“You believe in Him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy!” 1 Peter 1:8
One of my favorite, old rock songs is Woodstock by Joni Mitchell, who looks and sounds like a woodland elf. I sometimes prefer the Crosby, Stills, Nash version when I want a little more traditional crashing guitar. Also I ran across a recent version by Good Harvest, a female duet, that is harmonic gold and surely worth a listen.
The second stanza has the wonderful lyric “I don’t know who I am, but life is for learning.” It reminds me that I don’t have everything nailed down and still have a long way to go. When it comes to the most important things, I never really graduate. Life at its best is an ongoing classroom. Life is for learning. Always.
The first chapter of 1 Peter is a good illustration of the potential of life-long learning. The words are a cascade of thrilling images. We’re chosen and destined by God, born anew, have an imperishable inheritance, guarded by God’s presence, rejoice with joyful joy (a literal translation).
The exalted descriptions don’t stop in chapter 1. The second chapter has the well-known passage about being a chosen race, a holy nation, God’s own people. Peter clearly is thrilled with God, and soars with some of the most beautiful Greek we have in the New Testament, and he invites us to soar with him.
What I’ve long found most interesting about 1 Peter is that it gives us a portrait of a man who had lived long with Jesus. Of course, Peter had the three years of Jesus’ earthly ministry but the letter was written 30 or so years later. The tone bespeaks a long experience, a long obedience, a long lifetime with Jesus. It’s the product of countless stumbles, but one more getting up with God’s help to resume the journey. Peter did not start with an unutterable and exalted joy. But he kept learning. He persevered, followed Jesus, and loved Him long enough to find that joy.
Perhaps the greatest danger of the Christian pilgrimage is to give up on the verge of insight. The daily joy of salvation must be mined. If I stop digging, believing that it was all a mistake, or that I’m not good enough, then I turn away when peace with God could have been mine. I needed only to turn one more spade of dirt to find the treasure.
The Christian life is a journey, make no mistake. We’re all pilgrims, and we face a thousand different temptations and discouragements. Sometimes we sit down by the path, and in a fit of anger and self-pity decide it’s not worth trying any more. Maybe it is the disappointment of a prayer not answered the way we wanted. Maybe it’s the hard reality of life that’s not turning out the way we expected.
Catherine Marshall was the wife of the famous preacher Peter Marshall. She herself was an outstanding Christian leader and author. I like what she said about growing as a Christian, growing old as a person, and facing challenges both physical and spiritual.
“I am finding that the Kingdom of God grows often by means of the very experience that would sweep us downstream, the turbulence I would prefer to escape.
“As we grow older the pace and dimension of physical life must wind down. But it is meant to be just the opposite with the spiritual life—growth at an ever-accelerating pace. The heights and depths of the Spirit and enthusiasm for God isn’t for children. In the latter half of life the normal Christian almost breaks into a jog or a run. Excitement and aliveness build. An altogether new quality of joy is given to us. It has little to do with the circumstances of our lives—good or bad—but everything to do with knowing Him who is managing the circumstances. It is joy that has the feel of permanence, even of eternity about it. Deep within we know that nothing that befalls us today or tomorrow can ever defeat that joy.” [from Something More, p. xv]
You can hear in her words the joy of salvation and the long years it takes to gain that sublime perspective. The living hope is something we must strive for daily. It is not a point in time deliverance. Salvation is past, present, and future. I was saved, I am being saved, I will be saved. That’s your Greek syntax lesson for the week.
Deliver me from the sense of having arrived! I want the security of knowing where I’m going, and the comfort of knowing where the power lies and I do have that. But I don’t ever want to tempt myself with the pride of thinking I’ve got it in full force. I have a lot to learn. God keeps me on the path and gives me strength for the journey. I do my part by trusting my way through the tough times.
Peter as we see him in the Bible is so wonderfully human, so flawed, so transformed, an example of what we all are and can be. Oscar Wilde wrote “Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.” I have a dear, new friend whose mother would say “I’ve never know a good person who didn’t go through a bad patch.”
Are you in a bad patch right now? Does unutterable joy seem like a distant memory or a total impossibility? Not a single saint ever made it via the fast track. Life is for learning, and most of the really rewarding lessons come through the trials. Just stay open and willing, and the things of earth will eventually grow strangely dim as we begin to see the light of heaven more clearly.
Peter had a checkered past, at no time darker than when he denied knowing Jesus. But Jesus never gave up on him, and for that reason Peter never gave up on Jesus. That sinner had a future. And that’s how Peter the fisherman became St. Peter.
Jesus isn’t giving up on you either, and nothing surprises Him about your journey. Just keep getting up when you fall and don’t get too down on yourself for your struggles. Life is for learning. Just remember, you know the Teacher.
Dr. Terry Ellis
July 2, 2017