The primary target in life for some has become the things of this life — its fulfillment and its security, its rewards and satisfactions. Without realizing it, we often let this happen. But this is extremely dangerous! Just what are God's primary purposes for His people? How much should we expect to get out of this life?
WHEN TRIALS, tests and problems arise in people's lives, the immediate human tendency is to think things have somehow gone wrong — that things aren't the way they ought to be. Irrationally, when we don't have the peace of mind, security, happiness, recognition or stability we may expect and desire, we automatically tend to feel that things are off kilter, that something has gone awry and that nothing is right! Perhaps doubt begins to enter our minds — we begin to doubt God's promises, His Word, or His love and concern. And always when trials really get "hot," some begin to question, "Is God really concerned about me? Does He care? Or is He far off and uninvolved with my problems?"
Time for a Straight Look
Brethren, if God means for Christians to "coast" through life satiated with blessings, then He has miserably failed His people down through the centuries of history! From the pages of the Bible, and as particularly summarized in the eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews, we find that God's people have always suffered trials and tests. "Some, through their faith, escaped death by the sword. Some were made strong again after they had been weak or sick. Others were given great power in battle; they made whole armies turn and run away. And some women, through faith, received their loved ones back again from death. But others trusted God and were beaten to death, preferring to die rather than turn from God and be free — trusting that they would rise to a better life afterwards. "Some were laughed at and their backs cut open with whips, and others were chained in dungeons. Some died by stoning and some by being sawed in two; others were promised freedom if they would renounce their faith, then were killed with the sword. Some went about in skins of sheep and goats, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in dens and caves. They were hungry and sick and ill treated — too good for this world" (Heb. 11:34-38, The Living Bible). The Apostle Paul was stoned, shipwrecked and imprisoned. Can you imagine his feelings — his possible moments of depression, loneliness, discouragement? A man that is in bonds and imprisoned has no outward security, happiness and peace of mind. God allowed Paul to have personal trials, inconveniences and difficulties just as He does you and me. Paul was not always "blessed" by having a warm home, luxurious surroundings and a loving family to share them with. He didn't measure God's love for him by the degree of physical comforts and benefits he enjoyed (Phil. 4:11). Yet Paul was an apostle of God. And God was with him — even in prison!
Our Real Objective
Throughout history, God's people have looked forward to blessings and rewards in the Kingdom of God, instead of this fleeting physical life. But why should this be? The answer is simple: in all the history of His dealings with mankind, God's objective with His own people has never been primarily the rewards, security, wealth, peace of mind, longevity, happiness of this physical life. He wants much more for us than these temporary blessings! Now I am not saying that God does not bless His people. God does want to give us blessings in this physical life. When the circumstances are right, and when security and peace and tranquility and blessings will tend toward the greater good God is working to accomplish in and through us, God will bless and bless tremendously! There have been times in history when Christians have enjoyed peace and quiet, and many of the things human flesh desires. For awhile! Most of us in God's Church today, relatively speaking, have been tremendously blessed. But let's remember that God is far more concerned with what is being produced in our lives for the World Tomorrow than He is with our personal satisfactions on a day-by-day basis. We need to learn that lesson now, and we need to learn it deeply and profoundly.
WHY Should We Endure?
