Monday, May 08, 2006

Encouragement in Suffering

This morning I was in need of encouragement. Last night I didn't sleep well. I tossed and turned, thinking about something coming up that was troubling me. (It doesn't matter what it was, we've all had nights like that.) I woke up thinking about it and continued to be troubled. I couldn't wait to get to my devotional time. I knew if I could just spend a few moments in prayer and Scripture that I would be comforted. Just before opening my Bible I breathed a prayer that God would give me a verse of encouragement. In reading through my Bible the next chapter I was to read was 1 Peter 4. I opened to that passage and read:

"Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,"

Needless to say, I didn't feel very encouraged!!! I read the verse again to make sure it said what I thought it said. Yep, sure enough it told me that since Christ suffered in the flesh I might as well get ready for it. At least that's what it seemed to be saying. I pondered those words and although they weren't the powerful, victorious words I expected to read, they did encourage me, especially when I read the next verse (as I had only read half of a sentence):

"so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God."

As I read those verses together, here's how it basically came out to me:

Suffering is good when you recognize it's only for a season and when it helps you straighten out your priorities.

That's what these verses spoke to me this morning. Suffering in the flesh can really help clarify things, help refocus your priorities. What you once thought important ("lusts/desires of men") fades in the light of what's truly important ("will of God"). In times of crisis or suffering, people tend to take stock and find out what's essential, what's crucial, what gives meaning and purpose.

And all of this is so that we will live "the rest of the time in the flesh" for the will of God rather than for our own desires. Left to my own devices I will become self-centered. *I* will become the most important thing in my life. So God allows some suffering to help us get our eyes on what's really important.

It's interesting to me that Peter is the one who wrote this. Peter, who once rebuked Jesus to His face for suggesting that the Messiah had to suffer. And now Peter teaches that suffering for Christ advances the progress of sanctification in the life of the believer. (Please note, this is suffering for doing good, not suffering for doing evil! See vss 3-4, 12-16.)

So, is there encouragement in suffering? Yes. It has a purpose. And when you recognize God is in control and He has a purpose (i.e., "causes all things to work together for good...") then even the suffering can be a blessing from Him, something to give thanks for.

When I first read these verses I thought, "Thanks a lot, God. I needed encouragement and You tell me 'suffering's a good thing'." But after meditating on these words I actually ended my devotion feeling VERY encouraged. God is in control. It's all in His hands. And it has a purpose. I can live with that.


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