Archive

Faithfulness During Hard Circumstances

Be Patient Until the Lord Comes

“Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and late rain.  You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble, brethren, against one another, that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the doors.  As an example of suffering and patience, brethren, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.  Behold, we call those happy who were steadfast.  You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” James 5: 7-11

We live in a very impatient society.  We learn from an early age that time is money so if we are not rushing than we are wasting time and losing money.  And yet it seems that we spend so much of our time waiting.  We wait for the light to turn green, for the progress bar to finish, for the water to boil, for vacation time to come, for retirement, and for many other events, big and small, to either arrive or to complete.

As we allow more and more pressure to be put on us to perform faster and faster, it generates more and more stress in us.   The stress causes us to become less and less patient, possibly resulting in outbursts or anger and impatience.  When riding with one of my friends, he would start yelling, “You can go! You can go! You can go!” when the light turned green and the car in front wouldn’t move immediately.  If you have been to a big city like New York, you learn quickly that people are very impatient and seem to function in that mode, and are even proud of it.  They are quick to beep their horn or shout out obscenities, and consider it part of the city culture.  All of us are faced with the pressure to move quickly and get things done, and to produce as quickly as possible.  We also expect the same of others and become impatient if they don’t.  This attitude of impatience infiltrates all areas of our lives as it is a part of our western culture (at least here in the USA).

On the flip side, I find it amazing that the things that we look forward to with so much anticipation are usually anticlimactic, that is, they usually don’t deliver what we expect.  It’s like we are motivated by the expectation, but then disappointed when we reach the desired goal, so we quickly shift our attention to the next anticipated future event to again motivate us.  Ultimately, this approach leads to frustration and even despair, and this could also contribute to an increase in our impatience.

There are two problems that I’m pointing out here: first is our tendency towards being impatient as we are trained to do so in this society by being pressured to move and work at a fast pace, as well as the desire for immediate results, and second is our misplaced anticipations, when we place them on the things of this world and allow our expectations to be set very high as a means of motivation or whatever the case.

As Christians we must deal with both of these problems.  In fact, I would say that there is a high importance on getting this right in our lives.  The Lord has placed a very high value on patience.  Have you considered why?  Consider this verse:

“Love is patient…..”  1 Corinthians 13: 4

And this:

“For the fruit of the Spirit is……patience…..” Galatians 5:22

When we think about being patient we don’t always equate this to love.  Nor do we always recognize patience as a fruit of the spirit or as being spiritual.  But patience is a part of the very nature of God.  Jesus displayed patience, and patience in suffering, as He lived His life here on the earth and suffered for us as He was beaten and crucified as an innocent man.

There are many scripture verses that emphasize the importance of patience or patient endurance towards the hope that we have in the return of Jesus, but I chose to look closer at the above quoted verses in James.  James begins this letter with an exhortation to be patient:

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience (endurance or perseverance). But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect (or mature) and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1: 2-4

In these initial verses from James also lies a key to our ability to be patient, that is, that we must change our attitude towards the difficult circumstances that we face, recognizing that they have been allowed by God for the testing of our faith.  When our faith is tested and we endure, it produces in us an increase in our godly character, and more specifically, it produces patience in us.

Allow me to spell this out:  When we find ourselves in difficult circumstances that require us to wait and endure patiently, there is nothing wrong, but this is exactly what God wants for us.  We need to submit to it, rather than attempting to circumvent or side step around the circumstances, and recognize that this is the testing of our faith and that God has ordained the trial for us to endure.  In His time, He will open a door for us to move on or to be removed from our situation.  It will be clear to us that it is time to move on, otherwise, If we don’t submit to the Lord’s will by continuing in the circumstances, these circumstances (or something similar or perhaps even more difficult) will only come back upon later.

I like what it says in verse 8 of James 5:

“You also be patient.  Establish you hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”  James 5:8

In the Amplified Bible, after “Establish your hearts”, it adds in brackets, “Strengthen and confirm them (i.e. your hearts) in final certainty.”  Here lies the second key related to the second problem that we have mentioned.  Rather than placing our hope and expectations upon something in this world that will only disappoint us, we need to establish our hearts upon the hope that we have in heaven and make up our minds to be steadfast in our focused anticipation of the glory that we will share with Jesus Christ at the end.  There is tremendous power in this hope, as the scriptures attest to:

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8: 18

“For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4: 17-18

As Christians, we therefore have the perfect solution to the problems of impatience and stress.  I don’t say this lightly because this solution was brought to us by the Lord Jesus Christ and was paid for by His life and death, to establish our hope of glory that is incorruptible and assured beyond all doubt.  As we patiently endure through this life, we have the example of the endurance of the past prophets and saints, and the endurance of the Lord Jesus.  Armed with this knowledge we know that whatever the situation that we face, we can get through it by the grace of God as they have done in the past.  We also are confident that God is on our side and is even using our trials to work into us a more Christ-like nature of love that will only make us stronger and give us more reward in the end.

