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Monday, November 5, 2012

Provision and Suffering

                                     1 Peter 4:12-14, Luke 12:15, and James 4

            What thoughts do we give to our needs? We need clothes. We need food. We need a place to lay our heads. What more do we need? Moreover, what do we make of the misdeeds and ills that come to us? Do we blame God
, the One who has provided everything we need? Out of our mouths come thanks and complaint. How can that be? Have we not seen God’s graciousness and provision from Abraham to now? Has He not always loved us and wanted us to turn our hearts to Him? We should turn and look at ourselves instead of turning on God. Look to yourself: can you add one more day to your life or another hair to your head? Can you make the day turn to night or the fire turn to rain? How can we assume, when complaining, we know better than God does and we can do better than He could?
            We should instead think to ourselves, God provides for the abundance of my life, for my learning, and for my growth. Do we just grow through abundance? Can you say you have not grown by watching others go through trials
 and by going through trials yourself? Peter, the other apostles, and Paul do not consider trials and persecutions as God’s rejection of them. Instead, they understand it as sharing in Christ’s suffering. The apostles see trials and persecutions as a chance to be fashioned by God’s hands for His work. This trial may not be for our gain, but for us to understand and help someone else. Does this mean I must run out and purposely put myself in harm’s way? That is not so. God’s intent is not to harm you, as you see it, but to lead you in growth. Consider 1 Peter 4:12, Peter said,

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. [NASB]  
Is this your first reaction, not to question a trial? James said in James 1:2 “consider it all joy, my brothers, when you are enveloped in or encounter trials of any sort” (NASB). He even goes on to say these trials will grow our endurance and patience.
Undoubtedly, I know we may not want to go through trials just to grow in patience and endurance for God’s use in His service to others. However, can you tell me you will grow in patience without having your patience tried? No. How else, though, will we grow in patience and endurance? Does a runner just walk up to the starting line of a 52km marathon and run the entire race without gasping and passing out from exhaustion? No, the runner must train his body for that endurance race. In like manner, should we not train ourselves or allow God to train us, without grumbling and complaining? Consider it all joy. Going through troubling times is hard, but think of the alternative. We could be weak believers who, when Satan throws his attacks against us, falter and fail. Paul meant this when he spoke of running the race. The writer of Hebrew 12:1-3 said,

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. [NASB]
Do not forget, we are not going through trials Christ did not face while on earth. We long ago conquered this trial because Christ was victor over it first. If Christ is the victor, then we only must endure and grow stronger with each trial. We must share in Christ’s sufferings and grow more Christlike. As we grow stronger in our faith, the Holy Spirit in us, as believers, grows so that His presence in us increases and our own sinful nature decreases.
           Are we partakers of Christ’s sufferings then? Are we going through trials because we are followers and because God is growing us to be in His service? We must go through trials for God to transform us and use us for His service. We choose whether to grow from trials or be bitter from them. We must decide how we will let trials affect us, with growth or with grumbling. Consider what Peter said above in 1 Peter 4:12. We each must decide if we will allow fiery trials to make us bitter or to make us better equipped for Christ’s work on earth. We never realize at the time God is growing us. We often go through trials without understanding. Later in life we come to the “ah ha” moment where we realize how God used that experience from our past. Then we shake our heads in acknowledgement that God knew from the beginning. We realize God has strengthened us every step along this way.
“If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” 1 Peter 4:14 [NASB]