When enough is enough

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There comes a time for some believers, when enough is enough. For them, the spiritual battle of life becomes overwhelming. While there are many reasons for this exasperation, I wish to consider just one today.

When enough is enoughAs I read the New Testament, I relate well with the apostle Peter. Peter seemed to learn best through painfully extreme events in life, such as the one recorded in Matthew chapter 16. Matthew tells of Peter receiving a crushing blow, and what’s more, Peter took it from Jesus. The events unfolded only days before the Lord’s betrayal and crucifixion.

Jesus had begun ’to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised’ (Matthew 16:21). Now, this would have been difficult for the disciples to understand. They had lived and served with Jesus for three years. There expectation was for Him to liberate Israel from Roman rule. This deflating news of losing Jesus to crucifixion was incomprehensible. Let alone the idea of Jesus rising to life again on the third day would have sounded absurd.

So; ‘Peter took him (Jesus) aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you”’ (Matthew 16:22). It’s difficult to determine Peter’s attitude here; was he being obstinate or was he simply naive and forgetting who he was speaking to. After all, Peter had seen and heard more than enough evidence of Jesus deity. Yet, he dared to give Jesus a telling off. Bold or stupid, I’m not sure, but Peter was at least brave. Correcting God face to face. Not a good idea Peter!

Jesus being God, and knowing everything, including Peter’s heart; ‘turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”’ (Matthew 16:23). Poor Peter, he would not have seen that coming. Peter probably thought that he was simply shooting his mouth off, but Jesus recognised that which Peter could not see within himself. Jesus spoke of Satan’s influence within Peter’s thoughts, beliefs, feelings and attitudes toward Jesus.

Jesus cut to the core issue; Peter was obstructing Jesus’ work by imposing fleshing thinking upon God’s Son and His predetermined death and resurrection. Peter was totally on the wrong page and Jesus informed him so. Peter would have thought of himself as sincere, as outspoken with concern; but Jesus corrected every spec of Peter’s human error in one sentence. How easy it is to have sincerely shallow, self-centred thinking which is vulnerable to Satan’s influence.

Now, here’s the wonder of Jesus grace which surpasses our human reasoning. Six days later “Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (Matthew 17:1-2). Included in the trio of witnesses for Jesus peeling back His humanity to reveal His divinity, was Peter. Less than a week earlier Peter was in disgrace, yet Jesus included Peter. Only these three men, plus the apostle Paul (Ac 9:3-5), have seen Jesus in His divinely natural state of glorification. What an undeserved privilege was theirs.

Next week we shall continue towards learning, as Peter did; “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might” (Ephesians 1:19). But for today, remember the grace which allows us, like Peter, to know Jesus Christ as Lord.

Abide in Jesus Word and enjoy the blessing

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To abide in Jesus and His Word is not always as easy as we make it out to be. There exists a constant spiritual undercurrent in the believer’s life trying to drag us away from an intimate walk with Christ. Sometimes the negative spiritual tide is undetectable, while other times it seems overpowering. Exhaustion is inevitable in this war. Acknowledging his own struggle, Paul praised God; “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord…” (1 Timothy 1:12).

Abide in Jesus Word and enjoy the blessingThe strength needed is not some mysterious force which carries the believer along in a trance. No, “the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1Ti 1:14). Christ strengthened Paul through “faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” One of the keys to understanding how Paul translated faith and love to strength is found back in verse 12; “appointing me to his service.” At every step of Paul’s spiritual walk, he translated belief into acts of service for Christ. Paul was acutely aware of God’s call upon his life; to “display his (Christ’s) perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1Ti 1:16).

Paul had focus on Christ

As he daily experienced Christ’s faith and love, he displayed it in patient acts of service for the unbelievers who surrounded him. Paul didn’t know which of those unbelievers were later to put faith in Christ, so he displayed the reality of Jesus to everyone. Paul simply lived Christ and waited to see who Christ would bring to salvation through His Christ centred, servant living. Jesus Christ was the reason for every breath Paul inhaled.

Being confronted as an unbeliever with the life changing gospel of Jesus through Paul’s faith and love was normal. It was unavoidable; Paul meant what he said; For to me, to live is Christ” (Php 1:21). Faith and love in Jesus was all of his life, every relationship, every activity, every value and motivation was energized by Christ for Christ.

A false focus on Religion

By contrast, Jesus, speaking straight-up to a group of would-be Jewish believers, exhorted them; “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). These Jews who had believed in Jesus (:31a), were the same people who were ready to kill Jesus in verse 37. Did you notice the difference between Paul’s belief and the belief of these Jews?

It turns out, this group were more interested in their religious heritage than in Jesus. “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone” (John 8:33). Jesus wanted them to realise their enslavement to the sin of religious dependency, and only He could set them free from that enslavement (Jn 8:36). Jesus confronted them with the liberating power of truth found in God’s Word. Unlike Paul, they wanted to kill Jesus instead of accepting His freedom.

Paul knew how to abide in the Word of Christ. Scripture was His storehouse of strength which activated upon application. Paul’s religious heritage or connections were of no use to him but abiding in Christ Jesus as Lord strengthened him. He was energized, Jesus was glorified, and unbelievers were testified to of the power of the gospel.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:9-10).

Persistence in sticking to the task

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Persistence is put to the test when starting any new project, because without it we lose interest and don’t complete the task. Keeping the original core desire and values is what makes persistence possible.

Persistence in sticking to the taskExplaining to the relentless crowd who had followed Him to Capernaum, Jesus said; “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). Jesus clearly understood why He was here, to fulfil His Father’s will. We see this most clearly throughout His prayers in the garden of Gethsemane with sleepy Peter, James, and John.

Jesus heart wrenching dialogue with His Heavenly Father touches again on the possibility of avoiding the cross of Calvary the next day. However, this time there’s a change in the tone of prayer; “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done” (Matthew 26:42 NIV). The absence of an alternative way for the Father’s justice to be satisfied sealed the inevitability of His crucifixion. Therefore, Jesus prioritised doing His Father’s will over self-preservation.

Focus is primary

Jesus focus on His primary motive for coming to earth was immovable. As He considered the cost of the cross, “being in agony He prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Jesus understood fully the extreme cost of persisting to fulfil the Fathers will. There is an enormous lesson here which every believer needs to learn well.

While we live in an age of comfort and self-fulfilment, that is not the primary focus of those who follow Jesus as Lord. Doing the will of God is where true joy and fulfilment is found. Satisfaction comes as you “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). It’s incredible! Just think of it. God Almighty has chosen you to bring Him pleasure by living according to His will. So profound and yet so simply.

Anyway, back to Gethsemane. Jesus returns to find His three disciples sleeping again, despite the previous exhortation to Peter, “could you not watch with me one hour?” (Mt 26:40). The drowsy disciples obviously failed to sense the seriousness of the occasion and Jesus words. Isn’t this so often just like us?

Focus repeats itself

“So, leaving them again, he (Jesus) went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again (Mt 26:44). Preparing for the horrific task of bearing the sin of the world (Jn 1:29; Heb 9:26), Jesus needed to have unquestionable clarity. So, He prays “the same words again.” There are times when knowing the definitive will of our Heavenly Father calls for such repeated prayers. Not that God needs to hear them again, but we need to hear ourselves affirm the deepest convictions of our faith as we live our lives for Him.

God’s not a kill-joy! He really does want His people to experience pleasure in life, but not through sin and rebellion against Him. To achieve this, Christians need to persist at sticking to the task; “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Fellow Christian, we “have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised” (Hebrews 10:36). Together, let’s encourage one-another to persist in living for the glory of the Saviour.

 

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.

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