Now that we’ve got four (!) little ones, I’m knee deep in children’s books. When you’ve got multiple kids you end up reading the same books over-and-over again for years (just when one kid outgrows a book, the next one wants to start reading it). One of those books that I’ve read hundreds of times in the past 5 years is “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.” It’s about a family that takes a hike through the woods to try to find a bear. If you’ve never read it, check out the author’s dramatic reading (his facial expressions and sound effects are priceless):
I don’t know in what parallel universe it would ever be a good idea to go looking for bears (unarmed and with kids in tow no less), but that’s exactly what they’re doing. As they come across different obstacles along the way (tall prairie grass, a deep river, thick mud, etc.), the family repeats this catchy singsong refrain: “We can’t go over it… we can’t go under it… we’ve got to go through it.”
In some ways, this little refrain reminds me of the reality of suffering in the Christian life. Peter – who knew a thing or two about suffering for Jesus – tells Christians in Asia Minor as much in his letter. There is no way around suffering for our faith. In fact, it’s part and parcel of our faith; suffering is to be expected. There are no tricks or shortcuts. Instead, Peter tell us this:
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking… 1 Peter 4:1
Arm yourselves: this was a military term… but when we’re suffering, our weapons are not guns and knives. How do we arm ourselves as Christians? It starts in our minds. It’s our way of thinking (sometimes translated as attitude or even intentions), and it should be the same as Jesus’. Peter points us right back to Jesus – to His suffering. Peter describes Jesus’ “way of thinking” just a few verses earlier.
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 1 Peter 2:21-23
Peter doesn’t offer us any shortcuts; he points us to Jesus! Are you suffering? Have the same mind as Jesus, who choose suffering over sin. Are you in a dark place? Set your mind on Jesus, who did not return hate for hate or insult for insult. Does it seem like it would be easier to just give up on faith altogether? Fix your attention on Jesus, who entrusted himself to God as the only just judge.
I’m always looking for a shortcut. And when it comes to suffering, I’m looking for an escape route. But Peter insists, “Stop looking all around for an escape route, and walk through your suffering with your eyes on Jesus.” Sometimes our preoccupation with the alleviation of suffering serves only to distract us from Jesus. It only serves to distract us from the very source of our strength – right when we need it most!
Unlike the marketing gurus of today, Peter doesn’t offer us “7 Secrets of Suffering.” He points us to Jesus. And Jesus is far better, far more gracious, far greater than any secrets, shortcuts, or escape routes. No matter what we’re facing… no matter how many times we cry out to Him… we cannot exhaust the riches and depths of His grace. And for this, I am eternally grateful!