A time of troubles
We are living in a time of high anxiety. Nothing distracts us more than our personal problems, whether it is a financial, our relationship, or our health. There is nothing that is more present in our personal lives than these. How strong is our faith in our spiritual life in helping us in deal with these problems?
When we speak of our faith, we usually speak of our faith only in the context of our spiritual life as it relates to the coming Kingdom. Very rarely do we mention our faith when it comes to dealing with our personal problems. Our personal problems are sort of a personal situation we have to deal with: after all our personal problems are personal. How strong is our faith? Faith is the “substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen” (Heb 11:1): this is not a definition but rather a description. It is divided into two “things hoped for” and “the evidence of things not seen”. The first part, “things hoped for” involves the future hope of the Kingdom to come. The second part, our conviction, is the “evidence of things not seen” which involves our present realities, such as forgiveness of sin and the grace that we are living under through Christ. We can conclude, then, that hope is faith relating to the future, and conviction or the “evidence of things not seen” is faith relating to the present.
I would like to focus on the second part, our conviction. How Strong is Our Faith or, How Strong is Our Conviction? Acts 14:22 says that “we must through much tribulation enter into the Kingdom of God”: this will come after we have suffered for a period. It would be a mistake for us to conclude, that it is more common for us to have personal problems as a result of being servants of God, and that somehow it is a way of keeping us grounded and focused. It would also be a mistake to conclude that, if we were distracted or carefree, we would lose our focus, and therefore these personal issues are a way of keeping us on that straight and narrow path. It is quite the opposite; the most joy is to be found among those that are servants of God, and misery and a life of unhappiness is more common among those that have chosen to live a sinful life. Troubles or personal problems are a part of life.
Let us look at one of these examples. Consider the account in Matt 14:26-30. What we can draw from this, is that we are called to be servants of God through Jesus Christ, and like Peter we will be able to do many amazing things “… Lord if it be thou, bid me to come unto thee on the water.” Through his faith, we can see that Peter for a brief moment was able to walk on the water. But when he saw the wind boisterous he was afraid and began to sink, in other words at the first sign of trouble he began to lose faith. There is nothing wrong with turning to God for help but we should not turn to God as a last resort. Peter turned here to Jesus as his last resort: this is why Jesus remarked “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” (Matt 14:31). The question you are probably asking is how did Peter call on Jesus as a last resort, if he was the first person he called on to save him when he began to sink? We can see (vs 26) Peter was afraid at first, and then (vs 27) he was already given the reassurance that he was going to be fine if he had faith “ Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid” . Peter lost his faith, and then as he began to sink he gave up all hope. The same can happen to us when it comes to the Word of God. We have the hope of entering into the Kingdom, but we may be lacking when it comes to our conviction as it applies to our daily lives. Troubles such as sickness, finances, and our weariness, though they may seem overwhelming at times, are controlled by God. We may think of these personal issues as having little to do with Jesus or our faith.
The example of Job
When we think of personal problems one of the first people in the Bible that we think of is Job. He was a righteous man, but lost all the things he had in this life. The book of Job teaches us a very valuable lesson; personal problems are not directly proportional to our obedience to God. When we look at the account in Job 1:13-19, how he lost his servants, his sheep, and his camels (or his material possessions) and then to ultimately lost his children “there came a great wind…and it fell upon the young men and they are dead” (Job 1:19), there is no idea that Job lacked obedience.
Job despite losing all he had said, “blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Job despite of all that he had gone through remained upright. Job was stricken with an illness that is today called Job’s syndrome. This is a group of immune disorders, which include skin rashes and severe lung infections that result in balloon-like lesions, hence the name ‘boils’ “and [God] smote Job with boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown” (Job 2:7). Jobs wife’s reaction was that of someone who had lost faith, “curse God and die” (Job 2:9); she was ready to give up all hope, after all she had been through by losing her family and all her possession, but Job recognized that God allows things to happen for good ends. “What? Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? (Job 2:10).
Other men beside Job in the Bible have lost their possessions and have been stricken with illness: even Kings such as David have been driven from their throne. All these events have been done under God’s control. As followers of Christ, and children of God, we may find ourselves in dire situation and even our prayers may seem to be of no avail. There will be all types of crises that can affect our spiritual life. We may have an easy flowing and prosperous life with no problems or issues to deal with; maybe the most pressing thing we may have is how warm we should dress on a particular day, or if it is going to rain or not. When we have personal problems we often think of them as personal issues that have little to do with Jesus or the household of faith. There is no greater mistake that we can make than this: each of our problems are a test of our obedience to Christ, and how closely we adhere to his teachings and his commandments.
The return of Christ
At this time we are all waiting for Christ to return, so that our sorrow would turn to joy. The waiting seems long or short depending on whom you ask.
The time is long for those that have not been occupied with doing the things needed to prepare. It pretty much reminds us of when we were children, when a day seemed so long and a year took an eternity.
And the time may seem short to those that are continually laboring and doing God’s work. As adults when we say that time flies because of work, family and all our responsibilities; the day is still 24 hours but we have more responsibility now, and that occupies our mind and our time.
Time flies as it relates to the coming Kingdom when we are wisely using our time in daily readings, Bible studies preaching and teaching the Word of God. If we occupy ourselves by restricting our mind to what is here and now, the present problems can easily be overcome, or at least rendered of little account. When some misfortune happens to us, the first thing we tend to ask ourselves is what have we done to deserve it. Through the ages many have felt that, “we must be guilty of something and this is our punishment for it” or “I got myself into this situation because I wasn’t careful about the decision I made”. We spend more time trying to figure out why it happened rather than trusting that we will be delivered. Today many of us, especially in this modern society, have endured very little compared to those that have lived in the past, and the way some people are still living in other underdeveloped countries around the world. In previous times, and elsewhere in the world, with a high infant mortality, short life expectancy, and high poverty, often children had to give up going to school in order to help support their family. Today we encourage our kids to stay in school; but with all the conveniences and advancements of modern society we still have our own problems to deal with. Although it may not be as extreme as it might have been in the past it is enough to distract and overwhelm. We should not allow ourselves to be distracted with our personal problems and instead pray to God to be delivered. “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool: but whoso walketh wisely, shall be delivered” (Prov 28:26).
The greatest example we have of learning through suffering is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who suffered many things for our sake. “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). Our Lord suffered through mocking and persecution, and ultimately gave his life for our sake. Sometimes the pressures of life seem more than we can bear, but we should then remember Job. He was a man that lost everything but never lost his faith. Instead through faith and prayer he turned to God to be delivered. We should do the same when faced with difficult situations, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart…” (Prov 3:5). All we are asked to do is to have faith and lean upon His understanding. We are living in a time of high anxiety, and we can get caught up in the problems of a world that is truly hopeless. Now that we have come to the partaking of the bread and wine, we know that through the bread and wine we are members of the promise of Christ’s return, which is the Hope we all share. Today our conviction should be a strong as it was when we first came out of the waters of baptism, and as we did then we must remember the promise Jesus made to his disciples: “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, He will give it you” (John 16:23).
Marvin Thompson (Brooklyn, NY)