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In need of encouragement

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Question:  Satan cannot attack us physically or any other way without the Lord's approval, right? It seems I am going down a path where nobody knows how to help me yet. It's a lonely trail and I am getting worried. I could use some words of encouragement.

Response:  I am sorry to hear that things are still so problematic for you. From personal observation and experience, I can sympathize a bit (as most Christians can). For it is not uncommon in the Christian life that even (or perhaps especially) following times of blessing and wonderful deliverances we can often find ourselves in situations where, to the human eye, everything that has been accomplished is in danger of being drastically and devastatingly undone. In times like this is it very, very easy to take one's eye off of the only source of strength, our Rock, Jesus Christ. It is very, very easy to focus instead on the problem(s) and potential (or desired) earthly solutions. We know in our hearts that this is folly, but it takes a conscious effort of faith to keep the right point of view. Indeed, one main reason why we are allowed to feel the flames, and allowed to experience the water creeping up past our necks is to test the solidity and the validity of our faith. The Lord prunes the productive branches - He gives the unproductive ones short shrift. In other words, there is not much point in tempering and refining those who are not going to respond and have proved this by failing to respond in the past. It is those who are responsive who receive the most serious trials and tests - in order to make them more responsive still (Jn.15:2).

One of the reasons for severe testing of mature believers is to burn away the under-brush of thorns and weeds that has a tendency to accumulate in our hearts when things are going along just fine (cf. Lk.8:14). When nothing is wrong, we tend to forget how much we need Him, how much in fact we are totally and completely dependent upon Him. That is to say, when we tend to get "fat", and we tend to become spiritually complacent as well (Deut.8:10-20; 31:20; 32:15; Ps.123:4; Prov.1:22; Is.32:9-14; Ezek.28:5; Hos.13:6; Amos 6:1-7; Zeph.1:12-13). For it is not in prosperity, but rather in times of extreme pressure that we find out just how important to us He is, and it is just such times that demonstrate the quality of our faith, whether it is truly gold being refined for eternal glory, or only so much dross (1Pet.1:3-9). In the passage cited, Peter tells us that we should "rejoice" in such circumstances (and that is a common scriptural point of view: Jas.1:2-4; cf. 2Cor.1:3-7). I want that to be my point of view too. I know that I have not been made complete in this, and I certainly do not crave testing of this extreme sort, but I do want to get to the point in my Christian life where I find joy in Jesus everyday no matter how I feel, no matter what my circumstances, even when everything seems to be collapsing down around my ears.

When David returned to Ziklag and found everything gone and his men on the point of stoning him, he didn't need long to recover his faith-perspective. Without music, or church, or a sign or anything else except the truth of the Word that he had carefully compiled in his heart, he "encouraged himself in the Lord", and courageously (and joyously) sought out God's will and God's solution (1Sam.30:6). When everything was going swimmingly for Abraham, God tested him in a way that would have broken anyone's heart by demanding that he sacrifice his only son, the son for whom he had longed for so many decades and now finally had. Scripture does not record that Abraham even objected to God - he apparently held his peace. And the very next morning "he got up early" and set out to do the Lord's will (Gen.22:3). We aren't given the details of his mental process, but we can see from his near immediate and unhesitating responsiveness that whatever pain of heart he felt (and it had to be enormous), he nevertheless joyously put his trust in the Lord above everything else he saw or knew or thought he knew - the Word of the Lord was enough for him even if it ran counter to everything his eyes and his emotions were telling him (Job 1:21; 2:10). People who deal with this passage generally don't give much thought to how Abraham must have felt, because as far as we can tell from scripture he kept it inside - but in a good way. In everything we are told that Abraham did or said in this test, we find only a complete abdication on his part of his will in favor of whatever God's will might be, and that without any hesitation. It is only in such acceptance of God's will that the exceptional joy in suffering talked about in the Bible is possible. This really is "thy will be done" in the fullest sense, and it is interesting to see God's evaluation of Abraham's conduct:

