Six Things to Remember in Your Suffering
by Christopher Dilley
The Apostle Peter addressed his powerful first epistle to Christians who were experiencing degrees of persecution for their faith in Christ. They were suffering saints in need of a word of encouragement. Peter writes to them in their time of need and reminds them of the unfading hope of the gospel, a hope that would help them endure their present sufferings, as well as help them keep their eyes fixed on eternity. (1:3-9) We can learn much from this letter about our own posture towards God in our suffering, specifically as we consider 1 Peter. 5:6-11:
“6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (ESV)
- Remember to humble yourself before the Lord
This might seem like a curious statement to the sufferer: “humble myself? I’m already down in the depths! I can’t get any lower!” What is Peter saying here? Peter is saying that when believers suffer, they must submit their life and their present circumstances to the sovereign, infinitely wise, will of God. When we suffer, we are prone to shake fists. We are prone to accuse God: “How could you let this happen to me?” “Don’t you love me?” Questions like these come from a posture of pride towards God. Scripture is clear that man is in no position to question almighty God. (Rom. 9:20) However, there is a proper wayto ask God questions during suffering. David models this for us throughout the Psalms of lament. (Ps. 22:1-2; 74:1) It’s ok to ask God questions like: “why?” “Do you hear my prayer, Lord?” Jesus models this proper questioning of God in Gethsemane, as he anticipated the worst suffering that would ever occur: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Mt. 26:39) This was a fully human (without sin) gut-wrenching cry to God. But notice that Jesus’ question doesn’t attack God or question His character. Rather, it asks if there be another way and no matter the conclusion, resolves to say, “not as I will, but as you will.”
So, to humble ourselves means we entrust all that is happening to us and inside of usduring suffering to the secret purposes of God. God’s not obligated to answer the “why” question. Contrary to popular belief, Scripture doesn’t ever promise our “why” questions will be answered when we see His face in eternity. But you see, that’s the point: In eternity, we won’t need that question answered because His presence will be enough!In fact, His presence is enough for you even nowin your suffering. (Ps. 16:11; Heb. 13:5) So, ask the question, but humble yourself before the Lord, rest in his presence, and he will exalt you at the proper time.
- Remember to cast your anxieties on God
Too often, even as believers, we try to go it on our own. We are still prone to think that we are the masters of our own destiny. But it’s just not true. And just when we think it might be true, we crumble under the pressure of trying to balance life: Marriage, children, singleness, careers, ministry, sickness, suffering, death, wealth, poverty – we can’t carry the weight of any of it in our own strength. When you realize this, you will be free in your suffering to rely on the One who cancarry it. Why does God carry the anxiety that we face? For a similar reason that you might walk with your spouse, child, or friend through times of great difficulty: your care for them. You love them. And God loves us! We know we can cast our present anxieties caused by suffering upon the Lord because Jesus has already entered into our suffering and borne our sin burden. (1 Pet. 3:18) He suffered in our place, and as his people, we share in his sufferings. (1 Pet. 4:13) Even as we share in Christ’s sufferings, he is with us, carrying our burdens, sustaining us to the end. Because he cares for us.
- Remember to be watchful
Suffering affects us as whole persons and it often makes it difficult for us to think clearly, and biblically as believers. Our souls and our bodies are connected, and our suffering affects both. Many emotions are caught up in suffering and if we’re not careful, we can allow our circumstances, and the emotional responses that they produce to guide our thinking, and this is dangerous ground to be on. When you’re suffering, your spiritual defenses are damaged, and sometimes, they’re completely down. This is why Peter warns the suffering believers who received his letter to be watchful for the Devil, who sees our weakness, and who is trying to seize the opportunity to devour us. We know Satan is the father of lies, (Jn. 8:44) and lies can be easy to believe when we suffer because of the questions that we have for God, our doubt, discontentment, emotions, and other factors. This is why Jesus told his disciples to watch and pray. (Mk. 14:38) This is why Jesus watched and prayed so often. (Mk. 14:39) He knew that great suffering would make the follower of Christ susceptible to spiritual sin and discouragement.
So, Christian, be on guard. Realize that your own deceptive heart, the world, and Satan will feed you lies, especially during times of suffering. The only way to combat lies is with the truth. Saturate your mind and heart with the truth of God’s Word. Read it, speak it, pray it. Don’t neglect the corporate gathering of believers in worship. You need to sit under the faithful preaching and application of the truth. You need other believers to speak truth in love to you. And believe it or not, even when you’re suffering, your brothers and sisters in Christ still need you too! (Heb. 10:24-25)
- Remember you’re not alone in your suffering
Peter exhorts his audience to resist the devil, being firm in their faith. As was mentioned above, this firmness of faith can only come by replacing the lies we believe in our suffering with the eternal truths of Scripture. Next, Peter reminds his audience that they are not alone in their suffering. Why does he do this? I think it’s because when we suffer, we often feel alone; isolated. David reflects this in the Psalms. (Ps. 38:9-11) And yet, even when we have faithful people around who support us like pastors, family members, counselors, and friends, we can still often feel alone in our suffering. So, Peter uses the fact that others are enduring the same suffering as an encouragement to these believers. In effect, he’s telling the believers that even though they feel alone, they aren’t. Others know their experience firsthand. Others can empathize with them in their suffering. This is a great encouragement to the suffering Christian who feels like there’s no one who understands. What’s more, is that Jesus understands. (Heb. 4:15) Jesus suffered in our place, he took our actual sins upon himself and participated in the sufferings that those sins brought into our lives. Suffering Christian, remember you’re never alone.
- Remember your suffering is temporary
Many forms of suffering are temporary in nature. Peter knew that the persecution these believers were enduring would likely eventually fade away in its intensity. In like manner, the death of a loved one eventually loses its initial devastating sting as time goes forward and as you grow in your faith. Many sicknesses and physical ailments can be healed, many who lose their job and find themselves in financial dire straits will be set right again. However, some suffering can last a lifetime. Whether it be a debilitating physical sickness, consistent bouts with depression, etc. Yet even other forms of suffering will end with death. So, are Peter’s words true for everyone? Is suffering reallyonly “a little while”? It is! The fact is, whether your sickness is healed in a month’s time, or you endure suffering that results in death, all suffering is temporary. Because whether we die, or Christ returns, whatever comes first, he will make all things new. (Rev. 21:5) So even a lifetime of suffering, as difficult as that would be – will end in glory for the believer. We learn from our Savior Christ that suffering always precedes glory. But suffering doesn’t have the final say, glory does. Which leads me to my last point…
- Remember God has a purpose for your suffering
Before his final greetings, Peter ends his treatise on suffering by encouraging the believers that God has a purpose for them in their suffering: “…the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” As was mentioned earlier, it’s often difficult to see the purpose of suffering when we’re in the throes of it. But God’s Word consistently reminds us that there is a greater purpose in our suffering. God is making us more dependent on Him, and is conforming us into the image of His Son, so that we may be presented blameless at his coming. (1 Thess. 3:13) God will restore our suffering to healing, he will confirm our calling in Christ, he will strengthen our faith, and he will establish our standing as children of God through our suffering. Christian, God is with you now, whatever you’re suffering through, and He is working to make you more like Jesus, until one day, your faith is made sight, and all things are made new. Do you believe this?
Christopher Dilley is the Associate Pastor of Education at First Baptist Church in Lindale, Texas.