How God Used the Church to Save Me.

“A bruised reed He will not break
And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish;
He will faithfully bring forth justice.”

– Is 42.3

Four and a half years ago my life fell apart.  Everything I had ever worked for was gone.  Jobless.  I was alone.  Homeless.  Literally half-way around the world from my home and community.  I had spent twenty years of education planning for a specific career and life which I was fortunate enough to spend four and a half years practicing, but then it all came to a screeching halt; completely outside of my control.

I was raised in a Christian home and attended Church and youth group regularly, learning the personal spiritual disciplines of the faith.  When I was in High School my family began attending a church that focused on the love of God as His major attribute.  Yes, “God is love” and it is indeed a wonderful truth to know and cling to concerning His character and relationship to us (1 John 4.7).

I learned in theory and through the teaching of the Bible how the Church was commanded to take care of one another in our moments of struggle and need.  As a naive teenager I watched as we fed the poor through a food pantry, clothed them at the local mission, embraced our friends and their families when teenagers were killed in car accidents and threw lavish events to invite the neighborhood to hear about Jesus.  These people clearly had a variety of needs and we were doing our best to “be the hands and feet of Jesus” (1 Cor 12).  And even though I loved my friends at Church, even though I loved God, I was never truly desperate for them, or for Him.

Studying science and music at a liberal arts university broadened my perspective to the blossoming narcissism that we now know as millennialism.  This worldview was in stark contrast to the strong work ethic and independence I had learned at home, but the Spiritual and emotional needs of my generation and our world become more real and my understanding of how we need to love one another and serve each other – specifically as Christians – deepened…to some extent.

Grad school was a whirlwind of excitement which led me to my dream job.  It was becoming a reality.  I attended a vibrant Church who loved me and their immediate community and had a heart for the world – the likes of such I have not seen since.  Then I moved half-way around the world to live on a tropical island working as a tour guide trekking through the jungle amongst Muslim and animistic people.  I maintained my relationship to that Church, having no local one abroad, and they cared for me and I cared for them in a “long distance relationship”.

Then the bottom dropped out.  Then came the day that I needed God to survive.  Then came the day that I needed the Church.  And in that day the Church truly exemplified the love that God is towards me.  Those old adages became my reality:  I saw that the love from the community I had in the church was real.  What was most real, however, was the fact that they did not stand beside me blindly.  They were concerned first and foremost with my Spiritual well being.  I did not handle myself perfectly through those days, and neither did they, but there was full grace for sins confessed and together we came before the throne of God.

For weeks on end I needed only to survive.  I spent sleepless hours in the Bible and prayer, listening to sermons and learning to trust God when nothing made sense.  Church leadership and friends checked in on me.  They held my hands.  They prayed with me.  They counseled me.  They cried with me.  They hung out with me.

However, I still needed a job.  I still needed to get back on my feet.  The elders, the Church body and my parents were my strength as I searched and found work half-way across the country.  Just months after the shock of my world ending, I packed up and moved 1,100 miles away.  I did not want to move so far, as the Church was the only thing I had at the time, and I floundered a while in search of my new community.  I was so raw and broken, in fact, that I had none of the normal pleasantries polished.  I often wonder what those poor unfortunate souls who crossed my path in those days thought of me.

When I finally found that new body, the transition was smooth.  My new church picked up where my old church left off.  It looked different, as I did not have the history with them, but they learned my story and paired me with a mentor who had walked this path before.  God used this new season to rebuild and restore a broken and crushed heart, and to establish a faith that understands from experience that He is indeed sovereign in every situation and works all things out for the good of those who love Him (Rom 8.28).

In those days I was the bruised reed and the dimly burning wick.  But God is always faithful and will never break the bruised reed and will fan the flame anew as long as the spark remains (Is 42.3).

This, friends, is why God gives us the body.  Scripture teaches us that true religion is to care for the widow and orphan (James 1.27).  But we also learn that God has given each believer special gifts, abilities and measures of faith – and those are all for the service of one another (1 Cor 12).  Yes, we are commanded to love the world and to care for the lost, but we are given one another the body first.  We need one another to push one another on to holiness, to meet one another’s needs, to support one another when the bottom falls out.

