You know that feeling of fear when you sense yourself falling into a downward spiral? A cycle where you’ve been before?
Regardless of what triggers it and regardless of what type of cycle it is—grief, sadness, frustration, rejection, overthinking, or any other type of pain—if you’ve been there before, you feel hopeless. Stuck. As if change is out of your control. There’s this sense of fear that I’ve been here before and hate the ride.
But what if…
What if that spiral doesn’t have to end the way you anticipate?
What if it’s not a downward spiral, but a forward cycle?
What if the pull down comes from misunderstanding how God designed the path to work?
What if instead of being a vortex of defeat it could be a cycle of hope?
Enter Romans 5. In three glorious, hope-filled verses, God describes how negative triggers can lead to a cycle of hope. And it all has to do with understanding God’s purposes.
And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.—Romans 5:3–5
It begins with tribulation.
To us, tribulation is bad news. Not so from a Romans 5 perspective—it’s really good news.
Sometimes we use words so often that we only hear them in a surface way. We speak of “trials and tribulations” with just an general sense of “something negative.”
The word tribulation, however, is spectacularly descriptive. It comes from the Latin word tribulum, referring to a threshing board. Think of the wheat on that threshing board being beat over and over again as it is separated from the chaff. That is the idea of tribulation.
And, as the many promises in God’s Word about tribulation reveal, it is a common experience for followers of Christ.
Thankfully, God assures us that no tribulation will separate us from His love.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?—Romans 8:35
He promises that even in the midst of tribulation we can know His peace.
These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.—John 16:33
And He is available to give comfort in our seasons of tribulation.
Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.—2 Corinthians 1:4
Are you experiencing tribulation? If yes, you’re off to a great start in the cycle of hope.
Tribulation leads to patience.
In the midst of tribulation, God gives us what we need to press on—patience.
Patience carries the idea of “bearing up under.” It has to do with endurance. And Romans 12:12 indicates that this patience is held up by the twin supports on either side of hope and prayer.
Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer;—Romans 12:12
Even when we don’t feel joyful, we have the option to rejoice. That choice is rooted in hope. When I know—based on the promises of a God who cannot lie (Titus 1:2)—that today is not the end of my story, that God has a purpose in my pain, that He has promised a future with Him, that He is unfailingly good and faithful, I have real, solid truths in which I can rejoice.
And even when I don’t feel joyful, I can pray. I can bring the honest condition of my heart to my God (who already knows and cares), pour it out before Him, and pray His promises back to Him.
These choices—rejoicing and continuing in prayer—allow patience to develop and lead to the next part of our cycle of hope.
Patience leads to experience.
I have never understood why people say “don’t pray for patience.” I get the surface answer is the idea that praying for patience is like asking for trouble. But I’m afraid this actually speaks more to our undervaluing spiritual maturity than to any wisdom about avoiding trouble. Patience is one of the great tools God uses to bring the spiritual maturity that we need.
Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.—James 1:3–4
Tribulation leads to patience, and patience leads to experience. This experience refers to “experiential evidence.” It is what happens when we have seen God’s faithfulness before and thus know that we can count on it again.
I love what Charles Spurgeon, who struggled with major depression at various times throughout his life, said:
I know, perhaps as well as anyone, what depression means, and what it is to feel myself sinking lower and lower. Yet at the worst, when I reach the lowest depths, I have an inward peace which no pain or depression can in the least disturb. Trusting in Jesus Christ my Savior, there is still a blessed quietness in the deep caverns of my soul, though upon the surface, a rough tempest may be raging, and there may be little apparent calm.—Charles Spurgeon
Spurgeon’s first major episode of depression was after a great tragedy and from which he thought he may not recover. But he did. And although he continued to experience bouts of depression, his statements convey the settledness that comes through experiencing God’s faithfulness in hardship.
Experience leads to hope.
All of this—tribulation, patience, experience—reaches a grand climax in hope.
Hope is not a small topic in Scripture. First Corinthians 13:13 places it on the same level as faith and in the same conversation as love: “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”
And Romans 5 tells us that we will not be ashamed when we hope in God.
You know how it is when you put your hope in something empty and ultimately feel ashamed? That’s what Romans 5 assures you will not happen when you hope in God.
…and thou shalt know that I am the LORD: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me.—Isaiah 49:23
Uphold me according unto thy word, that I may live: and let me not be ashamed of my hope.—Psalm 119:116
This cycle that begins with tribulation can always end in stronger hope as we allow tribulation to lead us to patience and patience to experience and then experience to renewed hope.
Ultimately, the cycles won’t end until we see Jesus face to face. And we won’t be ashamed of our hope then. We will be so thankful of our tribulation-patience-experience-hope-based confidence.
And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.—1 John 2:28
The cycle begins differently for each of us, because tribulation comes in many forms.
But when it comes to you—when the cycle that threatens to pull you downward begins—let God’s Word reroute that frightening cycle into a healing cycle of hope. Hope in God brings more hope.