“It feels like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
I sat on the edge of our bed with tears in my eyes, attempting to describe to my husband the silent, simmering fear that had been plaguing me. I was in perpetual dread of the possibility of getting re-injured and of the new pains that so easily come to those recovering from chronic Lyme disease. After my body had been weakened for years upon years, it would now be left vulnerable to even the slightest stressors. When would the next ache come? When would the other shoe drop?
As physical discomfort seems to be my constant companion, I wrestle with what it looks like to be ready for it, rather than worry about what the next pain will be. So I’ve wondered, What makes the difference between preparing for suffering and anxiously fearing it?
While reading 1 Thessalonians recently, I was stunned by the confident way Paul wrote to the church about standing firmly amid persecution:
…we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. (3:2)
Paul wanted his brothers and sisters to be prepared for suffering, so that their faith would not falter when it undoubtedly came. He sent his coworker Timothy to “establish and exhort” the church; for the opposite of preparing confidently for suffering is anxiously fearing it, and the fruit of fear can only be a faltering faith.
So, establishing and exhorting our faith will prepare us for suffering—but what does this mean?
Establishing Our Faith
Establishing our faith means rooting ourselves in God’s firm and eternal Word of truth.This truth is the gospel of our salvation; it is everything we need for life and godliness; it protects us from sin and foolish living; and it never changes, even though our circumstances do.
Establishing our faith in the truth looks like:
- Reading God’s Word on a regular basis to receive his truth and hide it away in our hearts
- Meditating on what Jesus Christ has done for us, believing him by faith, and asking God to amaze us with the gospel
- Opening the Word with other Christians, teaching and admonishing one another in it
- Sitting under sound, biblical preaching in a local church
- Praying in response to what God has shown us in his Word and asking him to establish our hearts in the strengthening grace of Christ
- Telling ourselves the truth despite difficult emotions and circumstances
Yes, we take action to establish our faith in what is true by opening our Bibles, praying, and meeting together; but only Christ is the author and perfecter of our faith, so we cannot boast even in these actions. He gave us hearts to believe by faith in the first place, so we continue by faith, in dependence on his grace, as we establish ourselves in the truth. God is the one who speaks and gives us ears to hear, receive, and respond.
Exhorting our Faith
Establishing our faith means rooting ourselves in God’s firm and eternal Word of truth, and exhorting our faith means applying this truth day by day, and moment by moment, in practical ways. It is exercising our “faith muscles” in preparation for suffering.
Here are some examples:
Knowing that Jesus is the Creator and Sustainer of all things, including our earthly bodies, we needn’t fear sickness, injury, or death. In the words of George Whitfield, “We are immortal until our life’s work is done.” Our times are in God’s hands! Therefore, we can live unafraid of what might happen to us. When we encounter physical suffering, we can remember that Jesus, the God-man, suffered in the flesh, that he knows the number of our days, and that he understands our lowly, tent-like condition better than we do.
Knowing that Christ is the Advocate of sinners and the perfect Judge, we needn’t fear relational tension, strife, or violence. Though our enemies—even our friends—may assail, accuse, and betray us, we know that the Lord of the universe will hide us in himself in the day of trouble (Psalm 27:5). We also know that Jesus the Judge sees every man’s heart and will uphold justice at the Last Day, so we arefreed from the burden of vengeance. We can live unafraid of what might happen in our relationships and communities because justice belongs to God, and our lives are hidden with Christ in him.
Knowing that our Lord was tempted in every way, yet never sinned, we needn’t fear the battle against sin. Rather than bracing ourselves to fall into sin, we exercise our faith by asking for God’s grace to overcome temptation; by removing any obstacles or triggers that would cause us to stumble; and by walking in the light with other trustworthy, prayerful Christians. We exhort our faith to ultimately hope and rest in the perfect, sinless life of Christ which was freely given to us, not in the success or failure of our attempts to be holy. Jesus is our righteousness!
Brothers and sisters, though suffering is a sure reality in this world, we need not anxiously fear it. No—instead we will prepare for it by establishing and exhorting our faith right now, through the living and abiding Word of God. As he gives us grace through his Holy Spirit, may we be found to have rooted ourselves in the truth of his Word, applying it by faith, that we may not be moved by the suffering that is to come.