“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.  So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”

– Gal 6.9-10

We, as believers, are guaranteed suffering.  It is, in fact, through suffering and trials that our faith is purified and refined.  This is why we must be open and vulnerable to our faith community, so that those who have gone before us can encourage us on the path.  So that those who are walking the same path will be encouraged to keep going, and those who come behind us can follow our examples.  God is faithful and will always be present, and sometimes we need one another to push us on and remind us of those truths we have read so many times.

“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 5.3-5

God loves His church, and He has given it to us as a gift to carry, encourage and love one another through this journey we call life.  Find a Church.  Love your Church.  Build strong and real community.  Push one another on to holiness.  Carry each other through the difficult seasons.  Rejoice with those who rejoice.  Mourn with those who mourn.  And in this way you are serving Jesus (Matt 25).

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”

– Rom 12.15

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When You Get Laid Off

Image result for patience

I was recently laid off.  For the past four years I have worked for a non-profit that relied on the generosity of a major donor for our office and warehouse, and the donor could no longer afford to give the space so we had to close down.  This coincided either perfectly or terribly with my first pregnancy – such that our closing day was just days before my due date.  So now I find myself in a brand new life circumstance:  unemployed and a first time mom.  This is extremely unnerving for me.  I have always been a motivated go-getter with a relatively clear “career path” of missions and vision for my life.  But it is exceptionally difficult to job hunt when you are very pregnant and will be in immediate need of maternity leave upon starting a new job, so my maternity leave is unpaid and for the indefinite future.

Did you know that God has a plan, even in seasons of unemployment?  Three fighter verses are good to keep close during such a time:

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

– Rom 8.28

“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

“For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear,
Nor has the eye seen a God besides You,
Who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him.”

– Is 64.4

We will be tempted to sin during seasons of unemployment in a variety of ways – namely to the unbelief of impatience and doubt, mingled with envy and bitterness.  These sins are sneaky and can be subtle at times, not showing themselves as gross sins which our friends and accountability partners will quickly notice and point out, but growing slowly in our hearts.  We must be aware of them and count them as dangerous sins which will threaten our joy and peace with God:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

– Gal 5.19-21

“But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.”

– Col 3.8

“But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

– Rev 21.8

God has promised to meet all of our needs.  These needs are the ones He has defined that will sharpen our faith, cause us to rely and depend on Him, bringing Himself the most glory and honor through our refinement (Phil 4.19, Rom 8.28, 1 Peter 1.6-9).  He loves us as His children and He will give us every good and perfect gift (James 1.17).  He will meet our needs as the good Father (Luke 7.11).  He will bless and work for those who wait on Him (Is 64.4).  To not believe these promises is to not know God, and to be headed for an eternity separated from Him in Hell (Rev 21.8).

Therefore, we must be patient and wait on the Lord.  Those who wait on the Lord will gain new strength (Is 40.31).  They will not be put to shame (Is 49.23).  And the very quietness and trust will give us strength (Is 30.15).  We must neither give up nor act out ahead of God’s timing.  We must consult God for every decision and wait on His timing and direction.  We must embrace the circumstances in which He has us and we must move at the pace in which He directs us.  We will thus learn the lessons He is aiming to teach us and will receive the blessings He is aiming to give us.

That may mean He is teaching us to surrender our self-sufficiency and rely on Him.  That may mean He is teaching us to embrace a new role in our lives [like motherhood].  That may mean He is teaching us faith and submission [by depending on a husband to provide while we care for a child].  That may mean He is teaching us to die to our pride by working a job that might not align with our career goals but will provide for our families.  That may mean He is teaching us patience, perseverance and selflessness which are not optional Christian characteristics!

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

– Gal 5.22-23

As we cultivate faith – or as God cultivates faith in us – we will exemplify these attributes.  We will have peace, patience and faithfulness while we wait on God.  We will work and be responsible to care for our families and we will look to Him for direction for our next steps.  We will live well, and we will ultimately be able to die well.  We will know God’s faithfulness.

“Infinite wisdom has arranged the whole with infinite love; and infinite power enables me—to rest upon that love. I am in a dear Father’s hands—all is secure. When I look to Him, I see nothing but faithfulness—and immutability—and truth; and I have the sweetest peace—I cannot have more peace.”

