Right now, many of God’s people are suffering — physical pain, emotional turmoil — and they may be questioning the reason for their distress. If you are one of these, you may feel tired and frustrated, wondering if God is mad at you for some reason. You ask, “Lord, you know I love you and my faith is strong. But I don’t know how much longer I can endure this trial.”
The apostle Paul’s life is an example of how we’re to deal with our afflictions: “For this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life” (1 Timothy 1:16).
Trials and sufferings are appointed to devoted servants who receive revelations from the very heart of God. Paul testifies, “Lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me” (2 Corinthians 12:7). If you’ve set your heart wholly on Christ, you’re going to experience hard times and afflictions that cold, carnal Christians know nothing about. This was true of Paul’s life.
When Paul was converted, he wasn’t satisfied to learn Christ even from Jesus’ disciples. He wanted to know the Lord intimately for himself. Therefore, Paul said, “I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood” (Galatians 1:16). Instead, he shut himself off in Arabia for three years (see 1:16-18). The apostle testified, “I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:12).
Thank God for Bible teachers who open up the scriptures and reveal many wonders and mysteries of the faith. But the fact is, the revelation of Jesus Christ himself cannot be taught, it must be given by the Holy Spirit. And it comes to those who, like Paul, shut themselves up in their own Arabia, determined to know Christ.
It is all right to question God regarding your pain but don’t expect an answer. Once you’re in heaven, the Lord will explain all to you and you’ll see that everything was part of a perfect plan — orchestrated by a loving Father who knew what it would take to keep you on your face, moving toward him. And the wonderful news is that it will be more than worth every tear.
Sitting alone in a cave, the saintly prophet Elijah had completely given up on society. Now elderly, secluded and dejected, the prophet had begged God to strike him dead because he was convinced that essentially “this nation is too far gone. The church is backslidden beyond repair and every leader is a puppet of the devil. Revival is simply impossible and there’s no hope left. I’ve had it, Lord!” (see 1 Kings 19:4).
Curiously, he fell into a despairing state just hours after winning the greatest victory of his lifelong ministry: calling down supernatural fire from heaven in a contest against the false prophets of the pagan god Baal. In an awesome display of God’s almighty power, Elijah’s sacrifice and the twelve barrelsful of water he had poured around it were consumed. And the backslidden Israelites who were present all fell to their knees, crying, “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!” (1 Kings 18:39).
The awakening Elijah had prayed for had finally come — or so he thought — and he was energized to celebrate the greatest moment in Israel’s history. He was convinced that wicked King Ahab and his evil wife Jezebel would listen to him and pure worship would be restored in the city of Jezreel. Instead, before he even got back to the city, he was accosted by a messenger from Jezebel notifying him that he would surely be dead “by tomorrow about this time” (19:2).
Within twenty-four hours of his incredible victory on Mount Carmel, Elijah was back in the wilderness, trembling under a juniper tree. In his mind, everything had backfired and all his hopes for renewal had vanished. Now, forty days later, we find him in a mountain cave, all alone. Then the Bible tells us, “The word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” (19:9). That was God’s way of asking, “What’s bothering you?”
Elijah unburdened his heart to the Lord, complaining that he felt completely alone (19:14). God assured him that there were seven thousand hidden saints who shared his same burden. They had endured because of their hope in a coming day of deliverance.
Likewise today, the church’s blessed hope is the soon return of Jesus — our deliverance! God has a remnant, people set aside for himself, who are wholly given to him. If you are a part of that remnant, your blessed hope is the soon return of Jesus!
“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty” (2 Timothy 3:1, ESV). Right now things are taking place we could never have imagined. Jesus predicted that men would become lovers of themselves, lovers of money, hateful, proud and arrogant. Today if someone has the nerve to mention sin, he is called a bigot and made an outcast. As God’s Word is moved to the sidelines of the culture, sin becomes more and more prevalent.
As Christ’s Body, we dare not be asleep to these things. The Old Testament speaks of the sons of Issachar “who had understanding of the times” and skill in dealing with the world (see 1 Chronicles 12:32). Can the same be said of Christ’s Body today?
