughout the book but one sentence, in particular, stuck with me. In it, the author addresses discouragement that comes through the difficulties we experience. Sibbes writes, “Suffering brings discouragements, because of our impatience.”
For Sibbes, our impatience plays a significant role in fostering and fueling discouragement. I think he is accurate in two ways: our impatience in regards to the immediate future and our impatience in regards to the faraway future.
Impatience in the midst of trials and tribulations in the near future blinds us to the reality that Paul presents in Romans 5:3-4, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” We can’t see the benefits of suffering in the weeks and months ahead if impatience blinds us to how God redeems our times of affliction. Impatience bolsters despair and simultaneously impedes hope. We might experience the “all-things-working-for-good” effect of Romans 8:28 if we steel ourselves to be patient in suffering. But if we are impatient, we risk being unable to appreciate what God is working for those who love him which is, quite possibly, the most discouraging result of this situation. The discouragement of suffering through impatience is also evident in the consideration of the distant future.
Paul also writes about suffering in 2 Corinthians 4:17 declaring, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” That is an incredible, though seemingly distant, future for the children of God; an eternal weight of glory awaits. What is discouraging about that? Nothing. But we must not be impatient.
In both cases, the near and distant future, we need not think that we stay patient by the sheer force of our wills. This patience in suffering requires infinitely more than “pulling ourselves up by our moral bootstraps” and “keeping a stiff upper lip.” We need spiritual help if we hope to attain this attitude in the midst of adversity and anguish. Sibbes concurs, “The Spirit will add his shoulders to help us bear our infirmities.” The Spirit, our Helper from above, can work this into the soil of our inner person, helping us not to be impatient and thus succumb to discouragement.
I hope you now see the irony of me losing a post that calls for patience in the midst of suffering, and warns of the discouragement that follows impatience. However, there are many in our midst who suffer almost incomprehensibly more than the insignificant loss of a few minutes work. Yet the warning to them–to you if it applies–is to struggle against impatience in your suffering, lest discouragement overtake you. Rather, look to Christ, who by his Spirit can help you see in the day-to-day difficulties reason to hope, and in the long-term a blessing of infinite proportions; life everlasting in the presence of God.