Growing Up When You’re Torn Down

1 Peter 1:6-9

September 27, 2014 | Brian Bill

A pastor friend tells a story about being down. On Tuesday night he was home reading the paper.  His daughters needed to run to the store so he was in charge of Leo, his daughter’s little mop dog, or as he affectionately called him, “Demon-dog.”  When they walked out the front door Leo started barking like crazy.  He just ignored him until he came running into the kitchen and body slammed into the door going into our garage.  He ran after him at this point because he wasn’t sure if the garage door was closed.  To his horror he saw that it was open about a foot from the bottom and he dove under it to chase after his daughter.  He did a swan dive on the garage floor, skinning his knee in the process, ending up with his head under the door as he yelled for him to come back.  He saw the dog bolting after his daughter’s car as she sped down the street.

Since he couldn’t fit through the small space he ran back inside to push the garage door opener and then took off after Leo, screaming his name at the top of his lungs as he ran barefoot down the street.  Leo looked back and kept running straight for a busy street.  He then started yelling, “treat, treat” and that got his attention.  He didn’t come right away but instead cut through several neighbor’s yards and eventually flew back into the garage where he cornered him, picked him up, and threw him like a bowling ball into his kennel – it was a perfect strike!

His pain of almost losing Leo is nothing like what some of you are going through.  Our team spent time this week listing some of the pain and difficulties that we know about among the people of our church.  Here’s what came to our minds: death of a parent, a spouse, or a child, lay-offs, health issues, cancer (40 people have either had cancer or are fighting it right now), marital struggles, singleness issues, people looking for work, absent fathers, divorce, single and parenting, financial struggles, prodigal children, aging parents, car troubles, addictions, loss of pets (I can give you one of ours), empty nest issues, mental health challenges, purity issues, loneliness, purposelessness, relational conflict, school issues, emotional or physical abuse, lifestyle changes, remodeling challenges, moving stress, unmet expectations, dealing with change, bullying, pregnancy issues, not being able to have a child, work overload, world events and persecution.  

Of all the things that people have to deal with, I can’t imagine the pain of having a family member go missing and then some time later be found dead.  According to an article in USA Today this week, on average 90,000 people are missing in America at any given time.  

Trials are meant to fortify our faith.

Here’s what we’re going to discover today: As tough as they are, trials are meant to fortify our faith.  Please turn to 1 Peter 1:6-9: “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.”

Peter begins this section with these words: “In this you greatly rejoice…”  The phrase “in this” refers to what we’ve learned together the last two weeks.  We are scattered strangers strategically positioned in a strange land to sow the seed of the gospel.  We were reminded that because God guards what He gives, we can praise Him for at least six truths from verses 3-5:

  • For His abundant mercy
  • For new birth
  • For living hope
  • For the certainty of the resurrection
  • For our guaranteed inheritance
  • For keeping us

God has secured our past, our present and our future.  Notice that we can “greatly rejoice.”  The idea here is the kind of joy that makes one leap into the air (like me bowling).  It can be translated as, “ecstatic joy.”  Last week we learned about lively hope and here we see that we can have lively joy.  Joy is different than happiness, isn’t it?  Happiness is related to what’s happening while joy is rooted in what Jesus has done for us.  That’s why Jesus could say in Matthew 5:12 that even when we’re persecuted and reviled and hated we can: “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad.”

Truths About Trials

As we unpack this passage, we’ll discover four truths about trials.

1. Trials are temporary. 

Look at the next phrase in verse 6: “…Though now for a little while…”  We can rejoice about what is ours in heaven but then we come to the words, “though now.”  Right now it’s not going so well.  For some of you it sure doesn’t feel like your struggles are just for a little while, does it?  The words “little while” can mean “for a season” or “brief time.” Matthew Henry adds, “These troubles, that lie heavy, never come upon us but when we have need, and never stay longer than needs must.”

