Without vision, the people perish.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish:  but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

– Prov 29.18

Have you ever been part of a vision casting meeting?  Spent hours plotting out a faith-based strategy?  Or just wrestled with planning your life?  Has this verse been offered you as foundation for needing a clear vision and goal for anticipated end?

It has been presented to me.  And it is scary.  I do not want to perish – or live a life of meaninglessness for lack of vision.

Many of the Biblical Proverbs are written in what is called “antithetical parallelism”, where a single point is made from two perspectives.  For instance:  If you eat, you will be satisfied; but if you do not eat, you will starve.  Two viewpoints that state the same truth.  Usually one is a positive statement and the other negative.

This Proverb is written in such a format.  Dr. Andrew Sargent wrote an insightful article on this proverb and suggested that a better translation for the Hebrew would be:

“When the prophetic voice (commonly represented in the sacred scriptures) is absent from a community, those in that community cast off moral restraint to their own harm, but when people dedicate their energies to living life in keeping with divine instruction, they find a stable, productive, and both earthly and eternally rewarding existence.”

The keeping of God’s Laws and ways is the the cause, eternal reward is the effect.  When understood that both clauses would affirm the same objective, it is clear that the vision denoted at the beginning of the proverb would be a Godly perspective, His desires and/or the Law.  Perishing carries the weight of eternity more than happiness, however it can be understood from the original language that eternal satisfaction and fulfillment is the goal.

Vision, however, is not necessarily a bad translation.  Some other biblical translations for the same word are revelation, divine guidance and prophetic vision.  We can apply this to our lives in a variety of ways.  We must have a clear and purposeful “vision” or divine guidance (the Bible) in addressing our daily lives and choices.  We must chose the morally and ethically upstanding option when making a decision to honor God and avoid sinning and consequently grieving the Holy Spirit.  When choosing between two morally neutral or good options, we must evaluate God’s heart for the World and for the Church and chose that which will best honor God in such situations.  It might be good to do X, but it might be better to do Y.

And then as believers our hearts become progressively more aligned with the heart of God and we build a vision for our lives based on His priorities.  His ultimate priority is His glory (Is 42.8).  Does your 5-year plan glorify God?  10-year?  Lifetime?  Our primary duty as believers is to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28.18-20).  Does your 5-year plan focus on and strive after that?  10-year?  Lifetime?

Jesus is extremely clear that we are not to lay up for ourselves treasures on Earth but in Heaven (Matt 6.19-20).  He speaks of the foolishness of a man tearing down barns in order to build new ones to house all of His harvest and excess when he will only die the next day (Luke 12.16-20).

However, Scripture also exemplifies for us that we cannot plan our lives in their fullness, or precise detail.  Paul was called to be a missionary to the Gentiles (all non-Jews).  He had a desire to go to many places, but at times the Spirit forbade him to go – at times the doors were closed (Acts 16.6).  Once he actually had a vision of a man asking him for help in an area where Paul did not intend to go (Acts 16.9)!  He regularly told the churches that he had planted of his desires to see them and his plans to come through if possible (Rom 1.11).  He relied on God to open doors for the Gospel, for travel and for Church planting (Col 4.3).  Thus our vision cannot be so narrow or so hard that God cannot move within it.

“The mind of man plans his way,
But the Lord directs his steps.”

– Prov 16.9

We must have a vision. But that vision must be no more narrow than God’s revealed will:  Our sanctification (1 Thess 4.33) and the salvation of the world (Matt 28.18-20).  If we function within those statutes, seeking God for guidance and direction, we will not perish.  We will be “happy”.  Eternally.  With Him.

Speaking all things into existence

“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.  And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and  upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.”

– Heb 1.1-4

I absolutely love the book of Hebrews.  It is unsigned, and many people would argue that Paul wrote it, but irregardless, the book is solid.  If you need to fall in love with Jesus for the first time or for the fiftieth time, just read the first few chapters.

These first few verses are deeply implanted in my mind.  The little phrase,

“He upholds all things by the word of His power”

blows my mind.  I wrote before on how God used this verse to radically free me from a random and short lived fear of flying, and praying that verse back to God daily for months and meditating on the magnitude of the reality therein has regularly rocked the foundations of faith on which I live.

