Moving Through

A couple of my friends are going through challenging health situations. Both suffer from chronic pain and are not finding relief. They have prayed many times that their suffering would be eased or stop, but it seems God keeps answering, “No.” Now they are battling discouragement on top of the pain and other physical difficulties they face daily. In talking with one of them this week, we dug a bit deeper into this verse:

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. (I Peter 5:10, ESV)

On first reading, it seems this verse promises that God will rescue us from ongoing suffering. But could the verse be saying something different? Could it be telling us what to expect as we continue to suffer? Let’s look at what God promises to do: restore, confirm, strengthen and establish.

After you have suffered a little while, God will restore you. We want this to mean He will restore us to our pre-suffering state. We want anything we have lost to be returned to us. We want it to be as if our suffering had never happened. But let’s consider another interpretation. Pretend the suffering is a hurricane-strength wind. When it first hit, you may have stumbled, staggered, been knocked around, or even fallen. You were caught off-guard and became overwhelmed by the force pushing against you. But after a while, you adjust to the pressure. Rather than being pushed further away, you are able to maintain your position. Perhaps that is the restoration God describes here. Situations that bring suffering may catch us by surprise and cause our faith to stumble. At first, we may forget about God, question Him, or doubt Him. But after a little while, we remember Him, we stop asking “why”, and we believe He is present and aware. We are restored to a place where we can connect with Him, where our faith is engaged and active. This is where we experience far more life.

Early in Jesus’ ministry His disciples were caught off-guard when many followers left Jesus after hearing a hard teaching. I believe an example of restoration is recorded in Simon Peter’s response when Jesus asked the Twelve if they would leave, too:

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. (John 6:68, NIV)

After you have suffered a little while, God will confirm you. The Greek word translated “confirm” means to make firm, to render constant. After you are restored — able to maintain your position — you realize how much force you must exert against the wind — or the struggle you face — to maintain your balance and footing. In a spiritual sense, standing firm comes from remembering God’s truth about yourself, Him and your relationship. Truth gives us power to go through our struggles hand-in-hand with Jesus. Far more life is not the absence of struggle, but standing firm with Jesus in our struggles.

The rest of Simon Peter’s response to Jesus in the encounter described above shows he is confirmed, grounded in truth:

We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God. (John 6:69, NIV)

After you have suffered a little while, God will strengthen you. This is the only place the Greek word translated “strengthen” appears in the New Testament. It means that something is made strong but mobile, able to move to achieve something in the most effective way. Hanging onto something strong allows us to stay upright against the gale-force winds of suffering. But Jesus offers us more than an immobile pillar; He offers a strength that allows us to move through our suffering effectively to achieve His purpose. Far more life is not stagnant, it is continuing with Christ through our struggles.

This plea and encouragement Paul wrote to the saints in Corinth describes the result of being strengthened during adversity:

…Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (I Corinthians 15:58, NIV)

After you have suffered a little while, God will establish you. The word establish means to make the soul stable, to lay a solid foundation. Suffering serves an important role in our spiritual growth and prepares us for future service and growth. This is one aspect of good that God works through our suffering; our faith becomes more solid and stable, resting more firmly on Christ. We believe God’s promises more fully because we have experienced them in action. Far more life is unshakeable because it is stable and solid.

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. (Matthew 7:24-25, NIV)

Our foundation of faith allows us to move with Christ through our suffering. And that experience prepares us for the next challenge we will face. Throughout our lives, we have the opportunity to keep establishing our connection to Christ with every hardship. If we turn to God in our suffering, he will continue to restore, confirm, strengthen and establish us. We will keep finding far more life in our suffering.

Sisters,
Are you currently suffering? If so, how has not being rescued impacted your faith?
How has God restored you during this or previous suffering?
How have you experienced God confirming you?
How has He strengthened you to continue doing His will?
How have you been established through suffering?
Thank God for giving you far more life in the midst of suffering. (And thank Him that one day all suffering will end for His children — what a glorious day that will be!)
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso

Life Storms

My area received a lot of rain last week, so it was fitting that my pastor included this verse in his Sunday message about suffering:

When the clouds are dark and heavy with rain, showers will fall upon the earth. (Ecclesiastes 11:3, VOICE)

He acknowledged our first thought at reading it is, “How obvious! Dark clouds bring rain.” Then he reminded us of the cultural context. This was written by King Solomon, who lived in Jerusalem, where the dry season lasts more than half the year. Yet when it rains, a significant amount can fall in a short time. So seeing the dark, heavy clouds roll in probably brought mixed emotions to Solomon and his people: eager anticipation of the life-giving water with dread of the storm that sometimes delivered it.

It is common knowledge that rain benefits plants, animals, and humans. Even the smell of rain is pleasant to most people. But many think of its delivery — especially from strong storms — as inconvenient, depressing, or frightening. I admit I selfishly wish it only rained at night, when I am tucked in my bed, so I could be comforted by hearing it, appreciate its benefits, but not endure the discomfort of a dripping umbrella or wet clothes, shoes, and hair!

Similarly, we often view the storms of life, hard situations, negatively. But what if life storms actually lead us toward far more life? What if we focused on their benefits rather than our discomfort?

It is common to believe we should be exempt from hardship and suffering, that we deserve perpetually good circumstances. This is not logical! When we look at God’s original plan for creation in Genesis 1 and 2, suffering was not included. But Adam and Eve chose to assert their own will rather than contentedly follow God’s will. Perhaps if they had realized suffering would be a result of sinning they would have chosen differently. Yet God, in His infinite kindness, brings good from our suffering.

God did not even spare His own Son from suffering on this earth. It was His suffering that paid the penalty for our sin and opened the door for us to have a restored relationship with God:

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:3-5, NIV)

Jesus faced worse life storms than any other human! Fortunately suffering is not the end of His story; Isaiah prophesied the good it would produce:

After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:11-12, NIV)

None of us will ever suffer as much as Jesus did. But our suffering can bring good, too. It enables us to see the light of life. It changes our perspective, even bringing satisfaction and thankfulness. Consider how these verses describe the outcome of suffering:

He covers the sky with clouds; he supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills. (Psalm 147:8, NIV)

Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. (Hebrews 6:7, NIV)

He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:45, NIV)

Be glad, people of Zion, rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given you the autumn rains because he is faithful… (Joel 2:23, NIV)

Jesus even used an intense storm to show His disciples who He was:

The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.” (Luke 8:24-25, NIV)

Jesus offered His disciples far more life that day by showing His power and revealing His divinity. He invited them to put their faith in Him. He is bigger than any storm we face and willing to use that power for our benefit:

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32, NIV)

God will not withhold anything we need (Philippians 4:19).

Everything He does or allows — even suffering — is for the good of His children (Romans 8:28).

Thankfully, through faith in Christ, our suffering will come to an end (2 Peter 3:13).

He will wipe every tear from our eye (Revelation 21:4).

We will see and understand God’s bigger perspective (I Corinthians 13:12).

Until then, we have a choice: despise the storms or look for the beauty the rain brings. Choose to look for beauty — and find far more life!

Sisters,
Do you feel positive or negative about rain and storms? Why?
Think of a life storm you have experienced. What spiritual benefit did you gain from it?
What is your response to reading about Jesus’ suffering?
Thank God that Jesus paid the price so our suffering will one day end.
Commit to look for beauty and far more life in your next (or current) life storm.
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso
Photo Credit: Kim Reem