In 2014, I joined the Navy. Fresh out of college and a six-month overseas volunteer opportunity, I’d decided that an office job just wasn’t for me. There were bigger, better things out there and I intended to find them. With that in mind, I confidently walked into a recruiter’s office and went on to ace the ASVAB, enlist for a special program, pass my aviation physical with ease, breeze through bootcamp, and arrive for my training in Pensacola, Florida, riding a wave of success.
Two weeks into my program I had a heat stroke as a result of improper training by a vindictive instructor. I was rushed, unconscious, to the hospital, and sent back that afternoon. I was then ordered to go to the chaplain’s office, who explained that two family members had died that morning. He was very sorry.
A month later, I was informed that I’d been disqualified from the program because of my heat stroke. After my disqualification, I was certified “needs of the Navy,” sent to the next-needed billet, and then washed out of that, too. The stress of my family situation was far too much for the technology-focused program. I was then sent to Japan, where I would spend the next three years on a base with some of the highest work stress and the lowest morale in the fleet. In an office, of all places.
While my dignity suffered greatly, my pride most certainly remained intact. I’d legitimately been wronged in many ways over the course of those four years. Not only that, but the very idea that my best laid plans could all come crashing down was something that happened to other people–not to me. The inevitable, though gentle, suggestion from fellow believers during that time was that the Lord was humbling me. I don’t want to read into Providence, but there might be something to that suggestion.
The Comfort of Humility
Peter’s admonition to “humble yourself” (1 Pet. 5:6) was difficult for me to accept when I was at my best, insulting when I was at my worst. I’d certainly been brought low by life, and it was painful to imagine bringing myself even lower–on purpose. Especially when it seemed that life had already done the job so well.
In retrospect, I can see that there’s more to Peter’s exhortation that I’d overlooked. He gives us a promise of comfort and hope in our humiliation:
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
1 Peter 6:6—10
The Timing of Suffering
We’re to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand, and then our Father will lift us up in due time. Suffering believers can comfort themselves knowing that God, who holds us in his right hand (Ps. 63:8), will not leave us to our sufferings. We get no timetables in Scripture, and the same holds true for this verse. The one who works all things for the good of those who love him (Rom. 8:28) will do so in his own timing.
The apostle Paul didn’t write those words intending for the church to blunt its emotions toward suffering and grief. The verse is meant to be a comfort to us, not a muzzle for our cries of, “How long, O Lord” (Ps. 13:1). We still have the unavoidable reality that we’ll endure various kinds of suffering and disappointment in this life, but we don’t grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:17)
The Promises in Suffering
Verse seven says that the saints should cast all their worries and cares onto God. Why? Because he cares for us. Peter fronts this comforting admonition with hard words: humble yourselves (v. 6); be sober minded and watchful; the church has a real and active enemy who intends to do us harm and he revels in our sufferings (vv. 8—9). We will suffer, it’s guaranteed (John 16:33).
But after these hard truths come the promises of care that the God of all grace will himself give the believer: We’re to humble ourselves so that we might be exalted. We’re to cast all of our anxieties on God because he cares for us. We’re to be sober minded and watchful so that we may resist Satan, firm in our faith and secure in the knowledge that we don’t suffer alone–the church corporate suffers too. Every Lord’s day is a gathering of the saints who, for one reason or another, are also crying out, “How long O Lord?” (Ps. 13:1). When you go to worship with your brothers and sisters, remember that they too are waiting for the age to come, where our tears won’t even be a memory (Rev. 21:4).
Ecclesiastes speaks of “a time to weep . . . a time to mourn” (Eccl 3:4), and so often this time of mourning is also a time of humbling. I’ve been in that season for longer than I’d like, and I’d imagine if you’re reading this, you have too. This is all the more reason for us to look up. We look up to our Father, who holds us securely in his hand and has elected us for salvation (John 10:29). We look up to our brother, Jesus Christ, who has declared us righteous, washed, and sanctified in his name (1 Cor. 6:11). We, the church corporate, look up to our true home where a place has been prepared for us (John 14:3).
We look up, believing that, after we have suffered a little while, our Father, the God of all grace–the same God that has called us to his eternal glory–he will restore us. He will confirm us. He will strengthen us. He will establish us. This world and all its joys, sorrows, triumphs, and devastations remain his dominion, forever and ever. Amen.