The last few years have presented significant challenges in a variety of ways worldwide. Christians have not been immune from those challenges. One overlooked challenge, particularly this season, is the temptation to become overly fixated on current crises.
The real issues faced by many, such as financial uncertainty, Covid itself, government overreach, isolation, depression, etc., have caused us to be very focused on the immediate. And rightly so! When one is in a pitched battle for their survival, that is not the moment for long-term strategizing. However, there comes a point when we must lift our heads back up to behold the bigger picture. Failure to do may result in losing sight of the eternal promises of God and the victory of Christ. In short, there is a real temptation to fall prey to a ‘survival mindset’.
Conquerors, not merely Survivors!
The Apostle Paul made a powerful and defining identity statement about those who belong to Christ Jesus in the Book of Romans, chapter eight. That chapter is filled with incredible promises for those who belong to Christ. One of them, however, simultaneously speaks into both our current situations and our future wellbeing. Verse 37 reads, ‘No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us’.
This statement of Paul raises a question, however. What are ‘all these things’ Paul is referring to? In short, Paul is speaking about the reality of suffering! Verse 18 reads ‘For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.’ Then over the following 20 verses, Paul states that suffering will take place in the life of a Christian, and possibly in various ways. Sometimes that suffering is general- such as the threat of persecution, or a pandemic, which can be on a broad level.
Sometimes, however, the suffering we experience may be unique to each of us, as opposed to a general affliction. For example, over ten months in 2017, I experienced an open wound on my lower right leg. The most severe stage lasted some six months, during which I experienced a high level of pain, which resulted in insomnia. While I could still function in life and ministry, the pain from the open wound, my tiredness, and the care it required tended to overshadow everything else. Out of necessity, my wife and I focused on the dirty now-and-now rather than the sweet by-and-by!
Throughout that ten-month ordeal, however, we attempted to pray prayers based on God’s long-term promises, not just the seasonal trauma I was facing. I often prayed and worshipped the Lord out of the first five verses of Psalm 103. This Psalm has been the inspiration for many worship songs due to the first verse which reads ‘Bless the Lord, oh my should, and all that is within me’. Verses 4 and 5 promise God ‘redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s’. While there was the ongoing temptation, especially after months of insomnia due to the pain, to losing sight of long-term goals, God kept calling me to believe in His eternal promises. And therein lies a critical key to sustaining short-term faith battles and moving towards breakthrough- not getting lost in the survival mindset of short-term thinking!
The Call to Endure
The Book of Revelation has given rise to various interpretations and perspectives among Bible teachers, preachers, and theologians. For example, the ongoing debate within the contemporary Church concerning in what context will the Lord Jesus return- pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation, or post-tribulation. It seems, however, that many often fail to discern between the persecution of the Church and the wrath of God which follows the persecution. Chapter 13 clarifies there is a definite time frame when spiritual warfare increases against the saints. Verse 7 tells us the beast ‘was allowed to make war on the saints.’ In contrast, chapter 14, verse 7, relates that an hour of God’s judgment will be released on the world! In both chapters, however, God gives His people a unique call. He calls us to endure!
Chapter 13.10 reads, ‘If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints”. Chapter 14, verse 12 reads, ‘Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus’. In short, during testing and tribulation, God calls us to go the distance, to endure! Essentially, these two passages speak of two different yet intertwined ways we must endure hardship- maintaining abiding faith in God’s promises and obedience to His will and ways!
The last 12-18 months have seen the Church at large return to in-person meetings. Indeed, a number of churches that, in defiance of city or state ordinances, began meeting shortly after Covid 19 became full-blown in 2020. What’s interesting, however, is that some churches that waited a very long time to start meeting, for whatever reasons, have had a noticeable decrease in attendance. While that may be partially due to a lingering fear some have of being in public gatherings with the threat of Covid, I believe there is a more significant issue we should be clued into.
Consumers or Consumed?
Could it be that the contemporary Church in the western world has been more focused on the blessings of God rather than the blesser, Himself? Could it be that many who believed in Christ and the gospel failed to transform into disciples of Christ? The critical difference is disciples of Christ discipline (govern) themselves by the ways and word of God. A believer, short of discipleship, tends to be more focused on consumer Christianity rather than consumed with the person of Christ. And when the blessings seemingly evaporate, so does their walk with God! In stark contrast, a disciple of Christ takes very seriously Christ’s mandate to die to themself daily.
Jesus gives us a clear picture of this difference between mere believers and disciples of Christ in the parable of the Sower and the seeds. He contrasted the soil depth (hearts) of three different types of hearers of the gospel. First, some hear but fail to understand it. The devil quickly steals away those seeds that are sown due to their hearts being rocky with no soil. Secondly, some hear but don’t develop deep soil in their hearts. Lastly, Jesus spoke of those who receive the gospel and who have good soil in their hearts that produce real fruit. Such a plant can endure the storms of life due to developing deep roots in Christ (discipleship). I suspect that the recent ‘downsizing’ of many churches is due to many believers in Christ who, when things got a bit tough, lacked roots in Christ to survive the storms of adversity!
When speaking to the elders of the Church of Ephesus, the Apostle Paul stated, ”I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God’. (Acts 20.27) Many Bible preachers and teachers are shrinking back from proclaiming the whole counsel of God’s word. Somehow, the confidence that speaking truth (God’s word) in love can bring a Godly conviction unto repentance has been supplanted by the desire to make people feel good about themselves. In short, many have learned to base their sense of well-being on feeling comfortable about their current situation rather than the comfort of the Holy Spirit. It’s the Holy Comforter who’s in the boat with us during the storms of adversity. It’s only a heart fully yielded to God which is full of the Holy Spirit, however!
Living according to God’s word requires a growing fear of the Lord. A healthy fear of God is vital to responding to the ‘call to endure’. The fear of God can be characterized by a deep and profound heart knowledge that God, alone, is the one who holds our lives and futures in His hand. He is the one who can bring about amazing favor, healing, provision, and deliverance. Failing to develop the fear of the Lord can make us prone to internally succumbing to fearing man and overly fixated on the chaos surrounding us. Psalm 34, verse 9, for example, reads ‘Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack’!
Journeying from Chaos to Fruitfulness
The first few verses of the Bible tell us that when the world was in chaos, God spoke and brought forth clarity, life, order, and fruitfulness. God is still in the business of transforming chaos into abundant life. After all, Jesus did state that He came to bring us abundant life! While realizing that, however, it’s important to note that Jesus never promised that life would continually be a bed of roses. He does promise, however, that those who conquer will know God the Father’s love, power, and provision. Conquering demands that we look well past our current crisis and place our prayers and hopes in the eternal (long-term) promises of God! Revelation 21.7 reads, ‘The one who conquers will have this heritage,and I will be his God and he will be My son.’
Vince Lombardi, the legendary American football coach, stated, ‘fatigue makes cowards of us all’. The last several year’s accumulated stress has been excessively wearying for many. A powerful anecdote is found in Psalm three, however. The third verse encourages us that God is the ‘lifter of our heads.’ Let’s seek God and ask Him to lift up our perspectives in this new year and season. I believe God desires to impart refreshing vision and strategies to advance the Kingdom of God and render breakthroughs in our lives. Let us be like the church of Ephesus in Paul’s day, who perceived God and the world around us through the Word of God in its fullness. Let us be people who do not consider the present suffering worthy of being compared to the glory to come!
according to His glorious might,
for all endurance and patience with joy’.