Surprises can be the highest of highs or the lowest of lows. An unexpected check in the mail or an unexpected visit from someone special can elevate the spirits of all of us. At the same time, devastating news, unexpected tragedy, or even simple inconveniences can derail us to an extreme.
The problem with surprises is just that, they are surprises! They are unexpected, unplanned interruptions that requires us to react and respond. Unfortunately, many of us when caught off-guard respond poorly, immaturely, or in ways that exacerbate the problem.
The key is to be prepared. I learned living in Southern California that earthquakes will always surprise us, but being properly prepared prevents us from being caught off-guard. Knowing what will happen helps us be ready for what we need to do when difficult and challenging times come.
As I was reading 1st Peter recently I was reminded of disaster preparedness. Without fail, 2017 is going to hurt. Every year has its hurts. The question is, will we be ready to properly respond when the pain comes.
Here is what 2017 will bring…
1) Your government will let you down.
2) Your employer will let you down.
3) Your spouse will let you down.
4) You will suffer.
Peter sets this reality quite clearly in 1st Peter 2:13-3:7. In that section of his letter he talks about a citizen’s relationship with their government, an employee’s relationship with their boss, and husband/wife relationships. Right in the middle of that section he writes,
“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” (1st Peter 2:21)
Governments are supposed to protect its citizens. Employers are supposed to care for those. Spouses are supposed to unconditionally love their spouses. People should have welcomed the Savior; worshipped Him, obeyed Him, and submitted to Him. They didn’t though, for the same reason governments, bosses, and spouses act sinfully; we are all sinners and good intentions will never trump depraved, sinful humanity.
Sadly, suffering at the hands of people who should do just the opposite is normative but in the same way that Christ’s suffering was redemptive, if we are prepared, our suffering can be as well.
Here is how to prepare for 2017…
1) Live for eternity. (1st Peter 1:3-9)
Now is not forever, only eternity is. Looking to the promise of an eternity that is held secure by the power of God, an eternity that is free from the destructive forces of evil, and the slow decay of the ravages of time is the ultimate safeguard against despair in our lifetimes. Paul puts it this way,
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)
We must not miss this one critical point, though. In his glorious assurance of eternity held securely by God, Peter uses the term “you” and/or “your” 9 times. The important question is, who does “you” refer to? Simply put, it refers to those who have been born again through faith in Christ’s resurrection from the dead; loving Him and believing in Him. That is the only basis for an eternal hope.
2) Do not fear. (1st Peter 3:13-15)
A very normal response to suffering is fear. Theologically we fear that God has forgotten us, isn’t able to take care of us, and/or He doesn’t genuinely love us. On a social, human level it is normal to have a sense of fear of the person or people who cause our suffering and pain. Their rejection, unwarranted rebuke, or broken trust can distract our focus from Christ to them as if they are bigger than God Himself. In 3:13-15, Peter reminds believers of this foundational truth,
“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness‘ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy…”
It is the Lord Jesus who is set apart and set above those who cause us pain and sorrow (particularly those who do so as a response to our faith). He is Lord! The most that hurtful people can do is temporarily injure us. They have no power to do anything of any real consequence. It is Jesus who holds our eternity and worth in His hands.
3) Keep a clear mind to pray. (1st Peter 4:7)
4) Love to the point of extending forgiveness. (1st Peter 4:8)
5) Be hospitable. (1st Peter 4:9)
6) Serve with God’s provisions. (1st Peter 4:10-11)
Towards the end of his letter Peter takes an interesting turn regarding suffering. The intuitive response to pain and problem is to turn inward and become self-focused. A gospel driven, eternally-minded perspective though, turns outward. Christ’s suffering was redemptive, His plan for His followers is the same. Our suffering puts us into a place to care for others, makes us sensitive to the needs of others who suffer, and puts us in a position to shine the light of Christ in a fallen world.
In chapter 4, verses 7-11, Peter gives very clear instruction for those who have suffered or are suffering. Foremost is prayer. Prayer keeps our focus on Christ and our thinking clear. Prayer is always imperative but never more so than when we suffer. Prayer keeps us from self-focus and self-pity which the enemy wants us to succumb to.
The rest of that section is about the outward expressions of protecting, caring, and providing for others who are likewise suffering; doing so with God’s word on our lips and His strength in our service, all for His glory.
7) Trust that God will vindicate those who are His. (1st Peter 2:6 and 5:6)
A great fear amid suffering is that it isn’t worth it; that ultimately what is lost will never be recouped or recompensed. Peter addresses this as well.
For it stands in Scripture:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (1st Peter 2:6)
At the end of our life, when all is said and done, when we stand before the impartial judge (1:17, our suffering for Jesus will not be cause for shame. The promise of God is that we won’t ever look back on a life spent trusting Jesus and following His path of suffering and say it wasn’t worth it.
Then, as he concludes his letter he writes,
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you…” (1st Peter 5:6)
At last, vindication. Though others judged us wrongly, treated us unfairly, and hurt us unjustly, in God’s time He will lavish us with His glory and exalt us in His presence.
Some time during 2017, life is going to hurt. The pain may be caused by the sin of another or simply through challenging circumstances. Either way, let us be prepared to glorify Him by focusing on eternity, trusting in His good favor, and giving ourselves away for His glory and the good of others.