The reason Peter can call our trials temporary is because when compared to eternity, they are.  Thomas Watson said, “Afflictions may be lasting but they are not everlasting.”  Paul, who was persecuted greatly and went through all sorts of suffering, wrote this in 2 Corinthians 4:17: “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”  Peter hits this again in the last chapter of his letter: “But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you” (1 Peter 5:10).

2. Trials are timely. 

This might be difficult to swallow, but suffering is something we have to go through.  Check out the next phrase: “…if need be…”  This can be translated as “necessary, inevitable, a sense of duty.”  One Greek scholar renders it this way: “Trials are continually necessary.”  In Matthew 16:21 Jesus told his followers that He “must go to Jerusalem.”  Listen.  If you’re a Christ-follower, you must go through challenges and difficulties.  We see this in 2 Timothy 3:12: “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” Trials never take God by surprise.

Tony Evans nails it when he says: “Everything is either caused by God or allowed by God, and there is no third category.”  Since God is good, He will bring good out of that which to us seems so bad.  The classic example of this is when Joseph turned to his brothers who had wronged him and said in Genesis 50:20: “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”

Since trials don’t take God by surprise; they shouldn’t take us by surprise either.  Peter reinforces this in 4:12: “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you.”  When we see our trials as timely, as sent by God for His glory and for our ultimate good, we’ll be able to say with the psalmist in Psalm 119:71: “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn your statutes.”

By the way, I heard on the radio that the average American complains 70 times a day!  Yikes.  If God sends suffering my way as something that is continually necessary for me, then when I complain I’m really complaining against Him, aren’t I?

3. Trials are terrible. 

Trials are temporary and they are timely but it doesn’t mean we have to like them.  Let’s just say it together: trials are terrible!  I love how honest the Scriptures are.  We don’t have to act like we’re not in pain when we are.  We see this in the last part of verse 6: “…you have been grieved by various trials…”  This literally reads, “You have been put to grief.”  The word for “grieved” is translated as “heaviness” in the KJV and means to be sad and sorrowful.  

I sometimes surprise people when they tell me what they’ve been going through.  Maybe they expect a more spiritual answer from me but this is often what I say, “Man, that stinks!” Actually, that can be a spiritual answer.  When Jesus heard that Lazarus died, John 11:35 says: “Jesus wept.”  In Gethsemane, Jesus was deeply “grieved (grieved all around) to the point of death” (Matthew 26:37-38).  Hebrews 12:11 describes God’s discipline not as delightful but as “painful.”

The word “various” can mean multi-colored like Joseph’s coat of many colors, or variegated or manifold.  The idea is that trials come in all shapes and sizes and they arrive over and over again.  Sometimes we see them coming and other times we’re actually ambushed by them.  They can range from a runaway dog to a runaway child; from a skinned knee to a broken heart.  

James 1:2 captures this idea: “when you fall into various trials.”  This is picked up in Acts 14:22: “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”  In Job 5:19, Eliphaz refers to “six troubles.”  My guess is that what you’re going through right now is different then what others are experiencing but the similarity is that we are all going through some kind of difficulty.  If you’re not hurting right now, just hold on, you will be shortly.

Trials are temporary.  They are timely.  And they are terrible.  But they are also meant to be transforming.

4. Trials are transforming.  

Some of you are facing a pack of problems.  Malcom Muggeridge once said, “Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful with particular satisfaction.  Indeed, everything I have learned, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence, has been through affliction and not through happiness.”

I went back out and prayed for some more church neighbors on Thursday and was overcome with all the pain and problems that no doubt are present right around our facility.  I prayed that God would work out His purpose through all these problems.  As a way to follow-up on our prayer walks and to reach out to our neighbors, we put together a postcard this week that will be mailed to all the homes that have been prayed for.  This is what it says: “Hi Neighbor!  In an effort to be good neighbors, the staff of our church walked through the neighborhood and prayed for you recently.  If you have any specific prayer requests or ideas about how we can be better neighbors, feel free to give me a call on my cell phone….I can also be reached by email…Should you have any spiritual needs we can help meet, we’d be happy to be of service.”

