Spiritual amnesia always asks, “What has God done for me lately?”
I grew up around the music of Pete Fountain and Al Hirt—jazz legends. Kids with any musical aspirations who heard these guys wanted to be like them. Their hapless parents would eventually be forced to make a trip to the music store for a used clarinet or trumpet.
It’s amazing what happens after that first week of practice. You start feeling the long hours. Your fingers hurt. I had the hardest time even blowing on a clarinet, since I couldn’t manage tongue-to-reed placement. Every time I blew on the instrument, it honked. After three weeks of work, I had only mastered a Canadian goose call. Nor did it make things easier to faintly hear my favorite television shows in the other room during practice time. The clarinet couldn’t compete with Mr. Spock. My musical dreams paled until, months later, I wondered why I had ever wanted that funky piece of wood to begin with. Back to the store it went.
Even minimal suffering can drain all the hope out of a heart. Sometimes the only way to replenish that hope is through a vivid reminder of what originally galvanized and inspired it. The Apostle Peter adopted that approach in his letter to dispirited believers who had been “grieved by various trials” (1 Pet. 1:6).
First, the apostle launched into a praise to God: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again…” (1:3). It sounds celebratory, but you can’t help but notice it also seems to have been a disguised reminder to them. The situation must have been dire for believers to need a prompt about the blessing of being born again. But how often do we take a jolt so severe, or hits so unrelenting, we forget that God has ever done anything for us?
Without missing a beat, Peter segues into the hope of being born again and where it’s supposed to take us (1:3). During stretches of relative peacetime, it’s easy to be lulled into an expectation that each tomorrow will be the same as our simple, lazy, today. Things will work the way they ought. People will live. Jobs will continue. The second birth is a ticket to the good life, a natural flow into predictability, happiness, and comfort, complete with iced tea and lawn chair. We’re supposed to be blessed, right? And yet such expectations wither under the realities of life in this world, and at times, they crash in sudden, ugly ways. Nothing in this natural continuum lasts. Not even for a born again person.
At precisely those moments we often find ourselves in need of a hope tune-up. Peter tells us our destination lies not in the completion of a bucket list, but “to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1:4). This inheritance is being kept for you and you are being kept for it. We, “by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1:5). Nothing can touch our inheritance, or destroy it, and nothing can touch you, or destroy you, in the eternal sense of the word.
“Okay,” you might say, “But in the meantime, why does my current situation have to be so awful?” Peter concedes that “now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,” (1:6). Crises gather like black and purple thunderheads, threatening to dump rain and hail and hurl lightning strikes on our picnics. But in the end, all they can do anyway is prove the genuineness of your faith. They prove what you have is real.
Trials burn off our cheap religious filler, untried theories, and counterfeit Christian stuff— a process we call “tested by fire” (1:7). If there are substandard elements in your faith, they need to be incinerated. And they will be. The result will be a more genuine faith that glows like the sun—not faith in the passive, undisturbed sense of the word, but a tried faith, a faith proven to be effective and powerful. And it is more precious than any material element on earth, including gold.
If this sounds like drudgery, the reality is a different thing, indeed. Peter never expected us to be a gathering of Eeyores. During our various ordeals, “we rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1:8). Our happiness surrounds a Christ we cannot see—“now you do not see Him” (1:8). But this is part of faith’s perfection—not only enduring with the end in view, but enjoying the presence of Jesus in the here and now without benefit of sight.
Peter assures us there will be an end. No more trials. There will come a time when the world has done all it can do and the devil has exhausted his resources. You will be left standing. Even the need for faith without sight will be over. All the things of God and Christ and glory and eternity will be manifest. Your soul will experience the exuberance of total salvation. We will have been saved not in spite of the trials but through them. We will have arrived not in spite of the invisibility of Christ, but through it. This we must remember.
Garcia Marquez wrote a novel called, One Hundred Years of Solitude. In it, a plague strikes, slowly erasing people’s memory of everything around them. The hero develops a plan to label everything—table, chair, wall, clock, cows, goats, pigs. The Bible does the same thing for us. As we enter trying, painful circumstances, our memory of the new life in Christ begins slipping. We forget the glories of what we have come to know and the hopes related to their future. That’s when we need post-it notes on everything—metaphors, words, and assurances that describe spiritual reality—or else we will forget.
You’ve heard these reminders in sermons. You’ve seen them in books. You’ve read them in your Bible. You’ve even used them to help others.
Why all the repetition?
Because we don’t need something new. We need something “old” seen afresh.