Wednesday, January 3, 2024

         We often do not enjoy thinking about trials or battles.  We certainly prefer not to begin a new year thinking about such things.  We would prefer to entertain thoughts of adventures, plans, family events, milestones and bucket-list pursuits.  However, history is a good teacher.  And for most of us at least, history would suggest that there will be some battles and trials to endure and experience in this year (or any year).  Very few people have a year with all blessings and no battles, all triumphs and no trials.  Often, the battles bring blessings and the trials lead to unthinkable triumphs.  Peter has some wisdom to offer us as we anticipate battles and trials that might surface in the next year.  Long ago, he wrote, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (1 Peter 4:12-16). Peter has some guidance that can help us navigate our way through trials that we may end up facing.
            First, we have to acknowledge the reality of “fiery” trials and battles.  They are not fun.  Remember that fires tend to be consuming and invasive.  Some trials threaten to consume us.  They capture our thoughts and invade our lives.  They often take our eyes off the blessings that we have or the sufficient grace that God offers us.  We have to acknowledge and recognize the presence of trials when they come.  Hiding from them or dodging does not lead to anything good.  When we acknowledge them, we are not paralyzed or captured by them.  We can also see them as momentary struggles that we can push through with God’s help and strength.  Peter told us not to be “surprised.”  No believer should be surprised by trials.  We live in a fallen world and they are real.
            Second, trials give us a chance to draw closer to Christ.  We “participate in His sufferings.”  Jesus told His disciples (and us) that we would face trouble and heartaches because of our relationship with Him.  Trials give us a chance to see His power and grace magnified and multiplied within us.  We find ourselves leaning on Him more consistently and trusting His promises more deeply.  We often hear people speaking of how a trial brought them to faith in Christ or deepened the faith they already possessed.  We may not enjoy or anticipate life’s battles but these battles often reveal what is inside of us and what we have welcomed into our lives.  One way to prepare for a yet unseen and unknown battle is spending time in Scripture, prayer and worship before the trial ever arrives.  Be guarded, defended and prepared in advance.
            Third, some trials come exclusively because of our faith.  The Voice of the Martyrs
is an organization devoted to giving voices to believers who have suffered for the name of Christ in hostile places.  Visit their website and spend some time looking at the stories that they tell.  Some believers suffer economically or physically.  Some even lose their lives or witness the death of family members who would rather die for Christ than live a life of betrayal and accommodation.  Suffering for our faith in Christ is something that devoted followers and believers endure.  But it is far, far better to suffer for Christ and with Christ than to sacrifice one’s faith for a life of ease and contentment.  We are called to be convicted and committed and not compromising or accommodating to the forces and ways that would draw us away from Christ.  The enemy works in sly and stealthy ways to chisel away a little bit here and there.  And before we realize it, we have roamed and wandered far away from Christ and His Word.  This slow and slippery slide happens to individuals, churches, organizations and even whole denominations as they become shells and shadows of what they once were and once professed.  
            Fourth, some suffering we bring on ourselves.  We often make bad decisions and choices and we suffer as a result.  Peter gave examples...murder, stealing, meddling and criminal behavior.  We might not be guilty of these things but we often do not have anyone to blame for the bad choices we have made and the consequences that follow those choices.  If you suffer because of lying, gossip, bitterness or grudges, then the fault is yours alone.  Peter’s point is helping us to understand that not all suffering is because of Christ or unjustified or inexplicable.  Occasionally, we have no one else to blame but ourselves.  We suffer because we have chosen to sin—willfully and purposefully defying God and His ways.
            Fifth, in all things, we are to give thanks that we bear and carry the name of Christ.  What a privilege to be called one of His disciples!  What a joy to be a child of God—adopted into His family by grace!  The sufferings that we might encounter in this life on this earth are small compared to the awesome riches that we will possess in everlasting life in eternity.  Paul wrote, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed” (Romans 8:18-19).  Take time today to prepare for the battles and trials that could well come in the next twelve months.  And be grateful that the all-sufficient grace of God is available as you live for His glory!  Have a great Wednesday!

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