by Rocky Fleming
“Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” (1 Peter 4:18 ESV)Some of you might become confused, discouraged or hopefully encouraged when you read this blog today. It depends on where you are with the present suffering condition you carry, and if you will embrace the victory that is surely yours to grasp because of it. Did I say, “because of it,” rather than in spite of it? I did so purposely. It is my hope that you will find encouragement from what I share, for it has really helped me personally. In the passage above we see a broad application for a multitude of suffering conditions. Some conditions are short and painful until it’s over. Some are highly inconvenient and challenge our patience, until we gain it. Then, some suffering is a long term, persevering task that challenges us to endure and not give into self-pity and resentment. We are challenged to take a step each day and stay the course with resolve to keep going. It might be something physical, mental, emotional or spiritual that we suffer with. Either way there is some kind of pain. My particular condition has been with me for twenty-three years now. At one time I saw it as my enemy that debilitates and discourages me, until I saw the fruit that came from the benefit it gave me. Then I began to see it as my friend. How can long-term physical pain and twenty orthopedic surgeries be seen as a friend? The answer to that question is where I’m headed.
“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NLT)How many of you have read the passage above and scratched your head over it? In world history we have seen and read about the worst acts that humans have done to other humans in the name of war, conquest, greed, or genocide with an excuse to purify a region of unwanted humans, or to dominate and control them. Then, there are the storms, earthquakes and diseases that ravish the world. Can we really be thankful for those circumstances? Don’t we instead say those famous words that Satan has inspired from the beginning of mankind which is, “How could a good God allow this?” When will the people who accuse God of terrible things begin to get it that a good God hasn’t done those things? It has been the Evil Man all along who has created all the evil this world has seen. Our good God gave His life to redeem us from this fallen world. Talk about fake news. But the question that is relevant is why does God allow people to suffer according to His will? I think we can find the answer if we will dive into the 1 Peter passage a little more. Let’s break it down.
- “those who suffer according to God's will” – The first thing I had to grasp and accept is that God is sovereign over all my circumstances, whether they are good or bad. God knows everything about me, and He cares about what He knows about. Therefore, I am assured that there is a divine purpose, even a plan that uses my suffering for a better good. What has been proven to me is that the greater good is where my suffering has taken me. It has taken me to a deeper intimacy with Christ, and this has provided a better life of purpose and significance. The road has been hard, but the fruit has been great, and my suffering was required for it to be produced. Along the way I also found the life I longed for but didn’t know how to obtain it. God gave it to me.
- “entrust their souls to a faithful Creator” - Lately I’ve come to understand the necessity that it is for believers to entrust and not just trust. To entrust means to give something of great value to someone for safe keeping. What do I entrust to my Creator? I entrust my pain, and the question of why, instead of requiring a reason, and finally to entrust the outcome of my pain to Him. My Creator knows what He is doing. I cannot. But I can trust His heart and good intentions on my behalf, and this makes me thankful. This is where we connect being “thankful in all circumstances.” It starts at this point and begins to make sense.
- “entrust their souls” – While we tend to think that our life is wrapped up in our mortal bodies, God is tending to our souls, and our soul is His greatest concern about us. My body is getting close to its expiration date. But my soul is being shaped for Heaven and it is eternal. If I don’t understand this about God’s work in my life, then I will not understand why He has allowed twenty-three years of pain, and I will feel unfairly treated. But, if I grasp the bigger picture, I can see and agree that the suffering has been good and I can be thankful for it.
- “while doing good” – I have discovered that God uses a process to make good wine. He squeezes the grapes first by crushing them. I have discovered that God produces good fruit on the Vine, if He prunes the branch first. Pruning hurts. But the fruit that follows is worth it. I have discovered that every good work that God has done through my life required that I release my grip on something that I held too tightly. Sometimes my hand was hurt when He forced it out of my grasp. That’s where the pain comes in. But once out, I discovered that what He replaced it with was of far greater value than what I lost. Our best times of doing good for the Lord happen when we are suffering the most. That is where the best fruit is produced … when the Vinedresser allows us to suffer while He creates a treasure with our life.