God’s promises are great. As an example, read this one from today’s lectionary selection in 1 Peter:
“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 aforementioned verse is deeply reassuring in that it reminds us of God’s care. We can offer a succinct interpretation such as this: When things go bad, God will provide revitalization. We need to immerse ourselves in such promises.
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 regain a better condition can arouse desperation and hence bad choices, which transforms the original source of suffering into something worse.
Also, 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 and promises can be easily overlooked or discounted as wishful thinking. Thankfully, an insightful person of faith observing the situation can help a suffering person claim God’s healing.
As God’s representative on earth, we must choose our words of comfort carefully. A moment of thoughtlessness can undermine our efforts and lead to words that aren’t helpful, such as when spewing a trite reply to a serious situation. We must exercise care and not characterize suffering with well-meaning but recklessly tossed statements. Saying, for instance, “If you had greater faith God would heal you” or “Let go and let God” may not always be the best choices. The content, timing and tone of our responses count. We don’t want to make things more difficult by using language carelessly, certainly not in a way that suggests that a simple snap of a finger can make all the pain go away. Physical, emotional and spiritual healing take time.
There’s also the issue that occurs when God doesn’t seem to respond to pleas as expected, and in such cases it isn’t the best strategy to make people feel even worse by pointing a virtual finger by accusing people of lacking faith. It’s easy to make comments from the sidelines, but we do not always understand the grand scheme of how and when God is working in someone’s life. God provides restoration, but not always according to our timetable.
We can confidently share how and what God has done for us, but for each and every 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 and bind the afflicted so that they will not claim the assistance they most need. In such cases we must encourage people to give God a try and remain open to the transforming power of the divine Spirit.
Whatever your view of God’s response to peoples’ prayers, Peter’s message in today’s lectionary reminds us that, spiritually speaking, God will not let us perish. This doesn’t mean that we’re in denial that all humans must die. God isn’t obligated to save our flesh from the human condition but the spirit within each of us is destined for eternal fulfillment.
Instead of focusing on nasty physical realities, or on solely seeking material comforts, we can claim God’s eternal promises which preserve our souls. 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 remind us that not even the established laws of physics can stand against us. Yet when God doesn’t alter material reality we can remain firmly planted in the Kingdom of Heaven, despite what happens to us on earth. God encourages us to be humble, non-anxious, and to discipline ourselves as we keep alert and resist evil. All this suggests that we mustn’t become complacent while staring up in heaven waiting for Jesus to rescue us from every inconvenience.
When is the last time that you claimed one of God’s promises? It’s not always easy to claim a greater spiritual promise when faced with an immediate crisis. We get sick, and we want to be well; we lose money, and we want more; we are frustrated, and we want satisfaction. God can operate at a higher level behind these diverse problems. Sure, we are physical beings who need things for survival. The challenge remains to claim God’s promises toward longer-term vitality and wellbeing. We do not live by bread alone scripture reminds us, but by every word (i.e., power & promise) of God.
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 rejoice over God’s blessings. Keep on praying and expecting God to reveal great things in us and through us. 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 everyone around you.
–Reverend Larry Hoxey