One of my main problems in this Christian walk is that things so rarely look like I expect them to look. Neither my blessings nor my persecutions look like I think they should. I’ll be looking for blessings in one category, thinking I deserve them because of some good deed or another, but I will be “let down” in that category only to have a blessing come from somewhere else. Or I tend to think of persecutions as, you know, being martyred or imprisoned or beaten for your faith, but fail to recognize the subtle pressures of a secular society as such.
Or I’ll come to church or a conference with high expectations, and walk aways blessed, although not profoundly so, only to have my life changed by moments that catch me completely off-guard, when they are entirely unlooked-for. Living Stones, one of my churches here in Reno (I also attend my parents’ Bible study…Sundays are busy for me), has come through for me three specific times this summer when I least expected it. I was there all three times mostly because I knew I should be. I was exhausted, confused, in one case just entirely beaten-down, and expecting exactly nothing. And then BAM, it was exactly what I needed.
The sermon tonight was on suffering. Not usually a topic you’d think would be encouraging. And yet..it was. Right at the beginning of the sermon, the pastor started off with, “Maybe some of you are going through some suffering now,” and proceeded to list several examples to which I went, “No…no…no…can’t relate.” And then he said, “Maybe some of you have lost or strained friendships because you’re a Christian. Or maybe it’s just that society says that you have to be stupid or uneducated or tuned-out to be a Christian. That you’re hateful and bigoted and standing on the wrong side of history.” And I broke down. Because that is EXACTLY what I’ve been going through. I’ve been AGONIZING (literally in mental and occasionally physical agony), wondering if I’m stupid to believe all of this. Am I a fool to trust in a 2000-year-old book? In powers that can’t be seen or scientifically tested, that don’t behave predictably?
He didn’t give me all the answers to these questions, but he gave me something equally powerful: perspective. We live in an age where persecution and suffering are promised to us (I wrote about this a bit in my post Resistance Training), and where we shouldn’t be surprised when it catches up with us just as we begin to really believe in the truth of the Bible. He reminded me of the millions, probably billions by now, of Christians before and now who have considered this gospel worth enduring the suffering for. We’re not in it because it’s foolproof, because it always makes perfect sense and everything fits perfectly together with no chinks in the armor. We’re in it because it’s transformative, because it’s powerful, because it works. This gospel, this good news, is worth toughing through the hard stuff.
He left us with the admonition, “Endure the battle, the war is won!” It reminded me of a lecture from way back in my YWAM days that I’ve been going back to a lot recently. Distilled, the message was, “As long as you don’t give up, you win.” There’s literally no way you can be beat as long as you don’t give up. If you can just endure, just “hold fast the profession of your faith” a little bit longer, you’re promised the victory. James 4:7 says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” It may be hard, it may feel impossible now, but the victory is yours as long as you don’t quit. The only, the ONLY way you can be beat is to give up. So just keep fighting. Endure the battle, the war is won.