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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Handling Unexpected Difficulties

1 Peter 4:7-12 – “But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers.8 And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”9 Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.10 As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.11 If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”  12 “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you;

Trials and difficulties are an inevitable part of Life. They can take the form of corporate social or individual personal settings. Trials can be global or national wars, political revolutions, social chaos and rioting, or economic collapses. Or  trials can be more personal, a relational conflict, family breakup, loss of personal income, a terminal illness. How can we handle such circumstances in life?

What compounds and increases the difficulty to handle such situations is that these trials usually come in unexpected ways. Unexpected disasters, both natural and human made. Unexpected losses. Unexpected illnesses. Unexpected changes for the worse. Unexpected negative actions and reactions of others. A day can start fine and suddenly turn to the worst day in your life.

Peter tells these pilgrims, "Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you." He warns these "beloved" brethren and encourages them that the "fiery trial" or incident of suffering they were experiencing should not be thought of as "strange." "Strange" (Greek xenidzo) means an unexpected house guest, to be shocked or surprised by the arrival of someone unexpected, to be surprised by an uninvited person at your door. In this fallen sinful world we should expect the uninvited intrusions of suffering. Hardship will come knocking on your door like an unwanted salesman or nuisance neighbor. Hardship comes like a home invasion. This is par for the course in this fallen world. Fiery trials will intrude into our life. You can count on it! How can we handle such unexpected visits of trial?  

The apostle Peter wrote his first epistle to pilgrims who had been displaced from their homes and jobs and communities by persecution. While Christians probably saw the writing on the wall of oncoming persecution, when it finally did hit them, there was a suddenness to the reality of it. Even though the persecuted Christians of Peter's day felt the tide turning against them, there was a certain sudden reality and finality to that persecution. Seeing something coming and then being hit by it does not discount the sudden impact of it. Like a cresting wave that suddenly smashes us down or an oncoming car coming your way, there is a sense of slow motion and then an explosion of sensory overload. How should we, how can we handle that?

Though Peter had such circumstances in mind when inspired to write his epistle, he knew that these people were not exempt from personal "normal" trials too. Personal trials don't take off and stop because of societal difficulties. Quite the contrary, the enemy likes to pile on. So, the persecuted may still experience a terminal illness. And terminal illness, even though it brings with it the awareness of an impending end to life, when that end comes, it is sudden and a shock to our system; death always is. How should we respond in such situations?

Regardless of the difficulty we encounter how should we respond? There are a number of things Peter mentions as helpful in the context of sudden suffering. These should be mentioned before we get  to the most important response to suffering. There is something that "above all" we should do when difficulties hit us. These are wise words from the inspired fisherman. And we live in times where we see the writing on the wall. The tide is turning against us in many ways. Or we may, unbeknownst to us, be about to face a sudden unexpected personal difficulty. These things will come. What is Peter inspired to instruct us in this regard?

First, remember our present state of suffering is not eternal but temporary. Peter states, "But the end of all things is at hand." God has revealed His prophetic plan in His word. There is an end to this fallen world as we know it. It will be a glorious end with a glorious transformation by God (cf. Revelation 19-22). It's easier to endure pain when you know it's not permanent. I can endure the dentist or go through surgery if I keep in mind it will all be over soon. We can persevere through suffering if we just keep in mind that "the end of all things is at hand." Jesus is coming back! Paul referred to the return of Jesus as the Christians' "blessed hope" (Titus 2:13). It's blessed because it helps us endure to the end. Jesus is coming back and He is going to bring eternal order to this temporal mess the devil and his minions of lost rebellious humanity have concocted.

Second, pray seriously and watchfully in light of the temporariness of our suffering state. Peter continues, "therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers." Prayer is a declaration of dependence on God. We can't weather the storms of trial in our own strength. We need to tap into God's power by way of prayer. Prayer brings the peace of God that surpasses understanding (Phil. 4:6-7). When we keep our mind on God in prayer it settles and strengthens us (Isaiah 26:3; Phil. 4:8-9).

The term "serious" comes from the Greek word sophreneo which means to be of sound mind, sane, be in your right mind, to exercise self control, curb your passions. An example of sophreneo might be not getting carried away with various conspiracy theories floating around the Internet. Some go so far as to claim the earth isn't round but flat. Others are related to so many topics space does not allow to list them all here. The people who hold to such theories are very passionate about them. Peter's words don't instruct us to not investigate truth. They tell us to investigate truth in a sober self controlled way. There may be an element of truth in some of the "conspiracy" theories in the world today. But not all are true. Heresy is half truths. Cults lure people in with the hook of a half truth and then carve them up with boldface lies. Some conspiracy theories are simply a means by people to manipulate and influence others in a direction they prefer. Some of these theories are meant to divert our attention from the real issues and problems. Some are disinformation. Some are genuine exposes on real clandestine cutthroat activities. As we wade through the proliferation of information we need to do so with prayer, God's word in hand, levelheadedness, and the discernment provided by the Holy Spirit.

