Over the last few months weve started a new series of articles called the ''fruit of longsuffering'' - the choice to hang on tighter, trust the Lord further and never give up. I am absolutely amazed because I have received more heartfelt responses from this series than any other I have written. It seems learning this particular Biblical ''fruit'' is where many of us are living at the present. So, lets continue our exploration of this very important subject.
Trials, problems and tragedies come to all Christians. They come because of personal sin, they come because of the sins of others, they come because of the schemes of the devil, and they come because God has allowed them for our growth. In my book Faith in the Night Seasons we covered some other basic reasons why God allows trials.
- To strengthen our faith and trust in Him (1 Peter 5:10)
- To produce all the fruit of the Spirit (Hebrews 10:36; James 1:3; Psalm 30:5)
- To silence the enemy (Job 1:9-12; 2:3-7;)
- To glorify Himself through us (John 9:1-3; 11:1-4)
- To conform us more into His image (Philippians 3:10)
- To enlarge our ministry (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)
- So that we might see, and then deal with, our sin (1 Peter 2:20; Hebrews 12;5-9)
- And, finally, to search our hearts to see if we really love Him (as in Genesis 22)
Judges 2:20-23 is a perfect example of this last point. In this chapter God tests the Israelites by not driving out their enemy and, instead, letting them win. How many of us have experienced a similar time when God doesnt seem to answer our prayers, but actually allows the opposite to occur! This Scripture tells us that He does so simply to know our hearts and to see if we love Him.
A precious, single Christian woman I know just recently experienced this very thing. She moved away from her home, her job and her family because of a very painful experience. She was convinced that God had told her to move and that He would bless her in the new situation.
But, unfortunately, once she settled in her new city, got a great job and a wonderful apartment, all hell broke loose. Her friends betrayed her, her job evaporated, a relationship she prayed would work out disintegrated; and now shes wondering if she ever heard God at all.
The Lord is obviously very concerned with our comfort, our security and our future, but I believe He is more concerned with how those circumstances are going to affect us internally. In other words, will they bring about a changed heart and a transformed life? In the long run, will they draw us closer to Him? And will they cause us to love others more?
As someone said to me recently, ''God is more interested with the sanctification process in us than He is with the success or the attainment that we are after.''
Remember, Gods ways are opposite to the worlds ways. And they are opposite to our own ways. Now thats not exactly what we want to hear, but I do believe its the truth. The Lord is not as interested in the ''outward'' man as He is with our heart, our true motives and our real intents. This is what He wants exposed. Not for His benefit, for He already knows the truth, but for our benefit. He wants us to see our own self-centered thoughts.
The woman above is slowly beginning to realize all of this as she looks back over the last year of her life and sees Gods handiwork. Hindsight is wonderful, isnt it?
One of our natural responses in a trial, however, is to blame the enemy for most everything that happens. In reality, however, we must acknowledge that not every difficult situation comes from him. Please dont misunderstand me, the enemy is always involved when difficult things occur in our lives and he rejoices when we get into trouble or when we react poorly to what the Lord has allowed. Our negative reactions give him more ammunition and more inroads into our soul. But the enemy, himself, is not always the one responsible for sending the trial. God often does that! This is a hard truth to hear; but listen to what Isaiah 53:10 has to say, in speaking about Jesus, ''Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him...[and] put Him to grief.''
I believe there are times that God must do the same with us. What the Lord means to use ''for good'' in our lives, the enemy, on the other hand is right there trying to use to destroy.
How We Respond Is Key
In all of this, the most important thing is ''how we respond.'' Whether we withdraw, advance or simply stay where we are, which is really impossible, depends upon our moment-by-moment responses. Because this is what will determine our whole spiritual future. If we understand what God wants from us and what we are to do, then we can remain peaceful in the eye of the storm and come through the circumstances quickly. If, however, we dont understand what God is after and we react poorly to His set-up, then well stumble, become confused and only prolong our agony.
If we respond in doubt or the feeling of just giving up or the determination to ''just do it ourselves,'' we will only end up deepening our trouble, quenching our communication with God and walking in the flesh. When Gods promise seems to fail and the vision tarry, its not time to grow weary and give up, even though thats exactly what we ''feel'' like doing. Its a time to do just the opposite! Its a time to hang on tighter, trust the Lord further and never give up!
We must continually remind ourselves in our crises that its not a time to grow weary and give up, but a time to trust the Lord further and never give up. A time to say, ''though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.'' (Job 13:15)
Jesus Is Our Example
We are told throughout the New Testament to keep our eyes upon Jesus because He is our example. He showed us how to think, how to act, how to live and how to respond. The apostle Peter validates this in 1 Peter 2:21: ''For even hereunto were ye called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps.'' Also in 1 Peter 4:1: ''Forasmuch, then, as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind [or the same attitude].''
Jesus is not only our Savior, our Lord and our King, He is also our role model, our standard and our example. Jesus defined the Christian life for us. He walked it ''perfectly.'' He showed us how its supposed to be done, how its supposed to be walked and how its supposed to be lived. Now, obviously, well never be able to emulate Jesus perfectly, but Scripture tells us that we are to set Him as our example. We are to learn by His model. In other words, if God used the ''way of suffering'' in Jesus life to accomplish His will, then its reasonable to expect that He will use our trials and our suffering to accomplish His will in our lives also.
2 Peter 3:15 teaches that it was only through ''the longsuffering of Jesus'' that we received salvation! Take a minute to comprehend what this Scripture is saying. If the Lord arranged for us to be saved only through His longsuffering - through His patiently enduring our failures, our blunders and our errors, are we not to do the same for our families, our friends and our loved ones? Perhaps our longsuffering towards one other person might eventually bring them salvation - just as Jesus did for us.
Love That Endures
Matthew 24:12 is a Scripture that I have quoted many, many times over the past 25 years in regards to the Way of Agape: ''And because iniquity shall abound, the Love [Agape] of many shall grow cold.'' But, take a look at the very next verse in regards to longsuffering or never giving up. It says, ''he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.'' The word ''endure'' here is hupomeno, which means to stay under or to stay behind. Endurance is the agency by which we stay, abide, continue in, dwell under or behind. Just as Jesus endured the Cross, we, too, must stay under, courageously suffering and enduring all the difficult situations that the Lord allows in our lives. Why? So that others may come to know Christ through our patient hope and loving endurance.
Hupomeno can also mean ''perseverance.'' Perseverance is far more than simple endurance. And, its far more than just hanging on. Perseverance means continuing to fight, continuing to act and continuing to initiate. I am reminded of Jashobeam, the chief captain of Davids army, who slew 300 foes at one time with only his spear. (1 Chronicles 11)
Perseverance is endurance combined with absolute assurance and certainty that what we are looking for will happen. Again, its never giving up!
God uses our trials and our suffering to accomplish His highest will and purposes in our lives. 1 Peter 5:10 assures us that ''after you have suffered awhile,'' the God of all grace will ''perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.''
* * *