When the Goin’ Gets Tough

1 Peter 1:3-9
3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! 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, 4to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

A cliché attributed to Joseph P. Kennedy (or possibly Knute Rockne) says, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” When I read through the above verse, I confess, that is the cliché that swept through my mind. Another one that floated through was “I never promised you a rose garden.” I was raised on folk wisdom and clichés. That comes back to bite me with frequency. But those two sayings grab the essence of these verses from 1 Peter.

When the Christians of the five provinces began to suffer for their faith, some began to doubt whether God still loved them or noticed their trouble or could do anything about it. Peter’s response is to burst into a great doxology of praise. In the original this is really one long sentence—a river of glory given to God for his greatness and great gifts to undeserving people. There is perhaps no paragraph in all of Scripture that can give more comfort to a suffering or dying Christian.
Jeske, M. A. ©2002. James, Peter, John, Jude (pp. 72–73). Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House.

When faced with trial, how does your faith hold up? Are you a fair-weather Christian, or someone who struggles with doubt when God doesn’t come through the way you want Him to? I think these are tough questions and ones that probably can’t be answered when we are not in the crucible. They can only be answered when we are in the fire, or looking back on a fire we have survived, examining the tenacity of our faithfulness at the time. And we all succeed or fail in varying degrees. But in these words of 1 Peter we find strength and hope.

First of all, we will all fail to stand as firm as we might want to. But for Peter, the question is not about our strength to withstand or succeed, it is about God’s faithfulness no matter what. The good things that Christ gives will never fail because they are based on irreversible historical fact—Christ’s resurrection from the dead. He lives; and because he lives, hope lives too.

God never promised us heaven on earth. What he did promise is that he would set limits to the hardships that come upon us; he would allow only as much trouble as he knows we can bear. Second, he promises that after the night of trouble, relief and deliverance will come in the morning—these troubles are only “for a little while” (verse 6). Third, he promises to work it all together for our good. Somehow, in some way, God turns every disaster inside out and makes it an opportunity for blessing. Fourth, God compensates Christians for everything they have to give up for him. That compensation is given in eternity, but also now. Peter once told Jesus, “We have left all we had to follow you!” Jesus replied, “No one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life” (Luke 18:28–30).
Jeske, M. A. ©2002. James, Peter, John, Jude (pp. 74–75). Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House.

God makes our painful experiences serve us by toughening our faith and by burning off harmful distractions to our goal. That positive outcome still doesn’t cause me to sign up willingly for pain. But when it comes, we do have God’s promises to cling to and certain hope in His eternal salvation. We may not like it, but suffering always serves God’s purposes.