Failing is an inescapable reality to the Christian; failure is our constant companion and falling short a function of our daily lives. “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” Jesus commanded (Matthew 5v48) and who among us could claim to even come close to obedience such as this?
Immediately, it is necessary to backtrack and say that success should also be part and parcel of the Christian life. We should be growing, maturing, being oh-so-slowly transformed into the image of Christ. It is good to look back over the years and see the areas we have had success in, the sins conquered, the increase in affections for God, the increase in love for his people, the increase in giving, the greater faith, love and hope we have and the trials and afflictions that have been overcome. Praise be to God, for the Holy Spirit is in the business of making us more holy.
This talk of failure is not meant to be discouraging or to conjure up abject pessimism. It is meant to highlight two important truths: the grace of God and the sinfulness of our hearts.
An hour from now I may lose my life wrestling with an escaped bear. I know, it sounds unlikely (I’d win for starters), but bear with me in my point. As human beings we experience the now and can remember (to some degree) the past but we are always blind to the future. After all, the future is very resistant to prediction. The twists and turns of our lives make complex patterns that we can never fully follow, predict or anticipate. For Christians, as we deal with the ups and downs of life, we face an added layer of struggle which is the battle between sight and faith.
We all know this fight well. Something bad happens and sight, that is our immediate experience of the event, says: “I can see no good in this.” while faith quotes Romans 8 v 28 and says: “ALL THINGS FOR GOOD!” Faith being unnatural to us, we will by default place greater store on sight. It is an interesting condition: being limited finite creatures unable to see how the future will pan out, we place greater trust in our own limitations than we do in God. Oh the folly of unbelief!
For what we are prone to forgetting is that faith is always the wisest option, it presents to us the most accurate picture of what is going on, it presents to us certainty while sight presents to us mere predictions of uncertainty.
In the book of Hebrews faith is described in the following way: ““Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1) Faith is a sure and certain thing! While sight is not so sure and most definitely not certain.
Whenever I hear Hello Hurricane by Switchfoot I always get the same image in my head: I’m standing on top of a hill in a raging storm and yelling the song out in sheer defiance of the elements. As the lyrics go: “Hello hurricane, you’re not enough, Hello hurricane you can’t silence my love.” This nicely leads me onto the topic I have in mind: the justified defiance of a Christian against everything and by that I mean that faced with all the storms, troubles, futilities, worries and suffering of life the Christian can be justifiably defiant against them all. For in Christ we are granted victory over all things and he will see us through all things and not a single thing can prevent a Christian from reaching glory.
To prove this point I’m going to go through a few of the biggest ‘hurricanes’ life in this world throws at us and show how through Christ we can be defiant against them for they hold nothing that can tear us from his side. I must make it quite clear from the start that this defiance only applies to Christians, without Christ the hurricanes of life tear down and destroy; a life without Christ is a futile existence and has no hope. But for a Christian, for a child of God, for one who has put their faith in Christ, there is all the hope in the world.
“You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” Psalm 56 v 8.
Imagine what such a book would look like: it would be a huge heavy tome for there is a lot to cry for in this world we live in. It would be meticulously detailed for God sees the tears that no one else does. It would be well worn for such is the compassion of God that he would leaf through it regularly. And if you’re a Christian and part of God’s family it would have a page in it with your name written at the top, written in the same handwriting that wrote the Ten Commandments, for the author of this book of tears is God.
Underneath would follow a note of the first time you cried and then every single instance from then until now. Not a single tear would be unrecorded, in fact, if you think about it, this book would contain records you no longer remember but what passes from your memory does not pass from God’s. How little do you grasp this: that when you’re upset God cares, he cares so much that he writes it all down so he will not forget the troubles you face and the sorrow you feel in your heart. The least of all your tears are in his book; how much more the tears you shed over greater things.
“I slept but my heart was awake.”
Songs of Solomon 5 v 2
In Songs of Solomon we have a glorious story of Christ wooing his bride, the church and as ‘the Love of Christ’ by Richard Sibbes will show you it deals with all aspects of the Christian life in its up and downs. In Chapter 5v2 we have a picture of a Complacent Christian: a Christian who sleeps, a Christian who is lethargic, a Christian who has grown lazy and apathetic in the fight of faith. I have been this Christian before and no doubt, knowing my weakness, I will be this Christian again. It is not a good place to be; in fact, and I don’t say this lightly, the most frustrating and, in hindsight, joyless times of my life where when I was in this sleepy state.
It is a deadly state to be in because you never realize at the time what a deadly state you are in. As the second part of the verse says: your heart is awake, you are still a Christian, you still love God, you still pray, still do Christian stuff, still acknowledge Christ as your Saviour, and you’ve probably fooled a lot of others and yourself that you’re doing fine. But you’re not; you can’t be for you have fallen into a spiritual sleep. The source of this sleep is always in sin, some worldly vanity that has distracted you and dulled your senses to the things of God. You begin to coast in your Christianity, neither giving it up nor putting much effort in. Your earnest desire is not to seek God out but be comfortable in life. Prayer and Bible reading become less important, spending time with God less necessary, church can become more social than spiritual, and you don’t realize it.
I don’t like suffering, I’m fairly sure this isn’t an uncommon view, indeed, pleasant suffering is an oxymoron. In fact, suffering sucks, whatever it might be whether physical, mental, emotional – there is nothing nice about being in pain, grief, sorrow or anguish. And there are those of you out there who are going through hard times and I’m not here to tell you that you should go around with a huge big happy smile on your face, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t cry (for as the shortest verse in the Bible says: Jesus wept) and I’m not saying that you shouldn’t come before God and pour out your grief, pain, loss and trouble to him for such complaints he cannot helped but be moved by for the compassion and love of God is steadfast. This world we live in carries on it the curse of sin and this is made known with every ache of pain, every grief, every sorrow, every heavy beat of the heart, all point to the fallen nature of this earth and the men and women on it. And let’s face facts: it might not be alright, in this life at least there’s no guarantee that everything will turn out fine. It is through ‘great tribulation’ that we’ll make it to heaven as Jesus said. And it might seem cruel of me to talk about the joy of suffering when you you know is pain.
How then can there be joy in suffering? How can we both accept suffering for the pain it is and yet have joy? The first thing to stress is that this is not natural; this is not a human thing for the only joy a man could naturally find in suffering would be a false comfort. Outside of Christianity, outside of Jesus Christ, there is little comfort for those suffering other than the ‘sweet oblivion’ of death which is a terrible lie.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1 v 2-4
_ “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favourable? Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?”
Psalm 77 v 7 – 9
Psalm 77 is one of Asaph’s and as in all of his Psalms he’s brutally honest about his emotions and feelings. And if you’re reading this as a Christian then you’ve probably asked the same questions as Asaph. When trouble, sorrow, hardship, pain and suffering come your way and dark times come for your soul and the presence of God that seemed so close before is hidden from sight and all you thought certain is now unstable then you will ask along with Asaph: “Will God spurn me forever and never again be favourable? Has the steadfast love of God forever ceased? Have his promises come to an end? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in his anger shut up his compassion?”
“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”
2 Corinthians 4 v 17
Often when reading verses like the above it is easy to imagine that it cannot apply to our own lives. Our troubles rarely seem light and momentary, usually our troubles are burdens and afflictions that weigh on our hearts and prey on our minds. We take our trouble to God but seem to find no peace, deliverance, relief or answer. God seems absent and our troubles grow heavier. In fact, we see this very feeling earlier on in the Second Letter to the Corinthians when Paul writes:
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.”
2 Corinthians 1 v 8