One of the great injustices the church does to its members is teaching that problems are not part of the life of faith. I’ve heard some say that if you have problems in your life, it is either a lack of faith or the judgment against your sin. This is false. Consider the promise of Psalm 34:19
Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the LORD delivers him out of them all.
Notice, the Bible says ‘afflictions of the righteous’, not of the sinner. Even Jesus alluded to this when He said, “He that bears fruit will be pruned that he may bear more fruit.”
Your troubles are not the evidence of God’s anger. Nor is the lack of trouble the evidence of God’s favor. How many billionaires are great men of faith? The rich are rarely men focused on godliness. God directs our lives according to His will. Some will indeed have abundance and some will have the greater blessing of being God dependent. I say ‘greater blessing’ because the one who has to trust has the opportunity to grow in faith as part of their daily life.
When the church associates material wealth and a lifestyle of ease with spiritual maturity, they are depriving those whom God is refining, and they are denying the work of God. In the Old Testament, Job went through a time of intense testing. His spiritual friends came to comfort him, but ended up piling a greater burden upon Job. They said, “God would never do this to anyone who doesn’t have sin in his life.” In the end, God said that Job spoke the truth, and his friends spoke falsely – even though one of them said their words to Job came from the Lord.
The human intellect associates good with karma. If I do good deeds or act righteously, good things will happen. The world believes in karma, as do many in the church. We call it blessing, but our belief system is mirroring the world.
Because the church believes hardship is the evidence of faithlessness, people are taught to resist instead of embracing our circumstances through faith. None of us want hard times, yet the man or woman grounded in faith fully believes the promise, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”
When you struggle, God is with you. You may have been taught that God is with you during times of blessing, but God is with you during the times you struggle as well. In fact, you will experience God’s presence greater during affliction, unless you believe He is angry and you withdraw from Him. Take encouragement from 1 Peter 4:12-13
12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you;
13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.
Don’t think something strange is happening when you find yourself in the fire. Rejoice, for God is working to reveal His glory in you!
Does God want you to be blessed and thrive in this life? Yes, but not at the expense of the true richness of our eternal life. God doesn’t want you to miss the eternal fruit of your new life for the fading pleasure of this life. Remember Jesus’ words, “It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you His Kingdom.” This is fully received through a life of faith. It is not received through the flesh. God refreshes you by the quiet waters and green pastures, but then takes you through the valley of testing. And there is a reason for the testing.
Abraham was promised many things that would prove God’s power on his behalf, but when it came to the reward, Abraham was told, “I am your exceedingly great reward.” It was after Abraham learned to walk by faith that the promises became reality. Yet his investment was not merely in this passing life, but in the life to come.
God’s purpose is to shake loose the things that are temporal so that which is eternal may remain and become our focus. God will wean you off of any trust you have in any thing, person, or selfish belief that draws you away from Him. God doesn’t want you to trust in things. God doesn’t want your confidence to be in people. God doesn’t want you to be dependent upon emotions. When these things become blockades for spiritual growth, God will shake them loose. And if we are taught to reject this work, we will be stuck in the perpetual loop of frustration. The frustration is because our faith is dependent upon the things of the flesh instead of our life in His Spirit.
There will be times when God will put us on the peninsula of despair so we will find hope in nothing other than Him. A peninsula is a land mass that protrudes into the water so it stands alone. Let’s take a look at a few examples from scripture.
The strongest example is when God delivered a faithless people from the bondage of slavery in Egypt. We looked at the exodus last week when we studied the unveiling of the Passover. Ten plagues broke the will of Pharaoh. The final plague was the death that fell on any family not under the blood. Once the first born children died, the Egyptians thrust Israel out of the land. They were suddenly free.
Instead of leading them to safety, God led them to a peninsula a few miles outside of Egypt. When Pharaoh pondered this, he raged against these ex-slaves. Let’s pick up the story from Exodus 14:8-13
8 And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the children of Israel; and the children of Israel went out with boldness.
9 So the Egyptians pursued them, all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, his horsemen and his army, and overtook them camping by the sea beside Pi Hahiroth, before Baal Zephon.
10 And when Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel lifted their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians marched after them. So they were very afraid, and the children of Israel cried out to the LORD.
11 Then they said to Moses, "Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt?
12 "Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying,`Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians?’ For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness."
13 And Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever.
What did the people do to deserve their desperate circumstances? Nothing. They obeyed and followed the Lord’s command. They had a moment of freedom, but in a flash, it turned to despair. They heard a rumbling sound in the distance, turned, and saw the land filled with horsemen, chariots, and sword bearing soldiers. They were not merely coming to recapture the slaves. They were going to annihilate them. Behind the people was a sea of water. On both sides, more water. There was nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide. They were helpless and defenseless.
