As the year draws to a close, it is appropriate that I also conclude my series on suffering, and more specifically, a series of articles that focussed a verse sent to me by a friend back in October 2016. I have been clinging onto these words ever more firmly since. I have already posted an introduction, and a series of posts on each word of a string of promises that Peter makes his readers:
Sometimes when life deals its worst in your direction, it feels like you have been blown away. Your world can fall apart in an instant. But in fact, this verse tells us it is actually a time when God wants to establish you, or firm up your foundations. In some ways this acts as the culmination of all the previous words, and could be seen as containing their meaning in one word. But lets focus on this specific word, and see what it adds to this verse. The Greek word here translated ‘establish’ is used four other times in the New Testament, and each of them has something for us to learn today as we look at this verse:
Become founded on The ROCK
And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock (Mt 7:25).
Establish then clearly means to give you a strong, unshakeable foundation. Times of suffering will come. Jesus promised us as much: “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33, NIV). And as my mentor, Henry Tyler, used to love to say ‘How many of you know Jesus ALWAYS keeps his promises?’ He would pause for a moment, and then say, but the verse doesn’t stop there, Jesus continues: “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Knowing that Jesus is with you is surely one of the key factors in us having a firm foundation. But there is more to it than that. Jesus in the introduction to the famous parable says, “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matt 7:24, NIV).
Thus, whilst establishing us is the work of God, there is something we can do to participate in that work: listen to the words of Jesus, and obey them. As we learn to be truly followers of Jesus, we will be those who find when troubles do hit us, we are not shaken to the same degree as those with no hope.
It is striking how rarely we hear preaching on the commands of Jesus. I am reminded of a book that John Piper wrote called ‘What Jesus Demands of the World.’ I think, over the next few weeks or months, I will endeavour to read all fifty short chapters, each of which focuses on one of Jesus’ commands. Learning to really OBEY Jesus is surely one key to our being ‘established‘.
2. Remember God is God and you are not
This word ‘establish’ or ‘foundation’ is also used in one of the glorious hymns which the writer to the Hebrews tells us are about the SON of God. Sometimes we like to pretend we are powerful, we like to delude ourselves that we will go on for ever, and we like to think that we can be self-sufficient. All these convenient delusions are often the foundation of our lives. When suffering comes along and destroys those foundations by rudely reminding us of our frailty and mortality, where do we turn? The answer is we turn to the one who lives for ever, the one who really is all-powerful, and the one who laid the foundations of this earth! If he can lay a foundation for a planet, surely he can be trusted to lay one in our lives?
“You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning,
and the heavens are the work of your hands;
they will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment,
like a robe you will roll them up,
like a garment they will be changed.
But you are the same,
and your years will have no end.”
3. Be Grounded in the Love Of God
The word ‘establish’ is also translated elsewhere as ‘grounded’. Often we say of someone ‘they are very grounded’, meaning that they are stable. What better place to find your grounding, than with the experiential knowledge of the love of the Almighty God. When you are suffering, knowing that God loves you gives such hope. May we be filled with this knowledge and may it transform us! As Paul prayed:
…that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:15–19).
4. Be stable in your faith
…continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard (Col 1:23).
The above verse is the last way in which this Greek word for ‘establish’ is used. Here the word is stable. And the best way to be stable is to be sure of our faith, and the hope we share of a glorious future. A couple of times this year, I have picked up a copy of the book Hope Reborn which I wrote with my pastor, Tope Koleoso. I have done this to remind me each time of an aspect of the gospel. We so often forget, or drift away from the truths of our faith. Stability comes to us only if we hold firmly to the truths that mark us out as different because we are Christians.
These four verses don’t offer an easy solution. But they do offer clear pointers as to how we can co-operate with God’s work in establishing us, or building a firm foundation in our lives.