– Charles Simeon

Fighting For The Prize.

fight

Yesterday I reflected on the powerful and dynamic faith of Corrie Ten Boom who steadfastly kept her eyes on Jesus while harboring Jewish refugees, being arrested and enslaved at a concentration camp and losing her sister and other family members to the atrocities of WWII.  The entirety of the New Testament promises that when we look to Jesus and remain in Him and in His words, we will have Spiritual peace.  But it also promises that we will be persecuted, hated and even killed because of our faith.  Jesus Himself stated:

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

– John 16.33

You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.”

– Matt 10.22

Paul even goes so far as to say,

“Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

– 2 Tim 3.12

There it is, in black and white.  Everyone who desires to live godly lives in Jesus will be persecuted.  We will be hated by the world, by everyone who does not know Jesus or have saving faith, because of our faith and our actions.  This is not a license for us to act in an unbecoming way.  We are commanded to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us and to live at peace with all men so much as it depends on us (Matt 5.44, Rom 12.18).  We are to turn the other cheek, give more to those who steal from us and return love for evil (Matt 5.39-40, 1 Peter 3.9).

These commands seem impossible at times.  Sure, we can romanticize them and have idyllic pictures in our minds of being the ever-loving victim that never holds a grudge, but it is an entirely different picture when someone intentionally seeks our harm or attacks us without cause.  We can return good for evil in our own strength once or twice, but it is impossible to make a lifestyle out of the habit without Christ.  Sometimes a soft answer does not turn away wrath.  Sometimes loving our enemies does not heap burning coals upon their heads.  Sometimes they have already made up their minds to hurt or destroy us and it is only years down the road that our loving response impacts them on any level.  All we can do is trust God for His plan in those situations.  Our obedience is driven by love for God, not a desired outcome in the other person – our enemy.

But yet we still continue to believe the lies that God will make our lives soft and comfortable if we follow Him.  Many have sold out to the health and wealth gospel, following false prophets like Joel Osteen and Benny Hinn faithfully.  Consider this:  if God pours out blessings, security and health on those whom He loves, He must have despised Paul and the apostles.  They all had no homes, no security, they were persecuted and all but one murdered simply because of their faith.

Even if we deny the traditional health and wealth gospel with our mouths, we often believe it in our hearts and exemplify it by our actions.  When we find a job, get a raise, have healthy and obedient children, and go an entire year without visiting the doctor, we proclaim “God is good!”  When tragedy strikes, when a job is lost, when a loved one dies, when radical Muslims attack our cities, we cry out “Why me?” and “Where is God?”

Have you ever been hated on account of your faith?

I am not advocating self-imposed suffering or intentionally seeking martyrdom.  Jesus told the disciples to flee to the next city when persecution arose, and it was only by the direction of the Holy Spirit that Paul was led to Rome to be murdered – and that after fleeing numerous other times.  However, it is indeed the promise of Scripture that all – not some – but all who desire to live Godly lives will be persecuted and hated because of our faith.  If you are hated for any other reason, it does not count.  Peter says,

“For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.  For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience?  But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.

– 1 Peter 2.19-20

When we sin, we should suffer the consequences patiently and in humility.  That is just common sense.  But it finds favor with God when we suffer unjustly, and bear it with patience and humility.  When was the last time you were wrongly accused – because of your faith – and counted it a blessing to be able to join Christ in His sufferings?  Or did you cry out “this is not fair”, and rebuke God in your heart?

Peter teaches us that we should always be prepared to give an answer or defense for the hope that we have.  Does your living, in the wake of trial and tribulation, cause people to stop and ask you about your hope?  Or do you only proclaim God’s goodness when things are good and life is rosy?  Isaac Watts bemoaned the point beautifully:

Must I be carried to the skies
on flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize
and sailed through bloody seas?
Sure I must fight if I would reign
increase my courage Lord;
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,
supported by Thy Word.

– Isaac Watts

So let’s step back and reconsider.  What is it that we consider a blessing and benefit from God?  What is it that leads us to proclaim God’s goodness and faithfulness?  What is it that we pray for, long for and lose sleep over?  A job?  Health?  Life itself?  Money?  Do you fight to persevere in your faith?  Do you fight for the prize rewarded to those who serve God and die to the flesh?  Does your life look like the American Dream, or like the apostles?  Have you ever had to defend the seemingly nonsensical hope that you have?  If not, we need to reconsider our faith and our priorities.  Let’s start storing up treasures in Heaven and dying to our flesh.