"Now I know that your fear God."                 Gen.22:12

This is also an underappreciated point. Abraham feared God more than he feared anything or anyone or any possible event that might hypothetically or actually befall him on this earth. Inevitably, when we are upset, or demoralized, or down, or in crisis, it is because of some circumstance that is pressing in on us, and, inevitably, if we closely examine ourselves and our hearts, the problem with our spiritual state (if there is one) is that we are afraid of some consequence. We are afraid that we will be destroyed, or harmed, or bankrupted, or suffer degradation of health, or death, or disgrace, or loss - or that we will be unable to endure whatever emotional or physical pain is resulting from some combination of these things. In short, we are threatened as to our security. But in fact, there is absolutely no security in life except the security we have in the Lord and from the Lord. The Amalekites could never have taken Ziklag without the Lord's approval - for nothing happens without His knowledge (even the hairs of our head are numbered: Matt.10:30; Lk.12:7), and without the Lord, David could never have gotten his family and the other captives back (their recovery is divinely provident in a number of ways; e.g., coming across the sick Egyptian abandoned by his master who would lead them to the enemy camp was like finding a needle in a hay stack - without looking for it!).

Without the Lord's protection, Isaac might have died of some disease, or been taken captive by raiders, or suffered some other mishap. As it was, Isaac was a miraculous gift from the Lord. Abraham understood this completely, and was willing, like Job, to content himself in the Lord if the Lord wished to take him as well. For, after all, without the Lord's protection, nothing is secure. But in the Lord, everything that is really important is forever secure, and in that we may take exceptional joy. This world is dust along with us and everything in it. We are only here for a very short time, and we are only here to serve Him. When we start becoming concerned for our security and the security of our situation (as we all have a grand tendency to do - that under-brush of thorns and weeds growing up to choke out the light), we begin to experience spiritual problems.  But if we remember that He is our security, our reward, and our eternal future, then everything falls into place.  In fact, sometimes, as in the cases of Job and Abraham, such severe testing is not a case of pruning, but a case of harvesting, as the Lord makes clear to Satan and all who observe us that there are indeed some in this world who do value Him more than life itself, and certainly more than any "thing" in this fundamentally insecure world, no matter how dear or blessed that thing might be. When we can come to be joyous in the worst of times, it is a demonstration to everyone, ourselves included, that Jesus really is more to us than the world (cf. Jas.4:4; 1Jn.2:15-17).

Yes, the hairs of our head are numbered, and we never take a breath that God did not ordain before the world was made. More than that, He is with us, right here, right now, and dwells in us, if we follow Him (Jn.14:23). He hears our every cry before it comes to our lips, before it even enters our minds to cry out (Is.65:24; Matt.6:8; 6:32; cf. Rom.8:26-27). We know this. But knowing and applying are often two very different things. This too I know, that God is preparing us for something, and it is in our interest to get everything out of the preparation He provides that we possibly can. We cannot add an inch to our height or a day to our lives, so feeble is our "control" in this world in which we live (Matt.6:27; Lk.12:25). Those who are at ease (good health, no emotional pressure, financially secure) are only so as long as God wills it and as long as God allows it. The unbelieving population of the earth felt very secure until Noah entered the ark and the rain began, and the same will be true in the dark times ahead. But whether the times we live through be easy or extremely hard, all believers who have set themselves to follow Jesus will know tribulation (Acts 14:22), and so have to be willing to let go of control of their own security (that is an illusion in any case), to let go of all fear of the world and what the world can do to them and what can happen to them in the world, and come to fear only Him who made the world. For if we truly fear the Lord, we have absolutely nothing to fear from the world (Is.33:6; cf. Ps.19:9; Prov.1:7; Is.11:2; Eph.5:21). And in that realization there is relief, there is liberty, there is joy.

Be strong, strong in the Lord. Strengthen yourself joyously in Him with the things you know to be true even in the face of the world which screams that they are not. If you will attempt to persevere in this, I will try to do the same, and together with our God-fearing brothers and sisters in Christ we may find the mutual encouragement that comes from recognizing that we are not alone in this fight (1Pet.4:12-13).

Stay sober and stay awake [on guard]. Our adversary the devil roams about like a roaring lion, looking for someone he can devour. Resist him, strong in your faith, remembering that your fellow believers in this world are undergoing the exact same sort of suffering [as you are].
1st Peter 5:8-9

In Him who will never leave us or forsake us, whatever we may face, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the One who is our joy forever.

Your friend in Christ,

Bob L.

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