Most, if not all, of us have been there at one time. Your friend lies in a hospital bed. IV lines sink into each arm. Heart monitors ping and beep. Oxygen hisses. The tired eyes in her pale, sagging face look up and lock onto you. You know she hurts; you know she would give away her life’s savings just to get better. So, what do you say?
Or you bump into a friend having a miserable day. His car wouldn’t start. Something spilled on his shirt, but he didn’t have time to change. He’s running late— and, no matter how hard he tries, just cannot catch up. He’s exasperated, tired, and at wit’s end. So, what do you say?
Or maybe you are the one with the IV port dripping medicine into your body. Maybe your day is loaded with frustration and stress. How do you relieve the stress? How do you know with certainty that you will get through this suffering?
Suffering often blocks out any hope for relief. It leaves you feeling miserable, cut off, and abandoned. Yet, Peter tells you relief does exist even when suffering. He steers you (and I) away from looking in all the wrong places for help and encourages: Rejoice in All Suffering! Because (1) The Spirit of God rests on you and (2) God is concerned about you.
Understand, when Peter talks about “suffering,” he is not talking only about physical pain. He calls “suffering” a “painful trial.” Do you catch the difference? We can easily separate the act of suffering from the reason for suffering. We focus more on the pain, the heartache, the raw feelings and forget why we suffer in the first place. That is why Peter calls suffering a “trial.” The pain you experience pulls and tugs on your allegiance to God.
Consider the kinds of suffering you experience. It could be something (1) physical. Yes, no one may be hunting you down for what you believe, but insults still pierce deep. The child you brought to Sunday School now scoffs: “You don’t really believe everything the Bible says, do you mom?” Friends pressure: “Come on, your parents forced their beliefs on you. You’re away from them. Make your own decisions.” Professors, co-workers, and bosses mock the miracles of your Jesus, calling them nothing more than fairy-tale-myths. Those insults hurt. Those insults label you as someone unintelligent or superstitious or stupid. You know that is not what you are. You have educational degrees; you are level-headed. Yet, your reputation and self-esteem can suffer because you believe in God.
You may suffer (2) spiritually. You know the Bible’s teachings; you also recognize much of what you believe runs counter to your present-day culture. Facebook lists 58 different gender options— 58 different attempts to defend not just the way someone thinks, but also defends their physical behavior. Universities now mandate tolerance classes— classes which do teach proper respect, but may also push you to lay aside God’s fixed morality in order to embrace what a professor tells you is morally acceptable. School districts make kindergarteners debate the benefits (and not the downsides) of same-sex relationships. Kindergarteners— children who have yet to learn human anatomy! You quickly realize that the morality God teaches you is not the same thing the world wants to learn. So, you are pressured to conform to the world because (1) it does not look so significant and (2) you will not lose friends or freedom or status.
You battle cancer; your body hurts. God promises to help; the Bible reveals his miraculous ability to heal. You know this; you believe he still possesses this power. Yet, at the same time you’re frustrated because it feels like the almighty God chooses not to help.
You may suffer physically because you believe in a God someone else rejects. You may suffer spiritually because you are waiting for God to [maybe] respond. You may feel that if God were not present in life, then your life would be better. No one would insult your faith because you would have no faith. Your heart would no longer struggle against the ever-changing-standards of morality because you would ignore God’s unchanging morality. You may no longer feel so miserable when sick because you would no longer wait for God to act. The answer to leaving suffering behind is leaving God! Yet, if you leave God now, then you will suffer without him forever!
Peter knows this! That is why he says so plainly: Dear friends (that’s you!), do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. Do you hear that? Peter tells you to expect suffering. That’s something you may not want to hear. Sometimes Christians think they will have health and wealth simply because they believe in God. Yet, that simply is not true. Nowhere does God promise life will bring you nothing but joy, riches, and pleasures. God never says all of your troubles will instantly vanish just because you follow him. Rather, Peter says you can expect suffering because Jesus also suffered.
