Repentance is the tear of love, dropping from the eye of faith, when it fixes on Christ Crucified.
Repentance begins in the humiliation of the heart, and ends in the reformation of the heart and of the life. Sincere repentance is never too late, but late repentance is seldom sincere. The thief on the cross repented, and was pardoned in the last hour of his life. We have one such instance in scripture–that none might despair; and only one–that none might presume.
Still, however, the probability that apparent repentance which comes at a dying hour will be genuine, is very small. The following fact will furnish an affecting illustration of this sentiment, and a solemn warning against the too common delusion of deferring the work of repentance to a dying bed:
The faithful and laborious clergyman of a very large and populous parish had been accustomed, for a long series of years, to preserve notes of his visits to the afflicted, with remarks on the outcome of their affliction, whether life or death, and of the subsequent conduct of those who recovered.
He stated, that, during forty years, he had visited more than two thousand people apparently drawing near to death, and who revealed such signs of penitence as would have led him to indulge a good hope of their eternal safety if they had died at that moment.
When they were restored to life and health–he eagerly watched if they should bring forth fruits fit for repentance. But alas! of the some two thousand death-bed professions, only two people manifested an abiding and saving change! The rest, when the terrors of eternity ceased to be in immediate prospect, forgot their pious impressions and their solemn vows, and returned with new avidity to their former worldly-mindedness and sinful pursuits.
-Gorham Abbott, 1833
“Forgodly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death!” 2 Corinthians 7:10
What does this have to do with following Jesus? There is a parallel to this principle in the life of the local church.
If you are not willing to lose your job, you are not as good of an employee as you could be. If you are a leader in your organization and you are unwilling make decisions that could place your position in jeopardy, you will make decisions that are detrimental to your institution. I am not talking about being reckless or being manipulative by repeatedly threatening to leave. Those are major shortcomings as well. However, one of the biggest flaws of many workers is that they are more concerned about self-preservation and personal peace when it comes to their employment than what is best for the organization.
When the leaders of an organization begin to protect their positions, the organization has started down the path of a slow death. Self-preservation and personal comfort is where we all tend to begin our careers. Entry level employees usually only have one goal; make the work as easy as possible, get a paycheck, and get out of there, but as we grow, we should move beyond that to become a more responsible member of the organization. We should take ownership to contribute and take responsibility when the institution falters. However, there seems to be only a limited number of people that are able to work in a way that is not driven by self-interest.
Employees who are truly able to transform an organization have come to see the bigger picture, and they understand that the goals of the organization are more important than personal survival, ego, and securing the lightest workload possible. They recognize that they are part of something bigger than themselves. They become willing to take risks that hazard their own employment and personal peace to accomplish their goals. This does not mean that employee satisfaction is not part of the equation, but this is not a contradiction if understood correctly. A place of employment that abuses its employees is setting itself up for failure as well, and a worker that makes great decisions in that area might have to put themselves at risk to protect their colleagues.
Workers like this are often hard to understand because their actions are unconventional. They operate from a moral system rather than a political one. They will often push for change that most people in the organization do not think is necessary because things are working fine, and they do not want the risk or the extra work. The transformational employee, on the other hand, looks beyond those challenges to the greater good. In doing this, they are willing to put in the needed labor, take the heat, and pay the political costs. The bottom line is this, the people who are willing to lose their jobs for the sake of the success of the organization are usually the most valuable members of that institution.
What does this have to do with following Jesus? Besides the fact, as Christians, we should strive to be the best employees we can be, there is a parallel to this principle in the life of the local church. Many local churches, big and small, often exist for self-preservation rather than the propagation of the gospel. They make decisions based on self-interest and personal gratification rather than the glory of God.
It seems that the chief end of many local churches is to exist. Maintaining the building, meeting budgets, and preserving attendance by trying to make sure the congregants have a pleasant experience so they will not leave are what drives the decisions of many church leaders. There is nothing wrong with working for these goals. They are fine as long as those aims do not become more important than the gospel and obeying the word of God.
Buildings, budgets, and pleasant experiences can all play a part in the life of a healthy church, but they are not our main objective as Christians. We are involved in the greatest calling ever; knowing God and seeking his glory. A church that will do this the best is the one that is willing to lose all of these trappings if necessary. We need to look past convention to what is truly essential for success in the kingdom of God.