If we discern the times, we know this isn’t a moment for half measures. The only way for us to “deal with the world” is to not let church be business as usual. Jesus said of certain demonic spirits, “This kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21, NKJV). In these times, our prayers have to be fervent, because without spiritual change, things look too bleak.
In the midst of darkness, Jesus calls us to be light. And here is our message for such a time: “Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4, JKV). God has done awesome works in the lives of his people and each one of us is called to proclaim his glory through a testimony that can be called boast-worthy — worthy of being praised and extolled.
What does a boast-worthy testimony look like? Paul says, “If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord” (2 Corinthians 10:17, NLT). In order to do the kind of boasting Paul describes, we must have a boast worthy of God’s glory. For instance, Stephen was a deacon who distributed food to widows — a good testimony in itself. But his boast-worthy testimony came when he preached to an unbelieving crowd and so provoked them that they stoned him, making him the first martyr of the church.
Our boast-worthy testimony will come only from the power of God, not from our own strength, zeal or effort: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9, ESV).
The Holy Spirit is underappreciated and underpreached by the twenty-first century church. A sort of prejudice against the Holy Spirit impedes many from learning more about him. In fact, the body of Christ is often divided into two sides. One side stresses the Word of God, separating itself from what it views as the emotional fanaticism often linked to those emphasizing the work of the Holy Spirit. The other side is sometimes known for drifting into unbiblical manifestations and unorthodox teaching while attributing it all to the Spirit of God.
Seeing the abuse and bad teaching, many on the first side will say, “I’m not interested in experiences and manifestations of the Holy Spirit. I just want to study the Word.” But it was the Holy Spirit who inspired the Bible, and there are lots of promises concerning his person and work. How can anyone treasure God’s Word without giving the Holy Spirit his rightful place?
Those who move in circles strongly emphasizing the Holy Spirit must be reminded that everything must be tested by scripture. The Spirit never contradicts the Word he gave us. He also never puts the focus on the preacher because the Holy Spirit was sent to glorify Christ alone (John 16:14).
Somewhere in the middle is the kind of Christianity we see in scripture where the Word of God is honored along with a childlike dependence and openness to the Holy Spirit.
Only the Holy Spirit can make the things of Christ real and alive to people. Christianity does not stop at the cross where Jesus died and paid the price for our sins. After Good Friday was Resurrection Sunday when the Spirit raised Christ.
“On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified” (John 7:37-39).
Everything about the Spirit speaks to powerful currents of life that refresh and flow out to bless others. May the Holy Spirit come down on us, for we are truly helpless without him.
Jim Cymbala began the Brooklyn Tabernacle with less than twenty members in a small, rundown building in a difficult part of the city. A native of Brooklyn, he is a longtime friend of both David and Gary Wilkerson.
Satan will do everything in his power to tempt you and turn you aside from God’s destiny for you. He’ll try to undermine your calling, rob you of your anointing, and convince you that God’s approval on your life is a lie.
When Jesus went into the wilderness, after forty days of fasting he grew hungry. At this moment when Jesus was physically vulnerable, the devil brought his first temptation. Scripture says: “When He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, ‘If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread’” (Matthew 4:2-3).
Satan was challenging Jesus: “If you’re fully God, then you have God’s power in you. Just speak the word and command yourself out of this.” This is one of the most insidious temptations facing truly godly people. You have a passion for God and when you are led into a wilderness experience, after a long period of testing, questions arise. And that is when Satan’s temptations become fiercer than ever.
The enemy wants you to act independently of the Father. When you’re in the midst of your trial, the devil says, “Your suffering isn’t of God. You don’t have to go through this. You have God’s power in you, through the Holy Spirit, so you don’t have to put up with this another day. Speak the word and free yourself.”
Jesus answered the devil’s temptation: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4). Even at the height of his suffering, Jesus didn’t lose sight of his eternal purpose. If our Lord learned dependence and compassion through a wilderness experience, so will you!
God loves you in your testing times. His own Spirit has led you into the wilderness where his own Son has already been. Let him complete his work of building into you utter dependence and trust in him.