The Jews went to Sunday School and studied the Bible, and yet are the same ones who shout at Jesus, “You are not God’s Son!” (John 6:60-66) The religious elite not only mock his miracles, but even accuse Jesus of working for Satan (Mark 3:22). Two criminals suffering the excruciating pain of crucifixion insult Jesus: “Aren’t you God?! Heal us now!” (Luke 23:39) Jesus knew if he simply stopped teaching truths that made people angry or if he simply complied with their wishes and became their king, then he would have had a most blessed life on earth until the day he died. Yet, if he fled the cross and ran after earthly pleasure, then how would you be saved?
Jesus suffers in order to fill you with a real reason to rejoice; he suffers to give you forgiveness. For all the times you are ashamed to call yourself ‘Christian,’ he replaces with the times he staunchly held to Scripture’s teachings. For all the times you reject God’s statement: “You will suffer,” Jesus suffers to save you.
This is why Peter writes: “Rejoice in All Suffering.” You do not suffer alone. [Y]ou participate in the sufferings of Christ. When the world insults your faith, they are not ridiculing you; they are ridiculing their Creator. When laws are passed against your beliefs, the law does not reject your personal viewpoints; it rejects what God calls “Right.” When illness shakes your faith, that illness calls God “not worth it.” You press on through suffering because The Spirit of God rests on you. You are not suffering because you did something wrong. You suffer because you are connected to Christ. And if you are connected to Christ, then you are connected to the guarantee of eternal life!
This is the reason you can Rejoice in All Suffering! The Spirit of God rests on you. Not only does God call you his possession, but God is concerned about you.
1 Peter 5:7 literally says: Cast all your anxiety on him, because it is a concern for him concerning you. Your anxiety is God’s concern because it involves you! So, if you are having a terrible day and nothing seems to be going right, put your stress into God’s hands. God is concerned about your terrible day. Trust that he will take care of it and bless you in spite of what you experience. If you are laid up in a hospital bed and feel anxious, put your anxiety into God’s hands. Trust that he continues watching your health and is teaching you to rely on his perfect timing.
Yes, I know it is not always easy to place every burden into God’s hands. It is not easy to endure insults for believing in God. It is not easy to patiently wait for God’s response. That’s why, in verse 6, Peter says: Humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand. It takes humility to trust God. The opposite of “humility” is “pride.” Pride will lead you to think that you can manage life better than God, that you can control what enters life, and that you can solve every challenge. Yet, pride will only throw you deeper into anxiety. When you rely on yourself to get you through every challenge, you will soon realize how little control you have over your life and health and wellbeing.
Be sure, the devil will constantly stir up your pride. He always prowls around like a roaring lion. He does not stop. He will poke at your stress, challenging: “Are you sure God takes care of this anxiety?” He points at your health: “God cares for you? Look how long you have been sick!” He shows you the world and dares: “Your friend’s lifestyle really doesn’t look all that harmful. Just embrace it.” These temptations look harmless and innocent, but that is not the devil’s game. His purpose is to devour you! He is your enemy! He will lure you away from Word in such subtle ways so that he can destroy your faith! If he can just attack you the right way, then your soul can be tossed into the lion’s den forever.
This is why Peter urges: Be self-controlled and alert! Recognize that the devil will use troubles to doubt God’s love. He wants you to think you know more and better than God does. He will strive to pry you from his arms. Peter wants nothing to keep you out of heaven.
After all, that is where you are heading. One day life on this earth will end. The God of all grace called you to his eternal glory in Christ. He has already made a reservation in heaven for you. He will welcome you into the gates of glory. Through the payment Jesus made for you, you possess eternal life. That means even the sufferings you face now will never travel with you into heaven.
Until you enter your heavenly home, God will give you strength to rely on him more. He will correct false beliefs and refocus your heart to grasp his promises. He will strengthen your faith, placing it squarely on the foundation of Jesus’ forgiveness. All this God does daily through his Word. He will do all this throughout your entire life because God is concerned about you.
It means you can Rejoice in All Suffering! God tells you to expect suffering. Yet, look past the pain, the heartache, the raw feelings and remember why you suffer in the first place. You suffer because you belong to God—the same God who has the authority to declare you his child and preach to the world that you are entering heaven! No king, no government, no friend or family can ever cancel out this powerful Word!
Dear friends, The Spirit of God rests on you! You are God’s child! Rejoice! God is concerned about you! He daily blesses you, answers prayer, and increases trust in him! Rejoice in All Suffering!
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