Month: July 2019

Prepare to remain faithful

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Replicating Christ’s character is the best way to prepare yourself to remain faithful during difficult times.

Prepare to remain faithfulIt was the night before Jesus trial; His betrayal and arrest would soon eventuate. Taking Peter, James and John, Jesus escaped the city and went to Gethsemane for pray. Jesus explained to His three disciples; “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me” (Matthew 26:38). Jesus didn’t avoid human companionship even though He knew the horrific events which were about to unfold. His instructions were simple; “remain here, and watch with me.”

Jesus knew the weakness of His disciples; even so, He still engaged them in this intimate time of prayer. Falling on His face, Jesus prayed; “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Mt 26:39). The intense stress of realising that His death would be the next day, brought Jesus face to face with the reality of God’s will for Him. Humanly speaking, He asked for a way out. Then He at once surrendered to the will of His Father.

Valuable lessons!

  1. Be in prayer as preparation for suffering.
  2. Yield to God’s will even if it goes against your human desires.
  3. Include trusted believers who will share the intimacy of your suffering. Even if those friends disappoint you, still include them. Seek fellowship where you talk of the Lord together.

What a fantastic opportunity Peter, James and John had. Learning from Jesus about preparing to remain faithful to God through the most extreme suffering imaginable. Instead, Jesus “found them sleeping” (Mt 26:40). Sadly, I can see myself in these men. Instead of getting their minds aligned with the sovereign will of God, they slept. They could not even record the rest of Jesus prayer because they were sleeping instead of listening.

Personalising spiritual realities

As we read on, Jesus exhorted His three drowsy disciples; “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt 26:41). Jesus, despite His severe anxiety over the certainty of crucifixion, speaks kind, yet strong words to Peter, James and John. Key to remaining faithful during intense suffering is personalising these three spiritual realities.

  1. Prayerfully be alert to the seduction of temptation. Sin will happily seize any opportunity to lure you into transgression when you feel weak. Recognise the deadly poison of having a soft attitude towards sin. It can only master you if you allow it.
  2. When you realise that you have right desires for the Lord while you are suffering, surrender them to action. No matter how difficult life becomes, there is always some way in which you can serve the Lord. Thank God often for the working of His Holy Spirit within you, especially in giving you a willing attitude.
  3. In humility, be honest about your own weaknesses. Sin can cause a caustic attitude which focuses on other’s imperfections. Keep your eyes on Jesus, and on healthy Christian relationships which inspire your faithfulness.

I encourage you to think often of Christ. Then think of ways in which you can grow in these critical areas of life as you prepare yourself for faithfulness.

Persevere so that you can endure with purpose

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Perseverance in walking daily with Christ is one thing, but to endure with purpose in the Lord until He returns is quite another. Typically, perseverance and endurance are interchangeable, but for today I wish to highlight some subtle distinctions. While perseverance speaks of keeping in step with the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:25), endurance speaks of faithful loyalty to Christ as Lord through this earthly life into eternal life.

Persevere so that you can endure with purposeThere comes a breaking point in most of our lives, when we feel unable to cope with the pressures of life. It’s as Solomon explained; “A man’s spirit will endure sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” (Proverbs 18:14). We can often muster the strength to rise above physical problems, but when life crushes our inner spirit, we find ourselves vulnerable to defeat.

Persevering through these stressful times often accumulates sizable pain, which, if not dealt to, will gnaw away at your faith. Therefore, spiritual maintenance should be central to every believer’s thinking.

Personalise biblical priorities

Living in the comfort of a modern Christian lifestyle, can easily mislead you to assume life should be constantly smooth. By way of contrast, the apostle Paul explained His lifestyle to the Corinthian Church who had become obsessed with seeking pleasure. “To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labour, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things” (1 Corinthians 4:11-13).

The apostles were selfless, hardworking slaves of Christ for the body of Christ while living under constant harassment. Their expectations did not include comfort or ease; nor were they focused on financial reward. They did not evaluate the quality of life by their hardships. Rather, they relentlessly presented the truth of Jesus Christ to a disinterested world because their priorities had been supernaturally gripped. Their Spirit energised passion enabled them to “endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:12). Self simply did not dominate within their priorities.

Assimilate biblical character

Secondly, the long-term goal of perseverance is faithful endurance, which is why Paul instructed Timothy to “keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Timothy 6:14). In context, Paul taught Timothy to ensure he was involved in biblical discipleship relationships. As you disciple others to follow Christ, there should be deliberate replication of Christ-like character from one believer to another. Paul repeatedly emphasized this to Timothy; Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:13-14).

Paul and Timothy set a fantastic example. Theirs was a mutually submissive relationship. Paul gave his all to service, leading, and instructing Timothy in truth and Christlikeness. Timothy gave his all to receiving, to surrendered personal change, and maturing in Christ to become the leader God designed him to be under Paul’s tutorage.

