This is Chapter 1 of Discovering Joy, a book that I'm writing and posting chapter-by-chapter on Wattpad. Enjoy!
Two thousand years ago, a fiery man named Peter wrote a letter to a church grieving their losses and pains. I have to wonder whether God, looking down the corridor of time and seeing the losses and pains of His children in many places of the world, in many eras of human history, specifically ordained that my church in Virginia, would be studying 1 Peter when the coronavirus changed our lives. Unlike Nero and other tyrants who brought deliberate death and destruction to the people of God, our enemy is something we can't see, with invisible allies called Isolation, Depression, Economic Loss, and a host of others.
But the words that speak so poignantly to suffering and our faith in the midst of it burn into me every Sunday as we study through as a congregation, each of us in our own homes but united in purpose and in the Holy Spirit.
My notes on the sermon are a mingling of the pastor's main points, specific quotes he shares, and my own thoughts as I process through his words.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And:
SERMON NOTES - April 5, 2020
The entire world has changed for us in the last month. We are surprised, because it upsets the story we have written for ourselves. Today's passage reminds us not to be surprised by suffering. We live in a fallen world, and suffering is the result of sin (both natural because of the Fall and intentional because of deliberate sin). We will face trials even when we try to secure our own safety. But these are not random events, for God Himself is in them. They are reminders that we do not belong here, but belong in God's eternal life and home.
How do we respond to trials? We may be upset--why is this happening--but we should ask rather, "Why is it that God would give us so much prosperity up until now?" We should remember that the world hates Christ; as His representatives, we should not expect applause. Instead, we should expect the suffering that comes naturally with the war against the forces of the Fall. We should not organize our lives to avoid suffering; it is expected that we will have these trials.
The crucible is for silver and the furnace is for gold, but the Lord tests the hearts. - Proverbs 17:3
Trials show us what is in our hearts. We do not stay the same. We either come out with a deeper trust of God or with more self-sufficiency and fear. We see our priorities and our true character.
Remember that trial reveals the glory of God:
But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:13)
Listen to these words from the blind Scotch preacher, George Matheson:
"There is a time coming in which your glory shall consist on the very thing which now constitutes your pain. Nothing could be more sad to Jacob than the ground on which he was lying, a stone for his pillow! It was the hour of his poverty. It was the season of his night. It was the seeming absence of his God. The Lord was in the place and he knew it not. Awakened from his sleep he found that the day of his trial was the dawn of his triumph! Ask the great ones of the past what has been the spot of their prosperity and they will say, 'It was the cold ground on which I was lying.'
Root your hope in something that does not move or draw its strength from changeable human ability and efforts. Root your hope in something real.
But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. (Malachi 3:2-3
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. (Isaiah 48:10)
Trials are not a time to numb ourselves or to hibernate. Trials are the time to feel more, invest more, and trust more.
Trials prove us. God is proving His grace's power in our lives through these hard things. He is working perseverance in His people. He is showing that He and we cannot be separated by anything.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? (Romans 8:35)
Our trials are also a warning: a warning of God's coming judgment and our need to be certain of our peace with Him. We do not wish His judgment to apply to us, and so these trials bring us back to our true hope and force us to consider Him.
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15)
Consider whether this trial is revealing Him to be your true God, or revealing that you are not putting your hope in Him. If you are His child, entrust yourself to Him:
Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (1 Peter 4:19)
- End Sermon Notes -
I was thoughtful for some time after the sermon ended and the screen on our smart TV thanked attendees for joining virtually. My husband Paul sat beside me on the sand-colored couch, sipping his coffee and adding thoughts to his own notes.
I wanted to sit and ponder more, because something in the sermon spoke deeply to an unworded thought I had been trying to capture all week.
"This, right here," I pointed to the place in my notes. " 'Trials show us what is in our hearts. We do not stay the same.' This is what trials do: They force us from our place of neutrality. We literally can't be lukewarm anymore. We have to choose."
Paul nodded. "Trials reveal our gods."
"We discover either that we are serving the true God and trusting ourselves to Him, or we are serving other gods: comfort, security, control, pleasure."
Oh, those words! I've been turning them over and over all day. This test is revealing my gods. Thanks to the coronavirus and pressures that I have never felt so keenly before, I can no longer drift in the comfortable duality of serving both God and my own pet gods. I have to choose--and then I have to commit over and over to act upon it, as a daily reinforcement of that choosing.
I am very bad at this. I have always been frustrated by those stories in which brave Christians had a grand "Aha!" moment in the midst of some spiritual struggle and from that point on, they were changed forever. I do not change like that. I commit to the Lord--and then I default back to my "little G" gods of control and comfort. God sends another wake-up call and I remember my previous commitment. I re-commit. For a while, I feel all is well. Then, at another prodding from God, I realize that what I had mistaken for spiritual contentment was really spiritual complacency, and my gods had sneaked into the back door and made themselves at home again.
Coronavirus has made me fearful, because it is something I can't control, and all my best efforts to keep myself and my unborn daughter safe may not be enough in the end.
Coronavirus has made me complacent, because it is easy when people are not intruding upon your physical space to simply withdraw emotionally and require no sacrifice or discipline from yourself.
I do not want to serve these gods. I want to serve the God who alone keeps my soul in safety and who pulls me outside of my shallow self, spurring me into deeper engagement with Himself, His people, and His world. I want to entrust my soul to my faithful Creator while doing the good that He has given me to do.
None of my life has gone the way it was "supposed to go," but I don't love my life any less because of the hardships and new directions. I see so much unexpected good in it, and I want others to see the good in theirs.