True ministry, the kind that bears fruit, the kind that is of eternal value, that is born of the Spirit is accredited by God one way : through suffering.
I have recently had to re-submit my application for Re-Accreditation for Chaplaincy. Generally it was filling in paperwork, submitting references and governmental checks.
But this world’s ways are not God’s ways. He doesn’t care about university or seminary qualifications, although He can and does use them.
God’s way is to put His man through the fire. Rather than go through courses and units, programs in churches, Gods course and purpose is to get us to the point of death. This is what He wants.
I’m not necessarily talking about physical death, but to that place where we come to an end of ourselves and see we are so weak, so useless, so nothing , that we just go “Lord, I can’t even breathe without Your help! I submit to You wholeheartedly! Use me in whatever way You want”.
Ah this is the place where God can now use us. The place of death.
“For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us,” 2 Corinthians 1:8-10
“The sentence of death in ourselves” Paul says here.
“that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead,”
That place of death is where we learn we can no longer trust ourselves, only now on God. We, who used to be so strong, so brave, so efficient, can no longer even get to the bathroom without someone helping us.
This was the point I got to last month, so physically unwell.
I re-submitted everything to God in that place. My family, my health, my life, any ministry I may have left… I lay it all on the altar. I gave it all up to Him. Again.
Whilst I was also re-submitting my chaplaincy accreditation..,
This is how He showed me His ministry, true ministry is birthed through death.
Then when everything is laid on the altar, He sends His fire to consume it, and He raises up what HE WANTS, only what He wants, in the power of His resurrection life.
Now all of Him. Nothing of self.
Just like Jesus. Just like Paul.
This is ministry He puts His stamp on. The stamp of death, in order to breathe His life into it.
God’s ministry credentials are born in the fire. Don’t doubt it my friend. If you’re going through suffering God is doing something in you, something of eternal value.
“that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” Philippians 3:10 ,11
I went to preach at the Homeless Mission on Saturday night and praise the Lord I had the honour of leading two men to Christ afterwards.
pain acrylic and pastel
I didn’t know what I was going to talk about, I didn’t know how I was even going to be physically able to preach. My body was aching, exhausted, sore and bandaged.
Late October I woke up one morning with both my hands and feet tingling. This was constant and it covered both my feet and hands, up my ankles and wrists, non-stop. The doctors couldn’t explain it and I could get no answers. Then my back began to hurt. I have now been in constant pain since November. December was the worst when it was highly inflamed and agonizing. I spent most of December horizontal, including Christmas Day.
Why do you allow suffering Lord?
Because that is the order of things at the moment. The order of things is suffering.
Obviously I prayed. Although I don’t know if you’d call it prayer or just non-stop desperate cries for help. I certainly couldn’t get on my knees, I couldn’t even sit, but I non stop cried out to the Lord. That’s pretty much all I could do in December. I had all the usual questions : Why me? What have I done to deserve this? Have you finished with me God? Will I ever be ok again?
In late December I had a dream.
I was walking in a grassy field with my two kids. There in the middle of the field was a huge wooden cross standing upright. I made my way over to it. As soon as we got close to it the presence of the Lord was thick and strong. The children commented on how strong His presence was. I simply wrapped my arms around the thick, square shaped vertical beam of it and cried my heart out.
In fact I woke myself up crying. I was still in the presence of the Lord when I awoke. I could feel the solid wooden beam in my arms still and the thought foremost in my mind was that Jesus’ nail-pierced feet are so far above me, way up high compared to me.
I have been slowly improving through January until now. Every day I get a little better until…last Friday night I sat down on the couch with a cup of black tea in my hand. As I sat down, focussed on protecting my back, I spilled the whole cup of scalding water in my lap. The pain was intense. I ran straight to the shower/bath.
Though He slay me yet I will trust Him
Job was all I could think about in the bath. Job worshipping God despite his circumstances. I worshipped God in the bath, in the pain. Eventually I went into shock and an ambulance took me to hospital. Apparently if you burn yourself in an area larger than your hand then as your body tries to cool down the burn, your body temperature drops too far and you can go into shock. In hospital….Second degree burns, potential plastic surgery….
So there I was on Saturday night, in pain, still recovering from my back injury, legs and groin dressed in bandages, moving like an elderly lady, having no idea what I am going to say to these homeless people, to the suffering, the scarred and wounded…..
The order of things is suffering.
Man chose his way and now it must run to completion
Man has to be allowed to run with his independence from God to full growth because He will never impinge on his free will. But man has to see that the way he has chosen will never work.
