Among the mighty warriors I have had the privilege of knowing, I count Delores Bonner, an African-American woman who lives alone in Bedford-Stuyvesant, one of Brooklyn’s toughest neighborhoods. She has been a medical technician at Maimonides Hospital for more than thirty years. Carol and I met her one year at Christmastime while we were bringing gifts to some poor children in our congregation.
Delores had a full apartment that day—but these children were not hers. She had brought them from a nearby shelter to meet us. Their natural mother was too consumed with her own problems to be present even for an occasion such as this.
“How did you come to meet these children?” I asked.
She modestly mumbled something that didn’t really answer my question. Only from others did I learn that right after her conversion in a prayer meeting at the church in 1982, she became concerned for children in the streets and in the crack houses. God touched her heart, and she started bringing the children to Sunday school. At first she packed them into taxis; later on someone heard what she was doing and bought her a car. Today she has a van so she can transport more children and teenagers to hear the gospel.
This is only part of Delores’ story. On Sundays between services, she oversees the crew that cleans the sanctuary so it will be ready for the next crowd. On Saturdays she goes out with the evangelism teams, knocking on doors in the housing projects to share God’s love. On weekdays I find her on her knees upstairs with the Prayer Band, taking a shift to intercede for people’s needs. She did the same thing on a ministry trip to Peru, where she joined others in calling out to God on my behalf as I preached in an outdoor meeting.
Delores is a woman of quiet determination, the kind shown in 1 Chronicles 12:18, where it says, “The Spirit came upon Amasai, chief of the Thirty, and he said: ‘We are yours, O David! We are with you, O son of Jesse! Success, success [peace and prosperity] to you, and success to those who help you, for your God will help you.’” Once again, the merging of divine and human effort is clearly shown.
Jim Cymbala began Brooklyn Tabernacle with less than twenty members in a small, rundown building in a difficult part of the city. A native of Brooklyn and longtime friend of both David and Gary Wilkerson, Cymbala is a frequent speaker at the Expect Church Leadership Conferences sponsored by World Challenge throughout the world.
You remember the story of Ananias and Sapphira. They were believers who dropped dead in the church because they misrepresented who Jesus was. They lied to Peter about the amount they received for the land they sold, but Peter told them they had lied to the Holy Ghost. Indeed, if a Christian lies to any man, it's as if that person has lied to God (see Acts 5:1-11).
What exactly was this couple’s lie? It was their misappropriation of money designated for the poor. They must have testified to the buyer, “Everything you pay us is for the cause of Christ. It all goes to widows and the poor.” But they kept back a portion of the money for themselves.
The message behind the story of Ananias and Sapphira is that you do not touch what belongs to the poor and needy. God won’t stand by and see His Son misrepresented to the world by those who call themselves by His name.
I ask you, how did the Holy Spirit bring about this sudden change of heart in those newly baptized believers in Jerusalem? Their transformation was an incredible miracle. The answer is that these Christians were the children of Malachi’s prophecy. Malachi is the last prophet we hear from in the Old Testament. God spoke through him, saying, “I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless” (Malachi 3:5).
Now fast-forward in time to the church in Jerusalem. These believers were going from house to house in fellowship. “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). What was the apostles’ doctrine mentioned here? It was the very words of Christ. Jesus had instructed His disciples, “The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26).
Jesus’ words were quickened in their hearts, and they knew they could never live the same way again. Suddenly, they saw how serious this matter of representing Jesus truly was. It drove them into their houses to find everything they didn’t need, and then they took those goods to the streets to sell. Simply put, Christ’s Word in Matthew 25 gave these believers a new attitude of love and concern for the poor.
We’re told that Christ is the light of the world “that all men through him might believe” (John 1:7). Yet, we then read, “The light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. . . . He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (1:5, 11).
Unbelief has always grieved the heart of Jesus. When our Lord came to earth in the flesh, He brought incredible light into the world. And that light was meant to open the eyes of men. Yet, in spite of Jesus’ amazing show of light, Scripture speaks of incredible examples of unbelief in the very face of such light.
Perhaps no other chapter in the Bible contains as much proof of Jesus’ deity as we see in John 12. We see a man who had been raised from the dead by Jesus’ command. We see the visual fulfillment of a centuries-old prophecy known to every Israelite. And we hear a literal voice speaking from heaven.
Even after witnessing these wonders, the people had the audacity to question Jesus. “The people answered him, We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up?” (12:34). They were saying, “You claim You’re going to be crucified. But we know the true Messiah is going to live forever.”
