Combat Training with God – Philippians 1:27-30

Show No Fear – That Will Be A Witness That Any Who Oppose You Will Be Destroyed

27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

Live the Life

Paul exhorts us to live a life worthy of the gospel that we have received.  In the world today, it is so much easier to just “go with the flow”.  We must be vigilant, and guard our hearts against the pull of the world, our flesh, and the devil.  Everything that we do is being witnessed by men, angels, and God.

And although only God can see our thoughts, Satan has been around for who knows how many millennia, and he and his cohorts in crime are pretty good at guessing what we are thinking.  Impossible, you say?  How is it then that con artists are able to “read” a person – properly evaluate how a person is reacting to something – and then feed them information that will speak to their inner desires, resonate with them, and then get them to do things that no one in their right mind would ever voluntarily do?  They are able to see the “tells” that we all have.  We have imperceptible changes in breathing, heart rate, pupil dilation, fidgeting, and other subconscious involuntary reactions to our environment.  They are able to “read” them – notice them and then watch for them – as they probe us with their carefully crafted words.

Satan can do the same thing.  He and the demons have been studying humans since the creation of Adam and Eve.  They know more about you than you know about yourself.  They cannot read your thoughts, but because we are spiritual creatures, they are able to interact with us on a spiritual level, and “whisper in our ear” the lies that they want us to believe and internalize.  Not every thought in your mind started with you.  Satan can bring back to memory the deepest and most emotionally powerful memories that you have, usually of your failures (to shame you) or your successes (to lead you to pride).  That is one of the reasons that Paul told us that we should, “…take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

When we do that, we are able to put everything in its proper place, and remember our training (“If you love me, you will obey my commands…”, “…offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God…”).  A good offense needs a good defense as well.  Otherwise, the enemy will easily break through your line of defense, and cause you unspeakable pain while interrupting your carefully planned strategy for success.

Stand Strong

Paul also exhorts us to stand strong in the one Spirit.  In Ephesians 6:14, we are told to “stand firm“.  The Greek word for this is stEte.  It is an imperative command – we should do it! – and it has the word-picture of a Roman soldier who has dug his shield and both his feet firmly into the ground, bracing himself for the impact of a rushing hoard of enemies.  Paul tells us here we are to stand firm as well – stEkete, or “YE ARE STANDING firm”.   We are to lock shields with our brothers and sisters in Christ, hold the line, and in all of this, be unified in purpose and thought.

Unified Undertaking

Paul tells us to strive together as one for the faith of the Gospel.  We are to all be engaged in the last great commission of our Lord and Savior:

19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Face your Fear

Ah, the dreaded subject that is on our minds.  What will we do when we are opposed?  Internally, we are all frightened.  We are human, and God has instilled within us a very good mechanism that biologically activates a number of chemicals that inform us of what we should do when we are in perceived or real danger.  We experience fear.  It is a self-preservation mechanism that, if we didn’t have it, would cause many more of us to die unnecessarily.

If we had no fear in and of ourselves, we would do crazy things, like jump out of airplanes thousands of feet above the ground, jump off thousand food cliffs into coves of water, and…  Oh, I guess there ARE people who do these things!  We can overcome our fear of dying, pain, public embarrassment (that’s a hard one), public humiliation, and many other things that cause us fear.

But we don’t overcome them the way the way the world overcomes them.  We rely on and trust in the Lord God Almighty, who in our time of distress, gives us a peace that is beyond understanding and guards our hearts in Christ Jesus against anything that our enemies can bring against us.

When we react in this way, we are bringing two separate witnesses to bear:

  1. We are being saved (removes any doubt in the minds of those who oppose us)
  2. Our opposition will (eventually) be destroyed by a holy, righteous, and faithful God who doesn’t take it lightly when someone messes with their child (unless they repent).  Ask any parent what they would do if someone was trying to bring harm to their child.  Multiply that times infinity (God’s love and wrath are eternal), and you have God’s final reaction to any who refuse to acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord in the flesh and opposes His children.

Selected for Suffering

Jesus Christ endured great hardship and suffering while He walked the Earth and died on the cross for our sins.  Since the student is not greater than the teacher, we should expect similar hardship and suffering while we engage in His work here on Earth.  Endure all hardship as discipline.  Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.   Look to the life of Paul, and consider your suffering in light of His good example.  Remember what God said to Ananias concerning Saul, who was breathing threats against the brothers:

“I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

A Qualifying Question

Let’s ask a question: When faced with fear, how do I respond?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, You have shown me that I am to show no fear in how I conduct myself.  You expect this of me, because You will provide for my every need at the time I need it.  You have said through Your servant John, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”  Help me to endure and allow perseverance to complete its work so that I may be mature in love.  Help me, as I overcome the enemy of my soul, that I would grow and mature in my walk with You.  Grant me the strength to walk, and the desire to live in holiness and righteousness before You and man.  Help me in my time of need when fear threatens to overtake me so that I would be bold, even unto death.  For even in death, You have promised me that You would never leave me nor forsake me.  This I ask in the precious name of my Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.

Want more? Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?

Called to Suffering – Acts 9:16

Can God Trust You With Suffering?

“I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

Carefully Called

We can rejoice that God does not do things at random:

Like an archer who wounds at random is one who hires a fool or any passer-by.

God, omniscient, knows all things, and has a plan that is coming to fruition.  He carefully selects people for what He wants them to do.  He said the following of King David:

“After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.'”

Many people were called by God for different purposes.  Some were to lead God’s people as judges, prophets, or kings.  Others were called to be intercessors, such as Esther.  Still others were called to discipline the Israelites through conquering them and enslaving them.  In every case, it was God who called them for His specific purpose, in His specific timing, for His greater glory.

Providential Purpose

God has purpose in everything that He does.  God does not waste any opportunity.  What appears to us to be random sequences of events are actually the carefully placed trellis that leads those who climb up it to where God wants and needs them to be.  We are but a mist, here today, and gone tomorrow.  We do not have the luxury of divine perspective with regards to long periods of time, because the average life span of a human being is seventy years, eighty if God is gracious.  We are unable to see the intertwining connectivity of timing and events, and to see the tendrils of connectedness between seemingly unrelated events and how and where they will intersect with one another in a tsunami of repercussions.

In all things, God has specific purposes for what He has called us.  Each of us are to play a part in it.  Paul likens this to being parts in a body, each one with unique features but that are part of a greater whole, contributing to or inhibiting the growth and health of the whole.  In everything, there is purpose.  God places purpose in His creation to reveal to us that He is full of purpose, and that we are to play a part in the purposes of God.