Jesus is continually speaking you, me, this computer on which I am typing, and everything in the world into existence.  His creative power is so vast and powerful that He is upholding the universe – just by commanding “exist”.

For years I planned to practice medicine, and my undergraduate degree is in Biology.  As I child I loved to be outside, I would take my younger sister on “nature walks” through the woods, and catch all sorts of critters.  I used to rescue baby birds that had fallen from their nests and raise them, housing them in an old robin’s nest and feeding them worms.  I enjoy to look at nature, creation, the way things work and while I have always known that there is a time when the answer to the question “why” is “because that’s how God made it”, in studying biology I thrived on continually learning one more step between what I understand and God’s creative force.

God created the natural laws.  He established gravity, the orbits of planets, the spin of the earth and the moon to control tides.  He also created the molecular makeup of everything in existence; DNA, the transcribing of genetic material into RNA and ultimately into proteins, the exact function of each part of the molecule, and He knows the depths and expanse of everything in creation.  It was not too long ago that scientists believe the atom to be the smallest particle in creation – undividable.  And God has not only known, but he imagined, created, and continues to speak atoms and all of their makeup into existence.  The micro and macro realms of reality all exist by His spoken word.

And us.  He speaks you and me into existence.  Ps 139 is one of my favorite Psalms, it speaks to God’s knowledge, sovereignty and power over us as a comforting force.  And one of it’s strongest claims is the simple fact that He knows and has ordained the exact number of our days:

“Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.”

– Ps 139.16

Nothing is too big for God.  He is speaking you, me, our DNA and the universe into existence.  But he also has sovereign power over these forces, as creator, he can change the way things work or temporary interrupt the natural laws:  and this is what we understand as a miracle.  The parting of the Red Sea and the Jordan River, turning water into blood, Jesus being born of a virgin, His resurrection from the dead, miraculous healings, Jesus walking through walls, ascending back to Heaven on a cloud, transporting Phillip instantaneously from the wilderness to somewhere else;  these are all ways that we see God disrupt the natural laws that He has put in place for His divine purposes.  He can speak things into existence and He can change things by the word of His power.  Therefore, let us trust God.  He is in control and He has a plan.  He is speaking you and me into existence, and He has the exact number of our days ordained and planned.  He can change things, He can disrupt the natural laws and He will see his perfect end attained.  Therefore live boldly, trust Him, and obey His statues, for His word does not return void (Is 55.11).

Do you love the fall?

fall

Fall is in full swing.  The leaves are changing, the air is brisk, and here in Denver we have even had some snow!  Everyone loves fall, don’t they?  The changing of the seasons, the the colors, the pumpkin spice lattes.  The pumpkin-flavored everything.

I was at church on Wednesday and was chatting with a woman from Ukraine who made the unique statement that she does not like fall.  I was so surprised, I am pretty sure I have never heard someone say that, so I dug a little bit.  “I just don’t like death.  All of the trees and plants are dying.  They turn nice colors but they are dying.”  She continued, “In Ukraine we associate flowers with death because we put them on the graves and as soon as they start to droop and die, I have to get them away from me.”

Wow.  I was quite intrigued by her thought process and I felt quite shallow that I have accepted the “changing of the leaves” without processing the reality of the reason that they are changing.

Now, we know that large trees are not fully dying – they drop their leaves and draw their resources inward to survive the winter.  But it is quite morbid, in a sense, that we revel in the changing colors that are a consequence of death to the plants or individual leaves.

Have you ever considered God’s perspective on death?  People regularly quote Paul saying that for him “to die is gain” (Phil 1.21) and that he would rather be “absent from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor 5.8).  But what about God?

“Precious in the sight of the Lord
Is the death of His godly ones.”

– Ps 116.15

Precious.  It is precious to Him when we draw our last breath and enter into His presence.

And conversely He takes no pleasure in the death and ensuing destruction of the wicked:

“Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?”

– Ez 33.11

God loves us so much that He gives us blessings in this life.  He draws us to Himself, He gives faith, fullness of life and satisfies us here on the Earth.  But His greatest gift is Himself.  Eternity in relationship with Him, worshiping Him, loving Him and enjoying Him forever.  And it is precious to Him when we leave this earth and enter into His presence.

That is why Paul could say:

“But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory.  O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?’”

