May the Lord bless you with His presence this Holiday Season. As the psalmist says: "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: Come before His presence with singing. Know ye that the Lord He is God: It is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people, and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: Be thankful unto Him and bless His Name." (Psalm 100:1-4)
This is our third article on the subject of longsuffering, which may seem like a strange holiday message, but I am convinced this is exactly what the Lord would have us hear especially during the Holiday Season.
In Daniel 12, the Lord talks about the "end times" and conveys a personal message not only to Daniel, but to all of us: "...go thy way for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end. Many shall be purified, and made white, and tested...but the wise shall understand." (Daniel 12:9-10)
Daniel's prediction seems to be on the horizon. Many Christians are being tried and purified and tested as never before. Something is different! Something has changed in the world as we know it. Something has been unleashed. And, I believe it's what Daniel calls the coming "time of the end."
David Wilkerson recently wrote in his Times Square Pulpit Series: "In all my years of ministry, I've never seen so many believers under such affliction. There has never been a time like this, with families facing financial crises, enduring marital struggles, despairing over children in rebellion....Wives and families are being overwhelmed. Pastors are quitting by the hundreds in every nation... Everywhere we go, we see pandemic despair....
"We're living in a time of the greatest gospel revelation in history. There are more preachers, more books, more gospel-media saturation than ever. Yet there has never been more distress, affliction and troubled minds among God's people."1
From my own walk of 47 years with the Lord, it appears that God has begun to wrap up life as we know it. He's accomplishing this by allowing more world problems, a greater magnitude of personal problems and a wave of evil that we have not experienced before.
Consequently, Christians are being forced to choose sides. The Lord is not letting us be "fence sitters" any more. Lukewarmness is no longer being tolerated. And, no one is exempt from God's purging. We're all in the "fire" together. But, rather than get burned up from ignorance, apathy and fear, let's find out how to use these difficult times to our advantage and for His glory.
The Lord tells us that in the days just before He returns, every aspect of our lives will be tested: all our secrets exposed and all our motives revealed. (1 Peter 4:17) Why? So that His will might be accomplished - that we might become more conformed to His image. (Romans 8:29) Now the method that God seems to use in order to implement His will in our lives is difficult times. It has been aptly said that we are forged in the crucible of adversity!
However, James 1:3-4 gives us a wonderful promise: it says that (if we allow it to) the testing of our faith will produce patience (or endurance). And we are to let that patience have its perfect work, that we may be complete and entire, lacking nothing. This is His will.
Clearly, this Scripture is saying that the "means" by which we are able to withstand God's testings and be conformed into His image is the fruit of longsuffering (patient endurance). Longsuffering is simply the determination never to give up, never to give in and never to let go. This is the only attitude that will get us through the coming end times.
No matter how we look at it, "longsuffering" seems to go with being a Christian. Now most of us were not aware of this "fruit" when we "signed on." But at this point in our walk with the Lord, we have no other choice but to proceed. Luke reminds us that those who look back are not fit for the kingdom. (Luke 9:62) Besides, where else would we go? Who else has the answers to life? And who else knows the end from the beginning? Only Jesus Christ.
God's will, again, is that Christ may be formed in each of us. (Galatians 4:19) Trials and testings seem to be the way this is accomplished. God wants us conformed into His image so that others may see Christ in us and truly want what we have. When we genuinely reflect Christ in all that we do, others will come to the conclusion that Christianity really works. There's no hypocrisy - our words and deeds match. It's the real thing. Christ is real!
As John 13:35 tells us, "they will know we are Christians" by what? By our flowery words? I don't think so. By our good deeds? Lots of people do good things. No, they will know we are Christians by seeing Christ's genuine Love and compassion in and through us.
God wants us to be willing to set ourselves aside in every situation, no matter how difficult. In doing so, we not only prove to Him that we love Him, but we also show that we truly belong to Him. A perfect example is Genesis 22. In this chapter, Abraham is about ready to sacrifice his only son as God had asked him to, when the Lord stops him and says: "Now I know that you fear [love] God, seeing that you have not withheld thy son [your most precious possession]..." (vs. 12)We, too, must learn how to totally give ourselves over to the Lord in circumstances, not withholding . We must be willing to lay these things down at the Cross, remembering that nothing can touch us but what God has not first ordained.
In other words, no person, no situation, no tragedy and no illness can come into our lives that is not "Father filtered" and allowed by His sovereign permission. And when He does say "yes" to certain difficult situations, He promises to be with us, to never fail or forsake us, to strengthen us, to help us and to uphold us. (Isaiah 41:10)
The most wonderful promise is tucked away in 2 Timothy 2:12 which says that, if we suffer for Him, "we shall also reign with Him." Remember the definition of suffering that we talked about last article. It means "to bar ourselves from following sin and self."
Obviously, when we do this we often do suffer, but He promises that the result will be reigning with Him! What glory, what hope and what a vision for the future!
I believe the Lord is telling us that the fruit of longsuffering is absolutely critical to learn and experience. There seems to be eternal consequences!
A Biblical Example of Longsuffering
There are many examples of longsuffering in the Bible. The primary one, of course, being Jesus. But there's another one that stands out to me:
It's the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, Daniel's three friends whom Nebuchadnezzar had thrown into the fiery furnace because they would not bow down and worship him. Rather than bemoan their fate, these three brave men declared that the "God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up." (Daniel 3:17-18)
Can you imagine giving this kind of a response to the king of the known world at the time? Nebuchadnezzar was so furious at their answer that his composure completely changed. He commanded his mighty men to bind the three, make the fire seven times hotter and cast them into it.
We all know the end of the story. When Nebuchadnezzar looked into the fire to see what happened, he said, "Did we not cast three men, bound, into the midst of the fire?" His servants answered, "Yes, my Lord." Nebuchadnezzar then said, but "I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt, and ...the fourth is like the Son of God." (verses 24-25)
Truly, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego exemplified the fruit of longsuffering. They never let go, never gave in and never gave up! They endured and persevered until they "saw Him who is invisible" even in the fire.
What About Us?
What about us? Most of us talk very openly about "being like Christ" and of having His characteristics of Love, joy, peace, etc., but what about the fruit of longsuffering - that determination to never give up, give in or let go? Do we manifest this fruit to others? How easy it is for us to simply preach "Christ crucified" without ever really living it.2
The question we must ask ourselves is how can we preach Christ crucified if we really don't understand what longsuffering is all about?
Recently, someone made an absolutely profound statement to me: she said, "It's crucial that the messenger becomes the message itself." Think about that for a moment. The messenger (the one relaying God's Word) must become the message itself (the one living God's Word). What she was saying is that we must not only "talk the talk," we must also "live" the message of God's Love, joy, peace and longsuffering. One of Jesus' main characteristics was longsuffering Love! Do we emulate this kind of Love to our spouses, to our families and to our friends, especially during this Holiday Season?
How can we even talk about the fruit of the Spirit if we don't manifest all of it? There's no way we can communicate God's message of Love to others, especially in trials, if we have not first experienced it for ourselves! Head knowledge can only produce head knowledge in others. Heart knowledge can only produce heart knowledge. But, "foot knowledge" (His life showing forth in our actions) births "foot knowledge" in others.
Our daily prayer should be exactly what Paul prayed in 2 Corinthians 4:12, that death would work in us (that we would learn to set ourselves aside), so that Christ's Life could be formed in others. Producing the "fruit of longsuffering" in us is one of God's ways of answering that prayer.
Remember Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego. They endured "by seeing Him who is invisible" in the fire with them. (Hebrews 11:27)
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