“The God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory through Christ [Jesus] will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you after you have suffered a little.”1 Peter 5:10
God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. Throughout my adult life, I have heard this cliché far more often than I can count—while struggling with infertility, following Sarah’s birth, managing her constant care, while pregnant with our surprise baby, when I suffered from autoimmune thyroid flare-ups.
At first, I accepted these words at face value. After a time, I realized I became incensed when hearing them. Most people base this platitude on scripture, carelessly weaving their own loose interpretations into miniscule truths. Reality told me—God does give us more than we can handle. In fact, Jesus was crushed under the weight of His Cross three times.
Few things have given me even a sliver of consolation during my darkest hours. But this verse from 1 Peter revealed something new to me—that God may permit us to bear a burden beyond what we are capable of carrying, but He offers us four distinct promises after we have suffered.
The point is not that we will not suffer, nor that our suffering may somehow be lessened to accommodate what we can handle. Rather, it is the hope of what results from our suffering, if done fruitfully and patiently. Here are the four promises we can cling to in times of desperation.
“For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal.”—Jeremiah 30:17
Most of us have prayed, at one time or another, for complete physical healing—for ourselves or someone close to us. Our good intentions stem from a desire for what is good, which includes wholeness rather than brokenness. Because we know that God’s perfect will consists of that which is good, we believe He will grant us the restoration for which we plea.
Of course, all of us discover that, all too often, our healing is of the invisible variety. It’s difficult to reconcile how a perfect and good God can permit us or someone we love to suffer agonizing and sometimes lingering deaths—cancer, Alzheimer’s, chronic pain, etc. How, then, do we make sense of the promise from Jeremiah?
It’s important to remember that our wounds may take a lifetime to heal, and quite possibly the form of healing most needed is emotional or spiritual, rather than physical. Long-term maladies carry the potential to lead us closer to God, precisely because we are in a state of dependence and helplessness and recognize (hopefully out of humility) our need for Him. Therefore, bodily suffering may be the instrument God mysteriously uses to heal our deep-seated brokenness.
“And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.”Mark 16:20
When something is of God—a good work, for example—He will always confirm it, usually in multiple ways unrelated to one another. Instead of begging God to “give us a sign” that we are, in fact, following His will, it’s better to acknowledge and accept that He is, once again, intentionally clouding our ability to understand what He is doing in our lives, and why.
The “sign” which we are seeking may be a distraction, to paraphrase St. John of the Cross. The signs God gives us typically involve careful discernment over a long stretch of time. When I wrote my first book, From Grief to Grace, I gathered the “signs” of writers and editors suggesting I consider writing a book, then took this information to prayer over a period of two weeks. During that time, God reminded me through memories of work I had done in the past that it was preparation for this particular book.
When we stop looking for something specific in alignment with what we wish would happen, we will see evidence of God’s clear path for us.
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous hand.”Isaiah 41:10
God’s strength sometimes feels like weakness. I can attest to the sense that “life will never get better.” Remember the crushing blows Jesus suffered, the cruel torment we can’t fathom and will never experience? The Father uplifted Jesus. The Father gave Jesus strength to carry on, to move forward, to finish His task.
When we are on our personal Calvary, the road appears interminable. “When will this end?” we ask ourselves, and the answer is not always given. The times when God’s absence is more keenly felt than His presence are precisely the times when we can pray for the confidence to believe that God is holding us up, helping us to continue and not give up.
“But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.”2 Thessalonians 3:3
In scripture, the word establish has a specific definition—to permanently settle or found, to ordain or appoint, to ratify a covenant. God’s fidelity is a truth of permanence. We vacillate in our ability to remain rooted in constancy, but God does not waver in His promises. When He says He will establish us, it means that suffering, when given back to God, will become a strange phenomenon that leads to something new, something greater.
Every time a biblical character or group of people underwent extensive trials, they eventually came upon a time of flourishing, a season of renewal and growth. That is our hope, too—that our suffering is not the end, but the beginning of those small, secret resurrections we are granted every day.
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