– 1 Cor 15.54-55

Death has no victory or sting over those who will leave Earth for the New Earth.  Is it scary?  Absolutely.  Will it hurt?  Perhaps.  But God gives us grace for the moment.  He gives us mercies for each day, and He will help His children to die well.  Will those left behind be sad?  Yes, they will miss the one who has gone on.  But we have an expectation of glory (Col 1.27)!

I was talking with a friend last night whose mother is sick and awaiting a liver transplant.  I asked him if the situation scared him, and he answered quickly and definitively, “No.  If she passes on, she will go to be with God, and I will join her in no more than fifty years.”

When I moved overseas, with the expectation of only being gone for four years, it ripped my heart apart.  I cried like a baby for the entirety of the first flight.  And no one died!  I was just leaving for a few years!  But my friend has a solid and Biblical perspective.  To die is gain.  To go into eternity is to be in the presence of Christ, the Savior.

And God sees the death of His children as precious.  When you approach death’s door, if you are abiding in Christ, your death and homecoming will be precious.

Let us live as such.  Let us remember that to die is gain.  Live this life to it’s fullness through the power of the Spirit and the freedom of grace.  Let us honor God in everything – eating, sleeping, drinking, working, relationships.  And then, when God calls us home, let us rejoice and consider our passing as precious and be expectant of our future glory:  eternity with the all-satisfying, almighty, gracious, holy God who loves us and saved us from His own wrath.

But let us also live lives of urgency.  Because there are many dying around us every day that have no hope.  To them death is the doorway into an eternity of damnation and suffering.  Torment and pain will be their existence forever, if they die without the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.  This is why we can hate death.  It is the punishment for sin (Rom 6.23).  It is a judgment and consequence on our physical bodies for having sinned in any way throughout our lifetime.  Though death can be a passage of hope for the believer, it is a passage of terror for those separated from God, and God forbid that we trivialize the expectation of judgment upon anyone.

There is no greater thing in life than to live a life of eternal significance, and to do so is to obey Jesus’ final command:  Taking the Gospel to those who do not know it, and making disciples.  Let us not revel in death, as it is terrible for so many, but let us not fear it either, as we have the hope of glory.

Praise God!

Are you sick?

Analogies are a wonderful teaching tool.  Jesus used them often in the form of parables:  stories that teach a lesson.  We use them with our children, with students and with one another when we want to soften a blow or paint a word picture to help someone remember a point.  And pastors do it often with their congregations.  All analogies fall apart if you push them to their natural end.  Their purpose is not to be exact, but to offer and example.

However.

There is one analogy that I have heard for years that I fear has led and will continue to lead people into a false understanding of the human condition.  And that is this:

Sin is a disease.

Sin is most assuredly not a disease.  Sin is not a virus – an outward source – that infects our otherwise healthy, vibrant bodies.  Sin is not a bacteria that gets into our blood or skin or other body part and eats away at us, as our immune system puts up a battle.

The reason that this analogy is so dangerous is because it presents the misconception that humanity, in and of itself, is good.  And alive!  Diseases have to feed off a life host.  The Bible, however, states that apart from Christ we are dead (Eph 2.1).  Spiritually dead.   Apart from Christ, we are not Spiritually alive with a virus or bacteria or even a flawed gene within our Spiritual DNA causing us pain or sickness.  No.  We are dead.  There is no life.

And sin is the outworking of the Spiritually dead person.  It is our human condition.  Everything anyone does apart from or without faith is sin (Rom 14.23).  It is the natural outpouring of who we are, our internal disposition.

“No one is righteous, no not one. No one understands. No one seeks for God. All have turned aside. Together, they have become worthless. No one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave. They use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood. In their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

 – Rom 3.10-18

There is no human being who has been born that is Spiritually healthy and then corrupted by the world.  We are not even spiritually neutral and being affected by two opposing forces of good and evil.  We are all born without spiritual life, and it is of Jesus to give us life through His redemption by the power of the Spirit.  As I reflected yesterday, He is the bread of life – and by abiding in Him, he gives us Spiritual life (John 6).

Jesus also says that when we are dead, in sin, we are slaves to sin (John 8.34).  A slave is one who has no choice, he does what his master says.  Left to our own devices, we have no option but to sin.  Everything that we do is a sin.  And we will only sin.  We desire only sin.

