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Getting the Most out of Hardship — 5

A fifth benefit of hardship is that it stretches us and builds character. Romans 5:3 explains, “We rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” The perseverance produced by suffering molds and shapes our character.

I can’t think of a better example from the Bible of this benefit and principle of hardship and suffering than the account of Joseph in Genesis. Although Joseph’s brothers meant to harm him by selling him as a slave, God turned it into something profoundly good. But for 13 years Joseph suffered severe hardship as a slave and then an inmate in an ancient Egyptian prison. His hardships also included the pain and agony of being separated from his family and the cruel rejection he had experienced at the hands of his brothers.

If all that suffering weren’t enough, he was then falsely accused of attempted rape by his master’s wife. And this occurred because Joseph was upright and dared not sin against God or his master. Yet through all his suffering, both as a slave and a prisoner, the Scripture is careful to observe that “the Lord was with him.” We must not make the mistake of taking that phrase solely in terms of comfort in the midst of severe trial, although it certainly was that too.

But reflecting on the end of the story and how God elevated this Jewish slave and prisoner to the second-in-command over all Egypt, we recognize “the Lord was also with Joseph” in terms of His sovereign leading and plan. Psalm 105:19 (NLT) reveals, “Until the time came to fulfill his dreams, the Lord tested Joseph’s character.”  God was using all of Joseph’s suffering and trials as a means of shaping Joseph’s character to prepare him for a huge work in the life of his nation.

Joseph recognized the sovereign and loving hand of God in all that had happened to him. He embraced God’s work in his life to the extent that he completely forgave his brothers telling them, “Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” (Genesis 45:5)

Hebrews 12:7, 10-11 urges us, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

©2011 Rob Fischer