Wednesday, June 12, 2013

You Can Be an Overcomer

We have not been left powerless.

The posture of the Christian is that of submission.

We are not weak, cowering, fearful individuals falling into the hands of the vandal Satan, the destroyer, the one who has set himself and his demonic spirits in battle against us. But our submission is to the Lord himself. We recognize that He is ultimately in control and the final score with regard to all that touches us is not totaled on this side of heaven.

God has given us clear teaching and directions in His Word that shows us how to live. When we make morally right decisions and act responsibly, we are manifesting that God is in control of our will. On the other hand, God has also given us a free will. He does not force himself and His will on us. Even though we call ourselves Christians, there are moments when our free will chooses to reject something that comes into our lives. Then we are disobedient, wayward children, and we may eventually have to suffer the consequences for our wrong choices. Whatever we do, we must always contend with the matter of cause and effect.

This can be illustrated in many different ways. If you drive recklessly, you risk an accident. Eat foolishly and disregard the known facts about nutrition and the common sense laws of living and you will pay the penalty of sickness. Drink too much and you will send yourself to an early grave. By not taking care of your body or keeping your mind alert, you are playing into the hands of the adversary.

What about those situations over which we have no control? What about accidents that confine individuals to wheelchairs for life or to a lifetime of pain? What about imprisonment at the hands of Communists with their concentration camps, barbed wire, meager fare, and all the misery that would accompany such an existence? What about early widowhood and being left with small children to care for? Or divorce? Rexella interviewed one woman whose husband left her for another woman. In the process he also left behind his 11 children! That's pain, too.

The list could go on and on. There is child abuse, wife abuse, elder abuse, and nursing home abandonment. There is loneliness caused by the separation of war, work, death, or for one reason or another. There are the problems that often accompany old age: loss of hearing, eyesight, and similar infirmities. There are health problems that can strike at any age: cancer, arthritis, and other painful disabilities. There are depressions and nervous breakdowns. There are ruptured work relationships and interpersonal family problems. In fact, there are a variety of sufferings that come from time to time throughout one's lifetime. What are we to say about all these things?

One of the most difficult things for us to comprehend is the truth to be found in Hebrews 12:

My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?

For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby (vv. 5-11).

Chastening - however it may come - is always meant for our own good. God chastens us just as a loving parent administers the necessary discipline and punishment to enforce a point and drive home the lesson he wants his child to fully grasp. God, as our loving Heavenly Father, wants to turn our feet from the path that would lead us from His perfect will. When suffering comes I think we need to search our lives and ask the Lord to reveal to us what it is He wants us to learn.

I . . . will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and 1 will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The Lord is my God (Zechariah 13:9).

When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee (Isaiah 43:2).

Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things 1 delight, saith the Lord (Jeremiah 9:23,24).

To read Jeremiah is to understand what it really means to endure the most difficult of circumstances. His were heartbreaking and crushing. This prophet was called by God to proclaim truth to a very wicked, idolatrous people. It was a heavy message, and Jeremiah's crying out to God is often an echo of our own pain, although few of us really know the suffering he endured. His enemies tried to do away with both the man and his message.

O Lord, thou knowest: remember me, and visit me, and revenge me of my persecutors; take me not away in thy longsuffering: know that for thy sake I have suffered rebuke. Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, 0 Lord God of hosts (Jeremiah 15:15, 16).

Another time he said, O Lord, my strength, and my fortress, and my refuge in the day of affliction . . . (Jeremiah 16:19).

It was the Lord who said these memorable words to Jeremiah, Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? (Jeremiah 23:23).

Jeremiah unflinchingly delivered the Lord's message to the people. He told them of the crushing judgment that was to fall upon them for their disobedience and wickedness. Because he did, the prophet was imprisoned. The Book of Lamentations records the despair and depression Jeremiah experienced. He talked about being the laughing stock of the people and about the torture he had endured. He bewailed the many calamities that had come upon him. Yet, even in the midst of ALL that, Jeremiah issued these powerful words:

It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, saith my soul: therefore will I hope in him. The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.

