We all struggle in our Christian lives, whether it be due to temptation, illness, circumstance, or because we live a life separate from the world and suffer for loving the Lord Jesus Christ.
I would like to discuss how to survive the struggles. This does not mean walk around with a superficial grin and an air of artificial happiness. The Lord Jesus Christ was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isa 53:3), Jeremiah was the weeping prophet, Paul at times despaired even of life (2 Cor 1:8, 4:8-9, 16-17), David was often extremely down (Ps 31:9-10) and Timothy's struggles brought him to tears (2 Tim 1:4).
By surviving the struggles I mean, maintaining hope, focus, stability and testimony in spite of our situation. I mean to learn to be content no matter the circumstance (1 Tim 6:6, Phil 4:11, Heb 13:5). This requires knowledge and application of Spiritual resources beyond positive thinking or human reasoning. Positive thinking will never change one white hair to black, but, the Word of God was not written in vain (Heb 4:12, Isa 55:11, 2 Tim 3:16-17).
What was it that got David through when he was being pursued in the mountains by his enemies? What was it which sustained Jeremiah during his forty years of fruitless preaching? What was it which got Moses through when all he heard was complaints from the children of Israel who he was trying to lead from slavery to liberty? What was it which helped Joseph when he was sold into slavery, away from his family, falsely accused and imprisoned? What was it which motivated Noah to continue building an ark in the middle of a desert for over 100 years even though no-one believed him? What gave Paul the strength to rejoice in the Lord during his imprisonments, scourgings, shipwrecks, desertion from fellow Christians, and thorn in the flesh?
All these people were ordinary men with their fair share of faults. All of them suffered from discouragement, disobedience at times, fruitlessness and opposition. They all felt the silence of God during their trials. What enabled them to survive?
Surely a person who has material wealth, intelligence, and everything they could ever want should be happy, right? Take heed to the words of the wisest man who ever lived, lest we follow him in vain:
Ecclesiastes 1:14-18, 2:4-11, 12:13
14 I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
15 That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.
16 I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.
17 And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.
For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.
4 I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards:
5 I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits:
6 I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees:
7 I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me:
8 I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts.
9 So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me.
10 And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour.
11 Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.
13 ¶ Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
When we focus on ourselves and what we can get out of life, we are guaranteed to find the same
despair as Solomon.
We can also learn from David his father who was said to be a man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22). David realised that his only hope of surviving the struggles and maintaining focus in life was to pursue Godliness. This does not mean we do not engage in secular activities, but, we should be in the world yet not of it (Rom 12:2, 1 John 2:15-16).
9 BETH. Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.
10 With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments.
11 Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.
12 Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes.
13 With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth.
14 I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches.
15 I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways.
16 I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.
17 GIMEL. Deal bountifully with thy servant, that I may live, and keep thy word.
18 Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.
19 I am a stranger in the earth: hide not thy commandments from me.
20 My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto thy judgments at all times
33 These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
1 John 4:4-5
4 For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.
5 Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God
What is it that all the above mentioned characters had in common? What is it that keeps us going? It is our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is our knowledge of His perfect character, our trust in His perfect wisdom and our continual contemplation of who He is and what He has done which will sustain us in this present evil age. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17) so the only answer to how we will survive without going under is to bury ourselves in His Word. We must realise again and again that all the people who are written about are just like us: sinners saved by grace, their righteousness a result of their faith and not their works. We must also realise that the friction in our marriages, families and the church is often due to spiritual warfare and thus can only be dealt with through prayer and the Word of God.
12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;
15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:
18 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;
Our aim then should be to increase our faith! Is this simplistic? The answer is, is God's Word true? The problem is that though we know it, we don't do it (James 1:22).
When I say that we should bury ourselves in God's word, we must study it carefully and rightly divide it lest we fall into the trap of claiming promises which were never meant for us to claim. This only leads to false hope and more disappointment. Though God's word is all for us, it is not all to us. (2 Tim 2:15). The Word rightly divided ensures the right resources provided.
Another symptom of a superficial study of God's Word is that we portray our Lord as just a man and we fail to see Him for who He really is, the Lord of Glory. We address Him as a mere man, an historical Jesus, instead of reverently addressing Him by His rightful title, Lord Jesus Christ. We call Paul St. Paul but the Lord of Glory is just Jesus. A watering down of God's word and a blase use of scripture coupled with an irreverent and humanistic view of the Lord of Glory have caused our Christian gatherings to decline into man made programs of Christian entertainment. And this is evident by the ireverence, ignorance, flipency and carnality which is rife in so many churches today.
Many people say that if God would only audibly speak to them, they would be more faithful, or, if God would only show them a miracle, they would have more faith. Again, a careful study of His word will answer these people. Did Cain decide against killing Abel because God spoke to Him audibly? (Gen 4:6-8) Did the children of Israel have more faith and obedience because of audible encounters with God or miraculous signs? The answer is a very clear and resounding NO! (Note the kind of people who seek after signs, Mt 12:39.)
Let us learn the futility of pursuing worldly interests from Solomon, the importance of meditating on God’s Word from David and the necessity of prayer and recognising the devices of the enemy from Paul. All of whom struggled with some form of thorn in the flesh yet survived because of their faith and intimate relationship with their creator.
I know that it is often hard to read and apply the Word of God to our lives. The truth is that there are no shortcuts. We need to suffer to produce patience, experience and finally hope (Romans 5:3-5). It is also true that the growth comes by God moulding our character and not just mental agreement with the black and white text. But, by not reading it at all, how can the Holy Spirit produce faith, growth and fruit? He cannot. The Living Word is what God has decided we need for this dispensation (2 Pet 1:3-8, 2 Tim 3:16-17). He has taken away his manna in the wilderness (it did not cause obedience), his appearances on Mt Sinai (which did not generate faith), his audible voice through prophets (they killed them, Mt 21:33-40) and his talking ass. He has left us with a personal letter which contains testimony for us and to us. He has left His Holy Spirit to convict, comfort and teach us. He has enabled us to approach Him in prayer through the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. If we ignore His Word and neglect prayer, we will never survive the spiritual struggle between our carnal and spiritual natures. We will remain like the children of Israel, wandering aimlessly and disobediently, wasting our lives. 1 Corinthians 10:1-11 reminds us of their plight and warns us that it was written for our learning.
We are given a promise in Galations 5:16: This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. These are not idle words.
In closing, let us take heed to Paul's instruction to Timothy: (1 Tim 4:15) Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all.