Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Rejoicing in all Circumstances.

'Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade— kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.' (1 Peter 1:3-6)

Rejoicing can be a tough call. Nowhere in the Bible are God's people promised an easy ride. Again and again the model shown is one of choosing to rejoice no matter how rough the ride gets - David encourages his soul by worship while hiding for his life in a cave, Paul and Silas sing praises at midnight with bleeding backs in a rat-infested dungeon, John is 'in the Spirit' as he breaks rocks in a prison work party - and so on. In fact, when the pain is greatest and the stress is stretching us the most, that's when our small acts of thankfulness and rejoicing are the most meaningful.

The phrase 'a little while' is a poignant one for me. Years ago I felt that God spoke to me and promised that after I have suffered 'a little while' then He himself will step in and heal me (see 1 Peter 5:10). I am finding that God's idea of a little while and mine are very different. So I thought I might revisit a sermon that I preached on the subject of 'God's Little While' a little while ago! Here is the outline of what I said:

In John 16 Jesus used the phrase “a little while” 7 times. He was referring to the 3 days and nights He would be in the grave before the resurrection. In Ezekiel 11:16 the phrase means 70 years! So it appears that a little while in God’s economy may not be to with a quantity of time, but rather a quality.

What are the Marks of God’s Little While?
· A Time When God is at Work no Matter How Dark it Appears. This was true of the dark days when Jesus was in the tomb and the years that Israel was in exile. God was working out His purposes. When we submit to God’s timetable, He is at work.
· A Time When God is Looking After His People. In Ezekiel’s day God said He was being a “sanctuary for His people”, even tho’ their own sin had led them there.
· A Time that Ends Only When God Determines. It only ends when He says it is over, but we can be absolutely sure it will end. This will come to pass.

Why Does God Allow the Little While of Our Trials to Occur?
1. To Fulfil His Divine Will and Plan. The little while that Jesus spoke about was God’s plan of redemption (like the nearly 20 years Joseph spent in the Egyptian jail). So it was with the 70 years little while of Ezekiel’s day.
2. To Bring Something Unique to Birth. John 16:21-22. There are times in life that are like a pregnancy.. the pain leads on to something new and good. Just as a pregnancy can seem like forever, so a little while can really drag, but God knows what new era will be born in our lives because we trusted Him.
3. That our Joy May be Complete. John 16:22b & 24. Like James 1:2, 'Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.' There is a depth of joy, not happiness, that can only be discovered in the place of suffering, where intimacy with God is the only comfort, trust in God the only hope.

How Do We Keep Going Until the Little While is Over?
Jesus gave His disciples keys to hanging in there in John 16.
1. The Work of the Holy Spirit Within. Verse 13-15. He guides, He counsels & comforts.
2. The Word of God Keeping us Alive. The Spirit of Truth uses the Bible to speak to us and lead us into all truth. Diane and I have lived in the Word during this little while.
3. The Fellowship of Other Disciples. Jesus addressed His words to a group of disciples not an individual. We need each other, especially in the little while’s of God’s dealings with us.
4. Utter Reality in the Meantime. Vs 20, “you will weep & mourn”.
5. The Power of Persistent Prayer. “Ask and you will receive..” verse 24.

I hope that you might find that short Bible study useful - I certainly did. Now - about that rejoicing??