Are you struggling with personal trials and difficulties? Are you sometimes discouraged by the battles you must continually wage with yourself and with the world around you?
Welcome to the human race. Life often seems filled with fears, worries, tests and troubles. And mark this well: There may come a time in your life when all you have built will be reduced to a heap of rubble at your feet (I Peter 4:12).There will be no crowds to cheer you forward. And you will freeze in your tracks to numbly survey the wreckage of your fondest hopes and dreams
At such a time you may conclude that you are finished. You may feel like giving up altogether. Consider, for a moment, the life story of this man: Age 23: Ran for U.S. legislature and was defeated. Age 24: Failed in business. Age 26: Sweetheart died. Age 27: Suffered severe mental depression and discouragement. Age 29: Defeated for Speaker of Illinois legislature. Age 31: Again defeated for Speaker of Illinois legislature. Age 34: Lost party nomination for congressional election. Age 37: Elected to Congress. Age 46: Lost nomination for Senate election. Age 49: Defeated for Senate.
Was that much of a success story? If this man had died at the age of 49, how would history have viewed him? As a failure, probably, if history took note of him at all. However, part of the story was omitted. Here it is:
Age 51: Elected President of the United States. This man’s name was Abraham Lincoln! Many Americans, understandably, regard him as the greatest President of the United States ever had. He resolutely led his nation through one of its most terrible times of turmoil, the Civil War. His examples of patience, intelligence, tact and strength are still regarded with awe and admiration.
Truly, President Lincoln had learned well, in the school of hard knocks, the value of perseverance.
Perseverance is possibly the single most important ingredient in this mix we call character. The people of God have not lived on easy street. The patriarch Joseph’s story exemplifies the rigors the biblical heroes endured.
When Joseph was 17, God caused him to dream that he would someday rule his brothers (Gen. 37:5-8). When Joseph rushed to his brothers with this piece of news, they didn’t receive it too favorably. Eventually Joseph’s own brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt!
In servitude to one of Pharaoh’s officers, Joseph rose to a position of trust (Gen. 39:1-4). He tried not to bring reproach on himself, but a scheming woman unjustly accused him and he was thrown into jail.
Undaunted, Joseph again rose to a position of trust, this time in prison (vs. 21-23). He tried to convince Pharaoh’s chief butler to ask Pharaoh to release him, but the butler didn’t. Humanly forgotten, Joseph continued to languish in his cell (Gen. 40). But everything turned out right in the end. It always does for those who persist in obeying the laws of God (Rom. 8:28).The one who entered Egypt as a slave rose to become supreme ruler in the land, second only to Pharaoh himself (Gen. 41:39-43).
Joseph eventually understood the reason for his trials (Gen. 45:7).But when Joseph was living chapter 37 of Genesis, and chapter 45 hadn’t been written yet! He couldn’t flip forward a few pages, as we have just done, to see the end of the story. He had to resolutely persevere, full of faith, through some hammer blows of life. We can do the same.
The book of Job illustrates how another servant of God was humbled in three main areas.
First, Job was blocked and frustrated in his work (Job 1:14-17).Loss of opportunity, prestige or pay can quickly knock a person to the ground.
Second, Job’s family was destroyed (vs. 18-19). A serious domestic problem or the death of a family member – physical or spiritual -- can speedily bring a person to his knees.
Third, Job himself was allowed to experience excruciating physical suffering (Job 2:7). A prolonged illness or handicap has broken many of human being’s pride.
Most of our problems are probably in one or more of these three areas. Job persevered through all his trials, and God was able to work with him to develop in him godly character. With God’s help we can persevere and grow, too.
The key is having the vision, the perspective to look at a situation the way God looks at it. “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keeps the law, happy is he” (Prov. 29:18).
God even now sees us as His sons (I John 3:2). If we persevere and grow through all the trials we face in this life, we are destined to be literally born as spirit beings into God’s Family. If we keep our eyes on that goal, if we look at our problems from that perspective, overcoming will not seem so difficult.
As long as we are human, we will have troubles (Job 5:7). But a wise person doesn’t go looking for them. On the contrary, he avoids as many troubles as he can (Prov. 22:3). Only a fool goes around sticking his nose into troubles, he usually gets his nose bloodied.
A wise person simply learns to cope with the problems that come his way. A person grows through enduring (Acts 14:22). Without struggle and chastisement, even from God Himself, there can be no growth toward perfection (Heb. 12:6-8).