Heavenly Hardship

One of the most difficult, yet needed, purposes for God’s plan is people who have been chosen to be examples.  Some have been chosen by God to be examples of what is good.  Others have been chosen to be examples of what is not good.

For example, Able, the son of Adam and Eve, was chosen as an example of what we should do because he made the right offering before God.  Conversely, Cain, another son of Adam and Eve, was chosen as an example of what we should not do because of his offering before God, and his subsequent actions in regards to his offering’s rejection by God.

We need to keep in mind that the student is not above the teacher.  And Jesus Christ, the very best example that the Lord God Almighty could have sent to us experienced divine hardship on a scale that none of us can even comprehend.  He suffered and experienced great hardship throughout His life, but always with the attitude that God the Father had purpose in His hardship, and that in being yielded to the Holy Spirit, His life would glorify God.

One of the most difficult hardships to be given by God is the hardship of suffering.

Severe Suffering

No one likes to suffer (unless they are mentally deranged).  Suffering produces pain in our lives, and makes our lives so difficult that we can barely function.  At times, suffering can be so severe that we are incapacitated by it, and truly cannot even function.  Ask a person who is recovering from ninety percent of their skin being burned off in a fire if they are able to function.  The answer is obvious – until they are healed, they cannot.

God called His One and Only Son, Jesus Christ, to ultimate suffering for us.  As payment for our sins, not only was the burden of our sins – every sin that every human being ever committed past, present, and future – laid upon his shoulders as He hung on the cross at Calvary, God withdrew His presence from Him, and He experienced complete and total separation from the presence, provision, and protection of God in complete and total isolation with that burden placed upon Him in ultimate pain and agony.  Let it never be said that our salvation is free; it is freely given to us, but the cost was unimaginable.

Sometimes people are called to severe emotional suffering.  They have survived rape, torture, abuse, war, and other unspeakable circumstances.  The scars of these events will affect them for ages to come.  But they have been called as witnesses to the power, grace and glory of God as He leads them out of the bondage that such devastation has caused.

Sometimes people are called to severe physical affliction.  Most people have experienced some type of physical affliction, whether it is sickness or a broken bone.  But God has called some to suffer, not for days, months, or even years, but DECADES of life with pain that would cause the average person to curl up into a fetal position in the corner and bemoan their life (take a look at the life of Job for better clarification on this).  Ask people who have trigeminal neuralgia what it is like to live where, possibly every few seconds, or every second, it feels like someone is striking your face with the full swing of a baseball bat.  This particular affliction is also called “the suicide disease” because people would rather take their own life than live with the consequences of it.

In some cases, such as Lyme’s disease, it can not only be a painful, life-sucking, energy-draining, body-wasting disease, it can cause great misery.  Pain can be medicated away, even with morphine drips.  But misery is in an entirely different category.  Being in a state of extreme misery for any extended period of time will have a person begging God to take their life.  And when the pain and the misery go on day after day, year after year, DECADE AFTER DECADE, and the person is a disciple of Jesus Christ, whom it appears God has forsaken in their disease and time of need, what are they to do?

Total Trust

God has called these particular people to suffering as example to others.  Suffering (and the hardship that comes with it) produces character, and character produces hope.  Hope, in the sense that the Bible uses the word, is not wishful thinking, but rather a reasoned and sound expectation that some future event will occur.  In this, disciples of Christ have hope that God will work all things to good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.  The purpose is to trust that Almighty God is sovereign, that He has a plan, that He has not forsaken those who suffer hardship, and be an example to others that in their pain and hardship, God is real and is able to get them through their trials as well.

When these great saints of God are called to severe suffering, and show complete and total trust through it, it is a powerful message to those who do not believe in God that there must be something that is helping those who are suffering to believe.  It is evident to most people who, in light of this type of suffering, there is no circumstance in the world that can force a person to believe that their suffering has purpose and is worth enduring apart from the sovereign grace and power of Almighty God.

Total trust in God yields great fruit, both in the life of the one suffering, and in the example provided to those who need an example to continue on in their own difficulties.  God loves it when we trust Him through these difficulties.  David spoke of this in Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

The trust goes two ways.  We are to trust God, because He and He alone is completely trustworthy.  But God also trusts us.  To those whom He has placed the terrible burden of suffering, He trusts them to properly display that trust right back at Him.  The more hardship God brings into your life – and that which is NOT caused by your own sin, actions, or as consequences of your life choices – the more that he is trusting you for something great.

There is a story that goes something like this:

A man was at a lumberyard watching the lumberjacks move mighty trees from the forest down the river to where they would be sawn for wood.  At a junction in the river, there was a lumberjack who, every now and then, would direct one of the large trees floating in the water down a smaller path of the river.  There appeared to be no difference in the appearance of the trees, so this seemed odd to the man.  The man then asked the lumberjack directing these trees down the river what he was doing.

The lumberjack told the man the trees he was directing down the smaller path were from the very top of the mountain.  They received the most abuse from the weather, and they were constantly buffeted by the wind, rain, and snow.  These mighty trees looked like the others, but because of the abuse they took, along with the fact that they had not broken in the process, were of exceptional quality.  The wood had a much finer grain, and when used by carpenters, made the very finest furniture and brought the highest price on the market.  They were destined to be used by the most skilled artisans in the land for the most sought after projects, and were to be displayed in the most coveted of places because of the beauty that grew in them due to the hardship of the weather.

And just as the trees in this story brought praise to the artisans that used them with their great skill, so will the hardship in our lives be used by God to bring Him the maximum amount of glory, and be useful for displaying His craftsmanship and character.

Glorifying God

The end result of everything that God has done in the past, is doing now, and will do in the future, is to bring glory to Himself.  He and He alone is worthy of all glory, honor, praise, power, dominion, and strength.  He alone is The Great I AM, providing for our every need, displaying His love and infinite power to all who would take notice.

When a person is willing to be used by God for this purpose, God will use them mightily in ministry and to display His glory.  There is no greater honor than to be used by God in this way, as Jesus Christ demonstrated to us on the cross at Calvary.  But are we willing to go through the difficulty and hardship that is required to bring about the changes necessary to properly display what God has planned in His heart for us to show the world?

A Qualifying Question

Let’s ask a question:  Am I willing to allow God to bring hardship and suffering in my life to fulfill His plans and purposes for me?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, Your word is perfect, and Your will and character are perfect as well.  You have shown throughout Your word that You can be trusted with everything, for You are perfect in every way.  Father, help me to endure suffering and hardship as discipline.  Help me to gain Your perspective on my circumstances so that I may be willing to be used by You for the calling that You have placed upon my life.  Help me to be faithful to You throughout the process so that during the trials, and when I come out on the other side, You will be shown rightly to all who watch.  Guard my heart against bitterness through the process, and fill me with Your peace and power that all things You have planned would come to pass.  This I ask in the precious name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.

