God’s promises are wonderful, including this one from today’s lectionary selection:
“And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10).
This above verse is deeply reassuring because it is a reminder of God’s care. The gist is that when things go bad, God will restore you. That’s a magnificent promise!
Sometimes a person experiencing trouble does not sense God in the midst of their challenges. Suffering can be the ultimate distraction because it is so painful that it can escalate into an all-consuming terror. It is understandable that a person will focus on and attempt to do whatever it takes to make the pain go away. The struggle to overcome pain can arouse desperation, which escalates suffering into something worse.
When faced with a dire situation, it is seldom easy to rely on the unseen promises of an unseen God. If pain and suffering become overwhelming then God’s presence can be easily overlooked or dismissed as wishful thinking. Thankfully, God is always there despite obstacles and distractions. And as far as helping others, an insightful person of faith can encourage someone who is suffering. In other words, God can use you to help another person claim God’s healing.
As one of God’s representatives on earth, you can boldly proclaim your connection to the Almighty. Be careful, however, because you don’t want to say something insensitive. Well-meaning people can say things that are unhelpful, as when spewing a trite reply to a serious situation. Saying, for instance, “If you had greater faith God would heal you” or “Let go and let God” are grossly insensitive if not outright wrong. The content, timing and tone of your responses count. You don’t want to make things more difficult by using language recklessly, in a way that suggests that a simple snap of a finger can make all the pain go away. Even for pious and deeply religious people physical, emotional and spiritual healing take time.
There’s also the issue that occurs when God doesn’t seem to respond to pleas and prayers as expected. In such cases it isn’t the best strategy to make people feel even worse by pointing a virtual finger accusing them of lacking faith. It’s easy to make comments from the sidelines but few people have a crystal ball or a magical buzzer that summons God to your bedside. God provides restoration and will certainly be with you, but not always according to usual expectations.
You can confidently share what God has done for you, but for each individual there are unique circumstances. God is not obligated to deal with everyone in the same manner. Some people may not accept God’s help, and anger can blind the afflicted so that they will not claim the assistance they most need. In such cases you can still encourage people to draw close to God and remain open to the transforming power and possibilities of the Almighty.
Whatever your view of God’s response to prayers, Peter’s message in today’s lectionary is a reminder that God will not let you perish. This doesn’t mean that you’re in denial about mortality and the fact that everyone must die physically. God needn’t preserve your flesh from the human condition but your spirit is destined for eternal protection and fulfillment. God can and does heal people’s bodies, and God does care about physical needs, but even more so is the wondrous healing and transformation of the human spirit.
Diverse miracles are a reminder that not even the otherwise inescapable laws of physics can crush your spirit. Yet when God doesn’t alter material reality to suit your circumstances you can remain firmly planted in heavenly promises despite what happens to you on earth. God encourages you to be humble and non-anxious. You can learn to discipline yourself as you keep alert and resist evil. All this suggests that you needn’t become complacent while staring up in heaven waiting for Jesus to rescue you from every inconvenience.
When is the last time that you claimed one of God’s promises? It’s not always easy to grasp a promise when you are suffering in an immediate crisis. You get sick, and you want to be well—NOW! The challenge is to carry God’s promises steadfastly into the future, toward longer-term vitality rather than just the “one and done” intervention of current distresses.
I pray that God will continue to reveal marvelous promises at St. John United Church of Christ. We’ve already seen new people come to our church and as we welcome fresh faces God will continue to grow our faith family. How we receive and share God’s love says more about us than all our theology and traditions. Make God real to those in distress by becoming God’s special blessing to people around you.