Paul defines our dreadful estate before salvation:  we are hostile to God (Rom 8.7) and enemies of God (Rom 5.10).

Moses, when accounting the flood and God’s reasoning behind it, states that “The intent of man is evil from his youth” (Gen 8.21).  “That every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6.5).

And once we are born again (John 3.3), we are to consider ourselves dead to sin (Rom 6.11).  We have been set free from its bondage, from its mastery (Rom 6.18).  And it is at this point that the analogy of sin as a disease can be useful.  If we have been born again, if the Spirit is alive within us, if we have have been given the gift of faith (Eph 2.9), the gift of life, then we begin the battle with sin.  John Owen made a very famous statement which has impacted the Church for the past three hundred and fifty years:

“Be killing sin or it will be killing you”.

As believers, we can grieve the Spirit (Eph 4.30), we can stunt our spiritual growth and be left in immaturity (Heb 6.1) if we continue in sin and do not purposefully fight sin in our lives.  And in this sense we can observe sin as a disease.  But only if we account it as one that is generated from within ourselves, such as cancer, a faulty gene or any other disease that has no outward cause.  Yes, we can be tempted from without, but our desire and choice to sin is of our nature; it is blamable upon no one else.  No virus.  No bacteria.

We can only fight this battle as with a disease if we have been given Spiritual life.  Morality apart from faith is still damnable, as to fight the outward appearance of sin without being given life is to whitewash a tomb (Matt 23.27-28).

So whatever you want to call it, if you are a believer, fight sin.  Take your chemo.  If you have not yet been saved, do not waste your time fighting sin.  Because sin is not a disease trying to corrupt your good nature, it is your condition.  And your only hope is the gift of eternal and Spiritual life from Jesus Christ through the Spirit.  Turn to God.  He will bring you to life.  And then give you the power and strength to repent and fight sin, that only then, can be considered an enemy, fighting against your new Spirit:  The Spirit of God.

New routes are good for the mind

I have mentioned before that I like to run.  Most runners would tell you that there comes a point when your body is physically fit that running is mostly mental.

I couldn’t agree more.

I am training to run a half marathon.  For months I was in the habit of running seven miles three to four times a week.  Then I got sick.  I had this terrible bug in my chest, to the point that I was coughing up blood.  Once I got better, I fell into the habit of only running three to five miles, and one time I set out to run my seven mile loop and just quit part of the way through.  I had run that route a gazillion times, but for some reason I mentally believed that I could not do it anymore.

The training requires one long run per week, and each week you add one mile.  Three weeks ago I went on a retreat with my church.  It was the week that required a seven mile run, so one morning I set out on uncharted roads.  I felt like a million bucks!  This week it was the nine mile run.  I haven’t run nine miles in three months, but I was out with friends and so after breakfast with them, I took off in a new part of town.  I did not know where I was going, just knew that I needed to run for an hour and twenty minutes or so.  I was looking at the scenery, guessing where I was and experiencing new terrain: a lot more hills than I am used to!  But I only glanced at my watch a few times!  Nine miles rolled by.

However, that seven mile loop still haunts me.  Just thinking about it makes me tired.  It will take a serious act of willpower to run it again, and I don’t know that I care to run it again.  I despise that route.

What does all of this have to do with anything?

It has to do with our personal weaknesses.  Sin.  Those things into which we have fallen and towards which we build up an immunity and callousness.

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

– Heb 12.1-2

Yes, this is the normal “runner’s verse” which paints the analogy of our Spiritual life with the necessity of endurance.  And while it conveniently links to my thoughts that were birthed through my run, it also speaks specifically to the mindful nature required to lay aside sin that so easily entangles us.  Each of us has a besetting sin, or a litany of besetting sins.  One person’s might be stealing, another’s might be lying.  Some people drink to drunkenness and some are serial adulterers.

Scripture says that God has written His law on the heart of every human being and thus our conscience knows if we are breaking His statutes (Rom 2.15).  The first time we sin, their is a conscious awareness of it, but sin tastes good.  It feels good.  We do not usually go in kicking and screaming saying “NO!  I do not want to do this!”  It is alluring and enjoyable.  But once we give in once, the hardness begins to set in to our hearts and we long for more.  After having passed a test without learning the material but cheated, one’s disciple to study is minimized and the “easy A” is quite appealing.  Once a person is sexually active, reverting to abstinence is extremely more difficult than for a person who has never had intercourse outside of marriage.  If one is accustomed to extra income from embezzling his company, the pay cut to honesty is quite near impossible!