Want more? Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?

 

 

Joy of God – 1 Thessalonians 1:4-6

God Fills Us With Joy

4 For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. 6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.

Children are Chosen

God has chosen His children.  He has predestined that all men should be drawn to His Son since Jesus was crucified.  The true children have heard, and will hear, the message of the Gospel with joy, and it will manifest itself with power through the Holy Spirit in the deep conviction that comes with the witness of the Holy Spirit about all things that are true. Truth is no longer an abstract concept relegated to relativism, but is now the embodiment of the Son of God who has declared:

“…I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

The Holy Spirit of God bears witness to the truth and power of the word of the Living God as the word penetrates into the hearts of all who listen.  God’s word will not go void;  everywhere it is heard, His word will have effect upon all who hear it.  The soil of our hearts is being plowed by the difficulties of life and the work of the Holy Spirit.  Even in the darkest of times, the Holy Spirit of God is able to soften the hardest of hearts in the emotional pain of suffering and loss.  God has said through His servant Paul that we are predestined to be His children.  We merely need to respond to the message.

Severe Suffering

We know that we are His children because we have responded to His word, and it has grown in us through the hardship of life.  Paul reiterates that when we become imitators of him, we are being imitators of the one who sent him.  Hardship and suffering produce perseverance,  which produces character, which then produces hope – a fully justified expectation of completion of what has been promised.

When we are tried through the crucible of suffering, our faith is tested, and it grows.  Those who do not have a deep faith in the solid rock of Christ will find that whatever they have placed their faith in will be eroded by the crashing waves of hardship and suffering, just as sand is swept away by the outgoing tide.  The sand erodes, and exposes the fragility of the foundation upon which the building was laid.  But upon the solid rock of Jesus Christ, no hardship or suffering can prevail.  For it is within Christ that we have our joy. and the joy of the Lord is our strength.

Justified Joy

The Holy Spirit testifies of the Son of God, and fills us with joy as we cling tightly to the author and perfecter of our faith.  And a peace that transcends understanding fills our heart.  We may not understand why, but we know that our joy is justified, well-placed, and authentic.  Nothing and no one can take that joy from us except that we take our eyes off of the one who beautiful gaze is the sole object of our affection:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace. – Helen Howarth Lemmel (1863-1961)

It is in the light of His glory and grace that we find our peace and our joy.  In these desperate and wicked times, turn to the author and perfecter of your faith, and witness the joy and peace that transcends understanding as He fills your heart with Himself.

A Qualifying Question

Let’s ask a question:  Am I allowing the joy of the Lord to fill me up during my duress?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, glory and power be to You who are exalted above all.  Praise be to You in all things, for You are all in all, omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent.  Thank You for bringing me joy through Your Son, Jesus Christ, and the wonderful working of the Holy Spirit as I walk in Your ways.  Give me a heart of thanksgiving and joy as I contemplate the magnitude of all that You have wrought.  Tune my heart to Yours, and help me to endure the trials that are and that are to come.  Prepare me for the great and terrible day of the return of Your son.  Help my life to be a witness to the love, grace, and mercy that You extend to all people in the hopes of reconciling everyone to Yourself.  This I ask in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Want more?  Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?

Suffering with God – Romans 5:1-5

Suffering Is Good For The Soul

1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Peace made Possible

We give thanks to God, for He has made a way for us to have peace with Him through the shed blood of His Son, Jesus Christ.  This is the milk of the word of God.  However, let us never forget these simple truths that help remind us of the grace and mercy of God.  For in our daily walk, Jesus said we would get our feet dirty, and we would need to wash them.

As we progress in our walk with God as disciples of Christ, we must keep in mind that He is faithful.  It is only through remembering even these basic truths that we correct ourselves and keep us averted from doing what is contrary to the word of God.  If we were thinking about the word of God every second of every day, how much less would we sin?

Grace of God

We also can never remember too often that it is by faith that we gained access to the grace of God.  When we are involved in ministry, even ministering to our own family, we can lose sight of the goal through the grinding day-to-day difficulties that wear us down.  The enemy will try to take advantage of us and plant thoughts in our head that we need to earn God’s love or grace or mercy through what we do.

Since God’s gift is based on faith rather than works, we need to keep everything in perspective as we are pulled in many directions, and the pressures of life are heaped upon our shoulders.  We must also remember that whatever God has called us to do, He will give us the strength, determination, resources, and time to complete.  The grace of God has been given to us through faith in the Son.  But that doesn’t mean we won’t suffer…

Honor in Hardship

In this next section, the author of Hebrews leads us through a progression that should help us to embrace our suffering.  The life of a disciple is not easy and care-free; rather it is filled with adventure, hardship, suffering, and difficulty.  It is through suffering that we grow in character.

As we are bound in the physical universe with these sin-disposed bodies, we are naturally impatient.  Enduring suffering produces perseverance.  Just as we train our bodies with exercise to run faster and farther, and to be able to life greater weight, we are trained by suffering to produce perseverance in our faith.

Creating Character

The training of perseverance leads to the development of character.  Most of us need patience.  Additionally, few have learned to be self-controlled with their tongues.  Our mouths get us into the most difficult of situations.  A lot of that would resolve itself if we were able to master what comes out of our mouths.

Character development is of great interest and importance to God, for He is character-driven, rather than emotion-driven.  We too should learn restraint and strength so that we can resist the urges that will lead to our downfall.  Additionally, as the image-bearers of God, we need to properly display the character of God.  How can we do that when our own character is lacking?  We can only fake it for so long before we reach our breaking points, and we have an epic failure of character.  However, as character is developed in us, we are provided an assurance that we would not otherwise obtain.

Head towards Hope

The perseverance of character leads to the assurance of hope.  The word hope is not used to mean the wishful desire of an outcome, but rather a steadfast knowledge that something will occur.  People don’t hope that the sun will rise in the sky the following morning; they know it will.  As long as we are here on Earth, we are assured that the sun will rise each and every day.  We have hope that this will occur.

In the same way, character leads us to the assurance of the hope that we have in God’s character and both in His ability and certainty that He will follow through on every promise He has ever made.  Nothing can stop Almighty God from fulfilling His promises to us, and fulfilling every prophecy that He has made, for God is not a liar, but the embodiment of truth.  And as we experience the character of God, we also are assured of the certainty that God is who He says He is, and we can find peace in our hope of our faith.

Shedding Shame

And we are not ashamed of our hope, for God’s love has been poured out into our hearts.  He has placed assurance of both His power and His grace in our hearts.  We see Him act, and are assured of His claims of truth, righteousness, and certainty of His character.  When we know these things in our hearts, we can shed all shame.  For the outcome is more than certain:  God CANNOT fail to deliver His promises.  So we can endure even more with the assurance of His will being done here on Earth as it is in Heaven.