"Watchful" (Greek  nepho) means to abstain from wine, sober, discretion, watchfulness. The context would direct us to see this word in light of Peter's previously mentioned indulging in "lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries" (1 Peter 4:3). In light of the closeness of "the end of all things" we need to be on high alert. We can't afford to allow our senses to be diminished in any way by mood and mind altering worldly stuff like alcohol, drugs, rampant materialism, and the religion of recreation. We shouldn't allow any temporal diversion in this world to keep us from focusing in on eternal priorities related to heaven and eternity. We are in a dangerous time and need to be on the top of our game spiritually, mentally, and physically.

Third, be hospitable; use your resources (e.g. homes) to facilitate fellowship. Peter states, " Be hospitable to one another without grumbling." "Hospitable" (Greek philoxenos) means fond of guests, given to hospitality, inviting people into your home. Christians need mutual support. The Comforter comforts through other Christians. Therefore we should be open and eager to have people to our homes. We should hold our possessions and resources with open handed extensions of an open heart. Christians should facilitate spending time with each other. We should seek to build relationships with other Christians. We shouldn't settle for spending an hour in church and then run out without spending time with other Christians and getting to know them. Peter points these persecuted pilgrim Christians to friendship and relationship as a network of encouragement and resource of help and support during difficult times. The Holy Spirit comforts through others and He may just want to comfort someone through you! Christian, in light of the times in which we live we need to open our homes, open our cubboards and even bank accounts to help others. We need to spend time with one another.

And we should open our homes and be in fellowship "without grumbling" (Greek goggysmos). This means not grudging, not murmuring, not having a secret debate, or secret displeasure about interacting with people or having them in our homes. We should count it a blessed privilege to be used by God to interact with others by using our homes or getting together with them in some way. Don't grumble when people come to fellowship empty handed. Don't grumble when they track dirt into your home. Don't grumble when people are unappreciative or inconsiderate. Just cover it all with "a fervent love for one another." Be gracious. And for those who do come empty handed, or track dirt into homes, or aren't appreciative or considerate, repent! Show your love for those who host get-togethers and fellowship by being considerate of their generosity. Both hosts and guests should show their love for each other.

Fourth, use your spiritual gifts during times of suffering. Peter writes, " As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." By God's grace we have received spiritual gifts to be used corporately in the body of Christ to strengthen the church. Our spiritual gifting is aimed at uniting and strengthening the members of the church. We each have a responsibility to discover and use our spiritual gifts for the benefit of others (cf. Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12 and 14; Ephesians 4). Spiritual gifts are given for the profit of all not the preoccupation with self. This implies unity, working together, being other oriented, and leaning on each other in the church. This is essential to persevere through trials.

Fifth, rely on and share God's word. Peter says, " If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God." "Oracles" (Greek logion) means an utterance of God, a divine oracle, words from God. We need to speak as God directs us to speak. The best way to assure we speak in line with what God would have us speak is to speak words from God's word or words that can be backed up by God's word. We should speak as the Spirit leads us. But the Spirit will provide a verification of what we speak in His word. Speak God's word!

Sixth, minister in the ability God provides. Peter comments, " If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, . . ." The word "ability" (Greek ischys from is ) means force, forcefulness, ability, might, power, strength. In other words, don't live and serve in your own strength but in the strength provided by the Lord. This would encompass the empowerment of the Holy Spirit (e.g. Acts 1:8 and Acts 2ff.). Do what God enables you to do. God's callings have His enablings. If you have it in your head to do something, make sure it is God who is directing you to do it. If the ability is not there, it's not likely God has called you to do it. But if you step out in faith to do the uncomfortable, and God empowers you to do it, you will be blessed and He will be glorified.

Seventh, live to glorify God. Peter states, " that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen." In all we do we should purpose to bring God glory. We should aim at giving credit and praise to God. Our response to difficulty should point to the faithfulness of God. Complaining or grumbling accuses God of not being faithful. But God gets the glory when His fingerprints are on what is done. Something done in mere human effort only yields limited temporary benefit and diverts glory from God to people. But something done that could clearly only have been done with God's intervention, yields eternal lasting fruit and benefit, and gives glory to God.

Eighth,  the most important response to suffering is LOVE. Finally Peter states, " And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” The most important thing to do in response to suffering is “have a fervent love for one another.” The word fervent” means a love that doesn’t give up, a love that is alive with hope! (Greek ektenes  to have an intent without ceasing, fervent.) [1] This love results in prayer for others, hospitality toward others, serving others in God’s grace, being guided by God’s word and all of this aimed at bringing glory to God. When we love it will  glorify God.

So as we live through our days and prepare for the inevitable often sudden difficulties let us purpose in our heart to have a loving God glorifying response ready. When there is a natural or human disaster in the public square we should pray and look for ways to minister the love of Christ to others, especially Christians. When a sudden personal trial comes our way or to a loved one close to us, we should pray and look for ways to love in Christ. When the terminal illness threatens, comfort and assure in love. When the means of income is lost, love in word and deed (cf. 1 John 3:16-18). When the fires of relational conflict rear their angry head, quench it with love. With an arm around the shoulder, hold people close in love. Love with a listening ear. Love with holy words of hope (e.g. Romans 15:13). Love with a helping hand. In whatever difficult circumstances we find ourselves, sudden or not, find a way to love in Christ. Love people into the Kingdom. Love people to Jesus. That will glorify God. That will get us through.



[1]James Strong, New Strong’s dictionary of Hebrew and Greek words [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1996.

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