But when I am afraid,
I will put my trust in you.
I praise God for what he has promised.
I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?
What can mere mortals do to me?
(Psalm 56:3,4 NLT)
One night after praying, I heard, “If I show you where I am going with this, it removes the element of faith.”
I read the great faith chapter in the book of Hebrews today, the one that starts with, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (11:1) It goes on to list many faithful people who trusted in God’s promise. It lists what they accomplished by faith. Toward the end of the chapter it says:
And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection.
Yes! I thought, Look at what was accomplished by faith in people who were born before Jesus Christ died and rose again to conquer sin and death once and for all. Imagine what kind of things God plans for His church to do now that Christ indwells us and is our hope of glory! Jesus said “Greater works shall you do…
Then I read the next part: Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
Then I remembered the verse in Revelation 12:11 I mentioned in an earlier post, that says “They over came him [the accuser, the evil one] by the blood of the Lamb, by the word of their testimony and they loved not their lives even unto death.” In Philippians 3:10 (a theme verse for my life) Paul wrote that He longed to know Christ and the fellowship of his sufferings. I would prefer to gloss over those parts, but I can’t. Knowing Christ on a deeper level involves suffering.
Persecution is real and sharing suffering is part of knowing Christ. As Graham Cooke says, “God allows in His wisdom what He could easily prevent by His power.”
A good father will allow his child to face increasingly difficult challenges that strengthen him. A good friend will allow you to share their suffering -and their joy- with them.
When my close friend was dying of cancer she sent many acquaintances away with a cheerful wave, but she gave me the privilege of staying with her through all the ugly parts of her suffering until the end. The last thing she said to me was, “My angel is singing to me.” Jesus told his disciples they were more than servants; they were friends.
But do we need to live in fear?
I was terrified of childbirth. My mother had many complications and I heard the story of how horrible my birth was over and over. The result was a fear of not only labour and delivery but, eventually, of even visiting anyone in hospital. I was steeped in a culture of fear. But after my son was born, which I admit was no picnic, I learned that I was much stronger than I thought, that fear of physical pain did not need to set limits on my happiness. I could endure because I knew the joy that came afterward. (And as I tell young women who are as fearful as I, if the pain was all that bad would so many of us choose to bear more children after the first? Even my mother, who had every complication in the book, chose to have another baby after me.)
If we back up and see the big, BIG picture we can see that eventually, for the believer, all tears end when we are face to face with our Lord -even for the ones sawn in two. There is more to come. Fear of pain, emotional or physical, need not set the limits of our joy. It was for the joy set before Him that Christ endured the cross and despised the shame heaped on Him. We can trust Him to give us the grace we need for the assignments He has for us. I do not have the grace for a hypothetical trial right now, because, like a train ticket to Novosibirsk, I don’t need it right now. Jesus’ promise to never leave or forsake me means that I can trust that when I do, He will provide it. It would be silly to fret over not having a ticket I don’t (and may never) need.
A lion’s roar is meant to be intimidating. Roaring lions are territorial. The enemy manipulates with fear. Peter warns:
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
Fear not. God is good.