Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God (1 Peter 4:1–2, ESV).
Suffering will come. “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). All will be persecuted? Yes, all.
Because God loves us, He warns us that pain is coming so we aren’t blindsided by it. If you’re driving down the freeway, a car cuts in front of you, and you see a collision coming, you brace yourself. If you stumble down a flight of stairs, you instinctively throw out your hands to break the fall. God’s Word repeatedly, lovingly warns us that suffering is God’s number one tool for chiseling our character so that we have realistic expectations and can brace ourselves for what’s to come.
Read this: Why does God allow pain?
Since suffering is coming (or for some of us, is already here), we also need to know what to do, and God’s Word gives us practical advice. It begins with the right mindset. “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking” (1 Peter 4:1). How did Jesus think like this? From the moment His ministry began, He knew where it would end. At the right time, He turned His face to Jerusalem, knowing exactly what awaited Him there. He chose the cross. He willed Himself to be our sacrifice.
We need to arm ourselves with the same mentality. Rather than scratching our heads, wondering why we’re going through hard times, we should be thinking, I’m one of God’s children, so I’m not surprised by suffering. God has this planned for me, so I’m staying under it. With God, I’m going to get through this.
Along with these realistic expectations, we also need to guard our behavior. Often when we’re going through difficult times, we are more vulnerable to sin. We stand at a crossroads and either get bitter or get better. Either we move forward/upward, or we drift backward/downward. Trials present a watershed moment.
During a time of real hardship, you become a target. Peter warns, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8b). Satan sees God’s children going through hardship, and he’s waiting for an opportune time to pounce. What God allows for your good, Satan wants to twist into evil. Sin that hasn’t tempted you for a long time can crush you during a trial, when all your energy and resources are directed toward surviving. That’s when Satan rushes you. You can find yourself falling into patterns you thought were gone forever. An unsuspecting person might lament, I thought I’d never touch that bottle again, but here it is, empty.Satan wants to shame you and make you think you haven’t made any progress at all. But as a blood-bought son or daughter of the living God, you were chosen for something better!
Arm yourself for the onslaught. Guard your behavior “so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (4:2). We only have a few more years, if that. We’re in a free fall. Life is short, fleeting, like a vapor—gone. God forgive us for the months and years we’ve spent with our pleasure at the top of our agenda. What a shallow existence! Instead of pursuing personal passions, go hard after the will of God in your life. It’s not the hardship but your response to it that really matters.
Though the temptation to sin can sometimes be heightened in trials, suffering can also make you more focused in your walk with Christ. Pain in one area can sensitize you to other parts of your life. Suffering teaches you in new ways that life isn’t a series of random, unrelated events; it’s all connected. As you formulate urgent prayer requests, you examine your life for anything that would prevent you from being heard. You might ask, “God, what do You see in my life that needs to be dealt with? Anything I need to get right with You about? Have I been ignoring You about something?” You get the mindset of a warrior, not wanting to carry anything extra into the battle. “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3). Arm yourself like a warrior.
Now read this: Encouragement for the heavy-hearted
This post originally appeared on Dr. James MacDonald’s daily devotional Our Journey and was republished with permission.
James MacDonald (D. Min. Phoenix Seminary) is the founding senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel, leads the church-planting ministry of Harvest Bible Fellowship, teaches the practical application of God’s Word on the Walk in the Word radio and television programs, and is a gifted author and speaker. You can find out more about James and his ministries at WalkintheWord.org.