Circle or underline the first word in verse 7: “That…”  Other translations capture it more accurately when they use: “So that…”  This means that there’s a purpose behind your problems because trials are meant to fortify our faith.  God has a plan to use your pain for His purposes!  Specifically, when responded to correctly, our trials can be transforming.  I see four ways that we can grow up when we’re torn down.

  • Trials strengthen our faith in the Lord.  We see this in verse 7: “That the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”  The word “genuine” refers to that which is approved or proven.  Just as gold is purified through fire, so too our faith is proven through pain.  God says this in Isaiah 48:10: “I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.”  Job knew that his suffering would serve to strengthen him when he cried out in Job 23:10: “But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.”  Friends, a faith that is not tested cannot be trusted.

In Bible times when a craftsman would want to make something of fine gold, he would put it in intense heat so all the impurities would be burned out.  The goldsmith would know the work was done when he could see the reflection of his own face in the liquefied gold.  Sometimes God turns up the heat in our lives in order to work out the impurities.  Irwin Lutzer says, “God often puts us in situations that are too much for us so that we will learn that no situation is too much for Him.  If everything went well for you, how would you know if you really had faith?”  You know your faith is the real deal when you’re able to give “praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”  

Friend, if you’re in the furnace right now and it feels hotter than ever, hold on to Psalm 66:10-12: “For You, O God, have tested us; you have refined us as silver is refined.  You brought us into the net; you laid affliction on our backs.  You have caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; but You brought us out to rich fulfillment.”  As we sang earlier, God’s grace is enough, isn’t it?

  • Trials deepen our love for the Lord.  Look at verse 8: “Whom having not seen you love.  Though now you do not see Him, yet believing…”  Peter had the pleasure of actually seeing the Savior but we don’t have that option right now.  But we can love Him even without seeing Him.  In fact, Jesus pronounces a blessing upon those who choose to believe in John 20:29: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

The word for love here is agapeo, which refers to an unconditional, not an emotional love.  Trials have a way of getting us to what really matters.  We might skate along on the superficial and emotional level for a while but when problems come, we’re forced to either say “later” to the Lord or to love Him at a much deeper level.

Don’t miss the little word “yet” in this passage.  Job declared in Job 13:15: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”   Psalm 119:141: “I am small and despised, yet I do not forget your precepts.”  Lord, I’m getting bounced around here, yet I believe in you.  I’m going through such loss, yet I love you.  I’m despised, yet I’m going to stay in your Word.  Though you slay me, yet I will remain surrendered to your plans and purposes.

  • Trials grow our joy in the Lord.  It seems counterintuitive to have joy when we’re going through so much junk but trials and rejoicing are often linked together in the Bible.  Look at the last part of verse 8: “You rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.”  This brings us back to verse 6: “In this you greatly rejoice…”  Friends, sadness and gladness often exist side by side as one of the greatest paradoxes of Christianity.  We see this in Acts 5:41 when Peter and John left the council, “rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.”
  • Trials help us hope in the Lord.  When we’re going through a bunch of garbage in this life, it helps us focus on the life to come.  If you are born again, you will receive the salvation of your soul.  Look at verse 9: “Receiving the end of your faith – the salvation of your souls.”  Trials will not ultimately be understood until the end.  We are receiving salvation now if we’re saved but we won’t receive it all until we meet Him face to face.  That’s our living hope.

Putting Problems into Perspective

Trials are meant to fortify our faith.  They are temporary, they are timely, they are terrible and they are also transforming…but only if we respond to them correctly.

Janet Janacek often forwards me an email from a missionary friend of hers who serves in Slovakia.  In a recent letter she described what happened when she messed up the language, which is easy to do when you’re trying to communicate cross-culturally.  She was leading a Bible study from Hebrews 12: “One of the points was to take God’s discipline as from a loving father and tackle life’s challenges with Him and not alone.  But instead of writing ‘with the Father’ on the poster board, I accidentally wrote ‘with vinegar’ – a simple reversal of two letters of two different words that are pronounced almost exactly the same.  I had wanted to make a point about our perspective toward trials, and the blunder made it for me.  I saw some funny smiles and knew I had written it wrong.  But after a good laugh we were able to talk about going through trials with vinegar – a sour perspective on everything, versus with a hand held by a loving heavenly Father.  So much of the Christian life is just that – keeping things and circumstances in God’s perspective.”