Rarely is a mega-church, or even a quaint little chapel, able show the power of the gospel to the world like a church banded together by the word of God while being willing to face cultural criticism and the persecution from the world. This was clearly seen in the early church. There is no local congregation that will have a lasting impact for the Kingdom of God that is unwilling to be uncomfortable. Kingdom work is neither glamorous or comfortable. It involves being engaged in the difficult aspects of this world; ministering to the orphan, the widow, and the addict for example.
We are often too quick to bow to the pressure of culture in order to protect ourselves, and we are regularly unwilling to do any difficult work. When you put that in contrast with the fact that the Lord Jesus called us to be willing to die for the faith if necessary, we begin to see just how much self-interest and self-preservation has formed our gatherings.
It is easy to shake our heads at the leaders in churches like these, but if we are congregants who desire a nice experience where nothing is expected of us, we are as much a part of the problem as anyone. We are servants of Christ just as much as the leaders are. Ask yourself, when a fellow believer in your church asks you to do something like helping a shut-in, do you grumble and complain internally? Often, the thought of having to attending a prayer meeting is enough to make a church member recoil in disgust. Please know, if that is us, self-interest has become our god. We are contributing to the slow death of not only our own souls but also of our local church.
May your buildings be beautiful, may your budget be overflowing, and may your gatherings be pleasant, and may you be willing to sacrifice it all for the glory of God if necessary.
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. – Jesus (Luke 9:23)
“I am not fit to be my own chooser; God shall choose for me! I desire nothing but what God sees fit to give me.” – Thomas Jacombe
This quote is a soul-searching statement about contentment. So much of our turmoil of soul stems from believing our situation should be something other than what it is. Our dismay is often the result of thinking that we are facing something that is not beneficial to our souls. However, is God not sovereign, and is he not good?
We are not fit to be our own chooser. If we were to choose our lot in life, in our sinfulness, we would destroy ourselves. We would always choose pleasure and success, and, in the process, ruin our souls. Like the picture of Dorian Grey, our souls would decay in the sugary sweetness of earthly delights, while the world would look on in wonder at our picture perfect life.
At first, our choice for pleasure would be accompanied by our claim that we desire to magnify the goodness of the Lord, but as our souls began to deteriorate, we would lose the ability to choose otherwise. More and more earthly pleasure and success would be required to keep us satisfied.
Praise God, he chooses for us. Whatever hardships we face, the hand of our God ordains it. Whether we encounter sickness, poverty, famine, pestilence, or the weapons of our enemies, he is good in all he does. He is the keeper of our souls, and through it all he is holding the rot at bay.
We are called to fight against all of these hardships when they hit and not wallow in them, but our success or failure in these battles is also his decision, and all his ways are perfect.
If we understand that his choosing is better than ours, as the troubles of our day present themselves, we will not be dismayed or moved to despair. Instead, we will know that what we are facing this day is the best thing we could face for our spiritual well-being. Any other situation would be detrimental to our spiritual health, and God will not allow that to happen.
We will trust the hand of God in all things. We will fight with a strength not our own, and leave the results to Him. For we will desire nothing but what God sees suitable to give us.
I hope you are finally sick of it. If you find yourself in a period of spiritual stagnation, I pray you have had enough of its emptiness. It can happen subtlety over time. One day you are walking close to the Lord and a period of time later you find yourself devastated by his absence. What makes it worse is the realization that he did not leave us; we left him.
Our hearts started looking to the things of the world for satisfaction. Our gracious Father had blessed us and sent us gifts of his kindness. He gave us health, employment, shelter, food, and transportation, and all of these were good. In his presence, they satisfied the needs he intended them to fulfill, but our hearts started to turn.
It was subtle but significant. We started to love the gifts more than the Giver. We saw the pleasure they provided and wanted more. As we desired to be filled, we turned to the treasures of the world, and before long, when the choice presented itself, we neglected our God and ran after riches. Our hearts were bound.
