I hate suffering! There I said it. I like happy days, when I sing along with the radio, when in spite of the fact of being unable to dance, I go ahead and shuffle my feet. Tears show up uninvited too often because of all the injustice, pain, and hardship around me. Yes, I know that there are those who seem to be skilled at shooting themselves in the foot, making one poor choice after another and wondering, “Why is life so difficult?” There are some who just can’t seem to catch a break, going from one tragedy to the next. And there are a lot of us who live on a planet where things go wrong for reasons we cannot know.
Here is what I do certainly know: In the hand of God, the suffering that we endure, particularly that which comes our way because we are Jesus’ followers, has a purpose and a reward. My reading in the Word took me to this extended passage.
Peter, God’s man and a guy we can readily identify with, reveals important principles.
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.
However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” (1 Peter 4:12-19, NIV)
Suffering does not necessarily mean that we are doing something wrong or that we lack enough faith to rid ourselves of it! Peter says if we are suffering like Jesus, because we are dying to Self and doing God’s will, we ought to rejoice when it gets tough and makes us groan! There are preachers and teachers by the hundred who will tell you that they have the key to making it all better. They will invite you to their conference, sell you their book, and insist that you can learn some set of spiritual ‘truths’ that will produce miracles on demand. What utter nonsense!
“Rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ.” Faith is not a magic wand in our hands that waves away the realities of this sinful world. It is our strength that keeps us on our feet as we wade into the battle, armed with love, and reveal the patience and love of Jesus when the going gets rough.
I love Peter’s blunt reminder that if we are acting wrongly, if we are sticking our noses into other people’s business, we ought to expect the pain that comes our way. If people reject us because we are foolish or sinful, there is no glory in that. “But if it’s because you’re a Christian, don’t give it a second thought. Be proud of the distinguished status reflected in that name!” (The Message 1 Peter 4:16)
As he finishes his thought, Peter speaks about judgment beginning with the family of God. It’s time to think hard, to be clear-minded and discerning, about how we live. No more silly slogans and simplistic answers for us. No more quick fixes and three step solutions for the complexities of life. Because we have the ‘mind of Christ’ we should be able to see past our problems, understand the spiritual realm that surrounds us, and lead the way to goodness and godliness.
Like it or not, Peter asks “If the righteous are barely saved, what will happen to godless sinners?” This Christian life is not a stroll along a country lane in the sun up to the pearly gates of Heaven. Jesus did not make it all soft-focus sentimentality. “Take up your cross and follow Me.” Crosses hurt!
In a hard time? Stop self-pity and excuses. If you’re making bad choices, do not play the victim. Get the help you need. Confess your failures and sins. Then go after Jesus. If you are feeling the squeeze because you are following Him, then thank Him for the privilege of serving!
The word from the Word wraps it up for us. “So if you find life difficult because you’re doing what God said, take it in stride. Trust him. He knows what he’s doing, and He’ll keep on doing it.” (1 Peter 4:19, The Message) And that is the Truth!