In I Corinthians 15:13 the Apostle Paul declared: "But if there be no resurrection" — that is, if there be no World Tomorrow, if there is no thousand-year millennial reign of Christ in the future — and then after that an ETERNITY of living, of building; of having security, happiness, tranquility, peace and purpose — "your faith is vain." If that is not coming, then you and I are simply fools for believing so. And if there is no World Tomorrow, you might as well get all you can out of this life WITHOUT enduring afflictions and trials! If you don't have a future worth sacrificing for in this life, then you are a fool not to eat, drink and be merry. But there IS such a future for God's people! There is a future for the dead, and for those who give up all in this life. Christ did rise from the dead! Tragically, some have begun to put their confidence in the things of this world but without really realizing it. They reason: "I have my little niche here to take care of me when trouble comes and I am buffeted, this nest egg of mine will protect me," and they begin to trust in their possessions to give security. But God says the day is coming when men will flee to caves, flinging their gold and silver to the moles and bats! (See Isa. 2:19-20; Ezek. 7:19; Zeph. 1:18; Rev. 6:15.) So, whatever your situation may be, however insecure or unhappy you may feel you are at the moment — and I think there can be a lot of insecurity from time to time in your life, a lot of unhappiness (those people in Hebrews 11 weren't always happy being beaten, hanged, burned, sawn asunder, either) — regardless of your state, your condition, your trials, hang in there! Don't give up the ship. Don't become sour or discouraged. You were called to "endure hardness" (II Tim. 2:3). So shoulder your cross — whatever individual cross each of us has been given to carry — and follow Christ who set us the example.
Faith — the Key
Even though there are a lot of unknowns, a lot of disturbing and upsetting circumstances that make life difficult — even though there are many things you may wonder about — remember, the Christian life is a work of FAITH. We deal in faith. And faith should be very real to us. It is not a nebulous, wishy-washy thing. Faith is a vital power in our lives — a power that can change attitudes, alter circumstances, move mountains! Do you feel like you've "given up a lot for God's Work"? Do you sometimes dream of all the wealth, prestige, recreation or power you might have acquired if you had not been called into God's Church? Perhaps you had a business that has since grown into a multimillion-dollar corporation. I did! Perhaps you might have been a great success in this world's eyes. But wait a minute. What attitude should we have toward such things? The Apostle Paul expressed it well: "Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ" (Phil. 3:8). Is that our attitude, brethren? Or are you overly worried about your physical life, your job, your future, your family security? What did Jesus say about those who are anxiety-ridden about such things? "... O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof" (Matt. 6:30-34). And when Peter told Him, "Lo, we have left all, and followed thee," what did Jesus reply? "And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God's sake, who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting" (Luke 18:28-30).
Who Is a Fool?
Was Ezekiel a fool when he lay on his side and cooked his tiny rations over a dung fire, for week after week and month after month? Was he a fool when he scratched around on the ground on a Babylonian brick, portraying a siege against Jerusalem as a testimony for the people? Was he a fool when he dug in the wall in the middle of the day portraying the future? Was Hosea a fool when God told him to go out and marry a prostitute and raise children by her? Was he a fool to "wreck" his life? Was Isaiah a fool and a jibbering idiot as he walked up and down the streets of Israel naked, with his buttocks blazing whitely in the sun, to portray a lesson to Israel? Was Moses a fool to give it all up when he had it "made" as the adopted son of Pharaoh's daughter, an heir to the kingship of Egypt, eligible to inherit all the riches and possessions of Egypt? Was he "insane" to serve God in the wilderness, despised and reproached even by the Israelites? How about Jeremiah? Was he a fool when he spent much of his life as a persecuted criminal, being branded a traitor by the authorities of Judah and imprisoned in a cistern of mud armpit deep? Were all the rest of the prophets fools? Were Elijah and Elisha fools? Was Jesus Christ a fool? No, they weren't fools at all, although they would certainly have been called "fools" by the world today. The Apostle Paul was no fool. Yet he wrote to the Corinthians, whose eyes were too much on physical rewards and pleasures: "All of you, no doubt, have everything you could desire. You have come into your fortune already. You have come into your kingdom — and left us out. How I wish you had indeed won your kingdom; then you might share it with us! For it seems to me God has made us apostles the most abject of mankind. We are like men condemned to death in the arena, a spectacle to the whole universe — angels as well as men. We are fools for Christ's sake, while you are such sensible Christians. We are weak; you are so powerful. We are in disgrace; you are honored. To this day we go hungry and thirsty and in rags; we are roughly handled; we wander from place to place; we wear ourselves out working with our own hands. They curse us, and we bless; they persecute us and we submit to it; they slander us, and we humbly make our appeal. We are treated as the SCUM OF THE EARTH, the dregs of humanity, to this very day" (I Cor. 4:8-13, The New English Bible). What about you and me? Are we willing to be "fools" for Christ's sake? Or is our chief desire to be looked up to by men, admired, applauded, respected, esteemed? Jesus did not seek praise, honor or adulation from men. Brethren, we should be thankful that for the moment God has blessed, prospered and protected His Work, and that He has blessed His ministers with the tools to do their work — that it appears we may perhaps have a period of peace and prosperity ahead of us for awhile, and that, right now, we don't have to go hungry, thirsty, clothed in rags and tatters, to do God's Work. But no one — whether minister or laymember — should set his heart on physical rewards in this present temporary life — on status, prestige, new homes, new automobiles, money and all the trappings of wealth. Our lives should be LIVING SACRIFICES for God's Work — humbly striving to serve God with our whole heart, no matter what the circumstances, or what men think.
