“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” 1 Peter 4:12
How do You care for those You love, Lord? I mean, not those You love “distantly,” you know, those that You love but they, on the other hand, don’t want to have anything to do with You, but those who You love and want everything to do with You? How do You care for those You love, those You have chosen and who are answering that call, those who are precious to You and to whom You are becoming more and more precious?
Do you keep them from troubles? No, You walk with them in the fire. You give them strength in the midst of difficulties. You give them hope. I suppose it’s a form of tough love. But then again, Jesus walked through the fire for us. If He is my master, why should I receive better from the world than Him? Why should the love that I demonstrate back to You be any less? Why should I be allowed to skip the test?
I like the way the Amplified version shares this verse, “Beloved, do not be amazed and bewildered at the fiery ordeal which is taking place to test your quality, as though something strange (unusual and alien to you and your position) were befalling you.” When troubles come in my life, do I sit amazed and bewildered as though I should be immune? Do I act as though I’m undeserving of going through struggles? Yet Jesus was deserving? And isn’t that telling, the part of thinking it’s unusual and alien to me and my “position”? When I think I don’t deserve struggles, am I elevating myself above Jesus? Why would he deserve struggles and me not? Why would I think that? If the Son of God was tested and demonstrated the stuff he was made of and his loyalty to his heavenly Father, why wouldn’t I expect the same and be preparing myself and allowing Your word and Your Spirit to prepare me for it?
But, more often then not, I find myself saying, “Why, Lord? Why are they treating me this way? Why am I going through this? Why me? Why this?” Why am I surprised? Why does it throw me for a loop? Why? You’ve told me to not be surprised by it. It’s not new news. It’s old news. I should expect stuff like this. You’ve told me. I’ve heard about it already. It’s the story time and time again since the beginning of time. When did it become so shockingly out of the ordinary? When it hits me.
I guess it was the same for these beloved believers in Pontius, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. When the persecution and trials were hitting them, they were acting like they didn’t know why, like they weren’t expecting it either. So Peter reminds them and us, “Stop thinking it’s alien and stop being shocked!” PreceptAustin.org reminds us “Remember that all of the commands of God come with the power of God to carry them out! Submit. Yield. Surrender to His will. Continually walk in the Spirit. Continually be being filled with (controlled by) the Holy Spirit.” Every fiery trial is an opportunity to do just that, to see if our talk is also the reality of our walk.
I need to stop being caught off guard. I need to be in Your word, all of it, so I know that none of this stuff of life is new. Those believers living thousands of years before me have gone through this and worse and those after me will go through this and worse. I have the testimony of those before me, and even the testimony of those who will come after me to guide me through! I mean, I can even be encouraged in Revelation by those who have persevered to the end. Do I think one would need to persevere if there were no fiery trial?
When the Lord chose Paul as an apostle He said, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.” (Acts 9:16) Oh, well, that’s Paul. I’m not Paul, Lord. Well, Paul helps me out there because he reminded the believers, of which I am now one, “That no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this.” (1 Thessalonians 3:3) Jesus repeatedly told us we would need to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow him. What did I think he meant? Paul was clear as well. “…[W]e also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance…” (Romans 5:3); “…but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses…” (2 Corinthians 6:4), “…we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed: perplexed, but not despairing…” (2 Cor. 4:8), “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison,” (2Cor. 4:17), “…and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort.” (2 Cor. 1:7)
No, I am not immune to suffering as a believer. I should expect it to come in some shape or form and be ready for it. Paul warned Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…” (2 Timothy 3:12) It’s not a maybe. I can count on it. So why do I let myself get caught off guard?
John Piper shared an awesome message on this entitled The Holy Spirit Will Help You Die. He explains, “This is an admonition to know what God is like. This is an admonition to have a true and deep theology. If you know that God sometimes wills for his people to suffer as 1 Peter 4:19 says; that God’s judgment begins with Christians to test us as 1 Peter 4:17 says; and that if suffering befell the King how much more his subjects (John 15:2) as 1 Peter 4:13 implies; then when your fiery ordeal comes you will not be surprised. You will not raise your fist and say, ‘Where is God now when a young missionary and father of two children is shot through the heart?’ You may weep for the pain, you may be angry at the sin of the killers, but you will not be surprised. Your knowledge of God, learned from 1 Peter 4:12-19, will not let you be thrown into confusion or uncertainty. God is the all-powerful Creator and God is faithful to His people. So the first admonition is, Don’t be surprised at suffering. Know your God! Have a true and deep theology.”
How do I make it to the other side of the fiery trial? I need to stop deceiving myself and start expecting it to come. I need to learn to rejoice in it, because You are using it in my life to mold and shape me and to show that I am Yours. I need to look for Your blessing in the midst and the presence of Your Holy Spirit. I need to know why I am suffering and make sure it’s for Your righteousness and not my own agenda. I need to know that I need purifying and because I’m part of Your household, it will come to me first. And I need to learn to entrust my everything to You no matter the cost.
Am I willing to step up like a real son/daughter? Am I willing to allow You to take me through whatever fiery trials You have for me, so that I can be everything You created me to be in You? St. Augustine once said, “God had one Son without sin, but he never had a son without trial.” Trials will come. And they will keep on coming. But God is bringing them for a reason, for a glorious purpose in us. Rather than letting these hard situations cause me to be bitter and unmovable, Lord, may I be ready and respond in faith and love and perseverance, knowing that You have designed each one for my good and Your glory. As You prove me, Lord, let me come out of the fire, purer, truer, stronger, more loving and caring, and more like You every time.
I can’t get over John Piper’s sermon, The Holy Spirit Will Help You Die. He later shared a story of a young mother named Perpetua who was imprisoned, mauled by a wild heifer, and then beheaded. She even had a nursing infant. But she wouldn’t deny Christ. She was even a new believer. She wouldn’t deny Christ for the love of her own life, not even for the love of her infant, or her mother or father. In the arena, she encouraged fellow believers. If someone was to threaten my life or the life of a family member, would I be willing to die for You, Lord? Would I be willing to allow them to die for You? Oh, that You would give me that strength in the time of my need!
This is a good thought to end with. John Piper keeps me thinking. “But more important is the fact that thinking about your own death for Christ will help you live for Christ as you should. A true Christian must be willing to say, “I will not renounce Christ even if it costs my life.” But as soon as we say that it makes a whole lot of things in our lives look ridiculous. I will die for you but I can’t find time to sit and read your teaching each day. I will die for you but prayer doesn’t seem real. I will die for you but I can’t talk to Jim about you at work. I will die for you but I can’t support your cause with more than 10% of my income. One of the best ways to bring wonderful Christ-honoring changes into your life is to measure your way of life by your willingness to die for Jesus.” Lord, if I would be willing to truly die for You, then I want to truly live for You as well.