We’re continuing to work through some very important Christian living basics, fundamentals to living a life for Jesus. This week we’ll talk about the surprises we experience in life, but not necessarily the “easy to handle” ones! What do you do when life seems to throw you a curve and you’re not prepared?
Christian Basics: What about Surprises?
(From 1Peter 4.12-19)
There’s this idea that if God loves me that things should just go swimmingly now. And if something does happen that’s from challenging to awful, maybe God is mad at me. Or doesn’t love me.
So in the face of surprises, troubles, small to great, what should we think about them?
12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.
On the second of July, a Monday about four weeks ago, Robin and I went to New Jersey for a funeral. The last of her Dad’s siblings had passed away and Robin thought we might never have an opportunity to see her cousins. So we felt we should go. We had never been there before on our own, so there was the usual Google Maps and off we went. It was so hot! We found the relatives, at the cemetery, then went to another relative’s house for lunch and a visit. About 3:30pm we decided we should head home. Got out on the expressway and the transmission erupted in thuds. So we pulled over, shut the car off, checked the manual, turned it back on. Headed out again and sure enough, the same thing. So we were able to pull off at the next exit.
Now what do we do?
Back to 1Peter 4.
Beloved, think when stuff happens in your life, your battleground is found in your mind. It’s the “thinking” part of you where much of the difficulty in difficulties happens. I don’t think it’s severe, but I have a tendency toward anxiety. You know, before something happens or when it happens, I’m tempted to think the worst and to obsess about the problem. I know it’s embedded in my flesh, but that happens in my mind. The worst of it is in my dreams or sleeplessness. How about you? I know that whatever happens in the wake of the unexpected it challenges your soul in the area of your thinking.
But surprises happen! So how do we deal with not just the problem but our thinking about the problem?
1. Realize that “fiery trials” come to everyone who names His name.
Wait a minute, I thought God wouldn’t let me go through more than I can handle, as in, I don’t need this right now. Well, if God is sovereign, why would He let me go through this and not prevent it? That’s a tough question that needs answering. And the answer is, God does let His people go through trials that are beyond their strength and wisdom to fix. We don’t ask for them. We don’t get the same ones. But we get them. It helps to know that this is a part of the Christian life and the common experience of every believer.
2. Rejoice in those unexpected trials.
The word “strange” and the phrase “strange thing” are from a couple of related Greek words that mean “having to host an unexpected guest.” For some of you, that’s not a great thought anyway, but what if someone dear to you sent a friend to stay with you in an unexpected circumstance?
But the direction here is “rejoice”. Rejoice for two things. One, that you get to partake in Christ’s sufferings. Last week, Pastor Mark talked about having your trust betrayed and how to forgive. That was important. Because every last one of us will likely be betrayed in life. It helps to know that Jesus went through worse. Why me? Because I get to experience a little of what the Lord Jesus experienced, so that puts me in firmly in His camp.
And we rejoice that His glory will be revealed when He solves the problem, here or in eternity, and that’s reason to celebrate. We can only rejoice if we look at our everyday and once in a lifetime problems from an eternal standpoint. We share Christ’s sufferings, get to be like Jesus, and we see His glory when He solves the problem.
3. If you are reproached, recognize this as an opportunity for you to be blessed by God and stay as cool as you can.
We will be reproached. That means that you’ll be called stupid, a stupid Christian, why don’t you just swear and drink and break something like the rest of us? Why do you take this ‘Holier than thou” attitude? You better than the rest of us? You were an idiot to trust that guy. Didn’t you know that it was stupid to trust her? And it’s harder if they’re confident, wealthy or smart and you’re not. You’ll be blessed if you keep your cool but they will just demonstrate, to their bad, that they think nothing of God.
4. Own your own problems.
That means that you may have done something to bring on whatever. Own it, that’s honest. And then repent and keep your cool.
15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. 16 Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.
You can and do provide yourself the opportunity for trouble if you do wrong. Don’t pay your bills and get tossed out of your apartment. Be late for work often. I’m being persecuted! No, it was ultimately your fault or just a human cause. Own what is yours.
God is right. I have been wrong. Forgive me Lord. I’ll make restitution. But the gracious and merciful God of heaven will still be there for you. And if you are suffering purely because you’re a Christian, glorify, or show God to be who He is, by saying so.
5. Realize that God wants you to go through varying degrees of suffering for His purposes.
So if my Heavenly Father is behind this, there must be purpose, eh?
19 Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.
So what does God want to do in troubles? He wants to strengthen you and demonstrate His goodness and power.
I’m not saying it’s easy. Something called “fiery trials” isn’t by nature easy. They are the unexpected guests at your doorstep. But these are the guides for going through it. And in your mind, if you can manage to remember these 5 things, you’ll grow and glorify God in His answers.
So what happened in New Jersey? I was better at that experience than I have been in past situations. We “happened” to pull of the expressway very close to a Subaru dealership. They were able to at least look at the car the next morning. There was a beautiful new Holiday Inn Express just down the street from the dealership. We were able to hobble around enough to get a room for the night and back to the dealership in the morning. And then the miracle. The dealership didn’t take advantage of our position, but checked the car, the transmission and found that just by resetting the electronics in the car that it was fixed. They charged us $67 and we made it home by that afternoon. And we had what we apparently needed, which was an unexpected overnight and day together the next day.
Did I do all of what I could have done perfectly? Did I obsess at certain points with the situation? Did I wonder why God brought us to New Jersey to have car problems and not just have them happen down the street from our house? Yes, but when I returned my thoughts to what I know about God, endured the situation relatively cool-ly and then experienced God’s intervention, I was so blessed.
Your negative experiences and mine may not be so simple. But they will have purpose because the will of God allows us to go through them. What are you going through right now? They are actually God’s opportunity for you to grow and experience His glory and for you to show His glory to a broken world.