Is Your Faith Based on Circumstances?

“Rejoice always, pray continuously, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Matthew Henry tells us in Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible, “A truly religious life is a life of constant joy” (p. 1175). Paul was a living example of this. While under house arrest, he wrote his letter to the Philippians. Although he was living at home, he was chained to a Roman guard around the clock and was not able to go anywhere. He knew his trial was likely years away. Given that God had called him to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, he was stuck in Rome unable to plant new churches or visit with those he was nurturing by letter. Certainly, he had every right to complain. He’d been beaten, shipwrecked, and persecuted for Jesus. Instead, his letter to the church at Philippi was filled with rejoicing. He wrote, “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the Gospel” (Philippians 1:12, NIV).

Eugene Peterson puts an amazing focus on Philippians 1. In essence, Paul is saying, “I want to report to you, friends, that my imprisonment here has had the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of being squelched, the Message has actually prospered. All the soldiers here, and everyone else, too, found out that I’m in jail because of this Messiah. That piqued their curiosity, and now they’ve learned all about him. Not only that, but most of the followers of Jesus here have become far more sure of themselves in the faith than ever, speaking out fearlessly about God, about the Messiah” (v. 12-14, MSG).

Paul essentially said his sufferings for Christ had furthered the Gospel by provoking others to zeal for Him. Paul focused on preaching the Gospel no matter the circumstances in which he found himself. He wanted nothing more than to worship God in Spirit, rejoice in Christ, deny his flesh, forge ahead toward the prize, looking only toward the Savior, striving to be an example for others. He added, “As long as I’m alive in this body, there is good work for me to do. If I had to choose right now, I hardly know which I’d choose. Hard choice! The desire to break camp here and be with Christ is powerful. Some days I can think of nothing better. But most days, because of what you are going through, I am sure that it’s better for me to stick it out here. So I plan to be around awhile, companion to you as your growth and joy in this life of trusting God continues. You can start looking forward to a great reunion when I come visit you again. We’ll be praising Christ, enjoying each other” (v. 22-26, MSG).

TRUST REQUIRES PATIENCE

Trusting God always requires patience, because God doesn’t work on our timetable. Patience allows us to enjoy life while we wait. No doubt this is a difficult proposition. We are, after all, only human. We measure success and failure, happiness and disappointment, in terms of emotion first and then in actual results. When we feel bad, especially when we really, truly hurt, we want a way out right away. For many, including me, that can include drugs and alcohol. I ran from hurt and pain for decades. I simply had no concept of or capacity for patience.

Quite often the reason God is requiring us to wait is simply that He is using our difficulty to work patience in us. Learning to be patient is important enough to God’s plan—for us and for those whom we will touch with our lives—that I believe he ordains everything we go through. He is not going to short-change His plans by giving us what we want the second we want it. Sadly, however, the desire for instant gratification causes many people to make snap decisions. Some get high or drunk. Some spend beyond their means. Others have sex without thinking. Some marry someone who is wrong for them because they’re not willing to wait for the right someone. The false belief that we should have instant gratification is at the root of our unwillingness to suffer through the bad times.

It’s not easy being a Christian in today’s pluralistic society where moral relativism, hatred, distrust, bigotry, and fear run rampant. There seems to be an increasing tension between Christians and non-believers. When we focus on others rather than Jesus, we see them as enemies instead of children of God worthy of our love and respect. Admittedly, culture has taken a dramatic shift recently. Religion is no longer seen as a social good. Instead, it is considered an old, awkward, worldview that is no longer relevant.

GOD’S VOICE IN OUR CIRCUMSTANCES

As Christians, we all want to hear from God. I’ve often dropped to my knees and begged Him to say something—anything—as long as it was aloud. I wanted to know if He was there. Was He listening to me at all? Did He care about what was happening to me? What did He want me to do? It is even more challenging to determine what God is not saying in any given situation. He spoke to the prophets in the Old Testament. He appeared before non-believers. He sent angels. He told people what to do. He even told them what not to do. And He often accompanied these directives with promises—blessings and curses. He was often extremely clear about His wishes.