The locusts of our spiritual life began to have their fill. Our time of prayer turned into time spent binge-watching television shows while lounging on a soft couch. Time spent in scripture was eaten up by social media feeds on shiny new devices. Our minds, which used to have a spiritual focus, began to be consumed with how to find greater and greater personal peace and affluence. Our minds were trained on how to acquire nicer houses, more luxurious cars, and more financial security in case of a downturn. We began to combat time with physical fitness. We used to trust in the name of the Lord our God, but now we trust in retirement plans and the best medical insurance money can afford. All these locusts dined on the fiber of our spiritual lives. Its fruit was devoured, the grain destroyed, and the oil diminished.
Yet, praise God, while we sat in spiritual stagnation, the Lord sent us locusts of his own. He sent locust to eat what was pulling our hearts away from him. Our health began to hesitate, our vocations began to vacillate, and our security began to stammer. All of the things we thought could fill us began to reveal themselves as sinking sand.
Then the revelation struck, we are not the person of God we used to be. Though we may still go through the typical Christian motions at church and abroad, our hearts are far from Him. He has stripped us bare, and we now stand naked before him.
We look back over the past several months, or years, and we realize we have squandered them. Yet, even now, declares the Lord, “Return to me with all your heart. Come to me with your fasting, your weeping, and your mourning.” He calls us to rend our hearts before him and return for he is gracious, merciful, and slow to anger (Joel 2:12-13).
Come home, dear child. You have had your fill of what the locusts can award. Come to the Lord, and he will have pity on you. He will send you spiritual grain, wine, and oil. You will be satisfied (Joel 2:19). He will give you early rain, and times of refreshing, but as you return, opposition will appear.
As you return to your Lord, the enemy will rear his head and say, “You might go home, but the years you have wasted are mine. The seeds of sinfulness you planted will continue to produce fruit. There is nothing you can do to get those years back.” Instead of serving God storing up treasures in heaven, you gave them to the prince and the power of the air storing up treasures on earth which moth and rust destroyed and thieves broke in and stole.
When the enemy tells you this, know he is right. Nothing you can do can redeem lost time, but what is impossible with man is possible with God. Our Father says, “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten (Joel 2:25).
Our Savior does not work in the economy of this world. Though you wasted many years in the service of worldliness, if you return to the Lord with all your heart, he can make your latter days more spiritually fruitful when taken together than the years you wasted.
As an example, if you are up in years, fighting a terminal illness with one year left to live, and you spent the past 15 years frittering away your life, if you give your heart entirely to the Lord, he can take your final year of life and produce 16 years or more of spiritual fruit. Yes, even if you are laid up in a sick bed. Never forget how the testimony of the thief on the cross has called thousands home.
A dear friend pointed out that even if while you were raising your children you were not walking with the Lord, and they followed your example, Christ can still call them home and train them up in way they should go. All is not lost.
Finally, let us never forget that the Lord has a way of harvesting fruit from your life even after you have gone on home to be with him. Think of the lives of many of the faltering saints in scripture; David, Peter, Samson, or Solomon. Though all of these had significant failings, the lord is still blessing us through the witness they left behind.
Return to Jesus. You shall eat in plenty, be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God. You shall know that God is in your midst, and that is what you have been missing. He is the Lord your God and there is no one else. You shall never be put to shame (Joel 2:26-27).
If you find yourself spiritually barren because the locusts are eating their fill, I hope you have had enough. It is time to come home.
If you are a Christian, you battle with sin. It is not necessary for me to list examples of the struggles with the flesh you may have. The minute you read the title of this post, you most likely had a specific struggle in mind. You have within you both flesh and Spirit, and the two are contrary to one another. Knowing this, however, does not mean the fight will easy or that you have it all under control. Here are five truths about your fight with sin you hate to admit.
1. Some battle scars are more recent than you are comfortable acknowledging.
As Christians, we are quick to acknowledge our struggles with sin, but we prefer to talk about the battles of the past. The ones where we have seen significant victory. The problem is, you have recent battle wounds as well. The fact that the battle is on-going is not something you like to broadcast to the world.
2. You sometimes try to get as close to the flame as possible without getting burned.
No matter how much you despise the sin that so easily besets you, you still find yourself wanting to get as close to the fire as possible. You think, “I will only allow myself this much room and will draw the line here.” The problem is that every time you get close to the line, it seems to move just a little further. This tendency to push boundaries has left you, on more than one occasion, beating yourself up over going too far.