Jesus loves His church more than you do.

church

Are you excited about life?  Your church?  Your community and the things God is doing all around you?  Do you ever get frustrated?  Tired?  Worn out from pouring into people, ministries and efforts that seem to just fizzle and die?

I love change.  Even though I am an introvert by disposition and need to have some quiet time to recharge, I love meeting new people, I love going new places, trying new things and experiencing life.  I love to move.  Just like most who share my disposition, I see the best in people up front and am excited to engage in new communities.  However I find it difficult to see potential and I often resign myself to consider situations to be how they will be forever, thus once things are broken it feels impossible to make them right.

In my Spiritual immaturity and involvement in a vastly superficial youth group, this disposition led me to a level of disdain for the Church.  God radically changed my life and disposition through the tragic loss of a non-believing friend and a year at a Christian university twenty miles from any outside influence.  He simply ingrained the truth in my heart that He loves His Church, and if I want to be His follower I must love the Church as well.

In my adulthood, this disposition has led me to despair when I see the gross failures of our leadership and members:  those people we love and respect abandoning the faith, giving in to unthinkable moral failures and leading the body into Spiritual inactivity and uselessness.  But walking through these trials God has simply affirmed me that nothing is outside of His control and He loves His Church more than I ever could.  He is not surprised by our circumstances, in fact He ordains them for the growth and maturity of His Church.

In short, God loves the Church and will work everything out for her best and her holiness.  He love the Church more than you or I ever could, and He has a perfect plan for her, even when things look grim.  God will work all things together such that He can present the Church – the bride of Christ – to Jesus on that final day as perfect.  She (we) will be spotless and without wrinkle in our wedding dress, holy and blameless, and that because He died for us to wash away our sins and is continually washing us and purifying us through the Word:

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.”

– Eph 5.25-27

In Scripture the Church is often called Christ’s body.  We are taught clearly that Jesus Himself is the head of that body and we all have roles to fill in the local body where we meet.  No one is the head of the local or universal church, not the pope, not a pastor, not a team of elders, no one.  Only Jesus is the head.  He is in charge, He makes the final decisions, and He has a sovereign plan over all of our endeavors and will sanctify us and make us holy.

“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

“…for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

– Phil 2.13

Jesus loves His own body, just as we love our own bodies.

“…for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.”

– Eph 5.29-30

It is important to function as a part of the body.  We have been commanded to and if we do not serve the body with our gifting and skills that God has given us, the body will suffer.

“For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.”

– 1 Cor 12.12

“For the body is not one member, but many.  If the foot says, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.  And if the ear says, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?  If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?  But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.  If they were all one member, where would the body be?  But now there are many members, but one body.”

– 1 Cor 12.14-20

“For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”

– Rom 12.4-5

Jesus died for His body.  He gave Himself up for her (us) so that she might be saved and made holy.  He knows what is best for her (us) and He will work all things out together for His glory, for her good and for or the best of the Church (Rom 8.28).  If you are struggling with frustration towards the Church, remember that this is God’s chosen instrument of bringing His love and the Gospel to the world.  He loves her, and therefore you must too.  If you are discouraged by tensions within the church, by failures of leadership, by the type of music or  color of the carpet, remember that God loves the Church infinitely more than you ever will, and He is working these situations out both for your maturity and sanctification as well as for hers.  It is His Church, not ours.

Yes, there are times that churches die.  This happens because sin creeps in and goes unchecked.  Thankfully Jesus has commanded us clearly how to handle sin and push one another on to holiness and maturity.  There are times that a church becomes so inward focused and neglects the commands of Scripture that God removes His hand from that congregation and they dwindle.  Take note of these trends as you work through your feelings towards and about a Church, and always pray.  Ask God if He is at work in this place.  Ask God if this is your body where you should serve.  As God if this is a branch that is alive and bearing fruit or one that has withered and will be cut off.  And let’s get busy loving that which Jesus loves, pushing through the hard times and rejoicing in the sweet times.  And let us commit to invest as long as God continues to lead, not giving up when the going gets rough.