Is It Really Worth It?
Is eternal life and the Kingdom of God worth sacrificing for now? Is it really worth all the effort, strain, struggle, suppressing the self, denying the flesh? The Apostle Paul felt it was. He asserted: "And if children, then heirs: heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together" (Rom. 8:17). Then he added, undoubtedly with real emotion: "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (verses 18-19). What will this glory — this splendor — really be like? How great will it be to make our sufferings of the present pale into pallid insignificance? Paul was contemplating our future glorified condition when he declared, "No wonder we do not lose heart! Though our outward humanity is in decay, yet day by day we are inwardly renewed. Our troubles are slight and short-lived; and their outcome an eternal glory which outweighs them far" (II Cor. 4:16-17, NEB). In the book of Revelation we are given a glimpse of this tremendous glory. The Apostle John was shown in vision what the saints would be doing in the World Tomorrow. He said: "And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years" (Rev. 20:4-6). Blessed and holy is he that qualifies to be in that first resurrection of the dead. For this person there isn't going to be any more death penalty. There won't be any more "old age" to provide for. There just won't be any more of the needs of human life. Because that person will have POWER, and will have LIFE INHERENT within himself! So if in this life God calls on us even to be beheaded for the witness of Christ, the reward will be worth it! In Revelation chapter two, we learn more about our future reward: "And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father. And I will give him the morning star" (Rev. 2:26-28). It is as if God looked down and said: "Look, I am going to rule the world soon, and I need kings and priests and governors and rulers. Because I want to make a beautiful world — a world of peace, order and security — a world of happiness and true liberty in law — I am going to give to the kings, priests and governors that I select, power and strength and office and honor and authority. I am going to give them all of those things so that a world of peace and harmony and tranquility can be produced. "I will give them REAL POWER, Including a rod of iron to smash rebellious nations if necessary." God further says to you: "Will you be one of them? Will you be one of my rulers and kings, priests and governors, if I train and prepare you? If I put you on the training program, and qualify you, so that eventually I can give you POWER, honor and glory, will you be willing to go all the way — to sacrifice, suffer and deny yourself now, for awhile, so you can have real power and honor and glory then?" When you were baptized, you said, in effect: "Yes, Lord, I will." And then the rigorous training program began. God began to put you through trials, tests, circumstances, challenges, experiences. Why? So that later on when you are over other human beings, when you are a king and a priest, then you will be able to understand what is in people's minds in their trials. For you will have experienced it all yourself! That is why God puts us through all of this training, brethren. Believe me, there are no other human beings on this earth that go through trials exactly like TRUE Christian people go through!