A Qualifying Question

Let’s ask a question:  Am I allowing God to train me through my suffering?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, You discipline every child of yours.  Any child who does not receive discipline is not one of Yours.  Help me to not faint when You discipline me.  Give me the strength to endure it, and help me so that I will not despise it.  No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but I know that You seek to reap a harvest of righteousness in my character from it.  Give me the perspective that I need to endure all that You sovereignly allow into my life.  And if You should allow sickness to nearly destroy my body, give me the strength to hold onto You when there is no hope.  This I ask in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Want more?  Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?

Temptation of Christ – Hebrews 4:14-16

Then Jesus Was Led By The Spirit Into The Wilderness To Be Tempted By The Devil.

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Firm Foundation

We have a wonderful faith, for our faith is in the One who spoke everything into existence, and who allowed Himself to be hung from a cross for our sins.  Jesus, the perfect, sinless lamb of God, was sacrificed for our sins, and is our great High Priest of the order of Melchizedek.  Unable to be our high priest through the lineage of Levi (and therefore Aaron), Jesus traces his ancestry from both mother and step-father to David of the line of Judah, where He claims the title “Lion of Judah“.  By Levitical law, Jesus could not have been our high priest by law – He didn’t qualify.  Instead, He became our high priest through an oath by God, becoming our eternal high priest, without beginning or end, just as Melchizedek, who was a type and shadow of Christ.

We know that Jesus suffered for us, and bore our sins on the cross.  But He did more than that.  He was tried and tested just as we are.  For although God cannot be tempted, because God is perfect, Jesus put on flesh to become like one of us, and therefore, He could be tempted (for although there is no sin in Him, He had a physical body that would be subject to the pain, suffering, and trials that we endure)…

Truly Tempted

What was the first thing that God did after Jesus began His earthly ministry (through the dedication of baptism)?  He was sent out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted/tested.  Before any of us enters ministry, we too must be tried and tested to prepare us for what is ahead.  This is a pattern seen throughout the Bible:

  • Joseph, son of Jacob, was tried and tested for 17 years in the affliction of slavery and incarceration for crimes he did not commit
  • Moses was tried and tested for 40 years in the time-honored profession of animal husbandry – shepherding – before God would use him to rescue His people from Pharaoh
  • David, another shepherd, having poured oil over his head by Samuel to be declared the next king of Israel, suffered as an outcast from his homeland and hunted down by the elite special forces of his day for more many years because of the jealousy of Saul

In the same way, Jesus was tried and tested in the same way that we are:

Jesus also was tested in the Garden of Gethsemane where He sweat blood when His physical body was reacting to what He knew was coming – the cross.  Three times Jesus asked God to remove the cup He was about to drink, and three times He submitted to the perfect will of God.  No one can say that Jesus doesn’t understand the difficulties we face.  He put on flesh, and suffered as we have suffered.

Granted Grace

And in that, Jesus was perfectly suited to be our high priest, for the high priest had to be able to have compassion on the ones that He would offering sacrifices.  Without compassion, there cannot be grace.  And Jesus, being God, has both compassion and grace as well as firsthand knowledge of what it is like to walk the Earth with flesh.

Morning Mercy

The Bible says that God’s mercies renew every morning.  And that is good news for us, for we are constantly in need of God’s mercy.  Jesus is able to sympathize with us for He has shared in our pain and suffering, and knows what it is like to live through our trials.  Many have claimed that God, being perfect and spirit, cannot possibly fathom what we go through every day.  God had foreseen that, and provided Jesus an Earthly body, in part, to ensure that we can make no such claim.

As we ponder our difficulties, and struggle in our trials, let us remember that Jesus, our perfect and eternal high priest, suffered as we have, and is able to sit at the right hand of God, praying for us in our afflictions, for mercy and grace.  For He and He alone is perfectly able to understand our travails and come alongside us in our difficulties, having been there Himself.

A Qualifying Question

Let’s ask a question:  Am I remembering that Jesus suffered as I have when I am going through trials?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, You are perfect in every way, and have provided the perfect sacrifice for my sins in Your Son, Jesus Christ.  He became flesh as one of us, perfectly able to sympathize with me as I suffer through the trials of this life.  Help me, Father, to remember that Jesus can indeed know what it is like to suffer in these bodies.  Help me to take courage and strength, knowing that He is at Your right hand, praying for each of us.  Help me to remember that neither Jesus nor You have ever lost anyone that was Yours.  Give me strength and comfort as I go throughout this day for the darkness of these times are threatening to overwhelm me.  Amen.

Want more?  Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?

Sovereignty of God – Job 1:6-12

Nothing Happens In All Of Existence Without The Express Prior Permission And Knowledge Of Almighty God

6 One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”

Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”

8 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

9 “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10 “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

12 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”

Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

Supreme Sovereignty

The Lord God Almighty is the only non-created being ever to exist.  He has existed before time, matter and the angels.  And in that, God and God alone has ultimate sovereignty and authority over all that has been created.  John the apostle tried to show this in the very first verse of his gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The interesting part about translations is that they don’t always capture the full meaning of the original.  In this particular case, the Greek work for “was” is En, and the verb is conjugated as “was continually (with no beginning)”.  This speaks of the eternity of Jesus (who is the Word of God), and of God, with whom He is:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

Created Creatures

God reveals something very powerful in this passage.  ALL of the demons, and even Satan himself, are created beings:

  • The devil can be in only one place at a time
  • As a created being, he is subordinate to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  As such, he was required to present himself before God to give an accounting of his activities and whereabouts.

Powerful Praise

When faced with trials and tribulations, we don’t have all of the facts.  In the case of Job, God highly praised him before Satan.  Scripture speaks of our trials in a favorable way:

  • Trials produce perseverance, which makes us complete, lacking in nothing
  • Trials are to be put in the joy column of our spiritual accounting ledger (the Greek word “count” in James 1:2, hEdEsasthe, is an accounting term as well as an imperative command!)
  • Trials are a way that we identify with Jesus, for the student is not greater than the teacher

When faced with trials, we must remember that God may be praising us as well, and the trials can be a testing of that praise.  If so, we should count it as joy, for if God is praising us, we have truly received the highest praise possible.

Allowed Authority

And as we suffer through trials, we must remember that they are sovereignly allowed in our lives.  Nothing happens to any of us without God’s notice or express prior approval.  In this passage, Satan complained to God that he had placed a hedge of protection around Job and his possessions.  It was only until God permitted Satan the authority to harm all that Job had been provided by God that he was able to do anything.