Then the people asked a question that absolutely stunned Jesus: “Who is this Son of man?” (12:34). Christ must have been incredulous at their blindness. In fact, He didn’t even attempt to answer the question. Instead, He warned, “Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you. . . . While ye have light, believe in the light” (12:35-36).
The light had shone into their darkness but their darkened minds didn’t comprehend it (see 1:12). The Greek word for comprehend means “to seize it, to lay hold of it, to possess the truth, producing life and power.” These people had been given a life-changing truth but they didn’t seize it or lay hold of it. They didn’t understand the truth of Christ, because they did not seek to possess it.
“These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them” (12:36). In this one verse, we find God’s attitude toward unbelief. Indeed, from cover to cover in the Bible, God never has sympathy or pity for unbelief. And the same is true in this scene. Jesus simply walked away from the unbelieving crowds. As a result, those people would leave Jerusalem in darkness because they didn’t walk in the light they’d been given.
Today there is a great falling away from faith and trust in God. Paul warned about this: “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day [Christ’s return] shall not come, except there come a falling away first” (2 Thessalonians 2:3).
In the Old Testament, the Lord gives us an example of what happens to those who fall away from faith in God’s power on their behalf. In 2 Chronicles 14, King Asa faced a million-man army of Ethiopians. But the king had great faith: “Asa cried unto the Lord his God, and said, Lord, it is nothing with thee to help, whether with many, or with them that have no power: help us, O Lord our God; for we rest on thee, and in thy name we go against this multitude. O Lord, thou art our God” (2 Chronicles 14:11).
What happened then? “The Lord smote the Ethiopians before Asa” (14:12). What great faith Asa had! For years afterward, “There was no more war unto the five and thirtieth year of the reign of Asa” (15:19). For years, Asa walked in faith before the Lord, and that brought God’s favor to Judah. A great peace fell over the land, and that peace became a witness to the world. Soon hungry people from surrounding nations flooded Judah, because they knew Asa walked with God.
Then, in the thirty-sixth year of his reign, Asa faced another crisis. Israel’s king rose up against Judah, capturing Ramah in an effort to cut off all trade to and from Jerusalem. The plan was to starve Judah into submission. Asa was left completely vulnerable, but this time he didn’t rely on the Lord in his crisis. Instead of praying for God’s direction and counsel, he turned to the king of Syria. In exchange for Syria’s help, Asa opened up Israel’s treasury, emptying it of all the nation’s gold and silver.
And so Judah was delivered from their enemy, but not by the Lord. That glory went to an alien army from Syria—and Judah’s witness to the world of God’s power was gone. A righteous prophet in the land came to Asa with this scathing word: “Thou hast relied on the king of Syria, and not relied on the Lord thy God . . . For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him. Herein thou hast done foolishly: therefore from henceforth thou shalt have wars” (16:7, 9).
I am convinced many Christians today are troubled for the same reason Asa was. They have war in their souls because they have traded faith for self-reliance. But the fact is, there is no way a follower of Jesus can have faith in any other source and not be troubled.
Right now, your life may seem like a boat in the midst of a raging storm, your situation beyond all hope. The storm swirling around you may be as frightening as any you’ve ever faced. But He is still God, and you have One greater than Solomon present with you. He is Master over every storm, and He’ll use that storm to test you. He’s allowing your crisis to see what’s in your heart.
You may think, “But what if my ship actually sinks? What then?” Consider Paul’s example in the book of Acts. His ship sank but he didn’t lose his life. In fact, he clung to God’s Word to him in the midst of that storm: “The ship will go down, but I will give you the lives of everyone on board.” When the storm ended, God was glorified for his faithfulness. And great miracles followed, accompanied by an awesome revival (see Acts 28:1-10).
Yes, the Lord may allow you to endure something that looks absolutely disastrous. But you will survive—and so will your faith—if you trust Him. Your ship may go down, but God will give you the strength to swim ashore, as He did Paul. All you can lose is that which is material, and God can easily replace that. He owns bigger, better boats, and He’s able to bless you with more than anything you may have lost. “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.” (Psalm 55:22)
I have to admit, as I read Jesus’ rebuke to the disciples, I think, “Lord, that’s not fair. I receive letters from people today who are facing their own terrible disasters. They’re losing their homes, their jobs, their loved ones. Surely You don’t expect them to remain full of faith.”
Then the Holy Spirit reminds me of some of the poverty-stricken areas I’ve visited. I’ve seen people living in shacks and sleeping on dirt floors, yet they have a joy I’ve never witnessed anywhere else. They rejoice in God’s daily faithfulness to them, and He causes their faith to abound, despite all their trials.