Together they longed for Christ’s return. They prioritised the truth of Scripture with the power of the gospel. For them, faith and love were indivisible and essential through Christ. They acknowledged the indispensable work of the Holy Spirit. They recognised and worked to protect the purity of Scripture. In so doing, they persevered with the purpose of endurance.

Develop perseverance for Christ

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The Bible speaks of perseverance using different words and looks at different areas of life. The idea of ‘keeping on keeping on’ in Christ is however the commonality.

Develop personal perseverance for ChristPerseverance is applicable in both the good times and the difficult. Both life conditions test the legitimacy of faith. Solomon recognized these dual faces of life with their associated vulnerabilities. “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, 9 lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God (Proverbs 30:8-9).

What’s needed is simple trust. It starts with trusting in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). A focused trust provides the right motivation to persevere. “All your heart” is what the Lord looks for, nothing less, otherwise you will be inclined to trust your own inadequate ideas and abilities.

Wisdom at work

Notice how Solomon explained whose understanding you should trust in; God’s, and not your own. We know so little about the universe and even less about our own lives. Therefore, trust must qualify itself by depending on the sovereign creator God, the God who sustains life itself; while all the time rejecting self-dependency, which is a form of idolatry.

Putting self-reliance in life’s back seat is a significant step toward a surrendered attitude. Obedient behaviour will then follow more naturally. These picture a God centred walk in your life more accurately and better equips you in allowing God to make the paths of your life straight. This does not mean everything will be sweet all of the time. But it does mean you know the one who is directing the events of life and is equipping your heart and mind to rise above the difficulties.

As the Lord make[s] straight your paths,” you will notice that keeping your heart aligned with God’s will becomes increasingly pleasurable as you explore His written Word. Prioritising God’s will for your life places life’s circumstances secondary to being who God wants you to be. Thinking that you need to figure out all the ins and outs of life needs to become insignificant. Relying upon and accepting comfort from the assurance of knowing that God has already figured everything out, instils much needed peace and joy. In this way God straightens, aligns, and directs the paths of your life.

Trust builds perseverance

Trust in the Lord Jesus inspires us to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2). Looking determinately on the Lord Jesus, who is the source of our faith (Eph 2:8-9), places ourselves in the secondary arena of life. It’s here that the Lord develops the quality of personal faith. This is part of sanctification and transforms believers “from one degree of glory to another… which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

The fact is, it’s the Lord who graciously grows Christian perseverance in the believer. He equally engages you in Christ focused living which energises the required determination for perseverance. This Spirit fuelled life can only happen as you forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead (Philippians 3:13). It’s a long-term vision for the Christian life that leans hard into Christ with an expectation of ever-increasing Christlikeness.

I encourage you to develop perseverance for Christ which is without compromise and refuses to allow distractions in life to deter you.

 

Hope when you are struggling with reality

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We rightly struggle when pain is ongoing and there seems to be no way circumstances will change any time soon. Even if we know the correct biblical truth, suffering can bring out unique questions and fears. Christians are not exempt from the ugly realities which complicate life.

Struggle with reality in hopeThat said, Christian hope must materialise, otherwise it’s nothing more than wishful thinking. For most believers, there are chapters in life which dish up disappointment after disappointment. Although inescapable, their pain does not have to dictate your entire life. Your attitude in times of adversity is what makes the difference. A humble heart makes biblical hope possible.

Regardless of worldly opinion or personal circumstances; “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). The Lord is the centre of the universe; understanding life and personal purpose in such a chaotic world is simply not possible without a humble fear of your creator God.

While “the secret things belong to the Lord our God, the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29). Obviously, there are things we shall never know or understand. However, the enormous volume of truth revealed by God in creation and God’s Word is so clear and understandable that you can cling to it. Not only so, but you can pass these truths onto your children and grandchildren. Notice that the purpose for understandable truth is your obedience.

Personal pain does not diminish God’s crystal-clear revelation of Himself or your responsibility to obey Him. Suffering does not lesson or cloud His declaration of Himself, but it does cloud our emotions which we are able to overcome through sheer determination to be faithful.

For authentic faith to live hopefully throughout suffering, stubborn determination of faith needs to be exercised. “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:14). A calm, although possibly stressed faith, grits its teeth and becomes spiritually pig-headed as it trusts God with the things we don’t understand. Despite moments of inconsistent belief, or even behavioural stumbling, you doggedly resolve to “fear the Lord.” You trust the Lord of Lords with the things you cannot control or even influence.

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:4). Notice the connection; choosing to remain faithfully in Christ enables Him to produce spiritual fruit in and through you. Remember that at salvation, you “…were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14).

Central in your rebirth was the Holy Spirit’s guarantee of your transition from earth to Heaven. He must accomplish this to fulfil salvation’s purpose of being “the praise of his glory.” During the darkest periods of severest pain, trust God the Spirit to fulfil His guaranteed mission. Trust the God who knows and understands every part of your suffering that you do not understand. Accept that God feels your pain, He hears your groans as “we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26), “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

Knowing all this enables us to “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…” (Romans 5:3-4).

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