At the end of our church service, the pastor offers a benediction, usually one from the New Testament. Last Sunday, the benediction included this verse:
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:10–11)
Did the pastor assume that everyone in the congregation was “suffering” and needed this encouragement that God would eventually change them or their situation, or both? I felt this was unfair presumption on his part, but the more I think about it, the more I agree that everyone needs this four-fold promise from God.
In the first place, the word used here for suffering is a Greek verb meaning “to experience or undergo a sensation or impression, usually painful.” As has often been said, “If you are not suffering at the moment, enjoy — for that moment will not last long.”
Suffering can take many forms. In a congregation of 300-400 people, how many are physically ill? Likely many more than the few on the prayer list. How many are mentally ill? Statistics say one in ten. How many are struggling with depression, a sense of abandonment or betrayal? How many are weighed down with anxiety, financial woes, the burden of needy family members, rebellious children, difficulties in their work place?
Besides the external storms, everyone in a group of any size struggles with sin. This could be anything from prayerlessness to pornography, ingratitude to infidelity, gossip to cursing God. All people, Christians included, struggle with painful struggles with temptation to sin against God and others. We need grace and mercy from the Lord, the One who has dominion over our situation.
These verses describe four aspects of what God promises to those who suffer. In context, the first century readers experienced persecution, but suffering can include any or all of the above.
When I suffer, God promises to restore me. Restore is from a word that means prepare, adjust, or mend. It was used in the Gospels for mending fishing nets that are ripped from daily use. This indicates suffering that comes from the normal wear and tear of life, such as fatigue and other daily problems and perplexities.
God will also confirm me. This word means strengthen, confirm in spiritual knowledge and power. When I suffer, I often cannot see any reason or purpose for it. However, God will not only restore my strength but make sense of the struggle. Not only that, He has dominion over the events of my life. Because of His great love, no suffering is random or without value. I can trust Him to use all things for my good. (Romans 8:28-29)
He will strengthen me. Being made stronger is not so much a power word as it is about steadfastness. It makes me smile as I think of all the times I’ve struggled to overcome a problem, suffering failure after failure. Finally, I come to the end of myself (which is what He wanted all along) and put the whole thing in His hands. At that, He sets me, gives me a new ability to turn resolutely in the direction I failed to go in my own strength.
And He will establish me. This word means to lay a basis for, to ground or consolidate so that I am on a solid foundation, able to withstand the storms of life with greater stability. This happens only when I abide in Christ. He is my solid rock, my anchor in life’s storms. Everything else, including my best efforts, will fail me, but Jesus never fails. His grace is sufficient.