“And the Lord said, 'Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.'” Luke 22:31-32
At the end of the last year, as I was praying about the materials I would use in teaching my children this year, I felt the Lord telling me that my kids needed to get real in understanding the cost the Lord requires for the faith of those who confess Jesus as Lord. So, as I was looking among the used books at our home school conference last spring I came upon the book Jesus Freaks which was written by a mutual effort of the recording group DC Talk and the mission group Voice of the Martyrs.
The content of this book is far from your typical fluffy devotional material. It starts out with a bang, literally, as the first story shared in the book is about the execution style gunning done at Columbine High School in response the gunners question as to whether the young girl he was holding at gun point believed in God. I can see my kids are a bit uncomfortable as I have read this material, but that is where they need to be in coming to an understanding that following Jesus is more than just professing Him in church and reading the bible in our comfortable home. The fact is, we all need to be pitched off the comfortable stool on which we rest in our theological faith. God wants us to realize the sacrifice He asks of us too, just as He wanted Peter to realize that the testing of his faith in the reality of life would strengthen not only his faith in the Lord, but also the faith of those who were witness to the firm claims he would make for God even if it cost him everything he had.
“Faith must be tested, and the sense of feeling deserted is 'the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual' (Daniel 3:19) into which it may be thrown. Blessed is the person who endures such an ordeal!” Charles H. Spurgeon
Jesus is our perfect example of One who was willing to lay everything on the line for what He knew to be true and moreover the One in whom He trusted beyond all that He could see with His physical eyes. His was an attitude that was willing to do what His Father asked, unrestricted, and unconcerned of His own well-being.
“Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.” John 12:27
Whatever testing the Lord allows as part of growing our faith or using our life as a witness to the watching world as to what faith in Him is really all about, is the basis of the belief in which we are called to live out. Faith in Jesus is not about going to church, about participating in Sunday school, or even about going out and doing good deeds for our fellow man. Faith in Jesus is about living like Jesus and being willing when God calls to trust our lives in His hands even if He calls us to sacrifice our life in this world for His glory.
As I was reading Isaiah this morning I was drawn to these verses below as they speak about how the works of this world and those who oppose God will add up to nothing, but the work done by the Lord through those who have offered themselves up to Him will accomplish great things within the life of the man or woman who do not fear and who are strengthened through the furnace of difficulty. Very fitting indeed for the argument I am placing before you today.
“You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth,
And called from its farthest regions,
And said to you,
‘You are My servant,
I have chosen you and have not cast you away:
Fear not, for I am with you;
Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
Yes, I will help you,
I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’
Behold, all those who were incensed against you
Shall be ashamed and disgraced;
They shall be as nothing,
And those who strive with you shall perish.
You shall seek them and not find them—
Those who contended with you.
Those who war against you
Shall be as nothing,
As a nonexistent thing.
For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand,
Saying to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.’
I will help you,” says the Lord
And your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.
“Behold, I will make you into a new threshing sledge with sharp teeth;
You shall thresh the mountains and beat them small,
And make the hills like chaff.
You shall winnow them, the wind shall carry them away,
And the whirlwind shall scatter them;
You shall rejoice in the Lord,
And glory in the Holy One of Israel.” Isaiah 41:9-16
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written:
'For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.'
Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:31-39
Trials and tribulation should be the status quo for the life of a Christian, at least if you read scripture in its entirety you fill find that it talks more about suffering and pain than it does about blessings and worldly fulfillment (there actually is very little of that mentioned). We need to keep ourselves always at the ready for what testing may be around the next bend and be willing to drop all our comforts and relationships in the world if the Lord requires for us to leave them behind for His greater purposes in our lives.
As I was thinking about all of these verses I have laid out before you this morning, and also looking ahead to the work we have to do on our farm today because the weather here is to drip below freezing tonight, I thought about how perfect an analogy the two scenarios make. We do not know when persecution will come, but we do know it is to be expected – just like I know in Minnesota there will come a day soon that the freezing temperatures will come and all the plants in the garden along with their fruit will die. Instead of building a greenhouse to extend the life of my plants, I pick what I can and store away what I need to feed myself for the long and cold winter ahead. So too must we as Christians take all the spiritual nourishment the Lord provides for us so we too can be ready when the frost warning comes and everything that once flourished in our Christian life looks dead and unfruitful from the outside or is called to pay the ultimate sacrifice and die.
“Oh, bless our God, you peoples!
And make the voice of His praise to be heard,
Who keeps our soul among the living,
And does not allow our feet to be moved.
For You, O God, have tested us;
You have refined us as silver is refined.
You brought us into the net;
You laid affliction on our backs.
You have caused men to ride over our heads;
We went through fire and through water;
But You brought us out to rich fulfillment.” Psalm 66:8-12