Let me see if I can bring all of this together with seven ways to put our problems into perspective so that we’ll have victory instead of vinegar.  When hard times come, we can know that God is at work in our trials for our good and for his glory.

1. Confess your bitterness to God.

Friends, bitterness will short-circuit God’s plan to use your problems for His purposes.  While it’s OK to express your anger to the Almighty, some of you are brimming with bitterness.  Hebrews 12:15: “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”  I talked to someone recently who said he has stopped going to church because he’s bitter over something his ex-wife did to him many years ago.  I told him that bitterness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.

2. Give up your demand to know “why” you’re going through pain. 

No matter how hard we try to figure things out, there will always be some mystery to your misery.  God does not explain Himself to us, nor does He have to. 

3. Give God the right to say “no” to you.

God already has the right to say no but it’s important for us to admit this.  I love the model of Jesus, which Paul followed, when he prayed three times for the suffering to be taken away in Mark 14:36: “‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you.  Take this cup from me.  Yet not what I will, but what you will.’” Suffering came to Paul and to Jesus, not because they were out of the Father’s will, but because they were in His will.

Thank God for it.

4. Treat your trial as a gift from God. 

Think about your biggest trial and thank God for it.  Think and thank Him right now.  Troubles and trials are a sign of God’s love, for if He did not love us, He would not discipline us (Hebrews 12:4-11).  Some of you might like to say, “Well then, God must love me a lot!” 

5. Use your suffering as a means to minister to others. 

Paul wanted his thorn removed so he could get on with his ministry but he learned that his malady multiplied his ministry.  Have you ever thought about how God can use you to help someone who is going through the same suffering that you’ve been through?  According to 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, this is a big part of God’s purpose in comforting you in your pain: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”

A reporter once asked Mother Theresa, “When a baby dies alone in a Calcutta alley, where is God?”  I love her response, “God is there, suffering with that baby.  The question really is, ‘where are you?’”

6. Go with the gospel and expect persecution. 

Listen to this moving blog post from a missionary in Africa from several years ago,

“…Christ’s suffering cannot be separated from our experiences as His witnesses. We will suffer for our faith…so with terrorists attacking churches and Ebola moving around Africa, do we stop ministering in these areas? Do we fear our own death? Throughout history, doors were opened to the Gospel through the blood of martyrs. Many peoples will not be reached today without Christians who are prepared to go into areas that truly need the message of hope even if it means a possibility of losing their health or their lives for the gospel…”

7. Put your trust in Jesus who suffered in your place in order to solve your sin problem. 

While you won’t be delivered from all evil and suffering right now, if you’re saved you will be when you leave this world.  If you don’t receive Christ into your life, the pain and suffering you’re experiencing now will be nothing like the eternal torment and unending agony that awaits you when you die.  If you’re a Christian, this is as bad as it gets; if you’re not a Christian, this is as good as it gets.

I came across a prayer that was found on the body of a confederate soldier during the Civil War.

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve,
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey. 

I asked God for health, that I might do greater things,
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things. 

I asked for riches, that I might be happy,
I was given poverty, that I might be wise. 

I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men,
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God. 

I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life,
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things. 

I got nothing that I asked for
– but everything I had hoped for. 

Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among men, most richly blessed. 

We will all experience various or multifaceted trials.  We could picture it this way.  Hold up your left hand and see each of your five fingers as representing a specific struggle you are going through. Some of you have less than five and some have more.  Now hold up your right hand as well.  1 Peter 4:10 refers to God’s grace as manifold, or multi-colored.  Imagine that your multifaceted trials are covered by God’s multifaceted grace as you take your hands and put them together.  God’s grace corresponds exactly to whatever you’re going through today.  And when our problems and God’s promises are put together they form a perfect picture of prayer.  Let’s pray together.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?