As we are going through our trials, we must remember that God is sovereign, and that nothing escapes His attention.  Additionally, we must remember that He is the one who has sovereignly approved or appointed our trials.  And while these trials may not directly benefit us (with the possible exception to produce perseverance), they will be used to bring glory to God.  And they may well be used to open the eyes of some who, in seeing the sincerity of our faith and trust in God through the most grueling and difficult circumstances, may see that our faith is not in vain.

A Qualifying Question

Let’s ask a question:  Am I remembering that God is with me as He allows the trials of my life to destroy that which keeps me from drawing close to Him?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, You are glorious and beautiful to behold.  Help me to remember Your goodness as I am struck down by sickness and foes.  Help me to remember Your sovereignty as You allow unseen spiritual forces to assault and harass me.  Help me to remember Your faithfulness when You allow me to be dragged through the valley of the shadow of death.  Help me to persevere, and praise you as Paul did after he was severely beaten and placed in prison.  In all things, help me to remember that You and You alone have approved these trials.  Help me to not despise Your discipline, though the trials that You have appointed may not end until I am rejoined with You in Heaven.  For You are good in all that You do, Lord God Almighty, and none may lay a charge against You.  In all this, help me to remember Your character, for if man had done this, it would be bearable to be found worthy of suffering disgrace for Your name.  When there is no one who can be identified as being responsible for the trials – no one I can pray for – it is unbearable.  This I ask in Jesus Name, Amen.

Want more?  Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?

Can God Trust You? – Daniel 6:4

Can God Trust You to be Faithful?

At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.

Capable Character

God seeks to inculcate within us great character – HIS character. Our trials are designed to challenge us to rise to the occasion, and to cast aside our way of doing things in favor of doing things God’s way.  The Holy Spirit not only guides us in the way we should go, but provides the very means to do it, whether it is strength, endurance, wisdom, words, or anything else that is needed for God to accomplish His goals through us.

God greatly desires and has planned to do just that – to use His people to showcase Himself, rather than just appear as a great tower or smoke or pillar of fire as He once did for Israel.  We are to be used as His hands and feet and mouths so that His work in our lives can be displayed, rather than just signs and wonders to behold and possibly be ignored.  He seeks to have a relationship with His creation, and particularly with us humans.  This is shown in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, as well as the way that God has worked through people all throughout the Bible.

God doesn’t have a “Plan B”.  Christians are it.  If we fail to do what we are supposed to do, then God’s plans won’t be completed the way He desires them to be completed.  Even now, God must reveal Himself through dreams and visions to people who live in the Middle East under Sharia law, as the evil there is so bad that even mentioning Christ will get you beheaded.  It’s hard to get the message out when the messengers are murdered before the message is completely delivered!  Speaking of messengers, Proverbs 25:13 tells us something about the ones with good character:

Like a snow-cooled drink at harvest time
is a trustworthy messenger to the one who sends him;
he refreshes the spirit of his master.

Trustworthy Through Trials

God is seeking men and women who are willing to deny themselves, pick up their cross, and follow Jesus.  God needs people who are able to trust in Him to deliver them through the most difficult of trials.  Jesus experienced great hardship at the hands of men and His trials.  God appoints those who are trustworthy through trials to different positions depending on their ability and need.

God calls people to different many different responsibilities.  He who knows all things determines what and where His people should be called.  He selects them as He sees fit.

Administration Acumen

Many are selected to be leaders.  People should not seek a position of leadership without the calling of God.  The burden of leadership is great, and requires a specific personality and mentality to do it right.  Look at how many people are in leadership today that are causing so much grief to the ones that they have been placed over.  We should soberly look at this and give great consideration before accepting any position of leadership.  Remember – leaders will be judged more strictly than others because of the responsibility of their role.

Monetary Mindfulness

Some are selected to be the overseers of great wealth.  Although many (if not most) of us would say, “Sure – I’ll take that!”, it is most probable that they would fail miserably at the task.  The Bible says that if we can be trusted with little, we can be trusted with much.  Many Christians are living paycheck to paycheck.  It’s not that they don’t have enough money to live frugally and save, it is just that the call of culture and desire of our hearts is to spend the money provided to us by God on ourselves.  Many people are not fiscally prudent, nor even know how to be.  Self-control in this department sometimes seems absent, and the wisdom to know what to do with money, as well as what not to do with money, seems to be missing from many Christians’ lives.

It takes someone who have been trained by a knowledgeable mentor to understand these concepts and put them in practice.  For instance, in a perfect world, where the average rate of return on an investment is 12% per year (don’t laugh – we know times are tough and something like this is very unlikely at present), that a person that is eighteen years of age who puts $1000 U.S. into a Roth IRA investment every year for just 10 years, and leaves it alone, will have over one million U.S. dollars waiting for them at age 65 – TAX FREE.

How many people are willing to do that at that age, or consistently?  What if the return is only 8%, but they invest the maximum allowed per year every year (at this time, through two separate employers [you can be self-employed as well] a person can put in $5,500 U.S. dollars TOTAL) for just 20 years?  At age 65, they will have almost two and a half million U.S. dollars waiting for them.  Who knew?

In any case, it would be a terrible thing to have to give an accounting to God of how great wealth was lost through fiscal mismanagement or spent on personal enrichment.

Taken Through Trials

There is a reason that Jesus suggested that we pray, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  He Himself was led by the Spirit of God to be tested by Satan himself.  We are going to be taken through trials to purge the dross that we have within us.  We shouldn’t be surprised at the trials that we face.  Regardless of what we are selected to do, we will face trials of many kinds.  Sometimes, they can take decades before we are ready (it took God forty years to get the Egypt out of Moses before He called him to service…)  But there is one specific calling that no one wants to receive, and that God requires the greatest trust from His people .

Selected for Suffering

God trusts us with what we are able to do and won’t allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to endure without providing a way.  God DOES give us more than we can handle so that we can grow in faith and character as we overcome our deficiencies with HIS strength, power, and ability.

One of the most difficult callings, or selections, is to be called to suffering.  God will eventually remove all suffering and pain.  Sometimes these things happen because it is God’s will that they happen and are not a direct result of sin:

1 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

6 After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.

It is very difficult for a person when God selects them for suffering.  Having to bear that tests a person’s faith down to its very core.  When the trial is prolonged (especially accompanied with excruciating pain) without help from others who support and encourage rather than assume and accuse, depression can set in, because the suffering is so great.

God greatly desires that Christians be patient and compassionate with people who have been called to this.  This does not include whiners who have a hangnail and act as though they have been skewered with a spear like a stuck pig.  These are people who have crippling diseases (like Lyme’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Cerebral Palsy, and the like).  Not every disease manifests itself on the outside for all to see. And the mental and emotional abuse afflicted upon people is much harder to see than physical abuse.

