For most of us, the single greatest threat to our faith in God and his promises has been the miles we have walked in the desert. Suffering is the proving ground for what we believe. How will we respond when things go badly? Will adversity, disappointment, and crisis undo our trust in God and hope for the peace, joy, safety, and love of the gospel?
The apostle Peter writes his first letter to Christians in conflict. Since following Jesus, these believers have not found the peace, safety, or relief that they might have expected. This world and their lives continue to be marred by inconvenience, disease, disappointment, persecution, and even death.
“Jesus offers us inexpressible joy even in the most heartbreaking and excruciating moments of our lives.”
Peter writes, “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” (1 Peter 4:12–13). Is there a more counter-cultural, counter-human-nature message in the Bible than this? Jesus invites us to follow him and enter into inexpressible and glorious joy, even in the most bitter, heartbreaking, and excruciating moments of our lives.
Our prayer in the desert is not simply for strength and survival, but for joy. Only Christians can truly rejoice in trials, because only Christians find more of God there.
Ironically and beautifully, in God’s providence, trials are meant by God to serve our fullest and most lasting good and happiness. Peter begins that same letter with praise: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Peter 1:3). Why?
According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. (1 Peter 1:3–4)
Blessed be the life-giving, death-defying, all-powerful God of absolutely miraculous mercy. If you believe and follow Jesus, you will face really difficult — likely even more difficult — things in this life. But the God who raises the dead is now your God. He is now with you, not against you. God has given you a new, true, and full life through his Son, Jesus. And the life he gives is filled with an unconquerable, unquenchable hope.
One day, this hope will give birth to an inheritance in and with God beyond our wildest imaginations. This inheritance is imperishable. It doesn’t need an annual checkup. It can’t be used up. It will not die. It cannot die. Because our heavenly Father, who gave us life and adopted us into his family, cannot die. Nothing can touch or steal or spoil this inheritance.
“Suffering strengthens and purifies our faith in God’s promises like nothing else.”
It is undefiled. It’s not tainted or polluted in any way. Everything we have in this life, even our most precious possessions, are marred in some way by sin, either because they’re human and sinful, or because they sometimes tempt us into sin. Families, jobs, friends, sports, music, they’re all good and can be loved and enjoyed for God’s glory, but because of sin — because of our broken, deceitful, sinful hearts — there’s nothing perfectly good or safe or pure in this life. But our eternal hope, our heavenly inheritance, will be undefiled.
The inheritance we have with and from God is unfading. It cannot die, but everything fades with time, right? Passion fades. Energy fades as we age. Beauty fades. Our cars seem sturdy, well-built, reliable, but they fade. Our computers, fast and clean when we buy them, soon fade. They slow down and have to be replaced. Our bodies eventually age and break down and fail us. They fade. But our inheritance with God is unfading. Our hope is living and vibrant and filled with ever-renewing love, joy, and peace forever — always stronger, always deeper, never fading.
Learning to Love Desert Life
When we are faced with suffering, it’s not primarily about figuring out how to play the hand we’ve been dealt, but realizing the game is won. In Christ, our hand is already full of winning cards, so regardless of the particular situations, circumstances, or suffering we find ourselves up against, our hope is alive and our inheritance is huge because of God’s mercy to us in Jesus.
Faith like this will shock those around us. The world really doesn’t have a category for joy in suffering. They may rejoice in the baby born after the excruciating labor, or in the clean bill of health after hours of torment on a treadmill, or in the national pride and unity aroused after a terrorist attack. But they haven’t tasted joy in the pain, in the insult, in the heartache. They may just see the beauty and power of Jesus while watching you walk through your deserts and battles, and finally believe him for themselves.
“Our prayer in the desert is not simply for strength and survival, but for joy.”
God uses suffering to strengthen and purify our faith in his promises like nothing else. What we hold faithfully through trials, we are more likely to hold in the face of temptation. So, God sovereignly wields suffering to purify our hearts and our resolves for him so that we shine more brightly with his light and sufficiency. When we hold onto Christ through the loss, through the cancer, through the betrayal, we say that he is enough — that he is worth it all — and we prove that the Spirit is in us, sealing us and keeping us forever.
The suffering very painfully, but also very sweetly and powerfully, serves to prepare us for eternity and to display our good news to those around us now.