We wake up to find ourselves living through hardship that found us unexpectedly, don’t we? I am ministering to a grieving family, remembering a good man, a friend to me, whose life ended too soon by my estimation. Given our limited knowledge we simply cannot sort out all the reasons for his death. Joe was a kind of ‘walking miracle’ for the last decade, having come through some serious health challenges but this time he died days after entering the hospital.
I am no fatalist so I will not just say, “Everything happens for a reason.” But, I do say, “I believe God and He will make a way for us.”
After Jesus’ Resurrection, one of His disciples found the idea that He was alive too much to believe even when his friends insisted that they had seen Jesus! Thomas dismissed their words. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:25-29, NIV)
Jesus tells us that we can choose faith. “Stop doubting and believe.” Faith is not just something that springs up in us. Yes, it is a gift of God and our faith is a work of the Spirit, but we must feed our faith, live in ways that strengthen our faith, and pray for greater faith.
When Paul wrote to the church in Philippi from a prison, his words are marked by assurance. He demonstrates faith in a situation that he might have seen only in despair. After preaching the Gospel of Christ across the Empire for 20 years, here he was in prison. His work for the Lord met resistance. Even Christians criticized him. He was thrown out of cities more than once. Yet, he is joyful and hopeful. Why?
He looked at his life from a perspective of faith!
“Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.
And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:12-21, NIV)
Paul’s faith is not simplistic. He does not insist that everything is wonderful, nor does he dismiss the hardship with fatalistic resignation. He knew that choices, those others made and he made, had consequences. He was completely aware that evil was actively causing pain and suffering. But, Paul also understood that while God allows all things, knows all things, and is omnipotent; He not the author of evil! He never suggested that God put him in prison.
But, he had full confidence that God would use his situation to bring about Kingdom results, IF he continued to live in faith. He pointed out that he was guarded by the elite soldiers of Caesar’s guard, an audience he could not have reached for Christ outside of prison. And, He knew that if he was faithful despite his problems, others would be encouraged to remain faithful, too. Paul’s faith encompasses death itself! “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Dead or alive, Paul belonged to Jesus Christ. It’s a win-win situation! Alive, he continues to advance the Kingdom. Dead, he goes home to the Father.
Circumstances will challenge our faith! We can choose to be like Thomas, insisting on proof, demanding answers; or we can be like Paul who courageously said “I rejoice!” We do this, not because we are naïve or simple-minded, but because we choose faith and hope.
Today, your life may look nothing like you think it should. Will you kick and scream or invite Him to be at work, in you and through you, to take those things that others, that the Devil, meant for your destruction and to shape them into a means of displaying His grace and awesome power? Let’s go steady on, patiently, in faith.
Here is a word from the Word, one that feeds my faith. “If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.” (Romans 8:30-34, NLT)
Abba, increase my faith.
Turn my fears into courageous hope,
My struggles into a display of Your grace and mercy.
Whisper of Your power to save to me,
convince me that You secure my future, straight into Eternity.
Jesus, may You shine most brightly in me when the skies are dark.
Spirit of God, lead me on, through the storm, through the uncertainties,
Into the glorious Will of the Father. Amen
(take a few moments to worship with a great hymn!)
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name
On Christ the solid Rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand
When darkness seems to hide His face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In ev’ry high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil
His oath His covenant His blood
Support me in the ‘whelming flood
When all around my soul gives way
He then is all my hope and stay
When He shall come with trumpet sound
O may I then in Him be found
Dressed in His righteousness alone
Faultless to stand before the throne
Edward Mote | William Batchelder Bradbury © Words: Public Domain