Suffering will be brought to full-bloom
“Except those days be shortened no flesh shall be saved, but for the elect’s sake God will shorten those days”
Then Christ’s order will be ushered in.
To suffer is to be human. To suffer is to be Christian. It is through many hardships we must enter the Kingdom of God (Acts 14:22).
But there is One who left the glories of heaven and chose to enter the order of suffering. When Jesus took on human flesh He willingly took on human suffering. And He suffered more than any other human: beaten beyond human recognition, betrayed, abandoned, forsaken by God.
He chose the order of suffering for you and me. He stepped into it and brought us redemption. Not that we won’t have problems and suffering any more as His children and friends, in fact we may have more, but that He will be with us through it all.
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;” Isaiah 43:2
The other day my prayers changed. I was lying on the floor asking Him to heal my wounds. I looked at the scars on my leg and suddenly I loved them. I felt great affection for those ugly brown, bubbly burn marks.
They identified me with my Saviour
And I thank Him for them now. I don’t want them to completely go. I want them to stay so I “bear on my body the scars that show I belong to Jesus” (Gal 6:17)
I shared my suffering, pain, wounds and the great, great love of our scarred Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ with the homeless on Saturday. The presence of the Lord was strong as we came together in our suffering and brought two new babes with us to cling to that old rugged cross.
There is only one antidote to the fear of man, and that is the fear of God.
The fear of God needs to overtake the fear of man. It needs to be a stronger force in our lives than the fear of man or else the FOM will keep rearing up its ugly head and dictating our lives.
Natural Vs Spiritual
We all want to be liked. We all desire the approbation of others. To be recognised, affirmed and accepted. That’s natural. I am the same as everyone else.
But that is the natural man, the old man. That man is part of the temporal, earthly order.
When we were born again our spirit-man was born from above. Now we are a part of the heavenly order of things. It’s important to remember that the temporal order is on its way out and very soon the eternal will be ushered in.
God has placed this world under judgment and there is no escaping that fact. Remember the writing on the wall? “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin” (Daniel 5:25). This world has been weighed in the balances and found to be wanting (or “too light”). Therefore God has numbered the days of the kingdoms of this world and shortly they will be brought to an end.
So when our natural man focusses on the earthly, material kingdoms around us we can forget that we are a part of something far greater, far more wonderful than this temporal order. Jesus removed the blinkers from our eyes when we were saved but we must know how to see into the eternal. We should be able to see what the natural man cannot. To see that the natural and temporal are passing away and that it is the eternal that counts and that lasts.
Remember Daniel: After he translated the above words, King Belshazzar ordered him to be promoted in his kingdom and highly honoured him in the sight of Babylon. But what did Daniel want with the King’s approbation? – He’d just told him that the days of his kingdom were numbered! The promotion was meaningless!
Daniel had eyes to see. The great banquet, the flowing wine and the shine of the cups of gold did not distract Daniel from seeing the spiritual.
The way of the kingdom is a different way, a higher way. Jesus came to deliver us from the bondage of the fear of man in the natural, and to bring us into His way – the way of the Spirit.
Obtaining the Fear of God
It is only in fearing God that the fear of man is supernaturally overcome. But how to obtain the fear of God?
Consider Stephen the Martyr. Previously the high priest had strictly forbidden the apostles to teach in Jesus’ Name, they had even been imprisoned for the message they preached. It was a scary time to be preaching the gospel.
“But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.” Acts 5:29-32
Not long after this event Stephen is accused of blasphemy and put on trial. How frightening! Other Christians had recently been killed for the faith and this was fresh in their minds.
Stephen could have kowtowed to the accusers, but he didn’t. He didn’t fear them, he could see beyond them and their threats. He could see the God of eternity. And he feared God much more than these men.
So in the fear of God Stephen, rather than cowering in a corner, rose to the occasion and preached the truth.
“You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit, as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?…” Acts 7:51, 52
Did Stephen fear man? No way. Did he compromise his message hoping they might let him off? Nope.
Yes, they killed him, but he didn’t fear them.
You see he had a vision of heaven. He “gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” Acts 7:55
The difference is that God’s people are able to see. They can see beyond the temporal, physical realm. Rather than seeing man and his threats they could see the One who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
And that is the difference.
The fear of man comes from spiritual myopia – short-sighted vision that cannot see beyond this physical, material world.
The fear of God comes from a supernatural revelation of the glory of God.
Once you have seen it you are never the same.
