Everybody loves the story that ends with a triumph. Remember the 2006 film, The Pursuit of Happyness (sic)? It is based around the story of Chris Gardner,(played by Will Smith) who was a struggling single father trying hard to make a life for his son. He gets beaten down over and over. The saga includes homelessness and despair. But, he won’t give up and eventually becomes a financial success. I hated the film when I first watched it! My heart ached for this man who wanted to be a good father, who wanted to succeed in life. It is relentlessly tragic until the very end.
I do believe what Jesus says – that the last will be first, the suffering will find healing. His famous promise of the Great Reversal is shaped like this: “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted. God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.” (Matthew 5:2-5, NLT) “God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” (Matthew 5:10, NLT) However, I also know that the plot of ‘His-story’ does not always follow the line I desire. To all appearances, sometimes the bad guys win; sometimes suffering goes on regardless of our brave and faithful prayers.
The Bible includes a great story – Daniel in the lion’s den. I first heard it when I was about 4 years of age from an older woman with cut-out pictures pressed onto a flannel board in a little Sunday room in Iowa. Her voice earnestly told us about Daniel’s faithfulness to God, about his prayers, and the terrible people who hated him so much that they conspired to have him tossed to the lions. She told it with such passion that my little heart pounded and I wondered if “that good man get eaten?” The Sunday School version has God showing up to shut the mouths of the lions and Daniel emerging from the danger like a conquering hero. “Yea!” I cheered. Faith grew in me and I learned to trust the Lord.
With maturity, there is another lesson that emerges from the story too subtle for a little child. God allowed Daniel to enter the lion’s den for a greater purpose. Temporarily, evil seemed to win. He spend a long night alone with lion’s snarling and snapping an arm’s length away! But, Daniel’s integrity was so notable, his faith so unquestionable, that even the pagan king shared his hope! “The king caved in and ordered Daniel brought and thrown into the lions’ den. But he said to Daniel, “Your God, to whom you are so loyal, is going to get you out of this.” (Daniel 6:16, The Message) “At daybreak the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. As he approached the den, he called out anxiously, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve so loyally, saved you from the lions?” (Daniel 6:19-20, The Message) The real hero of this story is not Daniel, is it? The Almighty God is the One who gets the glory when the deliverance comes.
Are you living in the lion’s den of life right now?
Has the Lord, your loving Father, allowed you to live with suffering, or defeat, or circumstances that defy your best efforts to turn them around?
Pray for rescue! But, also remember that it may be His will to leave you there for a long night, for His own purposes. “Come on, Jerry, that is not fair.” Yes, I understand that and I weep with you. I am living close to sorrow, in the presence of pain, too. I would like Him to show up and lift Bev and me from the lion’s den, but while I wait, I will trust and pray that my life will reveal genuine faith, that I remain steady in trust, hopeful and committed to serving Him.
Sometimes the greater victory is not the one we seek. Peter wrote to the first generation of Christians who were being intensely persecuted. His words would not go over well in our American churches where we like the “Sunday School” version of life where good guys always win and every difficulty finds immediate relief when God’s people pray. He teaches something very different – “if you find life difficult because you’re doing what God said, take it in stride. Trust him. He knows what He’s doing, and He’ll keep on doing it.” The Message, 1 Peter 4:19
Here is a word from the Word. Let it inspire you to hold onto God even through the night in the lion’s den.
“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.” (James 1:2-4, The Message)
“Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life.” (James 1:12, The Message)
Victory In Jesus
I heard an old, old story;
How a Savior came from glory-
How He gave His life on Calvary,
To save a wretch like me!
I heard about His groaning,
Of His precious blood’s atoning,
Then I repented of my sins
And won the victory.
I heard about His healing,
Of His cleansing pow’r revealing;
How He made the lame to walk again
And caused the blind to see!
And then I cried, “Dear Jesus,
Come and heal my broken spirit.”
And somehow Jesus came and brought
To me the victory.
I heard about a mansion
He has built for me in glory,
And I heard about the streets of gold
Beyond the crystal sea!
About the angels singing,
And the old redemption story,
And some sweet day I’ll sing up there
The song of victory.
O victory in Jesus,
My Savior forever!
He sought me and bought me
With His redeeming blood.
He loved me ‘ere I knew Him,
And all my love is due Him.
He plunged me to victory,
Beneath the cleansing flood.
Eugene M. Bartlett
Jerry D. Scott, Pastor
Faith Discovery Church
Washington, NJ 07882