by Mike Ratliff
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)
My natural inclination is to resent uncomfortable circumstances. I want them to end and end now! Believers are spiritual, but their natural man, their flesh, is still within. My natural man does not understand how anything constructive can come out of sorrow and suffering. If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit we are all uncomfortable with things not working out the way we want them to. Our problem is we want good things to be the norm in our lives because we love the Lord and are living for Him. When bad things happen or things do not work out the way we want, we hunker down in our self-pity. We ask God and others, Why is this happening to me? That is not the response of the Enduring heart. That is the response of the self-focused heart.
The Greek word translated endurance, in the passage I placed at the beginning of this chapter, means patient endurance of circumstances rather than patience with people. The Enduring heart has learned to endure uncomfortable circumstances. In fact, the believer whose heart is an Enduring heart will possess a character that has been God shaped to the point it can withstand anything.
In the first church I belonged to, after I became a believer, I had a teacher I looked up to as very mature. One Sunday in class, he shared how he had asked God to develop patience in his heart. That very day all of his circumstances seemed to line up against him. Everything became intolerable and he cried out in anguish and self-pity. He asked his wife why all this was happening and she told him God was developing patience and endurance in him. I have had others say things like, Never ask God for patience because your circumstances will go down the tubes right away! Sometimes I think God has a very vivid sense of humor.
The Enduring heart has learned to recognize God’s hand in all circumstances. This heart has been through countless tests and trials and has come to see God’s faithfulness through it all.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)
There are no promises in the Word of God that eliminate trouble in the lives of Christians. However, we are promised that God will be right there with us through it all. No matter how horrible our enemy attacks us, God will never allow him to go beyond His will for us. He will allow the attack because He is using the fires of tribulation to cleanse and rework our hearts. We must see all hurt and pain as God allowed and eternal in purpose. We may suffer and sorrow, but not one thing can come between our Lord and us.
With this attitude firmly in place, we can endure tribulation. We can embrace sorrow and suffering and withstand it all with our Enduring heart. God is glorified through it all and we become more Christ-like. Others may treat us horribly, but our Lord will make sure justice is done. Carefully read the following Psalm. Take your time. Digest it as you mediate on God’s promises. Rejoice greatly as God writes these truths on your heart.
Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land. In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace. The wicked plots against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him, but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he sees that his day is coming. The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose way is upright; their sword shall enter their own heart, and their bows shall be broken. Better is the little that the righteous has than the abundance of many wicked. For the arms of the wicked shall be broken, but the LORD upholds the righteous. The LORD knows the days of the blameless, and their heritage will remain forever; they are not put to shame in evil times; in the days of famine they have abundance. But the wicked will perish; the enemies of the LORD are like the glory of the pastures; they vanish–like smoke they vanish away. The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives; for those blessed by the LORD shall inherit the land, but those cursed by him shall be cut off. The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand. I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread. He is ever lending generously, and his children become a blessing. Turn away from evil and do good; so shall you dwell forever. For the LORD loves justice; he will not forsake his saints. They are preserved forever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off. The righteous shall inherit the land and dwell upon it forever. The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice. The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip. The wicked watches for the righteous and seeks to put him to death. The LORD will not abandon him to his power or let him be condemned when he is brought to trial. Wait for the LORD and keep his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land; you will look on when the wicked are cut off. I have seen a wicked, ruthless man, spreading himself like a green laurel tree. But he passed away, and behold, he was no more; though I sought him, he could not be found. Mark the blameless and behold the upright, for there is a future for the man of peace. But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed; the future of the wicked shall be cut off. The salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; he is their stronghold in the time of trouble. The LORD helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him. (Psalms 37:1-40)
What an awesome declaration of God’s faithfulness to those who love Him! What is our part? We are not to fret. That means quit wallowing in self-pity and simply focus on the Lord and His wonderful promises. Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart… We must forsake self-pity, trust God, continue to do good and feed on His faithfulness. We must delight in the Lord. What does that mean? It means we practice the presence of God by walking in Repentance with Joy. Part of that is directing our hearts towards Him as we choose joy. We love Him and delight in being allowed to cross the threshold of His Throne Room, and rejoice as He draws us close. If we do this throughout the day what will we be like? Delighting in the Lord as we worship and adore Him comes from our Worshipping heart. When we walk this way even when our circumstances are no fun we are submitting to the Lord as He reshapes our hearts. Our hearts become Enduring hearts that exude patience. The desires of our hearts line up with His desires for us. He will gladly give us all the wisdom, patience, and endurance we need.
In this post September 11, 2001 world, we have a new thing to fear. Global terrorism weighs heavily on our society. Actually, I am not surprised. The West has turned its back on God. The Western Church is weak and powerless for the most part. Why? It is full of the Soul-led who have no fear of God. Even the leadership is walking in self-focus in full pursuit of self-gratification. Doctrines of men are in full force rather than the doctrines of grace so our churches practice a religion that is man focused rather than God focused. This puts God on a back burner and religion is the focus. I believe the events of terrorism are allowed by God to get our attention. He is using them to draw His elect into repentance.
How should the Spirit-led believer respond to the evil in the world and ugly circumstances? Our Enduring hearts should respond with trust in the Lord knowing He is in complete control. By now, we should have learned to hang on to Sorrow and Suffering as close, dear companions. This is something our Natural Man cannot understand and will scream and throw a fit when we do this. However, the Mature Christian has learned to deny their OLD MAN Sin Nature, their Natural Man, as they walk through all their circumstances with their eyes firmly fixed on the Lord. Sorrow and Suffering are always right there with them to keep them from becoming self-focused. They have also learned not to attempt to avoid the pain by altering their circumstances through their own abilities.
Here is an example. Let us say you or I get a new job. It is an answer to prayer. We have been trying to get this job for months. Then on the first day of work, we find we are completely incompatible with our new boss. The person we replaced was perfect and we are not. Our new boss expects us to know how to do everything perfectly right from the start. This new job can appear to be a trap very quickly. Sorrow and Suffering are our constant companions. What do we do? Well, if we are maturing and have learned to trust God we will allow Him to develop our Enduring hearts. If we are self-focused, we will run from the pain. We will be in deep anguish and will blame God. We will not want to endure the pain at all. What happens when we do this? We make a mess of things and do not grow in grace. However, if we hang onto Sorrow and Suffering as our dear companions, trust God and submit to His burning, cleansing fires then we will endure and come through it all more Christ-like. Our Enduring hearts will be become even stronger and more in Love with the Lord. This requires God’s grace and it is all for His glory.
Allowing God to develop an Enduring heart in us is vital. We cannot mature any further than we are unless we surrender to this. God is building our Faith. He is burning away those parts of us that are Earthbound and replacing them with eternal qualities. As we endure all of this our magnificent walk through the fires of sanctification by the Grace of God is apparent to all. This glorifies God. It builds our character unto Christ-likeness. We become usable to the Lord in His Kingdom. We become the mature Disciples He wants us all to be.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™ Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.