There Is a Purpose

By Rev. Heidi L. Barham |  June 12, 2022

Click here to listen to the service 
Read Romans 5:1 – 5 (NIV)
I want to invite our attention this morning to just a few verses which are found in Paul’s letter to the Roman church as we focus on the subject: THERE IS A PURPOSE.
I think it fair to say that there are times in our lives when we find ourselves questioning why this situation, or that particular circumstance, has come to bear.  All we really need to do is look at the most recent news coverage to find plenty that calls to mind that question…
It can be hard for us to understand the purpose for suffering and yet, according to the text, Paul suggests that THERE IS A PURPOSE for our suffering because, as he explains, it produces endurance.
The Message Paraphrase says that it like this, “troubles can develop passionate patience in us.”  Passionate patience… now that is an interesting concept – to be passionate in patience.
As I am sure you have heard me say before, patience is not at the top of the list of virtues that I possess. In truth, you could say it is one of the places of personal development where I still need to grow the most… but that’s okay.  I accept that God is working on me so that I will learn patience.  I just wish He would hurry up already…
But in all seriousness, it can be difficult to understand the purpose of suffering and to find the blessings that are produced by our times of distress.  However, difficult does not always mean impossible.
Several years ago, I was introduced to a book entitled, “One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are,” written by New York Times best-selling author, Ann Voskamp. 
Back when I first read and then listened to that book you may have heard me talk about the central theme of the book which is based on the Greek word, “eucharisteo,” which means to give thanks. 
It is the basis for the word “Eucharist” … which we commonly refer to as Holy Communion…
“and when he had given thanks (eucharisteo), he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you; do this in remembrance of me’” (1 Corinthians 11:24).
Now, Voskamp’s book is filled with stories about times of crisis and suffering in which she speaks about the call to “eucharisteo” … to give thanks, even in the midst of our suffering…
Being mindful that even out of times like these… times of anguish and distress… blessings can come and THERE IS A PURPOSE for everything that we go through… the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Out of suffering comes endurance… out of times of trouble comes passionate patience… and so we give thanks to the same God who has brought us through times of trouble and suffering in the past and who has promised to bring us through them yet again.
Now, Paul says that suffering produces endurance but he goes on to say that endurance produces character.  The Message Paraphrase puts it this way, “that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue.” 
Character can be defined as the attributes or features that make up and distinguish an individual.  But Paul’s reference here to a person’s character that is produced by endurance speaks to an even deeper meaning of character which is defined by moral excellence… that tempered steel of virtue.
In other words, when we have endured and shown passionate patience through times of suffering and times of trouble… our character will then be defined by moral excellence and a tempered steel of virtue.
Think about the people you know… perhaps right here in this room… who you know have endured hardships and suffering of what seemed to be unimaginable proportions.  Yet, on the other side of their adversity, they have come out stronger and more resilient than ever before. 
There are two such people in my life that come to mind…
One is a young woman who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the age of fifteen and was given a prognosis of 8-months to live.  Over the course of the next thirty years, she had three extremely close brushes with death where she had to be revived… and each time she was able to come through it and she would even tell stories of seeing loved ones who had already passed away… She came out of those experiences sharing stories of hope and confidence in the promises of God for what was yet to come.
She outlived her terminal diagnosis by three decades… and she did so with a character shaped by the suffering that she endured and a faith that could not be shaken… no matter what came her way.
Now, the other person that comes to mind is a dear friend who had been a breast cancer survivor for twenty-two years at the time she was told that she had pancreatic cancer.   Even though she had been told there was no surgical option, she moved forward with treatment because, as she put it, she had no plans to stop living or stop believing.
Both of those amazing women lived through suffering that produced endurance which in turn produced a character of strength and tenacity undergirded by faith that with God all things are possible… in spite of what anyone else may have said to the contrary.
And while Kimberley has been gone for close to six years now (December 1, 2016), and Andrea for four years next week (June 20, 2018), their journeys of faith and hope still inspire me to this day… which is why I can stand here today and declare beyond a shadow of a doubt…
Now, turning our attention back to the text… suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character… then in turn character produces hope. 
Or looking at what we find in the Message Paraphrase, “we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next.”
We are called to live in a continual state of expectancy… ever watchful for just what God is going to do next. 
Some of you may know that one of my favorite verses of scripture is found in the Old Testament, Jeremiah 29:11.  There is a banner hanging on the wall in my office that says,“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
So, when we take God at His Word, we can live with expectancy because we know His promises are true…that He has a plan for our lives, to give us hope and a future… and what He has said He will do, we know He will do.
After listening to that book, “One Thousand Gifts,” one of the things that continues to stick with me was the author sharing her discovery of how “eucharisteo” (how giving thanks) always preceded miracles. 
She gave several examples in the scriptures of Jesus giving thanks in advance of the blessing because He knew what was yet on the way. 
In Matthew 14 (19-20), we read:

Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.
He gave thanks, then He broke the bread and 5,000 people were blessed as they were fed and there were even more than enough leftovers for lunch the next day.
And, in the Gospel of John, the story is told of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, but just prior to Jesus calling Lazarus to come out of the tomb, the scriptures say, “Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me’” (John 11:41).   He gave thanks (eucharisteo) then the miracle occurred… Lazarus came out of the grave and that which was dead was alive once again.
And that is why we can hold onto hope because through Christ, even that which seems to be dead, can live again. 
Old dreams that we have let go of can have new life breathed into them again.  Relationships that have been broken can be renewed again.  Finances that have been lost can be restored again.  Politicians who have forgotten what they were elected to do can begin to serve again.
We can have hope because as our text for the morning goes on to say, “hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
Or as it says in the Message, “In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!”
And because we have this hope, this sense of alert expectancy, even in the midst of our trials and tribulations, we have the strength and ability to endure even as we live lives of integrity and good character. 
But I must warn you, no one ever said this life would be easy… and if they did say it, let me tell you… they lied.  God never promised a life of ease… but He did promise us a life of peace when we trust in Him.
The Old Testament Prophet Isaiah offered words of hope and assurance that we can hold onto in times of trial and tribulation:

… this is what the Lord says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze (Isaiah 43:1 – 2).
And in John 16:33 (another favorite verse of mine), Jesus says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
At the end of the day, it all boils down to this one simple fact… God loves us… so much so that He has made provision for us to overcome the hardships and suffering of this world. 
God has promised to be with us, even in the midst of our times of crisis.  And He has given us His Only Son as our Lord and Savior… the One who gave His very life for us that we might have life and have it abundantly. 
We can live in hope that does not disappoint because we live with God’s unconditional love for us that went all the way to Calvary.
And because we have that love… we can give thanks (eucharisteo) in good times and in bad.
And we can lift our voices in praise to the very One in whom we place our hope. 
And with that thought in mind, I want to invite us to stand now and join in singing our Hymn of Discipleship: My Hope Is Built (on Nothing Less) #537.