3. You sometimes wonder why you are drawn to the very thing you despise.
Every time you are deceived by the deceitfulness of sin, you wonder how, at times, you desire the very thing you hate. Like Paul, you cry out, “who will save me from this body of death?” Even when you want to do right, evil is close at hand. You know that the problem with temptation is you because deep down you still have desires that war against your soul.
4. When it comes to your growth in godliness, you thought you would be further along than you are now.
You often think back to the many times you swore it was the last time, and you set out to grow in godliness. If you have been a Christian for a long time now, you remember looking forward to this time in your life with great anticipation. You imagined you would have experienced greater sanctification than you have.
5. You wonder if you are the only one; certainly there are other Christians out there who have risen above this.
You occasionally look at other Christians and think, surely they don’t have to war with sin the way I do. They seem to be the picture of piety. When you look at them from the outside, you think, “certainly their heart does not struggle like mine.” You may even hear from someone who claims, contrary to scripture, to have stopped sinning, and you think, maybe it is true. Maybe it is just me.
What you need to know
1. You are not an anomaly because being a Christian means battling sin.
This fight is something we all face, and warfare never happens without a few wounds. The fact that sanctification is a process that will not be completed this side of eternity means that every believer, no matter how sanctified they are, still has unsanctified areas in their life. In fact, the closer you walk with Jesus, the more aware of the battle you will become. The problem is not when you feel the conflict, the problem is during those times when you do not. John Newton once asked the Lord that he might grow and found that these inward trials were part of the growth process. Temptation will continue to come as long as you live, and it can be difficult to resist, but our standing in Christ is not shaken because we encounter temptation. As John Owen once said, “When we say a tree is firmly rooted, we do not say the wind never blows upon it.”
2. You are not alone because Jesus is with you.
Christ did not go to the cross to atone for your sin and bring you forgiveness to leave you to yourself to see if you could hack it. He called you, and He will keep you. Even when He sends His rod of correction, it is His love that is dealing with you, not His wrath. His wrath was satisfied on the cross. He is faithful and just to complete the work He has begun in you. You can look back and see victories over sin in your life, and you will continue to see more. Stay close to our Savior, hide His word in your heart, and pray without ceasing. He has promised to be with you, even to the end of the age.
3. The enemy will continue to accuse you, but there is no condemnation in Christ.
The enemy will frequently tell you that you are not worthy of being a Christian. Never go for the bait because what he wants you to do at that moment is to begin to justify yourself. The minute you start listing off all your good qualities and victories over sin, he will have you right where he wants you. There are clearly victories you have experienced in Christ, and you are right to rejoice in them, but they do not make you worthy to be a Christian. When Satan tells you, you are not worthy to be a Christian; the correct response is to agree with him. Of course I am not worthy to be a Christian, no one is. I was not worthy in the past, I am not worthy now, and I will not be worthy in the future, but Jesus is worthy, and my worth is found in Him. I am counted righteous in Him. And if you ever start to believe the lie that you may have fallen beyond forgiveness, here is something you can do to snap you back into reality. Picture Jesus dying on the cross and imagine yourself walking up to Him, and try to tell Him He didn’t do enough to atone for your sins.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. – Philippians 1:6
If you want to grow in godliness you need to slow down. What is it about being forced to slow down that makes us want to run faster than we were before? I think it is because, when sickness or some other obstacle hits us, we want to have the will to power through. Whatever it is, slowing down is something we resist, and when we are forced to do it, it is often uncomfortable.
When we have no choice but to slow down, however, we realize we had been taking our time and abilities for granted. On top of that, we realize that though we were running fast, much of it was spent on directionless pursuits. It is amazing how we can feel pressured to check social media, or check a gaming app on our phone. There have been times I have felt like my evening was pressured because I needed to write a blog post, but no one is sitting at their computer waiting for me to post. My mom doesn’t even do that. Still, something inside me says you better get something written soon.