What exactly is “Done”?

service

It is a glorious truth that the Old Covenant, the Law which God commanded to Moses and by which the Hebrew people sought to maintain their favor with God was a list of commandments and expectations.  It’s sole purpose, we learn in the New Testament, was to point forward to Jesus and prove the depravity of man.  There is no man who can keep the Law – the holy expectations of God – and make himself acceptable to God (Rom 7).  The New Covenant, the provision which God has offered us through the perfect life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the relief from that bondage.  It had been said that the Old Covenant proclaims, “Do” while the New Covenant proclaims “Done”.

There is no greater gift than grace, the fact that we are incapable of earning God’s favor and yet He loved us enough to punish our sin in Jesus and offer us His righteousness.  Since we are incapable of being good enough, He gave us a substitute.  Jesus took our punishment and paid our debt.  We can be made pure in the eyes of God by being hidden in the blood of Jesus.

When we recognize, however, that Jesus died because of our sin, and when we recognize the weight of the price He paid to free us from the bondage of effort, we learn to love the things that God loves and hate the things that God hates.  We hate our sin.  We hate our sin because it cost Jesus His life, because it displeases God and because it dishonors God.  If there is any sin in our lives that we love or over which we are not broken, it is very possible that we are not saved.

How can we know that?  Simply put, the moment we come to Jesus for salvation – when we recognize our guilt, confess our sins and ask Jesus to cover us by His redemption, we are made Spiritually alive by being given the Holy Spirit to indwell us.  The role of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of sin and push us on to righteousness:

“And [the Holy Spirit], when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”

– John 16.8

Therefore, if we are not recognizing our sin, if we are not being convicted of it, and if we are not repenting of it, then we can understand that the Holy Spirit is not at work in our lives.  What should we do if we are in such a state?  Confess our sins and ask Jesus for the gift of the Holy Spirit!  As we develop the Spiritual disciplines of prayer, reading the Scripture and spending time with God, we will know His heart and the Holy Spirit will convict us.  We must be on guard against sin – sin is what condemns us before God.  We cannot drift and expect to grow Spiritually.  We cannot be passive agents in our Spiritual life.  We must press into God and the allow the Holy Spirit to transform us.

“Prayer will make a man cease from sin, or sin will entice a man to cease from prayer.”

– John Bunyan

Does that mean that the New Covenant does not really mean, “Done”?  This oversimplification of the two covenants can be extremely helpful and at the same time extremely dangerous.  There are different aspects to our salvation, and perhaps the most glorious is justification.  Justification is a legal term by which one is declared redeemed.  It does not mean “Just as if I had never sinned”, because we are not restored to a place of innocence and our sinful nature removed.  It means “punishment paid”.  We all deserve the eternal death sentence for our sin, and Jesus paid that for us.  This is our legal standing before the Heavenly courtroom in which God is the judge, Jesus is our advocate or lawyer and Satan is the prosecutor.  Jesus does not respond to God and try to disprove our guilt when Satan accuses us, He stands there and simply says “time served” for every offense.

In this sense, the New Covenant proclaims “done”.  Once we have been justified, all of our sins past, present and future have been covered.  We are not declared welcome into eternity because our punishment has been served.  However, the ongoing process of sanctification – that change by which we die to our sins and are made more like Jesus – is not completed, and we must be active participants in it.  John Owen paraphrased 1 John thus:

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

Jesus said that we will be known by our fruit.  Paul teach us to work our our salvation with fear and trembling, being diligent to fight against sin.  We are not passive in sanctification, we are killing our flesh and pressing on to holiness.  In this sense, our salvation is not “done”, but is in process.  It does not mean that our justification is capable of being lost, rather we prove our justification by pressing on in our sanctification.  We prove that we have confessed our sins and turned to Jesus by hating our sin and ceasing from it.  When we are saved, when we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we love God and we want to honor God, and we understand that our sanctification glorifies God.

“My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.”

– John 15.8

How then do we balance law and grace?  Do we do what we want, and hope that it is not sinful?  Do we despair when we have to choose to do the right thing even though our hearts are not in it?  C.S. Lewis offers us this beautiful help:

“A perfect man would never act from a sense of duty; he’d always want the right thing more than the wrong one. Duty is only a substitute for love (of God and of other people) like a crutch which is a substitute for a leg. Most of us need the crutch at times; but of course it is idiotic to use the crutch when our own legs (our own loves, tastes, habits, etc.) can do the journey on their own.”