Once you quit on that route, pushing through to the finish line is mentally exhausting.

So what is the answer?  How does one “lay aside the sin that so easily entangles us and run with endurance the race that is set before us”?  Accountability is the key.  Confessing our sins to God and to one another.

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”

– James 5.17

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

– 1 John 1.9

We need to admit our besetting sins and ask for help.  If we confess our sins, He will forgive us.  And when we pray for one another, lifting one another before the Lord and asking for help to change, He promises to change us!  The James verse is often only quoted in part.  People exalt the power of prayer but leave out the context that it is dealing specifically with sin and righteousness.

As we pray and “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Heb 10.24), holding each other accountable, we rely on the power of the Holy Spirit because:

“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”

– John 15.5

My mentor likes to say that we need to align our hearts and minds with God’s statutes.  Agree with Him about what He calls sin.  Confess those sins into which we fall, and work with all of our hearts, strength and minds to fight against those sins, asking Him for the strength to honor Him with our lives.  Then, there is a responsibility that God has to complete the work that He has begun within us:

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

– Phil 1.6

Once you have done everything that you can do, everything that you know to do, leave it in His care.  Expect Him to work, to change us.

So in those moments where we are at our weakest, let us run new routes.  Completely avoid the temptation.  He will give us strength and we might find that other sins are not as alluring!  There may come a day when we can run the path on which you have fallen or quit, in the strength of the Lord, to defeat the sin and run through to the finish line.  But until that day comes, let us run in the endurance that He has given us to run new routes.  Routes of holiness.  Laying aside besetting sin and glorifying God with our lives.

Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.

Have you heard the rumors?  The end is coming.  The signs of the age are here.  There are wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, etc.  Surely America has become so vile in our thoughts and laws that the Lord will return any day!

I don’t know about all of that.  My intention is in no way to get political in this post, but I do want to point out the fact that the United States is not the new Israel.  We are not God’s chosen people as a nation.  The new Israel is any and all who are found in Christ – who have repented of their sins and have made Him the Lord of their lives.  We are not politically or geographically defined, rather Spiritually united!

And not only that, but we often get so concerned and scared that the Church does not have enough sway to impact the culture and world.  Yes, I am deeply grieved at the continuing decline of church attendance and moral decay in our culture.  But if glorifying God was not the foundational factor in our morality in generations past, then there is no loss truly to be mourned.  Because morality without God is still damnable.

The Church in the first century was at a highly more vulnerable state than we are today.  There were maybe 500 believers in the world, who were quickly scattered, persecute and killed because of their faith and claims.  The Roman Emperor Nero, by the year 64 AD began persecuting and killing Christians publicly and worldwide persecutions were dominant for nearly three hundred years.  The first multiple generations of Christians only knew existence as hated and persecuted people.  Then the tides changed and because of how quickly and broadly Christianity spread, it was made the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 300’s.  Thus an entirely new threat came upon the Church:  sordid interests.  Non believers bought offices, forced conversions and Christianity became a status symbol and lost integrity.  But it still continued to grow.

Often times when we return to Scripture to remember that our battle is in the Spiritual realm, we turn to Ephesians 6.10-12:

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.  Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

And also to 1 John 4.4:

“Greater is He who is in you than He who is in the world.”

The Holy Spirit indwells believers and gives us power to fight internal sin and to stand strong and proclaim the truth in the midst of Spiritual enemies, making disciples of all nations!  But today I am so moved by and encouraged by the story of Elisha and his servant as they stood before a battle against the King of Aram:

“[The King of Aram] sent horses and chariots and a great army there, and they came by night and surrounded the city.  Now when the attendant of the man of God (Elisha) had risen early and gone out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city.  And his servant said to [Elisha], ‘Alas, my master!  What shall we do?’  So he answered, ‘Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’  Then Elisha prayed and said, ‘O LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.’ And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

– 2 Kings 6.14-17

God has a purpose for His Church.  He will bring people from every tribe, tongue and nation to repentance and salvation (Rev 5.9).  And He – the Almighty God – indwells all who have repented of their sins and turned to Him for salvation (Ez 36.26-27).  He gives us power from within to fight sin and to represent Him well.  But, we are also standing with an army of angels.  Sometimes it feels as though we are alone.  Elijah felt that and complained to God about Israel:

“‘Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have torn down your altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.’  But what was the divine response to him?  ‘I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal’.”