As Christians we should be known for our patience and our ability to endure hardships.  Let us establish our hearts in strength and set our faces like flint towards the future hope that we have in Christ not allowing any circumstances to undermine our character or cause us to become impatient.  We now know the source of our strength: a changed attitude towards the trials that we face and a steadfast hope set on the promise of future glory in heaven.  My prayer is that everyone who reads this will find this source of strength, and even more so, so that they will persevere until the end, when Jesus returns.  Amen.

The Holy Spirit is our Guarantee

“In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” Eph. 1:13-14

The Greek word used in the original text for guarantee is the word “arrabon” meaning “a downpayment given as a pledge that the full amount will subsequently be paid”.  The original word for seal is “sphragizo” meaning “to mark with a seal”.

As Christians, our eyes have been unveiled to see and fully comprehend the spiritual truth of the promises that were presented to us through Jesus Christ, that is, the redemption or payment for our past sins, the opportunity to become true children of God and part of His heavenly Kingdom with a promised inheritance, and the promise to receive an immortal, eternal body that is the same as the resurrected spiritual body of Jesus.  When we embrace these promises and make them the hope of our life, and then walk in the reality of this hope, exercising the same faith as Abraham, we receive a seal from God, and our names are placed in the Lamb’s book of life.  The seal is the Holy Spirit.  We can’t see or touch the Spirit, but He is there to help us, comfort us, guide us, encourage us, communicate to us, and correct us as we walk through this life. The Holy Spirit is also a guarantee that the promise will be delivered in the future.

Let me use an illustration to emphasize the importance of understanding the guarantee we now have of the future promised inheritance.  Imagine there is a man who is of a lower income bracket, who has worked hard his whole life with his hands, who has suffered many things throughout his life, and who is now mostly alone.  One day he decides to play the multi-million dollar lottery, and his number comes up.  He sees that he has won, contacts the lottery organization, and they give him a confirmation that he is the winner.  He turns in his ticket and receives a “guarantee” that he will receive the money.  Th en there is a period of time, a few weeks, from the time he receives the guarantee until he actually receives the money when it gets cleared into his bank account so he can spend it.  My question is this: How would this man act between the time that he received the guarantee and the time he actually can spend the money?  Would he continue to act and feel the same as he had prior to his winning?  I would think that a major transition would take place from the time that he gets the guarantee.  The old man who suffered and struggled alone would no longer exist, but immediately this man would think and behave differently.  He would start to look into ways to use the money, or invest it, or protect it.  During those few weeks that he is waiting to receive the money, imagine that he is not able to secure a line of credit, so his situation hasn’t changed. He still lives in the same place, he probably still eats the same food and wears the same clothes, but in his heart and mind he knows that it’s just a matter of time until he is free from his situation.  I would think that enduring those few weeks would be easy knowing the hope of what was coming.  The only challenge would be to have the patience to wait for the payment to come.

We are in a similar situation.  We have received the guarantee, but are now just waiting for the final payment.  We must patiently endure until we receive what has been promised.  Keeping this hope as the focus of our attention helps us to continue on.  In 2 Corinthians, Paul encourages the Christians to continue on in the light of the hope of “payment”. 2 Cor. 4:16 – 5:5

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling, so that by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we sigh with anxiety; not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”

Keeping our minds set on heaven and the promises is vital to our endurance.  We don’t have a physical guarantee, but a spiritual one, that can’t be seen or touched.  We must therefore exercise our faith.  Make the hope of heaven a reality in your life. Rejoice in this hope.  The Phillips translation of Romans 12:12 says: “Base your happiness on your hope in Christ”.

Amen.

 Wait until God is Finished!

The story of the life of Joseph is truly one of the most amazing stories of all time.  The fact that it is a true story makes it even more amazing.  (See the book of Genesis starting at chapter 37)  It has all the elements for intense drama: Prophetic dreams ridiculed and rejected but fulfilled in the distant future, parental favoritism causing sibling envy, unjust persecution, a sibling murder plot, failed intervention, the horror of being sold into slavery for a foreign culture, lies and cover-up, adulterous sexual advances rejected resulting in unjust accusations of rape, imprisonment of the innocent, longsuffering, helping of a prisoner to get released with a promise to return the favor forgotten, the elevation of a lowly prisoner to the ruler of the nation overnight due to supernatural events, and so forth.

