May 28, 2017

The Defender

 

1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11

12 Dear friends, don’t be surprised about the fiery trials that have come among you to test you. These are not strange happenings. 13 Instead, rejoice as you share Christ’s suffering. You share his suffering now so that you may also have overwhelming joy when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are mocked because of Christ’s name, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory—indeed, the Spirit of God—rests on you.

Therefore, humble yourselves under God’s power so that he may raise you up in the last day. Throw all your anxiety onto him, because he cares about you. Be clearheaded. Keep alert. Your accuser, the devil, is on the prowl like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith. Do so in the knowledge that your fellow believers are enduring the same suffering throughout the world. 10 After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, the one who called you into his eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will himself restore, empower, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be power forever and always. Amen.

 

 

We continue this week on our “Alive In Spirit” series. Last week, we saw where Jesus’ promise of a companion and advocate would bolster the disciples’ hearts. Today we will look in Peter’s epistle to the churches in Asia Minor promising the Spirit would defend them against evil. Let’s see how the Holy Spirit can be our Defender:

 

Dr. Brene Brown, who reached a small level of fame giving a TED talk on the power of vulnerability, once stated, “You are imperfect, and wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” That struck me personally recently, as I tried to understand the dynamic between confidence in my personal strength and knowing that not all struggles can or should be handled alone.

 

The concept of strength has changed through the years. In previous generations, those who were considered most strong were people who commanded respect through their hardnose discipline. I have heard many of our members speak of those persons who instilled in them ethics of hard work and respectable dress and the absoluteness of right and wrong in a mixture of fear and respect. Teachers, judges, etc. – people with the power.

 

As the years have changed, new models for strength have taken shape alongside the disciplinarian. No longer are methods of intimidation and command the primary modes for establishing one’s strength. Now we have the influencer who is more reliant upon personality and the ability to make people think you are strong through unsinkable confidence and will. Think of today’s politicians, or every movie president when a plane is crashing or aliens attack.

 

There is a liability in both of these styles. Neither allows for a person to be human – to show when they have reached their limits – and to persevere with dignity. The former sees suffering as an obstacle to be subdued and beaten. The latter sees suffering as something to shake off or overcome.

 

The foundation of both of these models for strength stems from the idea that a person must be resolved in their demeanor. Any show of uncertainty or wrongdoing translates into weakness. Or put another way, “only the strong survive, and never admit that you are wrong.”

 

If we can get past the obstacle, we win. The problem is, life does not operate in single instances of adversity. Some suffering is constant or cyclical. Some suffering cannot simply be beaten.

 

When we cannot will ourselves out of suffering, we develop anxiety. Anxiety is one of the greatest enemies, because it comes from within us. When we cannot overcome it, we lash out against others, and maybe even more damaging, against ourselves. The idea that we can be strong regardless of our limitation is, simply put, a matter of pride.

 

Pride tells us we don’t need anyone else’s help to live, including God, even if we claim that such is not the case. I have watched many people who state publicly that their lives have been supported by God, yet in moments of crisis, they fall back into a mode of “What am I going to do? What could I lose?” without pausing and noting, “God is with me, and I’m going to be ok.”

 

I know that this statement is true of many people, not only because I have witnessed it, but because I see it in myself. Every time I am met with a criticism or a conflict in my personal or professional life, I find myself at odds with myself on how to respond: 1) to be angry that anyone would think what I did or said was wrong, and 2) the anxiety of determining what will fix it without making it worse.

 

I have found that my best judgments come when I refuse to let my anxiety take over and clear my head so that I can better listen to God. When I let myself get wrapped up in what I think, I lose my strength and become vulnerable to anger and spite. What I should instead do is give my mind clear space for God to speak so that I don’t get in the way.

 

The Apostle Peter is speaking to this feeling of wanting to do right yet being humble during it when he is writing to the churches of Asia Minor. They are not yet in the full persecution of Christians – that happens a few decades later – but they are struggling to find their place in society. They want to spread the gospel but doing so puts them at great risk.

 

The Christian faith is by nature evangelistic and demanding on the disciple, which can be translated as offensive to those outside the faith. Christians were avoiding celebrations and traditions in their communities that many of them once participated in before becoming a Christian. They were careful to not do anything that could be displeasing to God, so they were thought of as being “too good for others.” Their numbers made them a threat to others’ good times, and, because they claimed a new kingdom was coming that was greater than their own, they were enemies of the state.

 

That’s a lot of pressure that can wear down a person over time.

 

Peter wanted to remind them that their struggles with acceptance and normalcy were not for nothing. Being staunch on their convictions and avoiding anything that could cause them to stray would not go unrewarded. Their commitment to being clearheaded, to not let their anxieties push them to rashness, meant that pride and need to be right couldn’t be used by their accusers against them.

 

We all know what happens when what we think is righteous protest is actually prideful indignation, when being right is more important than being respectful and kind. We have all been there. But it shows a lack of understanding the true humility in the struggle.

 

Peter’s offering to them is God’s grace will come to them once they have learned how to suffer well. In verse 10, he says, “after you have suffered a while…” That is so we can learn first how to be patient and level our own heads. You’ve probably heard the saying, “I asked God for patience so he gave me lots of opportunities to practice patience.” Once you build the foundation, God’s job – through the Spirit – is to defend it against further pressures from evil spirits.

 

There are many evils in the world, and sometimes, even the churches are affected. Things like secrecy and gossip, or mean spiritedness, and all other sorts of personal evils exist even among those we call family. We work with people who do this to us. As people of faith, we are called to love first and to show grace first. If we let ourselves act like everyone else, then we are failing to abide by God’s command. Faith isn’t just about us feeling good – it’s about doing good.

 

But thankfully we do not do that work alone. Allowing ourselves to come alive in the Spirit means that we work out our faith so that we are open vessels for God to work in us more. As we open ourselves up – becoming vulnerable and gaining power as Dr. Brown says – the Spirit within us will defend us against those evil spirits that want to get in and aggravate our hearts.

 

We are all struggling with something and need God to be present with us. Just because we struggle, it doesn’t mean we have to be closed off from everyone. If anything, it makes us even more worthy of love and acceptance. The same is said when we meet others who struggle. When someone bothers you, it means it is that much more important to be mindful that how we respond to them. Sometimes, they may even use the posture of love against you, but remember, God will empower and strengthen you, because the Spirit is with you to defend the authenticity of your love, even if no one else sees it as strength.

 

These are the ponderings of God laid upon my heart. Peace be with you. Amen.