When I (Jeff) encounter challenges of various kinds (Romans 5:3-5) one of my first thoughts is: "What is the purpose of this pain?" I usually ask this because I want to know if the reward for obedience, or the payoff for the pain, is indeed worth it. I do this becuase I tend to want to argue about whether or not it is worth it...is it fair ? Or because I am contemplating disobedience. My mind naturally goes to Hebrews 12:2. Jesus endured the cross "for the joy set before him". Well then, (stamping my foot on the floor) Where is MY carrot (you know, the reward dangling at the end of the stick)? AND What is MY carrot? Jesus had a carrot, so, why don't I get to have one too? Wow, I sound just like my kids...but that is how I feel. I am thankful that God does not flare with rage at the honest expressions of my heart.
For the moment, my carrot is two-fold. First, I get to enjoy the carrot that Jesus reached out and grabbed for me (right about now I am wishing that I had chosen the word image of ice cream instead of a carrot). I have the assurance of eternal friendship with the God of this universe...now that's a carrot - I mean ice cream. Second, I have the joy set before me of "...hope. And hope does not disapoint us." (Rom. 5:5) Yet, sometimes it feels as if that carrot, dangling in front of me, is covered in a paper bag. But when I have endured, and I open that bag and receive my reward it never has, and never will, disappoint. Can you imagine life without Hope; that would be true misery, true pain. This second point sounds a little abstract, a little "pie in the sky" as my friend says. I wish I had the time and space to lay out for you how really tangible and practical my hope is.
So, whether my trials are hard, big or small--my pain is my pain. However, God enters into the pain with me and gives me the ice cream of hope. What is your carrot - your ice cream?