Friday, February 02, 2007

A “How to Guide” for Suffering

I have a couple of “Dummy” books at home. You have seen the type: A Dummy’s Guide to computers, playing guitar… I am afraid to ask what it means to have those books and still not be able to play a guitar or be a computer whiz. Does that make me a step below a dummy? (A rhetorical question – no need to reply.)

Worse than having Dummy books and still being dumb is having God’s Book to all us dummies (sheep) and not following it. His “How To” guide for life is the most sold, owned, maybe read yet least followed of all – if I may – self help books.

The Apostle Peter, a fellow dummy at times, for all his bumbling was also very pastoral. In a letter to believers who are suffering for their faith, he reminds them to not be surprised at such treatment. Instead, rejoice you are suffering like Christ and resolve to stay true to God. Peter wrote:

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.

“Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name… Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right” (1 Peter 4:12-16, 19 - NASB).

We are to recognize that trials – harsh, fiery ones - will come. Do not be surprised. This may sound basic, yet I have to confess wrong expectations at times when life gets hard. Ever heard yourself singing “Why me, Lord? After what I have done for You, given, sacrificed, this isn’t fair. What did I do to deserve this? I’ve lived for You and this is the thanks I get?”

Have you ever starting slugging down a glass of ice tea on a hot day, to discover it was coke? Even for those who like both, the initial surprise and sudden gear shifting can make the best tea taste bad - for at least a moment. It was not what one expected.

Since expectations are powerful things, they must be biblical. They can rule and ruin relationships as much as reality can. Jesus’ disciples who expect only smooth sailing are set for a sad surprise. Sometimes, like those to whom Peter wrote, hardships and abuse are our earthly reward for living for God.

Mistreatment for living for Christ is promised to God’s people. In this world, Jesus assured us, we will have tribulations. If they abused Me, your Master, He warned, expect the same as My servants. Our trials may be severe, ongoing and even fatal. Ask Stephen, James, Paul or Peter (read Hebrews 11:23-40).

Instead of being surprised, rejoice, Peter says, when you share in Christ’s suffering. From realizing to rejoicing is a huge step. It moves from the mere cognitive (“yep, Christians suffer”) to the emotional and volitional (I get to suffer with and like Jesus - cool).

If you are taking a beating because your actions are Christ-like, rejoice and glorify God. You are sharing in Christ’s suffering, blessed with God’s Spirit and glory. They rest on you. Also, you do not have to be ashamed before God or man. Instead, you can glorify God for having the name Christian – one of Christ’s.

If life is hard because you have not been living for God, then quit applying for the martyr’s crown. Repent! Do not conveniently confuse God’s spankings and life’s consequences with persecution (See 1 Peter 2:19-25 and Hebrews 12:1-7). Paraphrasing the original Rocky (Peter): if you suffer for your sin, well, duh. What is the glory in that?

However, if it is because you obey Jesus you do not get a promotion, or a date or lose friends, rejoice, even in the pain and tears. Such followers can be confident in the Judgment (vs. 17-19).

When suffering, it can be very tempting to compromise our convictions and pull away from the Lord. Thus, Peter writes that we should resolve to stay committed in hard times. Instead of shrinking back into so-called safety, we are to stay in the arena and do His will.

Those who suffer according to God’s will are to trust their souls to the capable hands of our faithful Creator. Entrusting yourself is to make a permanent deposit of your life and fate with God. No quick withdrawals when the market looks rough (Luke 12:48; 23:46; 1 Corinthians 15:58)

Knowing that the One who made us is faithful, we are far safer with Him than any FDIC guaranteed deposit. We are to serve, obey and do good (see 1 Peter 2:12, 15, 20; 3:13-17). There are no excused absences from obedience or service to God. Sin or spiritual slippage is not winked at because of extenuating circumstances.

A few meddlesome questions: does your way of life risk persecution for His sake or are you “safe”? Are you confused or angered when doing right leads to tough times? Do you expect better treatment than Jesus received?

Do you rejoice when mistreated like your Master (see Acts 5:41)? Do you allow God to refine you through trials, thankful to share His name? Are you on loan to God on your terms, ready to withdraw in hard times? Are you trusting your faithful Creator and doing good?

If instead of suffering for Christ, you shrink away in fear like Peter once did, then follow Peter’s pattern in John 21: Repent, restate your love and commitment for Christ and return to your place of service, feeding and tending His sheep. As Peter later lived and wrote, believers are to be ready to face trials for their faith in Jesus, rejoicing and resolutely faithful to God in the midst of them.