The climax of the story comes when the brothers of Joseph, who had sold him as a slave into Egypt years earlier, are forced to come to Egypt due to a severe famine.  They unknowingly encounter Joseph, whom God has elevated to a ruler in Egypt, second only to the Pharaoh.  Joseph recognizes them but keeps his identity hidden through a number of encounters with them.  Finally, Joseph cannot restrain his emotions and reveals himself to his shocked and traumatized brothers.  Gen. 45: 4-8 “So Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come near to me, I pray you.’ And they came near, and he said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.  So it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.” Notice that this climax is much different than the revenge dramas that we are accustomed to coming from Hollywood today.  Here we see that Joseph is able to recognize God’s hand in this situation.  He is able to put aside any pain or difficulty that he has experienced.  He is able to look beyond the physical circumstances and understand the long term spiritual intentions that constitute God’s plan and purposes for him and his brothers and God’s future remnant.

The part that impacted me the most about this story was thinking about the length of time that it took for God’s plan to play out in Joseph’s life, and how Joseph was faithful through the entirety of it.  Joseph didn’t know how the end was going to come about, or what the purpose was until the very end happened.  This appears to be how God works.  He doesn’t tell us his whole plan from the start.  He doesn’t explain things to us, but He just expects us to be faithful and trust that He is in control and He has a plan for the good.  I’m sure that the situations looked very, very bad for Joseph during certain times of his life.  Sometimes it seemed that things went from bad to worse to impossible and then still got even worse, until it was done.  We need to wait until God is finished before we jump to a conclusion.  As hard as this is, we must still wait and allow for God’s plan to completely play out.  Faith demands this.

This view of Joseph’s faithfulness puts a whole new perspective for me on what it means to wait on the Lord.  We must combine our waiting with a transformation of our perspective on circumstances.  Our eyes of faith must overcome or override the eyes of our flesh.  We need to become skillful with our spiritual eyes, seeing that God is working out a plan for His purpose. We must put aside our limited physical perspective and any pain or discomfort associated with it.

A few years back when going through an especially difficult time in my life, the Holy Spirit reminded me of this scripture verse in Romans: (8:28) “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God , to those who are the called according to His purpose.”   I wrote this scripture verse out on a piece of paper and carried it around in my pocket.  I also wrote it out with a few other similar ones and posted it up on my bathroom wall right next to my mirror so I would see it every morning. This helped me to keep the spiritual perspective that I needed.

I’m sure that it wasn’t always easy for Joseph, and there were times that he needed to encourage himself in the Lord, and reset his perspective.  The bottom line is that he never abandoned his faithfulness and trusted the Lord until the plan was completed.  We need to do the same.  Let the story of Joseph and the other encouragements in God’s Word be a guide for gaining your perspective on your situation in life.  God is faithful and He will accomplish the good work that He has begun in your life.

Image

David was a man after God’s own heart.  He was a prophet.  God had raised him up to be the greatest king that the people of Israel would know (besides Jesus).  But he was also human.  He made mistakes.  We can learn from his mistakes.

One of David’s mistakes is recorded in 1 Chronicles 15:12&13 (NKJV) – David speaking to the Levites: “…..sanctify yourselves, you and your brethren, that you may bring up the ark of the Lord God of Israel to the place I have prepared for it.  For because you did not do it the first time, the Lord our God broke out against us, because we did not consult Him about the proper order.”

You may remember this story.  David was bringing the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem for the first time.  A man named Uzza was driving the cart that was carrying the Ark.  When the oxen stumbled, he reached out and touched the Ark and the Lord struck him dead. This first movement of the Ark of the Covenant is recorded in both 1 Chronicles 13 and in 2 Samuel 6. Later, David moved the Ark a second time, but this time as God had instructed, using the Levites as carriers and also using the poles that were designed for this purpose rather than the cart. Let’s look closer at what happened.

The background of the situation is that David became king in the place of Saul, as the Lord had decided, since Saul had disqualified himself by doing many things to anger the Lord.  David was anointed to be king when he was a young shepherd boy by the prophet Samuel, but spent many years running from Saul, who wanted to kill him. Finally, Saul and his son Jonathan were killed in battle against the Phillistines.

One of the first things David did when he learned of Saul’s death was to inquire of the Lord.  The Lord instructed him to go to Hebron, where the men of Judah came and anointed him king over the house of Judah.  Saul’s son Ishbosheth was made king over the remainder of Israel.  Later Ishbosheth was assassinated, so all the remaining tribes of Israel, with the elders, came to David and anointed him king over all of Israel.  It was at this time that David decided to move the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.

The record in 1 Chronicles gives more information about the situation.  Starting at the end of chapter 12, we see that David and the people of Israel are celebrating:  “And they were there with David for three days eating and drinking, for their brethren had made preparation for them.  And also their neighbors, from as far as Issachar and Zebulun and Naphtali, came bringing food on asses and on camels and on mules and on oxen, abundant provisions of meal, cakes of figs, clusters of raisins, and wine and oil, oxen and sheep, for there was joy in Israel.”

