“My purpose in writing is to encourage you and assure you that what you are experiencing is truly part of God’s grace for you. Stand firm in this grace.” (1 Peter 5:12)
If you were struggling through a hard place and you received a letter with these lines—would you tear it up in anger? Who wants to hear such words in the middle of tough times?
But wait, child of God. The tough times we walk through—whether you want to name it fire, flood, terrifying wilderness, or Valley of Weeping—are all bathed in God’s grace. And we walk, always wrapped in His love and grace.
This is the shining hope of the Scriptures from the beginning, when God chose a people as His own, to the revelations of the future: The heavenly Father disciplines everyone He loves, so that we grow up with the strong and godly character He means for His children to have.
And there’s that word: discipline.
Discipline is training, forming, instruction, and exercise. It’s cutting out what has to go, and toughening and strengthening what we desire to increase. We’ve all see the phrase on athletes’ shirts: “No pain, no gain.” We have no trouble accepting that statement. But when we apply the principle to our spiritual lives, we shrink back, much preferring the mantra, No pain, abundant gain!
But just as that does not work in the training of an athlete, it does not work in our faith training.
The Father uses tests and trials—from the little, day-to-day irritations to life-threatening persecutions—to build endurance and faith and patience and godliness in us.
That is the working of His grace for us.
And so, would you think me crazy for rejoicing when I walk through a terrifying wilderness?
Hope watches and waits for the manna of grace in the wilderness.
It is the hope I have as my church denomination goes through a purifying fire. Yet God’s grace is working—I see it in the body and in individuals. I hold this hope for myself as I tell Jesus I want to love as He loves, but I know the training for such great love will be pain and hard places. Yet how else will I learn? Pain, gain. Discipline, growing up in godliness.
Even Jesus learned obedience through suffering (Hebrews 5:8). When we talk of the “suffering” of Christ, we think of Him hanging on a cross—but have you ever read the Gospels and thought about the suffering He lived? Hear the loneliness in the words, “Foxes have holes, but I have nowhere to lay my head.” His closest friends often didn’t understand Him. Remember the tears He shed over a city that absolutely refused to hear His message. Think about what it must have been like to be rejected by the religious establishment, that entity around which all of Jewish life revolved. He went back home to visit, but people talked … you know how that goes … And that final night in Gethsemane when He knew what lay ahead—I wonder if He had any idea of the brutality He would endure even before the cross. As He stood before Pilate, bloody and beaten, do you think the human part of Him was tempted to just give it up and abandon the mission? He could have been out of the whole mess with just a wave of His hand.
And so I watch my big brother, who came to show me what living in the kingdom of light is all about, and I want to grow up to be like Him.
Oswald Chambers writes in My Utmost for His Highest:
Thank God that He does give us difficult things to do! His salvation is a joyous thing, but it is also something that requires bravery, courage, and holiness. It tests us for all we are worth. Jesus is “bringing many sons to glory” (Hebrews 2:10), and God will not shield us from the requirements of sonship. God’s grace produces men and women with a strong family likeness to Jesus Christ, not pampered, spoiled weaklings.
I don’t want to be a pampered, spoiled weakling.
For too much of my life, I’ve just run away from hard times, and looked for safe places to hide.
But I am now more afraid of those seeming “safe” places than I am of the wilderness or the Valley of Weeping.
Because it is in the places of complacency and self-assured security that we are in great danger of being devoured by the roaring lion who is prowling about, our enemy, the devil.
Just before Peter wrote the lines of encouragement about God’s grace, he alerted us to the danger of being devoured by that lion. N.T. Wright says the word “devour” is “far more than simply ‘eat;’ it implies that the lion will simply gulp you down in a single mouthful. No time to protest or struggle. You’ll be gone.”*
Well, you can imagine, I do not want that.
I much prefer the wilderness, even with its desert and poisonous snakes and scorpions—where God’s grace will grow strength and endurance and godliness in me.
*from N. T. Wright’s “The Early Christian Letters for Everyone”
My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise renews my life.