Difficult times, faithful God

Nobody likes to encounter difficulty or difficult times. Howard Hendricks, who recently passed away at the age of 88, said, after cancer surgery, “If God had said to me, ‘I’ll give you another course [in trusting],’” Prof quipped, “I would have said, ‘Let’s make it an elective.’” We would all like to make difficulties an elective! But difficult times are part of life, and especially part of the Christian life. God tells us so, Jesus confirms this is so, and Scripture is replete with examples that this is so.

One particularly encouraging portion of Scripture that I have been turning to recently that addresses our response to difficulties in life is found in 1 Peter 5. In fact, Peter closes this letter with this encouragement immediately before his final greetings. In 1 Peter 5:6-11, Peter gives us four words of advice and counsel: humility, watchfulness, firmness, and confidence. Let’s take a look at these four words of advice and consider how they help prepare us for encountering difficulties by faith.

HUMILITY

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (6-7)

Peter starts right where we need to start, with humility. This is not a false humility. He is not advocating modesty for modesty’s sake. Peter is advocating that in every situation we understand that it is all part of God’s plan and it is all in God’s hands. This response will undercut a number of different tendencies that we have.

Worry: when times become difficult, many of us have the tendency to worry. We fret over circumstances, wondering what will happen in the situation in which we find ourselves. We fret, we become anxious, and we lose perspective. Peter addresses that very tendency in verse 7.

Taking control: we humans have the tendency to take matters into our own hands.  If the situation is out of control, from our perspective, we try to take control. We try to solve the problem and control the situation towards the end we think is best. That usually only tends to bring about more difficulty.

Becoming frustrated: another response is frustration and anger. Worry may be one expression of anxiety, frustration and anger are another. “I don’t deserve this. This is not right. You can’t do this to me!” Anger is an attempt to lift ourselves up out of the situation. None of these responses are good, right, or godly.

Instead Peter instructs us to cast or throw our anxieties onto God, much like the people threw their cloaks onto the colt that Jesus sat on. God doesn’t want us to hold onto anxieties, but rather throw them onto him. Or, as Jesus says in Matt. 11:29-30, we need to take on his light yoke.

Peter gives two reasons for this instruction: God will lift you up, and God cares for you. God knows the situation. He has a plan in it, and he is the best one to lift me up. I shouldn’t try to exalt myself (Mt. 23:12). God will lift me up because he cares for me. Now if that isn’t encouraging, I don’t know what is! I can be humble with someone who loves me, cares for me, and has my best interests at heart, especially if it is God.

WATCHFULNESS

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (8)

This second word of counsel goes with the one that precedes it and the one that follows it. God brings difficulty and uses difficulty in our lives for our good and his glory. The devil, on the other hand, tries to use our situations and our anxieties to bring us down and cause us to be defeated, when we take our anxieties upon ourselves and attempt to deal with them in our own power. That’s not the way that God wants us to live.

An essential part of living by faith is to watch out for the devil’s schemes, to be aware that his goal is to devour, his desire to seek and kill and destroy (John 10:10). Knowing of his schemes is half the battle. When we are aware of what is happening to us, self-controlled, not extreme in our reactions, and careful to understand the wiles of the devil, God supports and helps us.

Half the battle is to be alert and aware.  The other half of the battle is found in the following verse.

FIRMNESS

Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. (9)

Resist him! Don’t give in to the devil and live a defeated life. Jesus has already won the victory over him. Don’t resist the devil in your own power, resist by faith, by the power of Christ, who has defeated sin and death and hell and Satan.

Specifically, be firm resting on the solid foundation of Christ. Our firmness must be in Christ, trusting in his promises for us. There are promises all over the Bible in which you can trust, beginning right here in this very passage. Memorize them and bank on them.

Remember, you are not alone. Just as Elijah needed the encouragement to know that there were 7000 that had not bowed their knee to Baal, so we also can be encouraged in understanding that others are experiencing the same kinds of suffering and difficulties. As we share our difficulties with others, we receive grace, support, and encouragement from the body, and the result is increased firmness in faith.

CONFIDENCE

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. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (10-11)

The final word of counsel concerns our confidence in God and his desire to work for good in our lives. All grace comes from him. He is the source of grace for any and every situation. Since he has called us and begun a good work in us (Phil. 1:6), he will continue to work until the end.

His work is described in four ways. Restore: first he himself will mend us, because difficulties tend to damage and break us. Confirm: second, he will strengthen our resolve and confidence in what he has given us to do. Strengthen: difficulties make us weak, but he will renew our strength and enable us to be strong in him. Establish: just as God established the foundations of the earth, so he will root us strong in himself.

We can have faith that God will answer, exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think. Be encouraged, brothers and sisters, in whatever difficulty you find yourself, through the promise of these four words of advice and counsel, which are a great encouragement to us.

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