Today, we tend to expect the grandiose voice of God—and sometimes God speaks that way. More often, though, His voice comes through more subtly. God often speaks to us through the quiet moments, through other people, and through life’s circumstances. It can be difficult to distinguish His voice from the chaos of our situation. In order to decipher what God is saying, it is important to know and understand His Word. Spending time in the Scriptures will help us hear His voice. He will never contradict Himself. He will never speak to us through our circumstances in a manner that goes against His written Word. The Bible must be our yard stick. And when He puts others in our path to guide us, we need to distinguish between those who practice seeking the heart of God from those whose ambition is to control and manipulate others.

It is extremely important to remember that one incident is not necessarily indicative of God’s intent for our entire life. One swallow does not a summer make. (Google it!) Never make a life-changing decision on one event or one set of circumstances because God may or may not be speaking through this particular event. We need to look over the span of months and years. It is critical that we ask ourselves, Where is God leading me? He chose us and ordained our lives even before we were formed in the womb. I met a recovered addict last summer while serving as on-site manager for a motel. He was working as an itinerant electrician at a new gas-fired power plant being built in my area. He said, “God wants me to tell you something.” My ears always perk up when I hear someone say that! “God says everything you’ve been through from the moment you were born until you met me right now, all the good and the bad, was ordained by Him to help make you into the man He needs you to be in order to fulfill your calling.”

We must never put God in a box. He is much more infinite and all-knowing than we can ever grasp. No matter what the dire, dreary circumstance, God can turn each into a hopeful future. He can reverse, restore, revive, and renew. We need only look for His plans that are already in motion right now, even in the midst of our difficult time. Trust Him. He can take any circumstance and use it for our good and His glory.

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Jesus Calling

EXCERPT FROM JESUS CALLING
©2014 Sarah Young
January 4

I WANT YOU TO learn a new habit. Try saying, “I trust You, Jesus,” in response to whatever happens to you If there is time, think about who I Am in all My Power and Glory; ponder also the depth and breadth of My Love for you.

This simple practice will help you see Me in every situation, acknowledging My sovereign control over the universe. When you view events from this perspective—through the Light of My universal Presence—fear loses its grip on you. Adverse circumstances become growth opportunities when you affirm your trust in Me no matter what. You receive blessings gratefully, realizing they flow directly from My hand of grace. Your continual assertion of trusting Me will strengthen our relationship and keep you close to Me.

PSALM 63:2; ISAIAH 40:10-11; PSALM 139:7-10

Suffering Without Sinning

I am reading Jesus on Trial: A Lawyer Affirms the Truth About the Gospel, by David Limbaugh. He made a comment in the book that I’d like to share with you. He wrote, “We must not use our suffering as an excuse to sin, but as an opportunity to grow spiritually.” Not only is it a chance for us to mature, I believe we need also recognize that our suffering can be an opportunity for others to learn from our circumstances. We, in no way, should find occasion to sin because we are suffering. We cannot rebel, or argue with God, or hate or resent others. We cannot look to relieve our suffering through our own selfish acts.

Pain often reveals God’s purpose for us. God never wastes a hurt! If you’ve gone through a hurt, he wants you to help other people going through that same hurt. He wants you to share it. God can use the problems in your life to give you a ministry to others. In fact, the very thing you’re most ashamed of in your life and resent the most could become your greatest ministry in helping other people. Who can better help somebody going through a bankruptcy than somebody who went through a bankruptcy? Who can better help somebody struggling with an addiction than somebody who’s struggled with an addiction? Who can better help parents of a special needs child than parents who raised a special needs child? Who can better help somebody who’s lost a child than somebody who lost a child? The very thing you hate the most in your life is what God wants to use for good in your life.

