Freedom to keep climbing after you fall | Romans 8:24-25
For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:24-25
It takes some kind of heart to go forward in hope when all the signs are pointed to failure. The situation Romans 8 has described is one in which God has chosen not to remove us from a world of suffering and a life of struggle. He's chosen not to make us perfect all at once. Suffering and struggle naturally suggest failure, like, duh, turn around and go another way - this isn't working.
But when it comes to this world of suffering, there is no way out, and when it comes to a life of struggling, there is no other kind of life for a Christian. The world is cursed and you are a sinner. That's not failure. That's just the starting point and the arena in which God is going to work out his ultimate victory, and many smaller victories along the way.
The trick is to remember that God is the one making it happen in us - that while the victories are genuinely our own, because for his reputation of justice they must be, those victories are orchestrated and powered and perfectly timed by him. The path is laid before us according to his design, and whether a step of victory or apparent defeat, it's all leading to ultimate success. Even our struggles and failures are getting us there. He works everything together for our final victory.
We have to learn to hope and wait in God. There is no other way to climb this treacherous path towards eternal life. He is like the belay rope for a rock climber, that ensures that even if we slip, even if the gravity of our sin pulls us off the climb for a moment, we'll always get back on. He is the reason for our hope - not ourselves. And we wait for his power and his timing in each step forward.
And all this he's teaching you now - he's never going to "graduate" you to free climbing. That would be stupid, because the hope your salvation provides is the rope itself - that you are tethered to him and that his love will never separate you from that rope. He wants to live this life with you and walk through all those steps, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health with you. That is his joy, and the reason for his salvation. He loves you and the rope isn't a crutch; it's the primary gear of the climb.
But it would be an easy mind-trick for the enemy to drag you back into a hopeless way of thinking. All it will take is one slip for you to think, "I've let everyone down. I'm a failure. They don't need me. Why bother?"
This is where you have to remember all we've learned from Romans 8. That you are the work God is doing now. That his work will succeed. That his work is to strengthen your faith, hope, and love, to restore purity, and - now we find - also to exercise your patience.
So when you fail at something, it's discouraging, yes. But it's not failure. Because God has you on belay. At that moment, you hope in him. You say, in the moment you fall off the rock, "What's he going to do with this inside me? Will this build my faith? Will it test my love?" and you hope in that. Because in the final analysis, you can't fall off the rock. He's the rock, and you're tied in to him.
Knowing he's got you will free you to love others without fear, to take risks in your work, to aim high and go after what seems unattainable. A good rope always makes for a better climber, because a good rope produces confidence.
When you have confidence (aka faith) in God, you won't give up so easily. You'll keep climbing because you know you're going to make it - there's no other option! Maybe your path will change slightly as you begin to discover your areas of weakness. Maybe you'll adjust career plans because you've just slipped too many times off a certain foothold and you don't want to take that one again. Okay. But that isn't failure; it's a change of plans, still in hope of getting to the destination.
But climbing takes patience, too. It's slow-moving, even though it's intense the whole way. Patience is a virtue that keeps you climbing, simple as that. Patience is the movement of hope. Slow, but steady. Always forward.
You were saved in hope, for hope, and there is hope. You just can't forget what hope is - it's future, whether short-term or long-term. When you fall short in the present, it's not the end of the road. Every present failure is an opportunity for future hope. Just let God get you there, and climb all the harder. Who hopes for what he already has? No one. Be patient, don't give up. When you're on the rope, there's nowhere to go but up, because even when you slip off, he'll never let you fall.
Claim it. When you wonder if you're getting anywhere in your struggle against sin, in your journey with Christ, it can be helpful to talk with someone who has known you for a while. Ask them to share with you what signs of progress or growth they see in you.
You can also ask God to show you where he's been at work. Sometimes he works in corners we don't bother to look, and sometimes he has to unpack a mess before he can put it back together. This can feel discouraging. You need him to explain. So ask him. Be quiet, patient, and listen for his answer.