In 1 Chron. 13, we see that David decides to consult with the commanders of the army and other leaders: “David consulted with the commander of thousands and of hundreds, with every leader.  And David said to all the assembly of Israel, ‘if it seems good to you, and if it is the will of the Lord our God, let us send abroad to our brethren who remain in all the land of Irael and with them to the priests and Levites in the cities that have pasture lands, that they may come together to us.  Then let us bring again the ark of our God to us; for we neglected it in the days of Saul.’  All the assembly agreed to do so for the thing was right in the eyes of all the people.”

It seems that the error here was that David consulted with the leaders, rather than consulting the Lord directly.  When David learned of Saul’s death, he inquired of the Lord directly for what he should do next.  Why on the occasion of moving the Ark to Jerusalem, does he instead consult the people?

One interesting difference in David’s situation is the fact that it is a time of celebration and joy for David.  After many years of fleeing Saul’s unjust wrath and attempts to murder him, and being an outcast from his people, knowing that God had anointed him as king, finally, David is embraced by the entire nation of Israel and is exalted as their king.  The people bring food and drink for a celebration that lasted for at least 3 days.

In contrast, when he first learned of Saul and Jonathan’s death, he is broken, distressed and in mourning, he tore his cloths, wept and fasted for Saul and Saul’s son Jonathan, who was his close friend, and was like a brother to him.

In a time of brokenness and distress our flesh is subdued and we are less likely to be influenced by our fleshly motives or thoughts.  In times during or right after a celebration we are more vulnerable to our fleshly thinking. Our guard is down.  I don’t know if this was the case for David or not, but it would seem likely.  Here he was with all of his people, rejoicing and celebrating his being established as king.  God finally came through on His promise and lifted up David and delivered him from his enemies.  During the celebration, David pulled together the leaders and consulted with them.  Somehow it was determined that rather than carrying the Ark of the Covenant using poles and the Levite priests as carriers, as the Lord had instructed them in the past, they would use a “new cart” to take the Ark to Jerusalem.  We don’t know if it was David’s idea to use a new cart, but regardless, he endorsed it. Maybe someone thought that since it was a “new” cart it was honoring to God. The celebration continued with a parade with music surrounding the ark, until Uzza died.

There’s a warning here to be cautious right after times of victory or celebration.  We are vulnerable and our enemy, Satan, is aware of this.  We must not give him opportunity to indulge any of our carnal desires or carnal thinking.  Satan knows how to appeal to our flesh.  He did so with Eve in the garden and will tell us similar lies today.  He comes as an angel of light to deceive us.  We may even think we are pleasing the Lord.  David may have thought that since all the leaders and people thought that this was a good thing, that he was aligned with God’s will.  Obviously, he later found out this was not true.

As I mentioned earlier, we should not think that consulting people is a substitute for consulting God.  You may say that David was a prophet and he could hear God’s voice, so it was different for him than you.  I disagree.  God is able to communicate to us just as surely as He did to David.  We can know what God’s direction is in our circumstances.  We must ask Him first.  We must take it to Him in prayer first.  We can hear His still small voice, or be shown in the scriptures, or by some other means of communication.  He is our Shepherd and we, His sheep, can hear His voice.  We know His leading.  The key is to go to Him.  Ask Him for clear guidance.  Ask Him for wisdom for your circumstance.  He is faithful to supply what you need.

It is easier for us to run to a man.  A wise, godly man will direct you to God anyway, and admit that as a human he is not capable of giving the direction that only God can give.  Only God knows the future.  Only God fully remembers the past (we forget so easily).  Only God sees the full picture of the present.  Only God knows people’s hearts and sees their thoughts.  Men can only guess.  God has a purpose and a plan that no other man knows or understands.

God had a reason and purpose for the instructions He had given for carrying the Ark of the Covenant.  There were also warnings about touching God’s Holy things, that people would die if they did (see Numbers 4:15).  Who are we to question God’s authority on these things?  If David would have inquired of the Lord, he would have been instructed by the Lord on how to transport the Ark of the Covenant properly and the death of Uzza would have been averted.  When we make our decisions based on our own logical or carnal thinking, and rely on the council of men rather than the direction of the Lord, we put ourselves on a dangerous path that will result, maybe not in death, but in some kind of negative outcome.

Take the time to inquire of God for everything.  Go to Him directly.  Go to Him first.  Learn to hear his voice.  Learn to know His guidance and direction.  His ways are the best.  It takes such a little amount of effort for us seek Him, and yet we don’t do it as much as we should.

The song writer was writing about this truth in this old hymn:  “Oh what joy we often forfeit; oh what needless pain we bare.  All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”

We all make decisions on a daily basis.  Some are minor, but many are major.  My exhortation is to include God.  Inquire of Him.  Seek Him for an answer and He will guide you.  I believe that David learned his lesson.  I think that in the future decisions he consulted the Lord first, and not men. (see 1 Chronicles 14: 10&14)  Will you?