“Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). These are Paul’s closing word to the Philippians. He wasn’t saying, “I am in prison and these chains are a blessing. I’m so happy for this pain.” I’m convinced Paul prayed daily for his release and at times cried out for strength to endure. Even Jesus, in his hour of trial and pain, cried to the Father, “Why have you forsaken me?” That is our first impulse in our afflictions, to cry out, “Why?” And the Lord is patient with that cry.
But God has also made provision so that our “what ifs” and “whys” can be answered by his Word. Paul writes, “Knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel… Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice” (Philippians 1:17-18). He’s telling us, in other words, “I am determined God’s Word will be validated by my reaction to this affliction. I have set my mind that I won’t disgrace the gospel or make it seem powerless.”
Here is the message that I hear through Paul: We don’t have to do something great for the Lord. We only have to trust him. Our role is to place our lives in God’s hands and believe he will care for us. If we simply do that, his gospel is being preached, no matter what our circumstances. And Christ will be revealed in us most especially in our difficult circumstances.
Sam, an elder in our church, once told me, “Pastor David, the way you respond to hard times is a testimony to me.” What Sam didn’t realize is that his life is a sermon to me. He lives with chronic pain that allows him to sleep no more than a few hours each night. Despite his constant, raging pain, his devotion to the Lord is a testimony to all of us. His life preaches Christ as powerfully as any of Paul’s sermons.
So, is Christ being preached in your present trial? Does your family see the gospel at work in you? Or do they see only panic, despair and questioning of God’s faithfulness? How are you responding to your affliction?
The whole world is trembling right now over the outbreak of terror and calamities happening throughout the earth. Every day we wake up to learn of another disaster. Some observers say we are witnessing the beginnings of World War III.
Non-believers are becoming convinced there are no solutions left, that everything is spinning into chaos because there is no “all-seeing governance.” But God’s people know differently. We know there is no reason to fear, because the Bible reminds us again and again the Lord has everything under control. Nothing happens in the world without his knowledge and governance.
The prophet Isaiah declares to the world, “Come near, you nations, to hear; and heed, you people! Let the earth hear, and all that is in it, the world and all things that come forth from it” (Isaiah 34:1). He’s saying, “Listen, nations, and give me your ear. I want to tell you something important about the Creator of the world.”
Isaiah states that when God’s indignation is aroused against nations and their armies, it is the Lord himself who delivers them to slaughter. “Behold, the nations are as a drop in a bucket, and are counted as the small dust on the scales…. All nations before Him are as nothing, and they are counted by Him less than nothing and worthless…. It is He [God] who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers…. To whom then will you liken Me?” (Isaiah 40:15, 17, 22, 25).
We are to know there is a map in heaven, a plan that our Father has outlined for the course of history. And he knows the end from the beginning. As this plan comes to fruition, I believe we are to ask ourselves this question: “Where is the Lord’s eye focused in all this?” God’s eye is not focused on the world’s tin-god dictators or their threats.
Scripture assures us these wild men’s bombs, armies and powers are as nothing to the Lord. He laughs at them as mere specks of dust, and soon he will blow them all away (see Isaiah 40:23-24).
Remember, you serve a God who has everything under control and you can trust him with all things.
Would it shock you to know that Jesus experienced the feeling of having accomplished little?
In Isaiah 49:4 we read these words: “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and in vain….” Note that these are not the words of Isaiah, who was called by God at a mature age. No, they are Christ’s own words, spoken by One “called…from the womb; from the matrix of my mother…The Lord…formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, so that Israel is gathered to Him” (49:1, 5).
When I came upon this passage, one that I’d read many times before, my heart was in wonder. I could hardly believe what I was reading. Jesus’ words here about “laboring in vain” were a response to the Father who had just declared, “You are My servant … in whom I will be glorified” (49:3). We read Jesus’ surprising response in the next verse: “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing” (49:4).
