These [trials] have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:7)
I visited two elderly ladies yesterday. They are both going through some trials, but their reactions are very different.
One has suffered for as long as I have known her with often crippling anxiety. Surprisingly, as her physical health has suffered recently, her mood and her faith have generally strengthened. However, it now seems that things have got worse for her. She is not coping at home in spite of a really good care package and will not even think about moving to residential care. Instead she rings people up in the early hours of the morning and can’t accept that there is little they can do at that time. Is the genuineness of her faith being proved? It’s hard to see it at the moment.
The other is a joy. At 92 she has lost her (until recently hearty) appetite, is losing weight and wonders whether the throat cancer she had some years ago may have recurred (medical tests are pending). She admits to having been down recently and a bit weepy, and faces the future with some nervousness. However, her confidence in God’s perfect will for her life remains. When asked how she would like to see things pan out, she says she really wants to stay in her own home until the Lord takes her to heaven. She’d like to regain her appetite and be able to continue her active family life and social life, but she knows that her time on earth is limited and is glad that she knows where she will go from here, whenever that may be. This second lady has a much simpler faith than the first. She doesn’t know the Bible as well, and is always apologetic that she doesn’t know or remember things. But she has a confidence in God and a delight in God’s people which shines through as genuine faith.
This verse from 1 Peter has been translated a bit clunkily I think – what doesn’t come out is that the word indicating ‘proven genuineness’ is the same as that used for the gold being ‘refined’ by fire. There are other Bible passages which refer to God refining us through the fire of suffering (e.g. Isaiah 48:10). Here Peter talks not so much about the fire removing the impurities in the gold, but that even pure gold will be destroyed in a raging fire. But faith which is genuine can and will survive however severe the trial is.
Yesterday I also spent some time with a third lady who is going through a very different sort of trial. I have seen her grow in her knowledge of God through some very hard tests in the years I have known her, and yesterday she told me she had recently become more aware of how necessary suffering is and how much it had caused her to lean on God and to learn from him. Some of her friends can’t understand her attitude, but she has shifted her prayers from just wanting everything to be made better, to asking God to help her to live for him and glorify him in her present circumstances. There are still things which could be better, but they are outwith her control so she must honour God anyway.
Ladies two and three are heroines. Their faith is being proved genuine, and is itself growing, as they face the trials of life. It’s a privilege to pastor such people.
But Lord, let me not forget that lady number 1 is also a privilege for me; perhaps one of my (small) trials at the moment, but then again I need some so that my own faith may prove to be genuine too.
Grace to all.