I was praying for our youth group the other day, when those three words popped into my head. I knew they were in the Bible, somewhere, and put them into a search engine. Job? No. Psalms? No. Hebrews? No. 1 Peter a resounding yes!
Here's the whole section which included those words I was thinking about (1 Peter 1.6-7):
"In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These 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."
Have a read of verses 1-12 to get more of a picture of Peter's encouragement to his readers, but what an important verse for these times. Covid has been very painful. Some young people will feel that Covid has ruined their whole life, if not a large section of it: harming exam results, which may have damaged university admission, with a knock-on effect on careers. And what careers will be available, with so many with more experience, out of work and looking for jobs? And yet, Peter holds grief and trials within a much larger framework - eternity.
Easy to say, you might argue, when you're not in a global pandemic. Had Peter experienced anything like this pandemic? Well, he had seen his Lord arrested, tried and executed. His friends Stephen and James had been killed. The early church had been scattered because of persecution. He himself had been arrested and only escaped because of miraculous intervention. Peter wasn't immune to suffering and yet, he can still write, 'In all this, you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.' He understood the pain of trials, even ones lasting months and years.
In one talk, Francis Chan uses the helpful illustration of holding a long white rope with a short red strip at the end. The rope is our existence, the red strip - our life on earth. You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86dsfBbZfWs. You could push that further now and tie a white band round the red strip - that's the Covid pandemic, probably, but worst-case scenario, a piece of white tape round the red section. Our existence is long and most of it's not going to be in the red strip, never mind the white band, it's in eternity.
Peter writes this in verses 3-4:
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time."
Billions have been wiped off share prices, face-to-face church services have stopped, weddings and holidays have been cancelled, education may have gone online, healthcare systems are under pressure worldwide, businesses have gone under, much-loved relatives may be kept at a distance, and some people have got really sick and tragically died, but Peter still speaks into this time, that we have 'an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.' And it's kept in heaven for us. Until then, while we undergo such trials, Peter writes that, we are 'shielded by God's power.' (v.5).
Covid is horrible. That is certain. And yet, Peter writes that it is only 'for a little while', whether or not the vaccines, which are starting to be rolled out, are effective long-term.
Perhaps most remarkable of all, is how Peter says we should react in these trials - we should rejoice (v.6). Not that what we rejoice about Covid - it's still ugly - but we can be filled 'with an inexpressible and glorious joy' that even in Covid, we are 'receiving the end result of our faith, the salvation of our souls.' (v.9).
Trials like Covid, force us back to relying on God, they show the 'genuineness of our faith' (v.7) and, as we keep hanging on to faith in Jesus in difficult times, they bring 'praise, glory and honour' to Jesus.
In a painful time, God has given us a living hope 'through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.' Covid is a white band, on a red strip at the end of a very, very, very, very long white rope.
Dave Thornton is author of 'Raising the Bar: Nearly everything you need to know about Christian youth ministry'. Buy the book here.