Isaiah saw it.
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled
the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!” Isaiah 6:1-3
This is what this generation needs more than ever – a revelation of the glory of God.
Once you’ve had a vision of the holiness, the reverence, the majesty of God, you have a vision of eternity. Suddenly your eyes are opened to the temporal nature of everything that encompasses us. Suddenly you see that only the eternal matters.
Suddenly your eyes are also opened to your true self. Once Isaiah saw God he also saw himself.
“Woe is me, for I am undone!”
The power of self is undone in the presence of Almighty God. And suddenly how man and this world estimates you takes a second place to the revelation that there is a holy God who sees you. Only His estimation of you matters now. And now the fear of man takes second place to the fear of Almighty God.
“Lord stamp eternity on my eyeballs” Leonard Ravenhill
Oh Lord God Almighty, give us, this last generation, a vision of Your glory. Let us see You in all Your awesome majesty. Give us a heavenly vision again Lord. I am asking for such clear spiritual vision that we can see past the distraction of this world and into eternity. Father, that we may fear You alone, and not man. Let us do Your will only. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
When Jesus sent out His disciples two by two He knew he was sending them out as sheep amongst wolves. He knew that they would be met with persecution and rejection along the way. He knew the hearts of the people had by and large grown callous in their religiosity.
Yet He still sent them out.
Jesus gave them one prescription to be able to withstand the ongoing rejection and persecution He knew they were to encounter:
“…do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:28
He taught them the fear of God.
This is God’s prescription for persecution. This is the only way ongoing rejection and persecution can be met with strength and courage and be withstood.
Jesus still sends out His disciples today. He has given all of us the Great Commission. He knows that we will be rejected and persecuted for the message we bring to the world, yet He still sends us. And the prescription that was good for the early disciples is still good for us today too.
You see as God’s mouthpiece in a fallen world, above all else we must fear God.
You cannot simultaneously fear both God and man.
We all fear either one or the other.
The one you fear will be the one who dictates your life. The one you fear will determine where you stand.
Why did Jesus command us to fear God? Because He knows that:
“The fear of man brings a snare.” Proverbs 29:25
The fear of man contaminates pure truth.
The fear of man leads to bondage.
The fear of man brings fear of rejection.
The fear of man shuts your mouth when you should speak.
The fear of man changes the truth of God’s Word into something more palatable.
The fear of man brings compromise.
And thus the fear of man cannot please God.
God’s prophets are those who will stand in the midst of rejection. These are ones whom will not stop speaking truth even in the face of resistance, hostility and open aggression. They will not bow to the pressure of man. God’s mouthpieces are those who understand the consequences of speaking on His behalf, and may even be afraid to, yet they will still speak it.
God’s ambassadors are those He sends forth in the fear of Him.
You cannot simultaneously please both God and man.
Choose which one you are going to fear, because that is the one you are going to serve. The one whom you try to please is the master to whom you bow.
If you want to get far in this world, to be accepted, promoted, have lots of Facebook friends, to be asked to speak at conferences, if that’s what ultimately motivates you, then you fear man.
But if you are willing to let it go: the popularity, friends, followers of your blog, even family, if you are willing to follow Christ whatever the cost, to please Him, to obey Him, to be faithful to Him. If what motivates you is to one day hear these words:
“Well done my good and faithful servant…”
then you fear God. And no matter what persecution comes your way, even unto death, you will have the courage and the strength to withstand.
John the Baptist said “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
For Christ to increase, I must decrease. This is the whole point of the Christian life. It is
“…Christ in you, the hope of glory” Colossians 1:27
We saw in God’s Victories Look Like Defeats that the human Self is a powerful force. The Adamic nature is strong and naturally Self-ish and self- absorbed. Followers of Christ contain His righteous nature in our mortal bodies by the Holy Spirit. Simultaneously we still have the Adamic nature, or the Flesh, within.
The cross dealt with our sins once and for all through Christ’s substitutionary atonement, and once we have repented of our sins and put our faith in Christ, we are justified before God.
However God deals differently with our sin than with our Self.
Positionally we are crucified with Christ. The believer is now to “reckon (them)selves dead to sin and alive unto Christ”. It is now no longer I that live but Christ that lives in me. This is a spiritual fact and something we need to receive by faith. But at the same time God is dealing with our flesh over the course of our lives by working His Son in us experientially. This is the process of sanctification.
