hope in suffering

For our summer Bible study friends . . .

I have never been more thankful for our germ-free gathering space on ZOOM, as our family near and far battled its way through COVID.  Thank you for your sweet encouragement and prayers as we recover.  For those who are following along with our study in 1&2 Peter from a distance, see below for a recap of our chat. . .

LAST WEEK’S DISCUSSION – 1 Peter 4:12-19

Although the “suffering” we are currently enduring from this illness does not compare to the ridicule and persecution the believers of Peter’s day encountered, our current circumstance does feel like a microcosm from which we can gather some valuable lessons.  Whether suffering is a simple struggle or a severe trial, it is unwanted, unplanned difficulty that is usually out of our control.  Suffering interrupts our plans and places limitations on us that are frustrating and discouraging.  It can be painful, fearful, and costly – emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  None of us is particularly comfortable with suffering, so whether it is a matter of days or months or sometimes years, suffering can feel endless and draining.

While working through this lesson, I jotted down some very different thoughts about suffering from a timely podcast, “Is there hope in suffering?” (“Hope We Hold” Podcast by Jeremy and Jinger Vuolo):

“Suffering is a good place to be.”

“The goal of the gospel is Christ Himself.  He is all we need.  He is the treasure!  Suffering allows us to see Him as He really is.”

“The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.” (Elizabeth Elliot)

“It is a sweet mercy to have to go through floods, if some filthiness may thereby be removed.” (Charles Spurgeon)

“Hope is like a star, not to be seen in the sunshine of prosperity, only to be discovered in the night of adversity.” (Charles Spurgeon)

“James 1:12 says we can be steadfast under trial.  If we want to come out as gold, we have to go through the fire… with Him.”

These aren’t grand, sweeping statements from stubbornly optimistic people.  These are deeply cherished conclusions of dear ones who have walked through severe trial.   At the end of it all, it is possible to see the hidden treasures in the most difficult experiences, to value the very fires that have painstakingly refined us!  Our lesson this week helped us to gather similar encouragement from passages in 1 Peter, Malachi, Philippians, James, and Peter’s personal experiences described in Acts 5.  It is the LORD’s mysterious kindness that calls us to walk through the fires of suffering as a means of purifying us.  In the process, what is not of GOD will fall away, stripping away from us what will ultimately fail us, sharpening our vision for the one solid place we can stand – the Rock of Christ.  It is exactly through this process that King David could pray, “create in me a pure heart, O GOD, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10)

So, how do we shift from point a to point b, from feeling defeated by suffering to viewing it with joy, appreciation for growth, and victory?  Lesson 8 was faithful to remind us that we don’t walk these difficult experiences alone.  How comforting to encourage one another that we have several Divine Resources at our disposal: the LORD’s own presence, His Spirit, His Word, true, 2-way dialogue in prayer, and fellow believers!  We are so grateful for this little study group where we can wrestle truth together, hear one another’s testimonies of the reality of GOD, pray for one another, and be strengthened in our faith!  When we see all the LORD can accomplish through times of struggle (for our good and His glory), in our own journey as well as others around us, it bolsters our confidence in the hope we hold in Christ! 

The fires of adversity are refining and defining.  What we hope to accomplish in this life (our efforts) or where we place our trust (our faith) – both are more clearly defined when put to the test.  However difficult, isn’t it a mercy that our GOD walks us through the refining process?  To help us identify sooner than later what is strong and pure and what will disintegrate into dust?  He wants us to test where our faith lies.  He wants us to know how confident we can be in who He is and what He will accomplish when we trust in Him alone!

Peter closes this section with sweet words of encouragement: “Keep on doing what is right, and trust yourself to the GOD who made you, for He will never fail you.”  (1 Peter 4:19)  With Peter’s words in mind, our lesson also closed with a wonderful “apply what you learned” section: “Recall a personal experience of physical, emotional, or relational suffering.  Given your present understanding of GOD’s perspective and purpose for suffering, identify the positive effects of that experience.  Take time to thank GOD for His purpose, protection, and provision in all aspects of your life, and commit your future to your faithful Creator.  He loves you deeply.”

From a very personal place, I close this little recap with a prayer that the LORD will reveal His purposes in this time of illness for our family.  These can be very long days, feeling useless, sidelined by sickness, isolated and restricted.  But they are no surprise to the GOD who created us and loves us.  We can trust Him for this day as much as any other.  May I look for the ways that He is protecting us and providing for us, and more importantly, the ways He will use our current trial to give us one more opportunity to proclaim the reality of His faithfulness!

“In You, O LORD, do I put my trust and confidently take refuge!”  Psalm 71:1

photo credit: alittleperspective.com

#suffering #adversity #struggle #illness #importantlessons #unexpectedgifts #HOPE #CHRISTinme #hopeofglory #summerBiblestudy #learningtogether #1and2Peter #CommunityBibleStudy #engagingGODsWord

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