Every human story can have a happy ending. Everyone can succeed. That is the exciting news we vigorously proclaim through these articles and our sermons. Our job as Christians is to help, in whatever way we can, to send that message to the world. In so doing we qualify to personally help put his world back on track in the Millennium (Rev. 2:26-27). This is our goal (Matt. 6:33).
Without a goal we are merely drifting along the stream of life like a ship without a rudder, blown about by all the storms of life. With a goal, we are transformed; we can cheerfully endure whatever comes.
It is the enduring that brings out the best in us. Through constant effort we can avoid being swayed by Satan into following the wrong direction. One day soon, in God’s Kingdom, the value of persistence will be taught in every home and school. And we can be doing that teaching.
Right now, we all have problems. We aren’t living in the Millennium yet. Most of us are pitifully weak. But isn’t that what Paul wrote?
“For you see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty; not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise: and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen. That no flesh should glory in his presence” (I Cor. 1:26-29).
Physically, each of us is merely a few buckets of water plus several pounds of assorted chemicals. Having this perspective should help us look to God to see us through any crisis. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:6). With God’s Spirit we can endure whatever needs enduring. Without it we are just dust.
We can trust life to produce all the problems we need to keep us humble. But we need not suffer alone.
In the days of Herod the Great, in one small corner of the Roman Empire, a woman who could find no place in an inn gave birth to her son in a stable. The child grew to be a teacher. His teachings caused no changes in the political system of his day. The religious leaders attributed the miracles he performed to Beelzebub, the prince of the devils. Only a few openly followed him.
To the Roman officers, he was a rebel promising to set up a new kingdom. To the Jews, he was blasphemer claiming to the equal with God.
In the hour of his greatest trial, when he had the greatest need for friendship, his friends all forsook him. Betrayed by a trusted companion, scourged until he could scarcely be recognized as a man, he was, illegally, convicted and sentenced to death. Misunderstood, maligned and persecuted, he was crucified between to common criminals. His name was Jesus Christ. And His was the greatest success story this world has ever seen.
What His followers thought was a shameful debacle turned into a stunning triumph. By surrendering His life, as He planned to all along (I Peter 1:19-20), He paid the penalty for our past sins and made it possible for us to qualify for God’s Kingdom. Jesus Christ is now at the right hand of God the Father, ready to make intercession for us. He understands all our sufferings and has the compassion of one who has also faced trouble (Heb. 4:15).
Many get discouraged by trials and quit when a little more effort would bring them success. As Solomon observed, success is almost always preceded by failure: “A just man falls seven times. And riseth up again” (Prov. 24:16).
Even the youngest children should understand that. We have all seen toddlers failing at their first attempts to walk. Suppose such a toddler quit. Can you imagine him 50 years later? He would be dressed in a business suit and on his way to his office, but he would still be crawling! He’d have to say: “I’m just not a walker! I tried it, but gave up, too difficult for me.”
Ridiculous? Yes. But it makes the point. One of the saddest parts of our lives as Christians is to see fellow Christians quit, even at the very time when all signs about us show that Satan’s rule on earth will end soon.
The story of man is a story of war. Warfare has a fatal fascination for many who’ve not seen it. But war is not fascinating to those who personally must suffer through it. History is the bloody record of man’s ferocity toward his fellowman. Let’s face it: Many of man’s scientific and technological advancements have been produced specifically for defense or aggression against other people.
In one afternoon, in Belgium, 300,000 men in the prime of their lives killed one another with their lethal gadgets. And now we are well advanced into the nuclear age. Progress in this grizzly business of death has made it feasible for whole populations to be quickly and cheaply eliminated. Global destruction is possible.
What, then, are the prospects for peace? We can’t look to mankind’s greatest minds for solutions. On the contrary, it is often the most brilliant minds who exhort their peoples into combat. The most dangerous brand of fool is a brilliant fool (Rom. 1:21). How, then, may we have peace? Where in the world is there a place without trouble?
Spin a globe. Problems are everywhere. Don’t think you are the only one with traumas. The whole world is in anguish. And don’t deceive yourself. These problems will not simply pass away or solve themselves. They will only be solved when somebody does something about them.
Jesus Christ is going to do something about the problems. He is coming soon. With great power. Precious child of God, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again!