"Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed" 1 Peter 4:12-13 (NIV).
The beauty at the ocean was beyond compare. It was a delightfully cool morning with a piercing, clear blue sky. The sun's rays danced across the giant boulders that lined the inlet; the shadows contrasted against the light, which created beautiful shapes and patterns. The water glistened with what looked like millions of diamonds upon the waves. It was breathtaking! Breathing in the salty air and feeling the breeze against my skin, I worshipped the God of creation while listening to the praise song, Beautiful Scandalous Night. My senses were overwhelmed with the magnificence! Just when I thought it could not get any better, a large school of bottle-nosed dolphins came swimming and jumping into the inlet. I continued worshipping.
As I headed back home, I kept thinking about all I had seen. What did God want me to know? My thoughts kept turning to those boulders. Then I realized they were beautiful because of the shadows that contrasted against the light. Yes, that was the message! Are not our lives more beautiful because of the shadows? Is this not where God teaches us mercy and compassion, and where strength of character is formed (2 Co. 1:4, Rom. 5:3-5)? And is it not in the valley of the shadow of death where we learn that God is with us (Ps. 23:4)? In all these dark places, in the depths of despair, we can find comfort in the shadow of his wings (Ps. 57:1).
How many times do we pray, "Jesus, mold me and make me after thy will"? But often when the shadows of rejection, illness, loss, and other struggles come our way, we cry out, "Why me, Lord?"
Today's Bible verse tells us not to be surprised by suffering. Why? Because even though we live on a spectacular planet, we are still subjected to the curse of sin and death (Romans 8:22-25). However, when we trust the God of creation and understand he loves us with an everlasting love—the One who did not spare his only Son to rescue us—then we can know our trials are not in vain; it is in these dark times where we can participate with Christ in his suffering.
We are told to "Endure hardship as discipline . . . God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it" Hebrews 12:7-11.
The word endure, in Greek, hupomeno, means to stay under, remain, and
persevere. The word discipline in Greek, paideuo, means to educate or
correct, as in training up a child. This verse is not about punishment for our sins and shortcomings, or enduring suffering for the sake of suffering, because
it is Jesus who suffered on our behalf and paid our sin debt. No, this is about submitting to
God's training, trusting that he will use our hardships in order to transform us into the image of his beloved Son (James 1:2-4).
This doesn't mean we remain under abusive relationships when it is in our control to change them. We must seek justice for others and ourselves (Deut. 16:9, 20; Is. 1:17). Even so, miraculously, some of the most heinous crimes committed against God's children have shaped them into shining lights for God's kingdom.
If you haven't experienced the goodness of God in the midst of suffering, then I urge you to press into him, draw near to God and he will draw near to you (James 4:8). Read his Word, pray, and seek his face. God's plan is far better than any we can devise for ourselves, because in him, our shadows have purpose!
Prayer: Father of Creation, when difficulties arise, please help me to trust you and know there is a purpose for them. May the shadows of my life make me more like you, so that your light can shine through me! Amen.
Copyright 2013 - Sarah A. Keith
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