While I don’t fear it, and certainly don’t like to admit it, times of testing have promoted growth and brought me closer to God.
This is not the place to speak about my sufferings, and my sufferings are most certainly not your sufferings, so comparing hardships is pointless.
But some are a strong witness to everyone in this area, as seen on my trip to Ethiopia.
When I was in Ethiopia I was asked to lead a devotion for a group of women who had been rescued from sex trafficking. About a dozen ladies gathered and told parts of their stories, I’ll just summarize their stories this way, every single one of them was taken away from their family before the age of 10, and were raped countless times, every day, until they were rescued in their late teens.
And, as if such words don’t humble us all, intially they hated me, and how could they not, I appeared out of nowhere—white, clean and full of American money. But as my team got to know them, one of them spoke up, she said she hated me and God because she always wondered why I was chosen to be free of her sufferings, in other words, why was I born an American into a good home, and she born into a slum.
How does that represent God’s love.
I’d like to tell you I had a great answer at the moment, but I remained quiet and said nothing, and then the Holy Spirit showed up.
She said, “I stopped hating you and God when I realized God had a way for my suffering, I now can reach those you can never reach, and I now know how to stop their suffering, and so I thank God for my life.”
Needless to say, such love of God and Christ is purely supernatural, though sent as a preacher and teacher, I quickly became a student of God’s mysteries, and stood in awe of God’s power.
An odd combo of words is put together for us, rejoice in trials.
And not just trials but various kinds of trials, Peter then inserts a sober meditation, “If necessary,” he says.
Trials can deepen our faith, that simple truth cannot be avoided.
Here is a partial list of the trials believers often go through.
Most famously Job had a skin disease and even Paul dealt with a thorn in the flesh. God was sovereign over both situations, and both took note of how their bodily sickness greatly tested their faith. Paul explained the reason for his thorn, it was important for the apostle to stay humble, and to help him with humility, God gave him a thorn in the flesh. A word fo caution is in order—never easily assume a believer’s sickness is for the same reason, Paul was given dynamic revelations and possessed unique supernatural power, so God dealt with him a certain way for certain reason.
Interestingly enough, Moses wanted to die and thought about killing himself. Elijah spun out into a dark depression, then isloated himself, and despaired greatly, mind you, all this took place after God used him greatly.
Depression and emotional trials are complicated, if for no other reason no two people have the same exact history and no two people interupt pain exactly the same. Chemically our bodies can become depressed, and spiritually our hearts can be broken. Each dire circumstance tests the believer to not trade out what they know about God’s love and character for what they don’t understand.
Demons want us to cave in, but the testing though painful can be refining, and in the darkest hour, God is still there.
John the Baptist sent an envoy to Jesus, the question he had his team ask Jesus is interesting. They were to ask Jesus, are you the one?
Amazing coming from the preacher who baptized Jesus, but context matters as they say, and in this instance John the Baptist is about to get his head cut off. To him it seems the promises of God have failed. He stood up to everyone opposed to God in a belief that the kingdom of God was to be restored before his eyes, yet it was truly before him but looked so different it pained him.
I will add one more kind of trial, there are what I will call Social trials.
In the modern world, countless people feel isolated.
Recently my son showed me a picture of his high school football team. My son asked me the question, what do all these kids have in common?
Mind you, I coached all these kids, there were from a generation I was involved with as they grew, so I knew their names and faces well, but somehow was at a loss to answer the question.
My son said, out of 40 players only ten have a mom and dad in the home.
That kind of divorce rate leads to bad things, and bad feelings.
For many other reasons people feel lonely and isolated.
The church interestingly enough is called the ekklessia in scripture, ekklessia is the Greek word for church. The ek part of that word means out, klessia refers to being called, so a church is full of people who are called out from all kinds of sins and negativity, into the marvelous light of Christ.
Church, when it is church, is a sticky point for some of our core longings for purpose, meaning, social acceptance and love.
Church leans into those who are different or difficult. Church connnects people to biblical growth patterns.
But a final word on trials must be said.
The text has a glorious line, “So that the tested genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that perishes though tested by fire, may result in praise, glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Such words are apex of scripture, the highest high point.
If Christians can show Christ redeems pain, then the atheist must remain silent, for accusations against God’s goodness is false. God is a miracle working God, redeeming pain and hurt in the lives of his children.
The following must said—Pain Is Pain. Suffering Is Suffering.
Somethings just hurt, because by nature they do.
Some understandably hurt deeply, making them blind to the redemptive side of their pain. That kind of place is normal for those confronting serious grief, which is why sometimes suffering is just suffering.
God is a revealer, and will be true to reveal and present himself to those in the cycle of pain.
Our ministry to one another then, is one of affirmation of friendship and kindness, where all that needs to be said is, “I love you.”
Doctrine, yes in time.
Biblical truth, yes in time.
But sometimes, pain is pain, and suffering is suffering, and those things Peter’s knows, more than most, and yet still, he helps us find the cross.