This is exactly what God wanted them to experience. God wanted them to be defenseless. He wanted them to be helpless. He wanted them to have no way of escape. God stripped away everything they could lean on so that there were only two possibilities – death or deliverance from God.
This is exactly what God is doing when your life ends up in a quandary. Our natural human reaction is to escape and use our own resources to get out of trouble and find success. God leads, but at the first sign of trouble, we abandon His leading and fall back to our own ways and trust in ourselves, our resources, or other people. When we do so, we are robbing ourselves of the greatness of God’s power in our lives. Knowing that we are incapable of walking by faith without being forced to do so, there will be times when God will strip everything away so He alone is our way of escape. Consider 1 Corinthians 10:13
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
I’m going to challenge the way most people view this passage. The word ‘temptation’ does not only mean the temptation to sin. The Greek word we translate into tempt means, testing, trial, or to prove our feelings or judgments. It can be us being tested by our flesh as it attempts to draw us into sin, but this is not the limit of this passage. Sometimes we are tempted to fall back into trusting in human effort. Sometimes we are tried by our circumstances. Or tested to reveal where our faith lies.
Here is another truth. The way of escape is through Him. God is not promising that our flesh will have the power to resist, or that we will be victorious through human effort. The Bible is not saying we will be able to bear this by our own strength. We are commanded to be strong in the Lord and the power of His might – not be strong for the Lord with the power of our might.
Sometimes the way of escape is through the defeat of the flesh. When we are broken of self-reliance, our human effort may have been defeated, but our escape is then revealed through the Lord’s mercies. Mercies we cannot comprehend until we stand before Him broken, with nothing to offer but our shattered hope. Then God takes away the worthless hope and replaces it with true hope. Unfortunately, I can’t recognize how worthless my hope in my own abilities or righteousness truly is until it is broken and in ruins. Then the broken pieces lose value, but God comes to us with a restoration that wasn’t possible until we became broken enough to let go of human hope.
I’m going to use an illustration I’ve used a few times, but is important enough to repeat. Key truths are often repeated in scripture because we need to be constantly reminded. Peter understood this, which is why he said, “I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things.” Our faith is constantly being challenged; therefore, important doctrines must be reinforced regularly.
Peter, or as Jesus called him, Simon, was self-confident and self-reliant. He’s about to experience the greatest defeat of his life, and Jesus prepares him with an interesting instruction. Look at Luke 22:31-32
31 And the Lord said, "Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat.
32 "But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren."
Peter is about to fail, and fail badly, but his faith will not. His faith is given to him by God, and Jesus is promising that he will return from his fall. Satan wants to grind Peter into destruction, but this won’t be possible, for God is preserving him. Not only that, God is about to use Satan to prepare Peter for a life of faith that can never again be shaken.
From the human way of thinking, the above is a contradiction. Your faith won’t fail, and when you return to Me? Why would Peter have to return to Jesus if his faith doesn’t fail? It isn’t Peter’s faith that is about to fail; it’s his flesh. All his confidence is about to be stripped away, and he will crumble in utter defeat. From his perspective, his life is ruined, but from God’s perspective, the worthless part of Peter’s life has been shaken loose so he can now discover the gift of faith that can never be shaken. Peter now stands by faith in himself, his righteousness, and his own love for Jesus. In a few days, Peter will be restored with faith in Christ, stand upon the righteousness of God, and he’ll discover the love of God that can do what his own love could never do.
Most of us know what happens next. When Jesus is arrested, Peter first tries to defend Him by attacking the servant of the High Priest and cutting off his ear. He is rebuked by Jesus and then Christ heals the servant’s ear. All the disciples flee and some follow Jesus from a distance.
Peter makes it into the courtyard where Jesus is being tried, and then a servant girl comes up and says, “Aren’t you one of His disciples?” Think about the position Peter is now in. He attacked the servant of one of the highest rulers in Israel – a crime punishable by death. Now he’s trying to keep anyone from recognizing him, so he denies he knows Jesus. The man who a few hours ago declared confidently, “Though all will forsake you, I will never deny or forsake you. I would die before I would deny you,” is now saying he never met Jesus.
He puts as much distance as possible between himself and the girl, but Satan is stirring her to pursue him. She comes up again, this time inciting others. Someone else joined in, “You must be one of Jesus’ disciples. You sound like a Galilean.” Peter denied and withdrew again.
This nuisance of a girl came up a third time, “This man is one of Jesus’ disciples.” Then someone else from the crowd looked over. He was in the party that arrested Jesus. He gave Peter a suspicious stare and said, “You are one of them. Didn’t I see you in the garden?”