It is not God’s desire after we are born-again that we would stay spiritual babes, stunted in growth. Rather it is His design to bring us to a place of enlargement. Or, to put it another way, it is His will to enlarge His Son in us and to bring us to maturity. It is only through the impartation of the divine life of Christ that we are enlarged and there is no enduring enlargement apart from Him.
However, in preparation to receive the impartation of the divine life of Christ our flesh needs to be “straitened”. (I have previously written on this subject here). Every time God wants to bring us to a new place of enlargement we first go through a straitening or confining process. Primarily the means God uses to straitening our flesh is the cross – affliction, suffering and trial. We probably all know the metaphor of the empty vessel. The emptier the vessel, the more of Christ that can fill it. But how is the vessel emptied of Self?
I love this old-fashioned word “straitening”. The KJV uses this word and I don’t think any other translation can beat it. It means to constrict, pinch, restrict, squeeze, confine, distress, compress. A “strait-jacket” in its purpose to confine and restrict gives a good picture of this word.
Jesus said: “But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” Luke 12:50
We see that Jesus Christ Himself went through a straitening process in His sufferings and ultimately His death on the cross. He was straitened. He was God wrapped in human flesh yet His eternal divinity was compressed into the limitation of humanity.
“This limitation could be removed only by the baptism of dying on the cross. Then the unlimited divine eternal life within the Lord Jesus could be released.” The Experience of Christ, Witness Lee
So why did the Lord of Life have to be straitened?
He was straitened so that we could be brought to the place of enlargement.
It was through His death that His divine Life was able to be released and imparted to us limited human beings. He interceded for us by becoming a human-being like us. He was confined, restricted, distressed and squeezed for us so that we could be brought to the place of enlargement by partaking of His divine life.
“Verily, verily I say unto you, unless a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” John 12:24
It is only through the impartation of the divine life of Christ that we are enlarged and there is no enduring enlargement apart from Him. This is God’s purpose and He is working in us every day to bring this to pass. Afflictions, trials and suffering have a divine purpose – to straiten our flesh. Not to repress our flesh, but to deal with the stubborn, wilful Self that resists the Holy Spirit.
Christ was straitened so that the Divine Life could be released and imparted to us. We are straitened in order to empty the vessel of the Self-life so that we are able to receive the impartation of the Divine Life.
If you are going through a period of straitening, restriction or confinement don’t despair. Rather be encouraged: Know that God is preparing you, His vessel, at this time to receive a greater impartation of the life of His Son. Simply allow the Potter to work with His clay, He knows His art.
More on this subject in the Next post…. The Way to Bear Fruit
“That is the strange lesson we all have to learn, and Calvary is the pattern of it from beginning to end. God’s victories look like defeats. It is victory in the unseen realm while one is apparently, absolutely down and out in the visible.” Prayer and Evangelism, Jessie Penn-Lewis (emphasis mine).
Therefore if Calvary is the pattern, then we know that the pattern is of suffering because we know that Christ our Lord and
Saviour suffered. Conversely we also know that if the pattern is of Calvary, then the pattern is also of victory because we know that through suffering our Lord was greatly victorious.
If we are the disciples of Jesus Christ, then we will too be greatly victorious in Him. However, it is through suffering that the victory will be won. This was true of Paul, of Peter and of all the apostles. And it is true of us too.
“The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.” Luke 6:40
We know the story of Peter denying Christ thrice. We know that Jesus, in His mercy, sought Peter out after the resurrection and restored him. The interesting thing is that once Jesus had restored Peter, He prophesied over him. Jesus foretold to Peter the actual pinnacle of his life for God – the very event that would bring the greatest glory to God.
It is interesting to note that Jesus’ prophesy excluded the fact that Peter was to be always happy, healthy and eventually own his own private jet. Why is that? Surely that would bring God the most glory! No, rather, what Jesus told Peter was something according to the pattern:
“’Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish’. This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.”” John 21:18, 19 (emphasis mine)
Peter was to glorify God by being crucified!
How could this bring glory to God? This really goes against the grain of our own thinking….
But remember: God’s victories look like defeats.
Consider for a moment this man, Peter. He had fearfully denied Jesus over and over again in order to preserve his own life and avoid the agony and humiliation of the cross. Could it be possible that this man would one day be so given to Christ, so full of the Holy Spirit that the fear of pain and death, the fear of the loss of his reputation would be so victoriously overcome that he would eventually take up his cross and follow Christ?
Jesus knew that the one thing Peter wished to avoid the most was the very thing that would bring God the most glory!