There will be times when our hearts long for revenge, for sinful pleasure, for indulgence or any other worldly sin.  Even after we have been saved (justified), and even after we have walked for years down the path of sanctification.  Only a perfect man would always long to do what God commands, and we know that we will only be perfected when we shed our Earthly bodies.  Until then, we will be left with the dichotomy of flesh and Spirit.  We are saved and yet still have our sinful nature.  We enjoy the pleasures of sin and the world and yet long for the pleasures of Jesus and eternity.  Thus we utilize the commandments of Jesus as a crutch by which we choose to do the right thing, even when we do not desire to do the right thing.

We continue to “Do” even though our salvation has been secured by what Jesus has “Done”.  We act out of love for God and thankfulness for His salvation, and at times out of discipline – not to earn God’s favor, but to please the one who gave everything so that we might be saved.

Pressing on when life sucks.

running in the rain

Have you ever been discouraged?  Frustrated?  Felt as though your work was all in vain?  Have you ever walked away from a season of life, project or commitment and wondered what was even accomplished?  Have you ever been burned out?

They say burnout is pretty normal, especially for driven, goal oriented people who invest greatly in whatever it is they are doing.  We hear of pastors, missionaries and even lay people in the Church getting burned out at times.  Sometimes it comes in the wake of great tragedy and turmoil, and sometimes it comes after a season of revival and bountiful blessings from God.  It can be the culmination of trials, or the vacuum left when the hubbub of an active season is completed.

It has been said that Spiritual burnout is the result of working in our own strength and not God’s.  But Scripture never says that “if you abide in me you will never get tired, frustrated or discouraged”.  Isaiah does say,

“He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.
Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.”

– Is 40.29-31

We often jump to the end of this promise, claiming that if we are in God, we will run and not get tired!  And this is a beautiful part of the promise.  But notice the entire premise:  God gives strength to the weary and He increases power to those who lack might.  If we wait on the Lord, we will gain new strength.  God is not promising that we will have continual, perfect strength.  He is saying when we do get tired, and we slow down and wait on Him, He will give us new strength which will enable us to run the section of the race before us.  He will give us strength for the day, each day.  We cannot go to Him once and get a life-time fill up that will last us forever.  We must continually return to Him and wait on Him, and He will give us new strength for the new task or new day.

Consider Paul.  The most dynamic missionary of all time: personally converted by Jesus, personally discipled by Jesus in the desert for three years, and personally sent out to the non-Jews by Jesus (Acts 9, Gal 1.12-19, Acts 22.21).  God converted thousands through him, started countless churches through him, and wrote half of the New Testament through him.  He was, of course, not without sin, but even in the strength of his conviction and calling he became so discouraged that he wanted to die.

“For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life…”

– 2 Cor 1.8

Paul was persecuted regularly in his missionary efforts, and while we see him respond in love and compassion often, this personal testimony reveals that he was so over it that he longed to die.  He, and his team, despaired of life.

Consider also Jesus.  Jesus was God, and Jesus was without sin.  He lived a perfect life and then spent three years in ministry, preaching repentance and coming of the Kingdom of God.  The culmination of His Earthly ministry was His death, burial and resurrection.  Jesus reveals to us early in His ministry that it was God’s plan for the hearers to not understand what Jesus was teaching (Matt 13.13).  And even though Jesus knew that He would preach and people would not understand, He still became discouraged with them.  He still was broken over the people and cried out in frustration:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.”

– Matt 23.37

And after proclaiming the difficult truths of the Kingdom, the masses who were following Him left.  Jesus responded in sorrow:

And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”  As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.  So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?”

– John 6.65-67

And consider his final moments before the cross.  Jesus knew the plan of God, He knew that through His death salvation would be made available.  He loved us, and He trusted God’s plan, but yet He wept bitterly in the garden and cried out three times asking God to make another way:

And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”

– Matt 26.39

The prophets throughout the Old Testament wrestled with depression, anxiety and discouragement.  Elijah, just moments after watching God consume his offering on top of Mount Carmel, mocking the 450 other prophets while they beseeched Baal to do the same, and then killing them all ran in fear of the queen Jezebel (1 Kings 18).

OK.  So we see that we are in good company when we become discouraged, frustrated or burned out.  What then?  We must wait on the Lord.  It is by remaining in Him, by waiting on Him that our strength is renewed.  He casts a vision, He gives us perspective, He reminds us that the battle is in His hands, and He sanctifies us through the trials.

