Are any of you suffering? Any of you going through a hard time?
How does it feel? Lonely, right? Maybe you feel people just don’t understand. Or your suffering might be ongoing, and you feel you are a burden to the people around you. You worry about that, and your worry only compounds the suffering.
Have you ever wondered if you’ll ever be done suffering?
What can be so hard for us Christians is that we know we are to cling to Jesus in the midst of our suffering, but it can seem like he is not there. That’s scary, right? Suffering can lead to a crisis of faith? Why is Jesus allowing me to go through this? Does he really care about me? Does he know what I am going through? Of course he knows. So why he is letting this suffering drag on so long? What does my relationship with Jesus matter during the hard times? Am I just supposed to get through this on my own? I don’t know that I can do that.
As we continue to study Peter’s first letter, we find that he has a word for people who are suffering. But not just any sufferers. Before going any further in the post, please stop and read 1 Peter 1:6-12.
First of all, what are the trials that Peter was referring to? Remember that Peter was the leader of the church in Rome, and he was writing to Christians around the Roman Empire that had been dealing with some persecution.
I know this is not fun to talk about. Persecution. But we need to have at least a basic grasp of what Peter and the Christians in that day were facing before we can apply this passage to us. Especially because there have been Christians facing persecution for hundreds of years in many places around the globe, and there still are many Christians being persecuted today.
If we don’t have a good sense of the trials that Peter is talking about, we could very easily apply Peter’s words to every situation that we find difficult. Getting a bad parking space at the mall. Having your dryer make funny noises, like ours was this week. Well, actually, the first comment was “Dad, there is a bat trapped in the dryer…we need to get it out of there.” Over the course of a few days, the sound went from trapped bat, to full-on shrieking.
You can think about the difficulties and griefs that you’ve had this week. Are they in any way related to the trials that Peter is talking about? My concern is that we can trivialize what Peter is talking about. Missing an important family event. A sports team losing a big game. A dryer breaking.
These situations are nothing like what Peter is talking about.
Scot McKnight says it this way: “Peter was addressing the impact salvation had on one’s life and how a person’s changed life (and status) ran counter to the culture in which these Christians lived.”
In other words, the people in Peter’s day, and Peter himself, were suffering specifically because they were Christians. Their suffering was completely and totally connected to the fact that they had decided to live their lives according the way of Jesus. Peter is not talking about bad things happening to people who happen to be Christians. They are suffering because they are Christians.
As I said, my dryer broke last week, and thanks to YouTube it was easy to fix, but also my mower broke…in the same week. Equipment breaking has nothing to do with me being a Christian, or being a pastor. Now some may say, “What about the spiritual realm? Couldn’t that be an attack from Satan meant to discourage you?” I will admit that I don’t know for sure, but I highly, highly doubt it. That, to me, sounds more like a plot line in a Christian fiction novel than it sounds like how Satan really works. We need to be careful to avoid spiritualizing things.
Here’s what actually happened. It was anything but spiritual.
A couple weeks ago, my mower stopped working. You would pull the cord, the engine would fire up and immediately stop. So Daniel, a teenager in my church, fixed it for me. Daniel is learning small engine repair in an internship, and he did great! I mowed my whole yard, and the mower worked like a charm. Then a few more days went by, days filled with rain and warmer temps, and the grass was growing out of control. But there was no end in sight to the rain. So Friday a week ago, we had a break in the rain, and even though the grass was wet, I had the kids start mowing. They did their portions, and then I was going to finish up.
I didn’t get far, and the mower died. Same thing as before. Pull, start, die. Pull, start, die. Pull, start, die. Ugh. I thought, how dumb of me to mow wet grass. And tall grass to boot! Totally my fault. Probably got the carburetor clogged again. So the next day I took it to Daniel again. I was hoping he could teach me what he did before. But this time there was no fixing it. Same thing: pull, start, die.
He said he would take it to his internship and look at it.
Well the streak of rain and warm temps continued. The grass grew like crazy. On Wednesday I asked my neighbor if I could borrow her riding mower, and she said I could. I got it out of her shed, it started, and I drove it maybe 20 yards, and it died. I couldn’t start it. So I checked and it was out of gas. Whew. I filled it up, and I still couldn’t start it. It would turn over a little, but never really start. So I pushed it back into her shed. When she got home, she was able to start it. It looked like I didn’t have the throttle in the right place.
So I walked over to get started using it, and when I tried, it wouldn’t work. I thought I must be the lawn-mower anti-Midas. Whatever I touch breaks. Then she got on it, and this time, even she couldn’t start it. She said she had just had it serviced a few months ago, and wasn’t having any problems, so she would call her mechanic.
I was really frustrated, and my grass was super tall.
Then I got a text from Daniel. “Your mower is fixed. There was two-stroke gas in the engine.”
What??? Where in the world did I get two-stroke gas? I have no two-stroke engine equipment like a chain saw. I never bought two-stroke gas. What was going on?
Then I had a scary thought! I had filled up my neighbor’s riding mower with the same gas! I ran over to her house hoping she was still home. And she was. She graciously allowed me to empty her gas tank of the two-stroke gas. But neither she nor I had regular gas. As I write this, days later, her mower still isn’t working.
Daniel dropped off my mower, and it works great.
But where did this two-stroke gas come from? I realized that my father-in-law had been at our house a few weeks ago using his chainsaw to cut some of our wood. That gas can must have been his, but it looks incredibly similar to our extra gas can, and it had no markings on it! You know, like a label that would say “two stroke gas” or something?
There was no demon. It was the wrong gas. We need to be super cautious about spiritualizing difficult situations in life and blaming them on Satan. So many times difficulties come as a result of our own actions and choices. When we blame the consequences of our poor behavior on the devil, we are trvilializing the actual suffering that people are going through around the world, specifically because they are Jesus-followers.
This week in my prayer app, Prayer Mate, which I have mentioned before, it pulled in a prayer request for Sabina in Tajikistan who became a follower of Jesus. Several members of Sabina’s own family, including her father, beat her when they found out. That didn’t stop her from giving a Bible to her friend Madina, who is now a follower of Jesus. Sabina and Medina are following Jesus at the risk of their lives.
McKnight told the following story, “I recently spent some time with a young athlete who had some rough experiences at his local high school with his “former” friends. As a senior he had a track record of drinking and drugs but was converted to Christ. His conversion made a sudden and immediate impact on his life, so much that he found himself on an island. After games, he was no longer invited to the parties; during games, he was no longer given the same opportunities to shoot the basketball; and in the hallways at school, he was no longer a “hit” with either the girls or his friends. He came to me for consolation. I explained that at least part of this was suffering and that he needed to guard against retaliatory speech and bitter attitudes. He began to see, in a painful way, that commitment to Christ can involve suffering.”
That is who Peter is talking to. Peter is writing to people who started living life in a very differing way because they began to believe in Jesus and learn from him how to learn. As a result, other people in their communities starting mistreating them. As we start looking into this passage this week, it will be very helpful for us to have a proper perspective on the kind of suffering we’re facing.
Tomorrow, check back in, as we look at how Christians have a distinctly different response to suffering.