You see, Self is always trying to preserve Self (ie. Self-preservation). Self, or the “flesh”, cries out for comfort, for ease, for safety, to be liked and accepted. Feed me! Please me! Preserve me above all else! It is only when the power of the flesh has been broken that it is able to come under the dominion of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately the flesh in man is strong. So strong that it usually takes the rod of suffering to break its strength throughout a lifetime.
The flesh was also strong in Peter. He was, of course, no different from the rest of us, and yet this man was eventually crucified for the glory of God. What happened in-between his restoration by Christ and his death that effected this transformation? The answer is : the Holy Spirit.
It is “…Christ in you the hope of glory” Colossians 1:27 (emphasis mine).
It is God’s ultimate purpose to conform us to the image of His Son. It is God’s will to work His Son in us by His Spirit. Contrary to what we may imagine, God isn’t a dispensary, dishing out to our flesh an ounce of love, a pound of patience etc in order to improve it. This would be futile. Why? Because judgment has been pronounced on the flesh and now it must die. Our only hope is God coming to live in us by the power of His Spirit. God doesn’t give us more love and more patience, but what He does is work in usHis very Son. Christ’s nature is loving, truthful, patient and kind and so the more of Christ that has been worked in us, the more His nature will naturally shine through us. In order for this to be able to happen the flesh will have to be crucified. And that’s always going to be painful.
God’s victories look like defeats.
We think of victory as our lives always being smooth and easy. We believe when we are happy and healthy we are being blessed and when we are sad or sick, we are not so blessed. Perhaps we have done something wrong? But God’s perspective is totally different. His ways are higher than our ways, His thoughts higher than our thoughts.
Key Point: If God’s purpose is to conform us to the image of His Son, then whatever happens in our lives to achieve that end is victory.
Be encouraged that God has a much greater purpose than we can see at this time. What you and I are currently facing is intended to bring death to Self in order to allow the Spirit of life to work in us. If we yield to His hand He will bring forth a great victory in us and through us. And God will be glorified.
I have asked God about suffering, especially lately. I have read and studied the Word. I certainly do not know the answer to it all, not even close. But one thing I have noticed is that the Church, in general, seems to no longer teach on suffering nor sanctification.
In this generation there is so much suffering, look at the situation in Nepal for example. There are so many trials, battles and griefs that one would logically assume that the Church would be teaching volumes on this subject in order to bring hope, comfort and direction. However the opposite seems to be true. Instead of solid teaching in this area there seems to be a proliferation of the Health, Wealth and Prosperity false gospel.
So I have felt the Holy Spirit prompting me to do a little series on suffering and sanctification. I would like to share with you some of what I have learned through my own hard experiences in order to “strengthen the souls of the disciples, (and) exhort (you) to continue in the faith…” Acts 14:22
According to the Pattern
“That is the strange lesson we all have to learn, and Calvary is the pattern of it from beginning to end. God’s victories look like defeats. It is victory in the unseen realm while one is apparently, absolutely down and out in the visible.” Prayer and Evangelism, Jessie Penn-Lewis (emphasis mine).
The pattern is suffering. And if we are God’s child He will deal with us according to the pattern.
When Christ died on the cross it seemed that evil had triumphed. Isaiah 53:3,4 says:
“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces
from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows:
yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.”
Through His great suffering and death it seemed that all hope was lost and that Satan had triumphed. But this was only how it seemed in the natural realm. This is how it looked to human eyes. In reality, the cross was the place of Christ’s ultimate triumph over death, hell, sin and the devil. Sinners are delivered from sin, Satan must relinquish a captive, death is overcome and hell loses one more inhabitant – because of the cross.
What seemed so despicable, so contemptible, so utterly humiliating was the place of total and complete victory. As believers our eyes have been opened to the victory of Christ’s death and of course His subsequent resurrection. But to unbelievers the preaching of the cross is still regarded as meaningless foolishness.
Definition of “Pattern”: a regular and intelligible form or sequence discernible in the way in which something happens or is done
And so is suffering. To the world suffering is meaningless, utterly contemptuous and something to be avoided at any cost. But as Christians, once again, our eyes are opened. Just as we see Christ’s sufferings were for an eternal purpose, so we need to see that once we are God’s child, so too are our sufferings. We don’t need to suffer for our own sins, Christ has done that once for all, but there is always a purpose to the suffering of a child of God. It is easy just to see the immediate circumstances before us, but God is interested in eternal values.
“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” 2 Corinthians 4:17
And because of the cross, there is always a victory.
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