Paul, in despairing of life, was able to recognize God’s hand through the despair itself:

“For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.

– 2 Cor 1.8-11

God walked Paul through this season of despair to teach him to rely on God and not himself.  Jesus surrendered His personal desires to the will of God.  The prophets were all encouraged in their time to see God’s greater plan – at least in part (and at times through chastisement).

We must wait on the Lord and we must persevere.  We cannot abandon our faith, we cannot abandon the work of the Gospel.  We must believe, because it is those who persevere until the end that will be saved (Matt 10.22, Rev 2.10, 26).

“But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.”

– Matt 24.13

So when we find ourselves discouraged, frustrated, burned out or exhausted, let us return to the Lord and wait on Him.  Let us rest in Him.  Let us pray, let us surrender, let us confess, let us wait.  And He will renew our strength, He will cast a vision, He will sanctify us by growing our faith and maturity.  This is all a beautiful part of the Spiritual journey.

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

– Matt 11.28

When God is Silent

when God is silent

Have you ever gone through a difficult season in your life, a time during which you prayed and cried out to God asking for an answer, direction, or a change in circumstance…and it felt as though He was silent?  Have you ever longed for someone’s salvation, repentance or a change in situation whereby you knew the testimony of grace and restoration would be so marvelous, but yet it did not happen?

Even though extremely difficult, this is a normal experience of the Christian walk.  If you have not yet experienced such a tragic difficulty or testing of your faith, it will happen.  God’s intention for our Spiritual lives is to grow and mature us, making us more like Christ, and that comes through the testing and proving of our faith through fire.  There will be times that we will not understand our circumstances but we must chose to trust God through them.

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification…”

– 1 Thess 4.3

“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…”

– 1 Peter 1.6-7

David is perhaps our best example of this inner turmoil because while we have the historical books documenting his life from the time he was a young shepherd in the fields throughout his service to Saul, his reign as king, and his successes and failures, we also have the psalms which he wrote throughout all of these experiences which document his heart’s reactions and passions.  We have the cold, hard facts of the various situations, but we also have his prayers and cries while trying to process these facts.

God had continually given David success in battle against his enemies.  But yet, when the battle lines were drawn, David felt as though God was silent:

“O God, do not remain quiet;
Do not be silent and, O God, do not be still.
For behold, Your enemies make an uproar,
And those who hate You have exalted themselves.”

– Ps 83.1-2

He was so passionate once that he accused God of sleeping:

“Arouse Yourself, why do You sleep, O Lord?
Awake, do not reject us forever.
Why do You hide Your face
And forget our affliction and our oppression?”

– Ps 44.23-24

We know that David sinned, and suffered many consequences because of his sins.  We know that David called out to God to beg Him to relieve the consequences from him, and we see David accepting the consequences as they came.  He was still God’s chosen leader and king, he was still called “a man after God’s own heart”, even though at times he suffered consequences for his sin.  There will be times that our suffering and circumstances are a result of our sinful choices.

But there are also times that we suffer and struggle just for the sake of developing our faith, like Job.  Job was a righteous man whom God had blessed, and God decided to prove his faith by testing him.  Job lost everything he had, his children, his wealth, his possessions and his health.  And through it all, Job never sinned.  But he had some friends who offered him poor advice for a season, telling him that it must be because of sin that he was suffering.  Finally Job cried out against his friends and demanding an answer from God, and God rebuked him – claiming his sovereignty and freedom over the situation.  Job repented, and God restored everything to him:  wealth, health, children and possessions.  There are times that God is silent and allows us to suffer for the sake of our maturity.

To what level has your faith been tested?  The reality is that those who are the most peaceful and confident in their faith are those who have walked through the darkest situations and have come out faithful on the other side.  If things have always gone your way, if God is your cosmic genie, and if you have lived a “blessed” or sugar-coated life, then you have never had to empty yourself of yourself and cling to God for the strength to persevere.  This poem was etched into the wall of a cellar in Germany during the Holocaust:

“I believe in the sun
even when it is not shining.
I believe in love
even when I cannot feel it.
I believe in God
even when He is silent.”

Do you believe in God even when He is silent?  Would you persevere through a trial as great as the Holocaust?  Do you trust God when you are not seeing the results or changes that you desire?  When you think that it would glorify God more to do it your way?