Even though God’s people are called to suffering, God assures us that eventually all pain and suffering will end for those who believe in His Son, Jesus Christ.  Sometimes that will be addressed in this life (like the blind seeing, the lame walking, the sick cured, and the like), or in the next.  Either way, God will eventually provide an end to it.  But just as Jesus said concerning the blind man who was that way from birth, there is purpose to it – not only for character development, but so that the works of God can be put on display.

Special Service

There was once a story about a man who came into a logging camp.  He was shown the logging operations, and was given the grand tour.  When they came to the river where the logs were being floated down to the logging plant from where they were cut, a logger stood at the edge of the river.  Every now and then, he would use a pole that he was carrying and reroute a cut tree down a smaller fork in the river.

The man asked the logger who was directing the trees what he was doing.  The logger replied, “oh, those are special trees”.  The visitor asked, “What is so special about them, and how can you tell?”  The logger replied, “The trees I am selecting are very special.  They were harvested from the very tops of the mountains.  The winds are ferocious up there, and these trees are bent as the storms wail against them, but they stay strong and resilient.  Although all of the trees are profitable, these trees have endured the greatest of trials, and are greatly prized by furniture makers and artists, and are worth many times more than what the other trees are worth.  They will be used in ways that show their beauty, and when they are finally shaped, will endure for generations as priceless antiques and masterpieces.”

1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

If you have been selected for great suffering, rejoice:  God plans to use you in the most beautiful of ways.  Once you have been tested, expect to be put on display.

A Qualifying Question

Let’s ask ourselves a question: Am I demonstrating to God that I can be trusted with whatever He is selecting me to do and be?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, You are good and gracious.  Help me to both find the area where I am called, and to do thrive in it so that You may be glorified.  Strengthen me so that I will be able to endure all the trials that I have been appointed to, and to overcome any difficulties that I encounter.  May Your character be put on display at all times, that as an image-bearer for You, I would be able to fulfill all that you have planned for me to do since before time began.  This I ask in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Want more?  Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?

Waiting for God – Psalm 42:8-11

The Long Dark Night of the Soul Will Be Redeemed by God

8 By day the Lord directs his love,
at night his song is with me—
a prayer to the God of my life.
9 I say to God my Rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?”
10 My bones suffer mortal agony
as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”
11 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

Lavished Love

God pours out his love to us all of the time.  By day we see His hand as He provides for our every need.  He is involved in every aspect of our lives as we struggle in our daily lives.  Even when we cannot feel His presence, He is there, just as a father is running behind a child learning to ride a bicycle without training wheels as the front wheel wobbles back and forth.

Solemn Song

By night we experience His comfort as our souls cry out to Him. God tests us even as we sleep, yet still we seek Him out in song and prayer.  This does not happen automatically.  We must make every effort during our waking hours to instill this desire in our hearts so that at night, it will reveal itself in our subconscious wanderings.

Oppressed by Opposition

An old nursery rhyme says, “sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”  This is given to children to counter taunts and jeers, but it is not accurate.  Words CAN and DO hurt.  And the enemy knows this well.  Whether they try to attach a label to the focus of their wrath, or merely mock us as we go through our trials (many of which THEY have caused), the pain of enduring the trial is greatly amplified when God appears silent, and deliverance is not quickly forthcoming.  This is especially true when the trial is prolonged and filled with physical as well as emotional suffering.

Downcast with Despair

The authors of this Psalm challenge themselves and us to ask ourselves a very important question:  Why should our souls be downcast?  Why should we be in emotional and spiritual despair?   Is not our God YHWH, who exists eternally and is dynamically involved in our lives?  Is God even able to break His word when He said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you“?  What part of our despair is based in truth given the Word of the Living God who says that we are more than conquerors through Christ?  Or that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing?  Or that He knows the plans He has for us to give us hope and a future?

Heavenly Hope

The sons of Korah encourage us to put our hope in God our Savior.  Let us not forget His benefits, His lavishing of love, grace, and mercy upon us.  Let us breathe strength into our weary bones and emotional pain by remembering the Character and Nature of God and what He has done for us.  Remember also that God has a tendency to come during the fourth watch of the night – at the very last second.  Our faith is stretched and we grow when we are able to endure through the trial, especially when the devil and his demonic minions are hurling their insults, accusations, doubts and ideas of fear at us while his earthly minions are doing their best to oppress us and make us feel even worse.

It is never easy to wait for God.  As we are standing and waiting to be delivered, God will often allow great difficulty into our lives.  Let us not forget that we may even be called upon to bear His witness through isolation, torture, and even gruesome death.  Yet Jesus has overcome death itself!  We can be assured that regardless of the outcome, our hope in God is not misplaced.  Patiently endure your trials so that God may be glorified.

A Qualifying Question

Let’s ask ourselves a question: Are we filling ourselves with God and hope in His promises as the devil and his minions are beating us up, having backed us into a corner, as we wait for God to deliver us?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, blessed be Your name forever and ever!  It is always so difficult for me as I endure these trials.  Help me to overcome them, Lord God, and to do so with joy in my heart.  I know that You are never far from me, and that You are watching in expectation to see my faith grow.  Why must this always be so painful?  Remember me, Father, as my enemies lie about me to others, accuse me falsely, and seek to destroy my reputation and character.  May I find strength in Jesus, that He has provided me with His reputation and His character.  I know, Father, that my enemies don’t understand what they are doing.  They, like all truly evil people, lash out at the loved ones of their true target to cause the object of their fury the greatest amount of pain.  I pray, Father, that You would have mercy upon them and bring them to a saving knowledge of Your Son, Jesus Christ, that they would cease from bringing shame to You as Your image-bearers, and instead bring You the glory and honor that You so rightly deserve.  Strengthen me during these trials that regardless of the outcome, my faith would grow and when Your Son comes in glory, that All would glorify Your name.  This I ask in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Want more?  Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?

 

Striving for God – Philippians 1:27-29

Live a Life Worthy of The Gospel

27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

Christian Conduct

It is not just learning Bible verses that is important: it is living them out under the power of the Holy Spirit – putting them into practice – that is ultimately desired by God of us.  He delights when we draw close to Him and experience His character.  He has put on display for all to see through the Bible the framework of His conduct.  Although God does interact with us on a personal (and sometimes unique) manner as befits us and our character, He is consistent in His dealings with mankind.