These are small examples, but we fill our days with these types of anxieties. Many of the things that have us running so fast could be eliminated without hurting anyone. Often, the only real negative impact we feel is the effect it has on our pride. We tend to think, “if I am busy, then I am important. People need me to fulfill all of my so-called responsibilities, because if I do not, things will fall apart,” but it is not true. Much of what we feel pressured to do is noise.
We rarely realize this until something hits our life that forces us to start reevaluating. There comes a time when your body or emotional state says, it is time to change pace. At first, we usually think we can work through it, but, in the end, we find that providence is serious about making us slow down. It is at this point that we will hopefully start to gain perspective.
The process is painfully pleasant. A few years ago I found myself in a similar situation. First, I wanted to power through as if my will-power could right all the wrongs with my health. Once I resigned to the fact that I could not do it, I settled in to make some changes. The first thing that I needed to do was to get rid of all the needless distractions that had been adding stress but did nothing to help me be productive with important things.
I started by reevaluating what truly mattered. The key to this was making sure my mind was set on things above, or in other words, making sure I was seeking first the Kingdom of God. I will not talk about this much here because most of my posts deal with this in one way or another, but if we fail to seek Him first, even slowing down cannot help us.
Upon reflection, I found I had filled my life with needless interruptions, and they were not benefiting me in any way. I also began to realize that I did not know I was being distracted because I was not even aware of what I was being distracted from. I believe this is the case for many people.
Then began the process of slowing down and removing needless stress. This process involved deleting apps on my phone, limiting social media time to once a day, and I even began to schedule time on my calendar to check email only three times a day at work, instead of checking it constantly. This reduction was the part that felt painful at first. I felt like I was going to miss out. If much of my productivity happens with email, how could I accomplish all that I needed to get done?
I noticed myself repeatedly looking to my phone for notifications that were no longer available. My brain’s habitual response needed to be retrained and it did not like it. The result of this was that I was not less productive, I was more productive. I had hours in the morning, afternoon, and evening, which were email and social media free. These uninterrupted hours forced me to become more strategic with my time at work and home, instead of wasting it always checking to see if I had new messages and diverting my train of thought. This also gave me more time to do something I enjoy, writing.
Regarding social media and time online, I realized I was not missing out on much. I also noticed that my executive attention, the ability to focus on something for an extended period of time, began to grow stronger. Before I was forced to slow down, I had already realized that the internet had started shrinking my thoughts. I began blogging 2005, that was eventually reduced to Facebook posts, and then I was down to 140 characters on Twitter. Though all of these can be powerful tools if used correctly, sustained thought is not something online platforms encourage. The big takeaway was that my mind was spending much less time flitting from one unimportant thing to another.
I also began to choose my television time much more carefully, and I would always keep my Kindle or a book with me. If I was going to spend time doing something during my free moments, I could at least make it something mindful. I could continue to tell you about more of these little changes, such as how the boredom created by the absence of so much entertainment and social media actually sparked creativity, but I think you are getting the picture. Let me conclude with a few thoughts on the importance of slowing down.
Slowing down is not something we have to be forced to do. It is something we can do even when our health is strong. Jonathan Edwards once said this about a man he honored deeply, David Brainerd.
“[One] imperfection in Mr. Brainerd, which may be observed in the following account of his life, was his being excessive in his labours; not taking due care to proportion his fatigues to his strength.”
Much of what I have written about to this points is removing the unnecessary and unproductive activity from our lives, but sometimes we even need to slow down on that which is worthwhile and godly. Our Lord has put His treasure in jars of clay, and though the outward man is wasting away, the inward man is being renewed day by day. This truth should teach us two things. First, our bodies cannot do it all, and these jars of clay will eventually fade. If we do not slow down, we will soon be forced to. Second, when our bodies force us to slow down, even in our service to God, we are not necessarily reducing our pace in being renewed spiritually, which is the ultimate goal.
It seems our Christian culture has come to believe that overworking and godliness are inextricably bound. If you are not running fast, then you are not redeeming the time. Sometimes, the best path to being spiritually renewed is through slowing down. Maybe it is time to take due care to proportion our fatigues with our strength. In doing this, we find we are redeeming the time more effectively than when we were before.
