More than just the power of positive thinking–or positive living–being willing to say yes to whatever life throws at us involves surrender. This act of surrender is not a one-time event. In the Christian life, approaching God with open hands and a willing heart is a daily choice that we make, especially when a difficult situation is staring us right in the face.
“Then He said to them all, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” Luke 9:23
The phrase, “take up his cross” is so much more than being willing to carry a burden–it is a moment by moment surrender to the plans and purposes God has for us. That type of surrender might seem extreme and even overwhelming. The reality is, when we surrender to His plan, even if it involves suffering, we can face each day with confidence and with peace as we choose to believe–and then live out that belief–that He is indeed sovereign over all of it.
Jesus took up His cross long before He walked up Calvary’s hill.
In my journey through the Bible, it is no coincidence that in coming to the Book of 1 Peter, I find myself camping out here for quite a while. The timing of it seems to make the words jump right off the page as if it was written just for me. What some see as an ancient book written for past generations, I see as a letter with my name written all over it. I can personally testify to this truth: The more you get to know the Sovereign God of the universe, the more you will come to delight in the pages of His Word. It never ceases to amaze me that a letter written over two thousand years ago– one intended for the encouragement of believers who were suffering under the persecution of Rome–can be equally intended for me (and you!) all of these decades later!
Read the letter for yourself. Even if you are not going through a season of suffering, I am confident you will see a message that is intended just for you. Chapter One reminds us that our hope is a Living Hope, not found in circumstances, but in the person of Jesus. It reminds us of His holiness and that our obedience to the truth of His Word matters. (But how can we obey if we don’t read what it says?!)
“Therefore, get your minds ready for action, being self-disciplined, and set your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires of your former ignorance but, as the One who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct.” 1 Peter 1:13-14
Chapter 2 reminds us who we are and whose we are: “…rejected by men but chosen and valuable to God.” You and I may not feel rejected at the present moment, but we all have had those types of moments at some point. That all-too-familiar feeling of being alone can be a physical reality for a widow, but any one of us can feel alone, even in a crowd. We are all capable of detaching ourselves emotionally and feeling alone in our thinking: “No one understands.” “They just don’t get what I’m going through.” Though some of these thoughts are just not true, it certainly may feel that way. But God. He knows. He cares, and the Good Shepherd has promised to never leave those who put their faith and trust in Him.
Peter’s letter was intended to encourage those believers who were suffering undeservedly. Suffering is not a popular subject and can often bring wrong thinking, God is a loving God, and while He certainly can choose to allow our own bad choices to carry consequences, I think it is dangerous to say or to assume that He is the one causing our suffering. “If God is loving, then why did this happen?” While we might come to realize that our suffering is a direct result of something in this fallen world, sometimes we have to keep our focus on the bigger picture–our human minds and hearts often can’t comprehend what is happening in eternity. Peter reminds us that Christ himself suffered, and the agony He experienced on the cross was allowed for a purpose–for the greater good and for God’s glory!
“Dear friends, when the fiery ordeal arises among you to test you, don’t be surprised by it, as if something unusual were happening to you. Instead, as you share in the sufferings of the Messiah rejoice, so that you may also rejoice with great joy at the revelation of His glory.” 1 Peter 4:12-13
“But if anyone suffers as a Christian, he should not be ashamed, but should glorify God with that name.” I Peter 4:16
None are exempt. Suffering is a part of this fallen world. While that may be a sobering thought that you didn’t want to ruin your perfect day, let me remind you that because it is real, we can ignore it or wish it way. Denial doesn’t change the Truth. What we can do is give it to the Lord. Just as Jesus prayed in the garden, “Let this cup pass from me.” we can choose to lay our burdens at the feet of our loving, compassionate God. If Jesus went to the Father because He couldn’t bear the burden alone, how much more ought we as frail human beings do the same?
Surrendering our physical and emotional pain to God doesn’t mean He will take it away. Jesus knew He had to go to the cross, but in His surrendering the burden to His Heavenly Father, He gained the courage and the will to go through it because He knew He wasn’t alone. God the Father was the only one that could give Him peace–right in the middle of His agony.
Here’s my takeaway from 1 Peter: Chapter 4, verse 19 sums it up and will be the Scripture Memory Challenge verse for the book of 1 Peter.