We have no excuse for not living a life of God-like character.  Jesus has shown us the character of God the Father.  Jesus said:

7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

United Undertaking

We are told to stand firm and strive together in the Gospel.  The most powerful thing that we can do is act in unity.  When Christians are united, it is as if everyone is pulling on a rope attached to a great weight in the same direction.  Imaging one hundred people pulling on one hundred different ropes in different directions.  How far do you think the weight will move?  If everyone took their rope, gathered together and pulled in the same direction, do you think it would have a different outcome?

When we do not work in unity, we are acknowledging to the world that (at least some of us) are not listening to the directions of our Commander-In-Chief, Jesus Christ, through the voice of the Holy Spirit.   This causes onlookers to wonder if it is even possible to know God and listen to Him.  When we unite together, great and powerful work is accomplished for the Gospel.  God has said that when working in unity, nothing is impossible.  We can choose to work in unity or not.  Let us choose to be united.

Forgo Fear

God has placed within human beings an emotional response system.  It helps guide us when intellectually we may not be as motivated to react to situations in self-preservation.  The beauty of a tornado is awesome to behold, even if it is coming in your general direction.  However, if we didn’t have fear, we might just stand there admiring it until it was too late.  Fear helps us to avoid situations that might otherwise harm us through our action, or in other cases, through inaction.

However, we have a great and mighty God who is able to provide for all of our needs.  He is able to shield us, protect us, and deliver us.  When faced with threats from evil people, loss of life, or other situations that should normally cause us to flee or act in throws of fear when fulfilling the work of God, we are to be as bold as lions and stand our ground.  We have a strong deliverer who will act on our behalf.  Even if we perish we are to show no fear, for there is no fear in perfect love.  This is not for our benefit, however.

Sign of Salvation

When people see that we do not show fear in the face of loss, death, torture, immolation, or any other threats or situations of physical, monetary, or property loss, our boldness is a testimony to our faith in the saving nature of our God.  It is during these trials that our faith is on display for others.  When they see that we are willing to lose everything for what we believe, our faith is made real in their hearts, and they then are the ones who will fear.

This is not a false sign of bravado, but rather an unshakeable knowledge (hope) that God, whether in life or death, is able to keep us and save us, whether alive in this world or with Him in glory.  Most people love their lives more than they love their Savior, and in a moment of panic, may deny Him when they are threatened.  We are told that when we put our full faith into effect, regardless of the outcome, this will be God’s sign to them that God is real, our faith is real, and they are in a lot of trouble:

Yet for your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.

Sovereign Suffering

God has appointed us to suffering.  He does this for several reasons:

  • No student is above his teacher:
    • The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master.

    • Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.

    • All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering.

    • So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.

    • Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.

    • 10 You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, 11 persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.

    • 10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

    • 12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.

  • Suffering is the vehicle through which God sanctifies us
  • Perseverance through suffering displays the character of God for all to see.
  • Life is difficult, and we can comfort those with the same comfort we received during the suffering we experienced in our trials.

Strategic Struggle

As we experience trials and tribulations, we are continually being tested, and our character refined.  Eventually, every Christian reaches a tipping point.  We must ask ourselves a question and determine the answer in our heart: Is God’s love dependent upon our circumstances?  The answer that we should come to  (but may be very difficult to achieve when experiencing prolonged, significant, excruciating, painful, and unyielding agony) is that God’s love (or any part of His character) is not based on our circumstances.  Rather, it is above our circumstances, for He is sovereign, and does not change.  His love will never fail, and He will never leave us nor forsake us.

When we are striving for God, we are like a nail that has popped out of the board, and the devil has a hammer looking to put it right back down where it was before.  Withstand the abuse, the torture, the threats, the loss, whatever may come.  You have a much greater inheritance with God in Heaven, and this momentary pain will cease when you go to be with Him.

A Qualifying Question

Let’s ask ourselves a question: Are we living God’s character sufficiently to experience the sufferings that His Son, Jesus Christ, experienced?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, You show us Yourself through Your Son, Jesus Christ.  I thank You and praise You for revealing Yourself to me.  Help me to live in such a way that I experience the same sufferings as Your Son, Jesus Christ.  Help me to see where You are working, to join in with that work, and the bring glory to Your name.  And when I experience suffering, whether from the trials of living my faith, or from any other thing, help me to endure them so that You are glorified, and my character is refined.  Sanctify me through these trials, and help me to learn the lessons that You are trying to teach to me.  Give me the strength to persevere, and to wait until You release me from the trials.  Help me to resist the urges to take control over these circumstances, and allow you to perfect and complete that which You have begun.  This I ask in the precious and holy name of Jesus Christ, Your One and Only Son, Amen.

Want more?  Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?

Faith in Christ – Hebrews 11:35-38

No Servant is Greater Than His Master

35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

Faith Followed

Are you being persecuted for your faith in Christ?  Rejoice!  You are in good company!  You have been found worthy!  Most of us, when reading about faith the book of Hebrews, want to dwell on the earlier portion of Hebrews 11.  But since Christ suffered for His faith, we shall suffer also.  Following Christ in many nations is worthy of the death penalty.

Here in America, a country founded on Christian principles (Mayflower Compact, Declaration of Independence), we embarked on an experiment in liberty that afforded to its citizens great freedom (especially of religion, not just worship) through the idea that people who are able to self-govern themselves through the belief in accountability to God don’t require draconian authority over them to live civilly in society.  When this occurs, the founding fathers of the United States of America reasoned, it was possible that such a level of freedom was achievable.  It should be very evident now, that in light of the people of the United States of America throwing off the yoke of Christ for the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life, that such a government is untenable, the citizens will (and do) selfishly seek to codify in law government favoritism towards their particular desires, passions, and industries at the expense of the liberty of others.  As such, Christians are now being persecuted for living out their Christian faith in accordance with the freedoms that they were promised in their founding document of law.  But rejoice!  Here is how we should respond:

You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.

Creating Character

Faith helps us to endure all of the trials of life.  And when we endure, we gain character:

1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Sometimes it is tough when we are going through trials that test our faith (especially at night while we sleep).  But you can be confident that God will never leave you or forsake you, for His character is perfect.  And since God will not allow you to be tempted (tested) beyond your ability without providing a way, there is always a glimmer of hope – even if that means your release from trouble is when you go to be with Him in glory.  God may place circumstances in your life that overwhelm you.  However, this usually happens when He is trying to get your attention.  But let’s not forget that many have been tortured and murdered for their faith.  And in those trials, God can give you peace beyond comprehension to help you through the difficulty.

Faith Fortified

When we are suffering for our faith, we are told to rejoice!   For as we surrender to God in our suffering, it strengthens our faith in Him to be able to get us through it.  Jesus said that only a little faith is needed to accomplish mighty things:

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

If only a little faith is required to move mountains, and that nothing will be impossible for us, what great and mighty things does God want to accomplish through us that would require the great faith and trust that comes through enduring our trials as we walk with Him?