It is important to remember that doing less does not mean we stop doing difficult work. Much of our most important undertakings are challenging. This is why we often prefer busyness over slowing down. If we are using our frantic pace as a form of procrastination in regard to the things that matter, that type of busyness is actually a form of laziness. In the end, I found during my time of slowing down that I was actually accomplishing more.
A divided mind, one caught between heaven and earth, will never find peace because it is chasing things in two different directions. A heart that is united in the fear of the Lord will be able to slow down and cover more ground because it has only one direction to go. This need to slow down and regain focus, like all battles with the sinful nature, is a daily struggle. Part of what prompted me to write this post is the fact that I have allowed many of these things to begin crowding my life again. We must continually guard our hearts against being pulled away from the Lord and his service by things of little or no importance.
Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth;unite my heart to fear your name. – Psalm 86:11
In my studies of Scripture and theology, I occasionally run across someone who sees me reading a systematic theology or commentary, who says to me, “I don’t need all those other books, I only need the Bible.” This statement is troublesome because, in one sense, it is arrogant. Does this person really think they have enough brain power and spiritual fortitude to gain as much understanding and wisdom as the whole community of faith combined, without their assistance. I realize they do not mean it this way because they have not thought through the logical implications of their statement so grace needs to be extended, but the statement is dangerous.
There is one sense, however, that the statement is true, and it is this sense that causes them to make the statement in the first place. If we did not have access to any other books and only had the Bible, it would be enough. We could still be saved and experience growth in the Lord, but the Lord never intended us to live our lives shunning the wisdom of other believers. Building each other up is one of the reasons He calls us to be part of a local church.
The Lord has given us many books, which are simply the written thoughts of the community of faith, to help us to grow in the grace and knowledge of His word. Wayne Grudem, in his systematic theology says, “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers (1Cor. 12:28). We should allow those gifts of teaching to help us understand Scripture.” To think that we, somehow, do not need these God ordained teachers, or that none of the books they have written could be any help to us, rejects God’s word which tells us he has given us these teachers.
They also seem to be using a double standard when it come to books. I was once told I should not read commentaries because they were all fallible, and I should only read the Bible. When I asked the if he went to church to listen to sermons, he said, “of course I do.” He began to stumble when I asked him if his pastor was fallible. A good commentary and good pastor often do similar things, they explain and proclaim the meaning of the text. If you are going to reject one, you will have to reject the other. I suggest embracing both as gifts from God.
I do realize that some neglect the scriptures in order to read all these other books and that is equally dangerous, but we should utilize what the Lord has given us through men and women who have been given the gift of teaching. Though, unlike the Bible, they are fallible, just like the the teaching of the man who says we do not need other books, there is truth in there from which we should benefit.
And let us not forget Spurgeon who said: “The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own.”
Post Script: I realize that someone who refuses to read Christian writings other than the Bible will not be reading this blog, which means I am preaching to the choir. However, if you run into one of them, maybe you can pass the message along.
Fear is an excellent provision of God to guard us from many dangers when fixed on a proper object and proper degree. When God is the object of our fear, we are able to maintain a holy awe of his majesty, and it awakens a constant desire in us to please him. But when fear ruffles the spirit, throws the soul into unrest, and turns us from a steady course of duty, it becomes a sinful and forbidden passion.
For some, fear is a constant tyrant over them. This ought to stir them up as far as possible to shake off this bondage that robs them of comfort. May the Spirit help the following methods to be happily successful.
1. Keep your faith awake and living.
Remember you are under the special eye and protection of your God and Savior! Brighten your faith and hope daily by a frequent examination of your hearts, and walking before God. Commit your souls into the hands of Jesus and his Spirit for pardoning and renewing grace. A living faith gives divine courage. Faith is a noble shield to ward off fear, and our helmet is the hope of our salvation.
2. Take heed of defiling your souls with sensuality.
Guilt will create fear and fill the soul with perplexing tumult of thoughts.
3. Consider the covenant of grace as a blessed treasury.
Here is an armor of defense found for every assault and danger! Get a large acquaintance with the promises of the gospel, that in every special time of need you may have a suitable word of refuge and support. In special seasons of trial keep your mind fixed upon some single promise that is most suited to the present danger or suffering, and to the present taste and relish of your soul. Fixing and living on a particular word of grace for the whole day will let it abide on your heart and whisper to your soul the divine sweetness in the dark and solitary watches of the night. In a fresh assault, fly to the word you have chosen for your refuge and meditation.