Reading those words made me love Jesus all the more. I realized Hebrews 4:15 is not just a cliché: our Savior truly is touched with the feelings of our infirmities, and was tempted in all ways as we are, yet without sin. He’d known this very same temptation from Satan, hearing the same accusing voice: “Your mission is not accomplished. Your life has been a failure. You’ve got nothing to show for all your labors.”
Christ came into the world to fulfill the will of God by reviving Israel. And he did just as he was commanded. But Israel rejected him: “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11).
Why would Jesus, or any man or woman of God, speak such despairing words as these: “I have labored in vain”? How could the Son of God make such a statement? And why have generations of faithful believers been reduced to such despondent words? It is all the result of measuring little results against high expectations.
The truth is, we’re all called to one grand, common purpose, and to one ministry: that is, to be like Jesus. We are called to grow in his likeness, to be changed into his express image.
Luke 15:3-7 talks about the shepherd who leaves his flock of 99 sheep in order to search for one lost sheep, and we usually focus on the lost sheep, but what about the others who were left behind?
I imagine that out of those 100 sheep, there were probably three or four who were always right at the shepherd’s knees wherever he went. These were the sheep who thought, “Man, we’re not leaving you.” They knew what time the shepherd woke up in the morning, and if he woke up at 6:00 a.m. then at 5:59 those were the sheep nudging his arm. These were the sheep who would notice the moment the shepherd became alarmed and start bleating.
These are the sheep who are the diligent seekers. They not only know the Lord’s voice like most of the other sheep, but they also love being in his presence.
So when that one sheep wanders off, the shepherd goes out to search for it, and he leaves (momentarily) the sheep who are diligently seeking him. Have you ever noticed that, those of you who diligently seek God? Sometimes you wonder, “Where did he go? I was following him; I was close to him. I was feeling his presence, and now I can’t.”
How many times did Jesus leave his disciples to spend time with God or talk to someone who was socially outcast? He always found his disciples again, or they found him, but usually it was under circumstances that made them wonder, “What is he doing now?”
God is about his business, and his business is glorifying himself through the saving of his people. He’s going out after the lost sheep. As often as not, it happens in ways that even we who closely follow him don’t understand. These are the moments when our faith is stretched and refined, to continue trusting that, even when we don’t understand his actions or he seems to leave us, our shepherd is merciful and just.
In the days when the Philistines gathered to fight against Israel with 30,000 chariots, 6,000 horsemen and people as numerous as the sand of the seashore, King Saul and the men of Israel perceived that they were in danger and began to hide in caves and holes. The Scripture says that others followed Saul in Gilgal, trembling. Yet there was one who was not found among the fearful. Jonathan, son of Saul, turned to his armor bearer and said, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that the Lord will work for us. For nothing restrains the Lord from saving by many or by few” (1 Samuel 14:6).
Jonathan was not afraid to face his enemies, despite being accompanied by only his armor bearer. He understood that it was the Lord’s battle, and so he confidently asserted, “The Lord has delivered [the enemy] into the hand of Israel” (14:12).
Jonathan and his armor bearer took only half an acre. It might have seemed like a small and insignificant victory, but when they claimed that half acre, it sent a shudder right through the ranks of hell. The Bible says that an earthquake and a great trembling went through the whole host. The Philistines trembled because finally somebody chose to believe God. They definitely did not regard this victory as insignificant!
Likewise, we can stand our ground in any situation. “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).
Freedom from fear comes when you remember the reason for the opposition — when you remember that God has allowed it in your life in order to sustain and nurture you. When you choose to face your enemies, it is actually a key to unlocking the provision of God for your life and the lives of those around you. You see, the battle is not yours, it is the Lord’s.
Carter Conlon joined the pastoral staff of Times Square Church in 1994 and was appointed Senior Pastor in 2001. In May of 2020 he transitioned into a continuing role as General Overseer of Times Square Church, Inc.