Five years ago, I was invited to eat lunch at the home of a family belonging to the church I served during seminary. There’s three things I remember about this visit:
1) Being pinned helplessly to the couch as their golden retriever washed my face with his tongue
2) Their eight-year-old son rolling up his five-year-old sister in a Rug, and dragging her to my car for me to take home as “a gift”
3) The parents’ brutally honest prayer request at the dinner table.
This was a family that had definitely realized the American dream. The husband and father owned a tremendously successful commercial real estate development firm that he started from a high school summer job mowing lawns… They lived in a large, nineteenth century stone farmhouse so beautiful and picturesque, that it won national awards. By all appearances, life was perfect.
When we sat down to eat lunch, I asked for prayer requests. They asked me to pray that God would permit their lives to continue to be as wonderful as they’d been. So I prayed that very prayer. That’s a desire in all our hearts. We want our lives to be as free from trouble and pain as they can possibly be. But what happens when that prayer isn’t answered? Where is God when faith is on trial?
The letter we know as 1 Peter was written to provide encouragement to baby Christians living in a very difficult time and place to be one. This wasn’t a time of widespread persecution, but the common folk would have generally been hostile towards them. They lived and acted in profoundly different ways. They didn’t worship the same the gods (which in and of itself was considered a civic duty). This was enough to make Christians outcasts and pariahs. Because of this, there was grave concern that these newest converts to the faith would buckle under the pressure and fall away from their faith.
The message of 1 Peter was this: don’t think it unusual when you undergo various trials for your faith. Trials refine and strengthen your faith. It is by faith that one takes hold of God’s greatest gift, which is the salvation of our souls, made possible through the death and resurrection of Christ.
Does this mean that trials are good? Do our trials come from God?
Trials happen when we are afflicted by God’s enemies. Death, sin, unbelief—are these God’s enemies. God will never abandon you to these enemies. But God will save you in the time of trial. When you’re frightened, discouraged, and doubting by the hurts you suffer and the dangers you see in the world, Jesus comes to you. He uses your trials to reveal his faithfulness. When you’re broken and cut down, his resurrection gives us birth and new beginnings every time.
We may not want to believe or admit this, but know Christ more fully in the resurrection and rebirth he gives us out of trials, rather than if our lives persisted in a state of general prosperity.
It is most certainly true that most of us are facing many trials right now… We’re living in a time when people are becoming increasingly hostile towards Christians and Christianity. None of us like it when we’re told that we can’t wear religious symbols at work, or when we see out-of-state atheist groups fighting to keep religion out of the public square. But these are not our only trials… Trials come as loved ones die; as health fails; as we face economic hardship, and as we suffer evildoers. Trials are our temptations—and dealing with the consequences of giving in to those temptations. It’s a trial for our church that we’re not as packed as were years ago (or last week, for that matter.) It is a trial that our children don’t feel safe at school.
It is incredibly difficult to trust in Jesus in these trials—because they make us feel so helpless. Fears speak so loudly, telling us that our faith is in vain, and that the monsters of the world are soon to devour us. We become like Thomas, who acted as though there was no Jesus to believe in…
But Christ meets us in these places of fear. When we’re brought to our knees because it’s all just too much, Jesus comes. When we lock ourselves away and hide because we can’t face the down the demons of the world, Jesus comes. When courage, strength, and faith all fail—Jesus comes to raise us up to new life in him. Jesus saves us in the time of trial. Jesus uses our trials to reveal his love to us and draw us more deeply into his mercy and peace.
We’re all waiting for resurrection. Our world certainly is waiting. Sometimes the waiting is so long, and it is so easy to let go of all hope. But Christ never lets go of you. He will bring you to the Garden of Resurrection. So let faith be that persistence in waiting; coming before Christ and offering our lives to him, to do with them what he will. May Christ’s resurrection be the promise that brings you peace amid your pain and hope amid your sorrow.
And let’s not forget our neighbors who wait for resurrection just the same. Let us pour out our lives as an offering that speaks this greatest truth: that Jesus is alive and that he is here. He is here to bring new lives and new beginnings to all.