4. Pursue the spirit of prayer, and moral strength and courage will descend upon you!
Address the throne of God with earnestness and faith, and cry to the God of your salvation without ceasing. He gives renewed strength for the battle, courage in the midst of tears, and he can preserve and secure us in the most extreme peril. He may repel the most imminent danger, and rebukes the spirit of fear to gain moral courage. While at the mercy seat, keep an eye on Christ Jesus your mediator, advocate, and the captain of your salvation. He is engaged to see you brought safely home to heaven. Many a feeble Christian, in coming to the mercy seat with overwhelming fears, has risen from his knees with a heavenly calmness and composure! The army of fears has vanished, and he has gone out to face the most formidable of his adversaries with divine resolution and courage.
5. Wean yourself more from the flesh and the delights belonging to the mortal life.
Learn to put off a little of that sinful tenderness for self which we brought into the world with us. One of the first lessons in the school of Christ is self-denial (Matthew 16:24). We must subdue this self-love and softness if we would be good soldiers of Jesus Christ and gain a spirit of sacred courage and resolution. We must be dead to the things of the flesh and sense if we would gain a victory over the complaints and groanings of nature.
6. Endeavor to keep yourselves always employed in some proper work, that your fears may be diverted.
If our thoughts and hands are idle and empty, we lie open to the invasion of our fears from every side. The imagination at leisure can sit and brood over its own terrors. Lack of occupation exposes the mind to frightful images that fancy can furnish.
7. Keep your eye on the hand of God in all the affairs of men.
View his powerful and overruling providence in all things, including your most troubling fears. Learn to see God in all things, and behold him as your God, and the distressing fears within you will have little influence to awaken the passions of your soul. Do thunder and lightning frightening you? In whose hands is the thunder? Who directs its flashes and every sweeping blast of wind or fire to its appointed place? Do political upheavals awaken your fears? Rejoice and stand firm amidst the tumult and the shaking of the nations (Psalm 46).
Perhaps personal dangers threaten your good name, estate, flesh, or your life. The presence of God is a universal spring of comfort and courage, and a wide-spreading shield against every mischief. Does slander, poverty, or sickness frighten you? Remember that diseases are your servants of our Lord Jesus, and he can bid pains and anguish of body go or come as he pleases. None will tarry with you beyond his appointed moment. He is a wise physician and he will deal tenderly with you. Are you afraid of persecuting enemies? These are but instruments to execute his divine purposes and are chained under the sovereign dominion of Christ. They cannot move or act beyond his permission! We are all immortal till our work is done!
8. Recollect your own experiences of the goodness of God in carrying you through former seasons of danger and sorrow.
Remember how high the tempest of your fears has sometimes risen, and how God has sunk them at once into silence. Remember how extreme your danger has been, but the eye of God has found a path of safety for you! He has led you as one blind by the way you didn’t know, and has made darkness light before you, and the crooked straight!
9. Consider the divine command to put aside fear.
Remember that exercising faith and showing courage are duties as well as blessings! “Fear not” is often repeated because God knows very well how prone our feeble natures are to become frightened at every appearance of danger (Matthew 10:28). The Lord of hosts alone is the proper object of our supreme fear. He will overrule and abolish all other fears. The fear of the Lord is an effectual cure for sinful fear. Christ chided his disciples when they were afraid in the storm. For a Christian to give himself up to the wild tyranny of his fears is contrary to the very spirit and design of the gospel (2 Timothy 1:7). Remember that you are the sons and daughters of God. It is below your dignity to yield to this slavery. Your Father himself reproves, and your Redeemer forbids it.
10. Consider the many advantages that arise from a courageous spirit in the midst of dangers.
It establishes your feet on a solid rock in the midst of the storms; it motivates you to practice every duty; it prevents many of the mischiefs you fear; it will preserve the soul and serenity and calmness under painful events of providence; it will make sorrows lighter, and the heaviest afflictions become more tolerable.