The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 1, verses 4 and 6, “God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things” (NLT). This is called redemptive suffering. Redemptive suffering is when you go through a problem or a pain for the benefit of others. This is what Jesus did. When Jesus died on the cross, he didn’t deserve to die. He went through that pain for our benefit so that we can be saved and go to Heaven. So that we can live a life free from bondage and disease.

There are many different causes for the problems, pains, and suffering in our lives. Sometimes the stuff that happens to us we bring on ourselves. When we make stupid decisions, then it causes pain in our lives. If we go out and overspend and buy things we can’t afford and assume we can make the payments in the future, and then go deeply in debt and lose our house, we can’t say, “God, why did you let me lose my house?” We can’t blame God for our bad choices. But in some of our problems, we’re innocent. We’ve been hurt by the pain, stupidity, and sins of other people. And some of the pain in our lives is for redemptive suffering. God often allows us to go through a problem so that we can then help others.

We are exhorted to “put on Christ” and to imitate Him, our High Priest and our Teacher, so that we might partake of His divine nature. In order to redeem us, our Lord took on flesh and gave all to the Father. In order to be Christ-like, we, too, must take up our cross, accept suffering, and strive to offer Him all. It says in Luke 14:27, “And whosoever doth not carry his cross and come after Me cannot be my disciple.” 2 Cor. 4:8 tells us that in all things we suffer tribulation but are not distressed. Philippians 3:8-11 says, “Furthermore, I count all things to be but loss for the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ, my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them but as dung, that I may gain Christ. And may be found in Him, not having my justice, which is of the law, but that which is of the faith of Christ Jesus, which is of God: justice in faith. That I may know Him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings: being made conformable to His death, If by any means I may attain to the resurrection which is from the dead.”

Think of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, under so much stress and agony that He literally sweated blood. Think of Him being hounded and mocked by people who should have fallen to their knees and kissed His feet, adoring Him and begging Him for mercy. Think of the Creator of the sun, moon, and stars with a crown of thorns thrust onto His head, being spat upon, beaten, and nailed to a Cross. God Himself suffered in His human nature, so why should we be spared? Thing is, we need to have a right attitude about our suffering. We need to realize that uncomfortable things will happen to us in this life, but this helps us to help others.

Many of us think we suffer because of our circumstances. We believe that if our circumstances would change, we’d be able to act right. But God wants us to become so mature and stable that we act right even when none of our circumstances are good. There are different levels of faith, and most of the time we want to use our faith to get rid of a problem. But sometimes God’s plan is for us to exercise a higher level of faith that will carry us through life’s challenges. This requires even greater faith than being delivered from a situation.

As Christians, we may also face trials and suffer simply because we live in a world full of sin. But Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace and confidence. In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you]” (John 16:33, Amp) What a promise! Understanding the reason for our suffering and having the assurance of the final glory we’ll share should make it a little easier to enjoy our lives even during the times of sharing in suffering.

God uses trials in the believer’s life for several reasons. They purify us (See Malachi 3:3-4, 1 Peter 1:6-9. Psa. 66:10) by making us rely more on God and His grace. James tells us trials increase our patience (See James 1:3,4,12) and God uses them to glorify Himself. (See 1 Peter 4:12-16). Paul sums it up well when he states, “my strength [in trusting and drawing closer to God] is made perfect in weakness.” (See Gal. 12:9). The non-believer suffers in despair. (See Gal. 6:7-8). He has no hope and no assurance that he will be delivered out of his trials by God.

Because God sees the end from the beginning, He knows where we’re weak and where we need refining. Suffering is like a refiner’s fire. It burns away all the impurities, leaving only that which is profitable. We will be rewarded for our sufferings. (See Matt. 5:10-12) In them we can comfort others who are going through the same difficulties. Remember, Jesus suffered more than any man, but to the greater glory. In His sufferings, he made the way for us to be reconciled to God. If in our sufferings we can lead others to Christ, then we should suffer joyfully. Remember, “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (See Rom. 8:18) This is so much better than sinning because of our suffering. Only when we earnestly look forward to the glories of the Kingdom of God can we view our own sufferings in proper perspective.