A Qualifying Question

Let’s ask ourselves a question:  Do I merely endure my trials, or does my faith mature in reverential trust and fear of God with joyful expectancy of what God will do next in my life?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, my strength is failing as I wait expectantly for You to act in these dark and evil days.  Give me the strength to go on so that I will not faint as I wait for my character growth to be completed in the crucible of trials.  Help me to trust You as a young child trusts their parents, completely and without reservation, as these fleeting difficulties are worked out by You, for I know that You are sovereign, and nothing happens without your express prior knowledge and approval.  Help me to soar like an eagle, for I feel grounded, unable to even spread my wings.  Comfort me in my sorrows and difficulties, and guard my heart with Your peace, that no weapon formed against me shall prosper.  This I ask in the name of Your Most Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, Amen.

Want more?  Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?

 

Suffering for Christ – Philippians 1:27-30

27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

Paul had endured much suffering in order to bring Christ to the world.  He was stoned to death, then resurrected; He was shipwrecked; bitten by poisonous snakes; plans were made to murder him, but he escaped, and much more.  In the United States, it has been, until recently, very easy to claim the name of Christ.  It was a badge of honor.  Now, a new era is upon us.  People who call themselves “tolerant”, are tolerant only of those who believe the same way that they do.  There is no room in their worldview for people with differing opinions.  On college campuses, “safe spaces” have been created so that people can have a refuge from opinions, values, thoughts, or actions that would challenge or possibly offend them.

When people fail to bow to their “superior” understanding of “tolerance”, they use the law to financially destroy their opponents, and beat them into submission with the threat of financial and property confiscation.  This can be seen in the treatment of business owners who refuse to compromise their beliefs and convictions in Christ.  It would be egregious to ask that a homosexual baker provide cakes for a gathering that say, “Homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of heaven.”  In the same way, it is egregious to ask a Christian baker to provide cakes for a homosexual civil union with rainbow colors and a pro-homosexual message – even if it is just two men or two women on top of the cake holding hands.  These social justice warriors DEMAND that the Christian-owned businesses not only provide their artistic services for messages counter to their beliefs, they must publicly acknowledge and AGREE with the message they are required to (now by law) provide.

But this is not the first time that Christians have been denied the right of property ownership because of their faith.  Hebrews 10:34 says:

You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.

Suffering for being a Christian has been going on for two millennia.  We are only starting to see this in the Church in the United States of America.  But this is a good thing.  Every time there has been suffering for the cause of Christ, a winnowing of the church body occurs.  The wheat kernels fall to the ground, and the chaff blow away in the wind.  Faith increases within the body of Christ, and the body tends to grow in response.

Are you being persecuted for your faith?  You are in good company!  Jesus was falsely accused.  He was railroaded through the justice system.  He was accused of being a child of Satan.  He was asked to leave a town where he had performed a great miracle.  Many of the prophets and righteous men and women living in the past suffered the same and more.  Rejoice!  You have been found worthy!

So, let’s ask the question:  If you were dragged into a court, would there be sufficient evidence to convict you of being a “Christian“?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, You are glorious to behold.  You have shown us through Your Son that suffering is part of our sanctification process.  Help me to endure all suffering on Your behalf, and may my faith grow stronger every day that I am in the crucible being refined.  Give me the words to say and the restraint needed when I am falsely accused, and there are financial and career losses.  May my heart rejoice, as I look forward to my heavenly inheritance.  Comfort me through these trials, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Want more?  Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?

Perspective of God – Isaiah 55:8-9

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
    declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

This is a form of Hebraic poetry.  It takes the form:

    B   –   B
  /               \
A                   A

Ellis Scolfield writes, “Hebrew poetry is parallel in nature. A Hebrew poet would say something one way and then repeat the same idea later on in different words. These repeats could be a sentence, a paragraph, or even several chapters long. So how can we identify repetitive prophecies when we see them? By recognizing the Hebrew poetic style in which it was written.  [Textual scholars call this type of repetition the bifidic form.]12  (Brackets added for quote reference clarification)

Isaiah reveals to us something that we should already know – God’s thoughts and ways are beyond ours.  We are so bound by time, that we generally don’t have an eternal perspective.  But there are other instances where this is apparent.  Isaiah shows us something unusual in Isaiah 57:1-2:

1 The righteous perish,
    and no one takes it to heart;
the devout are taken away,
    and no one understands
that the righteous are taken away
    to be spared from evil.
Those who walk uprightly
    enter into peace;
    they find rest as they lie in death.

We generally think that it is a great tragedy when someone is taken home to be with the Lord, especially if they are young.  But communicating with us through Isaiah the prophet, God says this is a blessing; that the righteous and devout are taken away to be spared from evil.  Oh, how we long for the influence of evil to finally end!  The pain and suffering it causes; its ripple effects sweeping people into chaos like a tsunami rushing inland.  It leaves destruction and loss everywhere it touches.  Rather than having to resist that force, and pick up the broken pieces, they are taken away, where they are with the Lord now and for eternity.

Our perspective is focused on the loss of their companionship, wisdom, fellowship, giftedness, relationship, and other factors in which we are immediately affected.  From God’s perspective, it is for their benefit that they are now with God, and no longer subject to the trials and temptations that afflict us until the glorious second coming of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.  In this, we can see our selfishness at our perceived loss rather than their great gain.  And in our grief, sorrow, and mourning, we can all too soon forget that God’s sovereignty and perfect plan are in action, and that we will, in the lens of Eternity, see them again soon enough.

If you are mourning and grieving, your pain is real;  Let God comfort you through it.  And when you emerge on the other side, rejoice!  For He has done a wonderful thing and has blessed your loved one with the privilege of being in His presence and in final rest and peace from the evils of this world, soon to be reunited with you in glory!

 A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, my heart grieves the temporary loss of my friend and loved one.  Help me to work through the pain of loss.  Although I know that I will see them again when Your Beloved Son comes triumphantly in the sky, or possibly even sooner should You bless me with the opportunity to be in Your Presence before that great and terrible day, I am still in shock.  I am numb as I try to process this.  Please comfort me in my pain.  Uphold me, and restore normalcy to my daily routine.  Surround me with Your love as a mother hen gathers her chicks close to her under her wings.  Oh God, how it hurts!  Remember me this day, Lord, and give me the ability to just breathe.  This I ask and pray in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, Amen.

Want more?  Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?

[This post is dedicated to T. G., who recently lost his wife]

1 Packer-Tenny-White, The Bible Almanac, 1980, p349.

2 Ellis Scolfield, Bifids and Chiasms, [Unknown], p1.