Desert Song

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Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:3–7)

For many, suffering — the miles of faith walked in the desert — has been the single greatest threat to their faith in God and his promises. It’s the proving ground for what we believe. How will we respond when things go badly? Will adversity, disappointment, and crisis undo our trust in God and hope for the peace, joy, safety, and love of the gospel?

Peter’s first letter is written to Christians in conflict. Since following Jesus, they have not found the peace, safety, or relief that they might have expected. This world and their lives continue to be marred by inconvenience, disease, disappointment, persecution and even death.

Peter writes, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice…” (4:12-13a). I’m not sure there’s a more counter-cultural, counter-human-nature message in the Bible than this. Jesus says follow me and you will find inexpressible and glorious joy, even in really hard, bitter, heart-breaking, even excruciating moments and realities in your life.

The Death-Defying God of Hope

Ironically and beautifully, in God’s providence, the trials are actually meant by God to serve our fullest and most lasting good and happiness. Peter begins that same letter with worship, shouting, “Blessed be the God and Father our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Peter 1:3). Why?

According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. (1 Peter 1:3–4)

Blessed be the life-giving, death-defying, overpowering God of absolutely miraculous mercy. If you believe and follow Jesus, you will face really difficult –– maybe even more difficult –– things in this life, but the God who raises the dead is your God and he’s with you. God has given you a new, true, and full life through his Son, Jesus. And the life he gives is filled with an unconquerable, unquenchable hope.

The Inheritance Kept for Us in Heaven

One day, this hope will give birth to an inheritance, in and with God, beyond our wildest imaginations. This inheritance is imperishable. It doesn’t need an annual check-up. It can’t be used up. It will not die. It cannot die. It cannot die, because our heavenly Father, who gave us life and adopted us into his family, cannot die. Nothing can touch or steal or spoil this inheritance.

It is undefiled. It’s not tainted or polluted in any way. Everything we have in this life, even our most precious possessions, are marred in some way by sin, either because they’re human and sinful or because they sometimes tempt us into sin. Families, jobs, friends, sports, music, they’re all good and can be loved and enjoyed for God’s glory, but because of sin — because of our broken, deceitful, sinful hearts — there’s nothing perfectly good or safe or pure in this life. But our eternal hope, our heavenly inheritance, will be undefiled.

The inheritance we have with and from God is unfading. It cannot die, but everything fades with time, right? Passion fades. Energy fades as we age. Beauty fades. Our cars seem sturdy, well-built, reliable, but they fade. Our computers, fast and clean when we buy them, fade. They slow down and have to be replaced. Our bodies eventually age and break down and fail us. They fade. But our inheritance with God is unfading. Our hope is living and vibrant and filled with ever-renewing love, joy, and peace forever — always stronger, always deeper, never fading.

Learning to Love Life in the Desert

When we are faced with suffering, it’s not primarily about figuring out how to play the hand we’ve been dealt, but about realizing the game is won. In Christ, our cards are winning cards, so regardless of the particular situations, circumstances, or suffering we find ourselves up against, our hope is alive and our inheritance is huge because of God’s mercy to us in his Son, Jesus Christ.

Faith like this will shock those around us. The world really doesn’t have a category for joy in suffering. They may rejoice in the baby born after the excruciating labor, or in the clean bill of health after hours of torment on a treadmill, or in the national pride and unity aroused after a terrorist attack. But they haven’t tasted joy in the pain, in the insult, in the heartache. They may just see the beauty and power of Jesus while watching you walk through your deserts and battles, and believe themselves.

Suffering can strengthen and purify our faith in God’s promises like nothing else. What we hold faithfully through trials, we are more likely to hold in the face of temptation. So God sovereignly uses suffering to purify our hearts and our resolves for him so that we shine more brightly with his light and sufficiency. When we hold onto Christ through the loss, through the cancer, through the betrayal, we say that he is enough, that he is worth it, and we prove that the Spirit is in us, sealing us and keeping us forever.

The suffering very painfully, but also very sweetly and powerfully serves to prepare us for eternity and to display our good news to others now.