Panic surged through Peter. Someone now could identify him as the one who drew the sword against the servant of the priest. Time to take desperate measures. “I tell you, I have never met the man. May God curse me with death if I have ever met that man!” The Bible says Peter began calling down curses upon himself to prove he wasn’t a disciple. At that moment, the rooster crowed, and the words of Jesus came to mind. That is when Peter’s confidence, self-identity, and hope imploded upon himself. He walked out and wept bitterly. That word ‘bitterly’ tells us that Peter was completely defeated. He failed, seethed against himself, and agonized over his own stupidity and failure.
Where was the way of escape that Jesus promised? From the human perspective, Peter had to endure more than he could take. Indeed he did. Peter wasn’t supposed to escape. The only way Peter could escape his own self-focus was to have it crushed. Look at his words in Mark 14:30-31
30 Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times."
31 But he spoke more vehemently, "If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!" And they all said likewise.
The disciple is rebuking his Master? Foolish? Yes, but you and I have the same attitude in us. We can’t believe that our good is worthless. We can’t believe that human faith is contrary to the faith God measures to us. We can’t believe that we can’t please God by what we do or don’t do. We naturally fall into self-righteousness and self-sustaining behaviors.
Why didn’t the other apostles have to be broken this way? Merely being helpless to protect Jesus was all the breaking they needed, but Peter was strong in himself and was unbreakable without being broken by Satan. God ordained the circumstances that would crush Peter’s spirit. From the human perspective, this seems tragic, but the truth is that God loved Peter enough to not leave him in self-reliance.
What appeared tragic for a moment gave birth to a victory that would last a lifetime. In forty days, this man who cowered in the courtyard would be boldly proclaiming, “This Jesus, whom you crucified, is both Lord and Christ.” And he would be proclaiming it among the very people who had the power to crucify him. But he could never be that man until everything of the flesh was shaken loose.
A broken Peter stood with Jesus by the seashore while Jesus restored him. Peter thought his failure destroyed his ministry and place in God’s plan, but the truth is that Peter was unusable until he reached that point. Satan’s sifting was God’s tool of preparation, and he had the promise of Jesus, “Your faith will not fail.” Once he was restored, he then remembered the words of Jesus, “When you have returned, strengthen your brethren.”
What? The man who had the worst failure was now the one called upon to become a strengthener of the brethren?
This is you. This is me. God leads us gently through His word, but there are areas in our life where we are stubborn and hardened against the way of life. This is when God leads us onto the peninsula of despair. When you find yourself in distress, stop looking at yourself. Stop looking at your circumstances. Stop saying, “Why God,” and start asking, “What God? What are you doing in my life?” Consider the words of Jesus about Himself in Luke 20:17-18
17 Then He looked at them and said, "What then is this that is written:`The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone ‘?
18 "Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder."
This sounds harsh unless we look at it from the eternal perspective. When I fall upon Christ, I’m broken from my own strength and He becomes my Rock and strength. When I resist the Spirit’s work, the hardness of my life in the flesh is ground away – not because God is judging me, but because God sees the end result. He crushes the things in my life that prevent me from experiencing true life. The only pain comes through my will that clings to what is harmful. God doesn’t want me to labor for this passing life. God doesn’t want me to trust in my own righteousness – a righteousness that cannot produce eternal fruit. God wants me to inherit His kingdom.
God will put you into a place where you can find hope in Him alone. That is when we either swim against the tide driving us back to the peninsula, or we stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.
And remember this, the coral bridge that rests even today many feet below the water’s surface was prepared when God designed creation. It was hidden for thousands of years, only to be revealed when God unveiled His plan. And that would not come until a helpless people had no hope other than to cry out to God while on the peninsula. When the people had no hope other than God, the Lord said, “Take a good look at your enemies. You will never see them again.”
Is the sifting of Satan’s hands our judgment? No! It is God preparing us to see His plan emerge from a place where human eyes cannot see. God’s call is to first take our eyes off our problems, circumstances, and ourselves and place our eyes upon Him. Once our eyes of faith have been opened, God then says, “Take a good look at your problem. You will never see it again.” That is when you are delivered from your harmful habits, sins, or hardships. These things are not God’s judgment. These things do not drive us out of God’s love. These are the siftings that shakes away confidence in anything but the Lord, and then God’s deliverance is unveiled, and you will walk in the Spirit through God’s deliverance.
Your sin is not God’s barrier. Your failure is not God’s limitation. Your efforts and skills are not God’s provision. It is all by Him and is the evidence of His power and love toward you.
Eddie Snipes 2014
Listen to Eddie’s weekly podcast at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/hollydale-baptist-church/id893226987