– Rom 11.3-4

And while God always promises to keep for Himself a remnant of faithful people, He also promises to charge a spiritual army around us.

“For He will give His angels charge concerning you,
To guard you in all your ways.”

– Ps 91.11

Llet us always remember that “those who are with us are more than those who with them.”  God is greater in power.  We have more soldiers.  And the battle has been won!  The end is written!  Therefore, let us stand firm.  Let us hold the line.  Let us press on.  Let us honor God.

Refined. Like Gold.

It is normal to doubt.  We all doubt from time to time.  There are two ways to fall off the proverbial faith wagon:  I can doubt the sincerity of my faith or I can doubt God: that He will keep His word, or that He is real.

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.  And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

– Rom 5.1-5

I grew up in a strong home that sought after Jesus.  I made a profession of faith when I was quite young and never really had a period of rebellion.  Passions for the the Lord and Kingdom purposes were established on my heart at a young age, and through the death of five classmates in four years of High School, God fostered an eternal perspective in my heart.  Losing one of my best friends at the age of 19 rooted my faith and life-ambitions even deeper into my heart and many temporal things have been of minimal consequence to me during my adult life.

After school I pursued my dream.  I lived my dream.  And then one day my whole world came crashing down.  In one instant I lost everything that I had.  Literally.  I had only my parents and the clothes on my back.

And God.

Up until this point in my life, my trials had been minimal.  The eternal perspective that God had set in my life helped me process normal problems like broken down cars, moving, learning a new language (OK, maybe that one is not so normal), school, relationships – and even problems that might seem a little more intense like being robbed.  No big deal.  Not big enough to shake me or my faith, anyway.

But then that day came.

The thought never crossed my mind to blame God or turn from God.  He was all I had.  And why in the world would I get mad at the only thing that I have?  But it was a struggle to get through the very long days.  I certainly was not rejoicing.

The Bible promises us that if we follow God we will have trials.  When we are not yet following God, we are on the enemy’s side (John 8.44).  We are no threat so he leaves us to our own devices.  But when we come to faith, we are a threat.  Often we deceive ourselves that God is like a cosmic genie and when we come to faith our lives will magically be better and fixed.  But the Macedonians, when they came to faith, experienced much more difficulty; it added to their poverty and affliction:

“Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality.”

– 2 Cor 8.1-2

Some trials are directly related to our faith and result because of our obedience.  Some trials are not related to our faith in the sense that they are because of a stand we have taken.  But all trials test our faith.  And the strength of God gave the Macedonians the result of increased love and increased generosity through trials!

This is how we know that we are sincere – that our faith is real:  when trials come, we persevere.  Paul states four truths in Romans 5:

  1. Tribulations produce perseverance
  2. Perseverance produces proven character
  3. Proven character produces hope
  4. Hope does not disappoint

Trials prove our faith.  If in our doubting we question the sincerity of our own faith, we can see it proven through tribulation.  Trials also attest to God’s reliability.  Why?  “Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom 5.5).  It is only through the strength of the Holy Spirit that we endure through tribulation to the point of perseverance and thus have character – the character of God – proven in our lives.  When the Spirit works perseverance resulting in character, we experience His love and thus hope is multiplied in our lives.

That is why we can understand trials in life to be refining fire.  And this is why we can rejoice in trials!  God gives us grace and love.  He pours out His Spirit on us, and when we are given the opportunity to trust, persevere or stand firm in our convictions, He gives us the strength to do so and prove our faith, prove our character, and experience His love more deeply.  He destroys doubt through trials.

“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.”

1 Peter 1.6-9

It is not humanly possible to rejoice in trials.  That is a work of the Spirit.  I have known very few people who can rejoice through trials, and they tend to be very mature, older believers who have already persevered through many.  Let us seek to learn from them, imitate them, cling to God for strength and persevere through trials.  To the glory of God.

Shatter doubt.

“I do believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9.24).