If we give in to fear, it throws the whole frame of our nature into tumult and confusion. Fear is a dreadful bondage of the soul, and holds the man in chains. It feels the smart of those very evils that frighten us at a distance that may never come near to us. When afraid, the very sufferings which are prevented by the mercy of God we must endure in our thoughts we must feel the pain of them by indulgence and excessive fear. But always remember, Jesus can support me in the heaviest distressed. He can bear me on the wings of faith and hope, high above the turmoils of life.
There are tensions in the Christian life which are the direct result of knowing Jesus. These are tensions we are meant to feel. They seem to be two desires pulling us in two different directions, but in reality, they are two balancing forces driving us toward holiness and happiness. One of these tensions is the desire to depart and the eagerness to live. Paul expressed it this way.
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. – Philippians 1:22-26
Every believer will long to die and be with God from time to time. Conflicts, persecutions, and illnesses can cause us all to long for home, and during those times, we are often more willing to depart than usual. The problem is, if we only long to die and be with our Savior in times of trouble, then maybe we desire to avoid difficulty more than we desire to be with Christ.
When the scripture talks about longing to die, it is talking about our desire to be with Jesus, and this yearning should be something that is steady in times of pleasure as well as in times of pain. To be with Christ should be our daily desire, and if going through the door of our enemy death is the only way, then death becomes our hope.
At the same time, we are to be eager to live, because to live is also Christ. Every moment of life, whether it be lived in weakness or strength, pain or pleasure, or joy or sorrow, can be a testament to our glorious Savior. Some of the greatest men and women of the faith were men and women who lived in constant weakness and hardship, yet their lives were beacons pointing the world to Jesus.
Since Christ is both our desire to depart and our desire to live, we should never desire one more than the other. Both longings provide us with a balance that keeps us steady. To desire death more than life is to neglect Christ’s work in this world through our lives and shows us that personal peace is more important to us than Christ. At the same time, desiring life over death produces a fear of dying which indicates that being with Christ may not be our true desire.
Both the fear of death and the desire to die to escape difficulties, to the neglect of our calling, shows us that Christ is not our greatest hope. Both of these errors will produce a discontentment in us which will be revealed in times of trouble. During those times, we will be tempted to seek our answers outside of Christ. Only if Christ is our greatest longing will we both long to die and be eager to live, and in that we will find joy in any situation.
For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. – Acts 21:13
The good days are to be expected, and bad days are surprising and strange. Perhaps we have an unconscious assumption that is causing us grief. Wendell Berry, in his book, Jaber Crow, describes the “old-timers” in a way that seems lost on many people today.
“As much as any of the old-timers, he regarded the Depression as not over and done with but merely absent for a while, like Halley’s comet.”
Though many may wrongly interpret this as fear, there is health in this way of thinking. For many of us, we have been promised the world by our politicians, and we have believed them. It is true that we may chuckle at the thought that any one person thinks they have that much control, but conservatives and liberals alike often believe the that the state of our existence will continue to progress and that humanity will build its tower to heaven. This, of course, is false, there are good days and bad days ahead for all of us. Scripture itself tells us that when fiery trials come upon us, we should not think that something strange is happening to us (1 Pet. 4:12).
Moving to a more personal level, as long as our health is robust or our jobs feel secure, we think we can handle anything, but in the words of the late Rich Mullins, “We are not as strong as we think we are.” It does not take much for us to begin to feel our weakness. The problem is that when we don’t feel it, a false sense of our own competency begins to blind us.
Lousy days may not be the blight on our existence we think them to be. If we believe God’s word, which reminds us that God is working in our favor as much on our bad days as on our good days, we have no reason to lament the rough days like we are prone to do.
When I think, for example, about how quickly I am prone to forget about my daily connection to God through prayer, I thank the Lord for the days that knock me to my knees. I am much better off on my knees in prayer after taking a hit than walking confidently without Him.
Maybe it is just me, but too many “good” days in a row and I begin to forget that we are living in a fallen world, even when the evidence is all around me. Those are the days I walk in a fog of self-sufficiency, and it is not until I am hit with a reminder of my frailty that I am brought back to a favorable frame of mind. If this is true, then some of my “bad” days are actually my good days, and some of my “good” days are actually my bad days.
Some days it is abundantly clear how much I need Jesus. On the other days, I’m delusional.