By Laurie DeWitt, Pastor, Texarkana, Seventh-day Adventist Church, Texas
Summary: Some of us feel that if we are sincere enough or faithful enough or diligent enough, then somehow hardships and difficulties won’t come. The truth is that Christians receive the blunt of a sinful world like everybody else. As Christians, we have confidence in God not only because of what happens, but also despite of what happens.
There once was a man who didn’t show up at work one day. And here’s his reason why: The hurricane had knocked off some bricks at the top of the building, so I rigged up a beam with a pulley on the roof, and hoisted a couple of barrels full of bricks. I fixed the damage, but I had to get the leftover bricks back down. So while on the ground, I began releasing the line. But the barrel of bricks was much heavier than me. Before I knew what was happening, the barrel started coming down, jerking me up. I decided to hang on, since I was too far off the ground by then to jump. Half way up I met the barrel of bricks coming down. I received a hard blow on my shoulder. I continued to the top, banging my head against the beam, and getting my fingers pinched in the pulley. When the barrel hit the ground hard, all the bricks fell out. Now I was heavier than the barrel. So I started coming down at high speed. Half way down, I met the barrel again, and received a second set of hard knocks. I finally landed on the pile of bricks. At this point, I must have lost my presence of mind, because I let go of my grip on the line, letting the barrel down on me. I respectfully request sick leave.
We all have bad days and hectic weeks. We all go through struggles and frustrations. There are times when questions perplex us and answers are difficult to find. Some of us feel that if we are sincere enough or faithful enough or diligent enough, then somehow hardships and difficulties won’t come. Popular television ministers sometimes give the impression that Christians wear some impregnable or invulnerable armor--and that if troubles come and linger, then you haven’t prayed the right prayer or claimed the appropriate promise.
The truth is that Christians receive the blunt of a sinful world like everybody else. As Christians, we have confidence in God not only because of what happens, but also despite of what happens. We are loyal to God not only when things go right, but also when things go wrong. We live by faith not because we have no doubt, but also because we believe and obey God in spite of any doubt.
Live by faith when God seems silent
Job had lost everything. Job asked, Why? Why did I not die at birth? Why do I labor in vain? Why have you set me as a target? Why do You hide Your face, And regard me as Your enemy? But he got no answer. The one thing that bothered him the most, one thing that tore him up inside, one thing that got to him more than anything else--God seemed to have hidden His face--Job’s prayers bounced off the ceiling and came back to hit him in the face.
There was silence, a time of testing. A merciful God gave Job time. It was a time when Job had to search for answers alone. And in the time of silence, Job’s concluding response is, Though He slay me yet will I trust Him. There are times when all seems to be going well, when you’re following God’s guiding truth and He seems to be blessing you greatly, and all the pieces of life’s jigsaw are fitting together. Then the picture changes--circumstances take you down unexpected paths or hostile territory. Like the quip so commonly seen on posters around schools, Just when I thought I knew all the answers, they changed all the questions! All of a sudden you find yourself asking, Why?
James Dobson tells the story of a man driving a truck on a mountain road. He is up near the top, and he is going too fast. The truck goes out of control and is thrown over the side of the mountain. Bouncing all the way down, the truck lands at the bottom, then bursts into flames. The man, however, is thrown out of the truck at the top of the mountain, and manages to grab hold of a limb just as the truck is going over. He’s hanging on to this limb, and can’t get up or down, and the truck is way down below. His back is hurting, and his arms are sore, and he can’t make a move in either direction.
Finally, out of desperation, he calls out above and says, Is anybody there?
The voice of the Lord replies, Yes, I’m here. What do you want me to do for you?
The man pleads, Will you save me?
Yes, I will save you. What I want you to do is just let go of the branch. Let go and trust Me to catch you.
The man looks over his shoulder at the truck at the bottom of the mountain, and looks back over the precipice, and yells out, Is anybody else there?
Have there been any times when God seems to require too much--times when you have difficulty making sense out of a situation? Have you always understood why things happen? Are there any perplexing questions for which you have not yet found answers? What do you do? Hebrews 11 lists the great people of faith: Abel offers sacrifice, and God accepts it. Enoch lives a holy life, and God translates him. Noah builds an ark, and God saves his family. Abraham leaves Ur of the Chaldeas, and God leads him to the Promised Land. Sarah believes and God works a miracle and she conceives. Moses chooses to suffer with Israel rather than sit on the throne of Egypt, and God equips him to oversee the Exodus. Israel steps into the Red Sea, and God parts the water. They march around Jericho, and God shatters the city walls. Rahab shelters the spies, and God saves her life.
On the other hand you read of those who were tortured and found no deliverance. What of them? They let go of the branch, but God didn’t catch them. Was it because they didn’t have enough faith? Was it because they hadn’t claimed the right promise? NO! You can almost hear them say, And He shall give His angels charge over thee as flames licked the flesh off their bodies. The issue is not whether or not God could or would catch them, but whether or not they would believe. The Lord wants people who realize that the branches of our talents and abilities, the branches of wealth and possessions, the branches of intellect and presuppositions, can only hold us so long. The Lord wants us to realize that He is the only One who can help us. He wants people who are willing to let go of everything, knowing full well that some promises supersede other promises. They know that heaven is their eternal home. The Lord wants people who can resolutely say with the three Hebrews as they felt the heat of the fiery furnace, The God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O King. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O King, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up (Dan 3:17,18).
Live by faith when God seems unfeeling
Moses had dreamed of entering the Promised Land for more than 80 years. What agony and disappointment he must have felt when told that he couldn’t cross over the Jordan and enter Canaan. Can you imagine the questions of fairness and justice, of grace and forgiveness that Moses could have asked? However, Moses had by now learned to let go. And the Lord took Moses to the Great Promised Land of Heaven as the first fruit of the resurrection.
Live by faith when God seems to contradict Himself Think of Abraham. One evening He’s gazing up at the nighttime sky when God says, Abraham, do you see all those stars? Someday your descendants will be as numerous, like the sands of the sea. I’m going to give you many generations, and kings will be born among them. Another evening, many decades later, God says, Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering (Gen 22: 2). Can you imagine the questions that come to Abraham’s mind?
God was teaching Abraham that the future didn’t depend on Isaac--it depended on God. Even when it doesn’t make any sense, God is with you! If it seems ever that God is silent, you, like Job, can still say in faith: Though He slay me, yet I will trust Him. If it ever seems to you that God is unfeeling, you can, like Moses, go to your grave in confidence of the Great Promised Land. If ever it seems to you that God almost contradicts Himself, or asks you to make a sacrifice, you can believe, like Abraham, that The Lord will provide.
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Heb 11:1). It sees the invisible, touches the untouchable, hears the sound of silence. Faith perseveres to the end (Heb 12:1). Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Where are you in your belief today?