We Need the OVERVIEW
David knew this to be a fact — and it was hard for him to understand it at first. He complained to God: "My feet had almost slipped, my foothold had all but given way, because the boasts of sinners roused my envy when I saw how they prosper. No pain, no suffering, is theirs; they are sleek and sound in limb; they are not plunged in trouble as other men are...." It was with keen feelings of astonished wonder that David beheld the prosperity of the wicked. Then he compared his own life to theirs, and for a moment he thought: "So it was all in vain that I kept my heart pure and washed my hands in innocence. For all day long I suffer torment and am punished every morning. Yet had I let myself talk on in this fashion, I should have betrayed the family of God. So I set myself to think this out but I found it too hard for me, until I went into God's sacred courts; there I saw clearly what their end would be" (Ps. 73:13-17, NEB). We ARE in an intensive training program. Our endurance, patience and attitudes are tried and stretched to the limit sometimes. We have been challenged and tested, and our minds have run the gamut of thought and apprehension and concern. But you know what? That's good! It may not feel good, it may not seem good, it may be upsetting and disturbing — but it's good. God is doing all this to see how we will react. To see what we are made of — to determine our mettle. He is uniquely preparing us to deal with any and all real, human problems in the World Tomorrow. What a mistake we will make if we relate the unique circumstances of our lives to this life ONLY. What a mistake we make if we say to ourselves, "I'm not happy. I want to conform to the life-style of my neighbors or business associates. I'm not getting the peace and satisfaction and tranquility I would like to have." I tell you, you will rarely get these things anyway, whether inside or outside of God's Church. You may get them a little less often in God's Church. But what fantastic awareness, knowledge and understanding we develop if we say to ourselves, "Thank God that my mind, my patience, and my thought processes and my whole being have been tried to the limit. Thank God for my trials, my tests, my experiences — even the bad ones. Thank God my character is being purged, purified, refined as gold and silver. Thank God I can see the PURPOSE for my sometimes mind-reeling, brain-numbing, harrowing trials and tests. Because these things are preparing me for a glorious, transcendent reward in the Kingdom of God for ever and ever and ever!"
In World War II, when I was in the service, we had a desperate need for officers, commanders and leaders of companies and battalions. Schools were established to prepare officers in ninety days! Some of you who have been in the service remember we used to call them "the ninety-day wonders." They would come out still wet behind the ears, figuratively speaking. They were "green," inexperienced and soft. You couldn't depend on their decisions under fire because they had no practical experience. Some were hard and intolerant and others were weak, loose, dirty and undisciplined. What a travesty on rulership! They were in most cases, pathetic, unqualified officers. If they ever became good officers they learned to be so by the practical experience they got after their schooling, right out on the front lines! One lesson I can understand from that experience is that God isn't going to have any "green," untrained, "ninety-day wonders" as kings and priests in the World Tomorrow. He is going to have leaders in the World Tomorrow who have learned by being human. Why? Because they are going to deal with human beings for a thousand years. God's rulers, kings and priests are going to be people who have been through the training and the experience of being human. Who have gone through trials that are unique. Trials that have been hard to wrestle with. Situations that involve sadness, sacrifice, unknowns, discouragements, insecurity. People who know people. People who can understand people. People who when given the power and the authority that God promises, will be perfectly qualified for the jobs they will be given in the World Tomorrow. They will be able to understand human emotions and human situations in a way that human beings who have not been called and have not had the Spirit of God could never do.
Are You Still Following Christ?