For the Lord will not cast off forever: But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies. For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men (Lamentations 3:1,22-26,31-33).

His words have come down to us through history, providing hope and comfort for countless millions in their darkest hours.

I can't begin to imagine what it must have been like for Jeremiah as he was imprisoned in a dark, dark dungeon. But I am impressed with his prayer and I know we can be sustained by it when we come to our own private world of suffering and pain:

They have cut off my life in the dungeon, and cast a stone upon me. Waters flowed over mine head; then I said, I am cut off. I called upon thy name, O Lord, out of the low dungeon. Thou hast heard my voice: hide not thine ear at my breathing, at my cry. Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon thee: thou saidst, Fear not. O Lord, thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul; thou hast redeemed my life (Lamentations 3:53-58).

Was Jeremiah rescued? Or did this prophet die in the dungeon? Jeremiah 38:7-13 provides the answer. It was Jeremiah who wrote these memorable words recited through the ages by millions of people:

Ah Lord God! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and THERE IS NOTHING TOO HARD FOR THEE (Jeremiah 32:17, emphasis mine).

In their crisis moments, the heroes and heroines of the faith demonstrated that they knew how to overcome. And to think, they didn't have the Bible like we have it today to instruct them and to provide help and hope! For instance, they didn't have the promise of Isaiah 41:10 to cling to:

Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.

We today are the beneficiaries of those who suffered and who overcame as they trusted in and relied upon the Lord. We have the Psalms, the writings of they prophets, the Gospels, Paul's letters, Peter's letters, and ALL the rest. Anywhere you turn in the Psalm; there is something of help and hope, something to inspire and lift you up. There are words such as these

The Lord hear thee in the day of trouble (Psalm 20:1).

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (v. 1).

For in the time of trouble he shall hide me . . . (v. 5).

And now shall mine head be lifted up . . . (v. 6).

I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord (vv. 13, 14; all verses from Psalm 27).

When Paul wrote to young Timothy, his son in the faith, he included us for he speaks of "all." It is a warning we should take seriously:

Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution [that is, will know suffering of some sort because of their religious stand]. [Because] evil men and seducers [imposters] shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect [complete], thoroughly furnished unto all good works (2 Timothy 3:12-17).

Someone has said that afflictions cannot injure when blended with submission. James, the brother of our Lord, wrote very practical words. He tried to show the people how to conduct themselves. He wanted them not merely to intellectually perceive the truth, but to apply it to their daily walk in order to show that theirs was a living faith. He reminded his hearers that God giveth more grace (James 4:6) as we submit ourselves to Him and resist the devil (v. 7). Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you (v. 8).

It was James who asked, Is any among you afflicted [suffering]? (See James 5:13.) If so, he suggested that the believer sing Psalms (v. 13). He also suggested that the elders be called and that they pray over the sick one and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord (v. 14). He also called for the believers to confess their faults and then urged that prayer be made: [For] the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much (v. 16). The apostle Paul also called for prayer. In addition, he urged his readers to rejoice in hope and to be patient in their afflictions and tribulations (see Romans 12:12). He called for Christians to bear the infirmities of the weak, to build them up, and to offer comfort (see Romans 15:1-5).

According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.

For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:3-8).

I have been reminded that steel is iron plus fire. And so, as many of the old-time writers have rightly pointed out, human character must also have a plus attached to it. I could give many examples, but one of the best is Fanny Crosby, writer of so many of our best-loved hymns. Would she ever have written her beautiful hymn "I shall see Him face to face;" if she had not beer blind her entire life? Her tribulation brought true insight.

Which brings me to Hebrews 2, which once again reminds us to look at Jesus:

. . . who was made a little lower than the angels for THE SUFFERING OF DEATH, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain [author] of their salvation PERFECT THROUGH SUFFERINGS (vv. 9,10, emphasis mine).