Jesus told His disciples to count the cost (Luke 14:28). And He told them, "Follow me." When you were baptized, you were told to count the cost. You determined to follow Christ, and so you were baptized. But is your heart still 100 percent dedicated to God's Work, to following Christ, despite all the trials and tests you have had to endure? We read in Philippians 2:5: "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." What kind of mind, thoughts, attitude did Christ have? Notice, from the New English Bible: "For the divine nature was his from the first; yet he did not think to snatch at equality with God, but made himself NOTHING, assuming the nature of a slave. Bearing the human likeness, revealed in human shape, he humbled himself, and in obedience accepted EVEN DEATH — death on a cross" (Phil. 2:5-8). Consider that pristine example, brethren. It is obvious Jesus did not seek the fulfillment of His physical life as an end. Nor did He seek to become buffered against the future. He knew He was on this earth for a much greater purpose. Don't misunderstand. It is not wrong to experience the blessings of this life, as God provides! It is not wrong to have happiness and peace of mind and tranquility and other blessings. And it is not wrong to have security if you use it rightly! Jesus had a measure of good things. He had good clothes, He ate good food and drank good wine. But the focus of His mind and life was not on this earth nor on the accoutrements of this physical life. Jesus knew, as we do, what it is like to be human. He knew what it was like to be weak. (He was unable, remember, to carry that physical cross of wood all the way to Golgotha.) Jesus also knew what it was like to be tired, hungry, upset and sad. To be in pain. To be hated. He went through persecution, and the pain of the cross for us.' What will Jesus' reward be? Notice: "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:9-11). Because Jesus suffered death for us, He is now crowned with glory and with honor (Heb. 2:9). He will soon return to this earth as King of kings and Lord of lords, reigning over all nations (Rev. 19:11-16). While He walked on this earth 1900 years ago, Jesus was tempted just as we are. And He is therefore able now to help you when you are wrestling with a particular trial. He will succor, comfort, encourage and strengthen you. "For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted" (Heb. 2:18). He will intercede with the Father for you, saying, "Father, I know what it is like — I've been down there, I've been through it. I wrestled with the identical problems. So Father, forgive him and have patience with him — and he will make it!"
To The Wall!
Let's face facts. Is it really absurd to be a Christian? To some people, of course, it is. But to us, it is not. We have the REAL truth. This is it. There is nothing else. Don't give it up for a handful of nothing, as Esau did. The early apostles were so convinced of the reality of God's Kingdom that they rejoiced even when they were whipped, beaten and thrown in prison. Even so, when trials, tests and troubles seem to take you right to the wall, then realize that the very fact that you are at the wall is proof that you are one of God's children being prepared for the World Tomorrow! Yes, it is proof Trials don't always come as a sudden gigantic cataclysm. They can be a problem you wrestle with in your own mind, that no other human ever knows. They might seem to carry you to the very breaking point! You may wonder how much longer you can hang on, you may be down on your knees praying, meditating, looking for an answer — a way out — and suddenly you realize why this trial has come upon you. Then you say to yourself, "Because I am a son of God, it's right that I be tried. Because the Bible says, 'Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials'" James 1:2, RSV). Remember Peter's words: "For it is a fine thing if a man endure the pain of undeserved suffering because God is in his thoughts. What credit is there in fortitude when you have done wrong and are beaten for it? But when you have behaved well and suffer for it, your fortitude is a fine thing in the sight of God. To that you were called, because Christ suffered on your behalf, and thereby left you an example" (I Pet. 2:19-21, NEB). Jesus saw trials in the right perspective. He didn't fight back carnally in His life. He didn't accuse, He didn't start movements and campaigns to "get even" with someone. He understood why He had to go through trials, so He endured them all. Can YOU follow His example — and overcome every trial with resolution and absolute trusting faith in God? Notice Hebrews 12:1-4: "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin." Go on! Endure! Consider Jesus who endured such contradiction of sinners, such adversaries, such ridicule, reproach, scorn, abuse — you have not yet endured the same degree of infamy. Brethren, don't faint when your mind is stretched to the limit. Don't faint when your back is to the wall. God tests and spanks every son whom He dearly loves (verse 6). These things are necessary so that we may become kings, priests and governors in the God Kingdom, and rule with justice, wisdom, compassion and patience. Let's lift up our hands which hang down and the feeble knees which sometimes knock together (verse 12). Let's put our minds on the truth and the reality of what life is all about, and not be turned aside from our purpose and lose our heritage. Let's rededicate our lives as LIVING SACRIFICES for God's Work, and prepare to receive the future "big payoff" which God wants to give us!